Technopolitics

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”  ― Lao Tzu

Exponential Growth

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense “intuitive linear” view. So we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate). The “returns,” such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There’s even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity — technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”

This quote from Ray Kurzweil is perhaps for most people rather fanciful. However as one of the inventors of the type of scanner we are all familiar with, along with some of the first software systems to enable computers to read text, provide text to speech for the blind and synthesize music, and currently Director of Engineering at Google tasked with “making computers understand natural language”, he is clearly someone who knows what they are talking about.

Exponential growth is something most non-mathematicians find difficult to grasp. For many people it simply means “very big”, whereas however big you think it is, given time it will be bigger than that!

Here is an example. Suppose that a generous (and very rich) godparent offered to give two newly born godchildren annual gifts. One, child A, is to get £1,000 on their first birthday, £2,000 on their second, £3,000 the year after that and so on. The other, child B, is to get £1 on their first birthday, £2 on their second, £4 the following year, then £8, £16 and so on. Who has got the better deal?

Well, in a year’s time A will have £1,000 and B has £1, so A will be obviously much better off. On their fifth birthday, A will get £5,000 to make a total of £15,000, B will get £16 and a somewhat measly total of $31. On their tenth birthday A will get £10,000 and a total of £55,000, but B will get £512 and a total of £1023; getting a bit more respectable but still way behind A. When they get to 18 and presumably at last able to access the money A will get £18,000 and a grand total of £171,000; B will get £131, 472 and a total of £262,143, well ahead! Of course there is no contest from then on if the gifts continue, at 19, 20 and 21 A will get £19,000, £20,000, and £21,000 and will probably have amassed enough for a cupboard in London, while B will get £262,144, £524,288 and £1,048,576 and may well have retired. Of course it could not possibly continue for long after that; by the age of 41, A’s £41,000 may enable graduation to a small flat, whereas B’s £1,099,511,627,776 would be very nearly the GDP of the UK. By age 47 B would be receiving roughly the current GDP of the entire world.

This is how it looks on a graph, year on the horizontal, gift amount vertical axis.

graph

This shows an important characteristic of exponential growth. At first it seems, and is, very slow and the sort of linear growth that we all find so much easier to understand may well beat it for a long time. Eventually but inexorably the exponential graph then starts to get much steeper, a point often referred to as the “knee” of the curve. After that it shoots off, becoming almost vertical in a very short time. This particular example uses doubling, but multiplying the amount by any number more than one will have the same effect. Multiplying by 1.01 (that is like compound interest of 1%) has the same effect, it just takes a little longer.

This sort of growth can be applied to many areas, such as unregulated population growth, but our major concern is when it is applied to technological development, in particular the four areas known as NBIC convergence.

Areas of growth

Nanotech

The manipulation of materials at the atomic level which enables us to build new materials, new structures and to explore, protect and mend existing structures such as the human body. Along with 3D Printing it heralds a whole new approach to manufacturing.

Biotech

The manipulation of genes to make more efficient use of the biosphere and accelerate and improve evolution giving, among other things, control over disease and ageing.

ICT

Computers and communication devices, with ubiquitous computers, thought control and unlimited immediate access to information through implants.

Cognotech

Understanding the way that the human mind operates so that we can construct true artificial intelligence as well as extend human capabilities and cure mental illness.

This is not intended to be an explanation of what these technologies actually entail, nor am I trying to predict the future except to point out that the possibilities are almost limitless. All these technologies are showing exponential growth, with no sign at all of slowing down. They also interact with and feed each other, thus increasing the growth rate even more. Not only that but we are already past the “knee” of the curve and into the bit where it starts shooting off almost vertically; this means massive change in a very short time. It is important to note that these rules of growth have been applicable for a very long time. It is tempting to think that this sort of change has only been happening since the industrial revolution, or in some cases the advent of computers post World War 2. In fact this progress has been happening since the first humans; it is just indicative of the very slow rate of growth in the first part of the exponential curve that, technologically speaking, not much changed from prehistory until the Enlightenment. The Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of the “knee” and the inexorable climb upwards. The advent of computers marks the point where it starts to get really steep. The reason why growth is now so fast is quite easy to see; as technology improves, so does education, so each generation starts at a further point. The increases in speed and distance of reliable communication means that people can work together, share their knowledge and combine their strengths. Computers add tools that help humans think better, communicate and educate better and built better computers which…

Social and Political Consequences

A week is a long time in politics” – Harold Wilson

It is certainly the case that human societies have changed as a result of technological change, however that change, fast as it may seem, is at nothing like the same rate. It is unclear as yet whether this is because such change is not exponential, or if it is exponential but lagging far behind. Human beings themselves may start to change more rapidly with increased lifespan, control over disease, artificial or regrown organs and limbs and integration between brains and computers, but this does not necessarily enforce equivalent changes in societies where there is more emphasis on emotion, discussion, compromise and democratic decision making. All or some of these may become easier and to a certain extent faster but their essential nature will not change. The challenge of the future will be to forge societies which can handle the strain of coping with rapidly evolving technologies which even affect what is means to be a human being, while retaining the basic time-honoured mechanisms that enable human societies to flourish.

Let us consider one example, that of replacement human parts. Societies are only just coming to terms with transplanted organs; many groups still reject the entirely. Replacing an organ or limb, not with one from another human, but with something artificial, may seem a good alternative. Now consider the situation where a prosthetic limb is just about as good as the natural one that it replaces; it allows the user to live a normal life which would otherwise be impossible. What happens if that “machine” is damaged in an accident? Just as is the case with a normal damaged limb the user will not be able to function normally until the damaged part is repaired or replaced. In seeking compensation for this accident has the user suffered personal injury or property damage? The effect is exactly the same as personal injury to a normal limb, but what has been damaged is a machine that is the user’s property. If we accept this as property damage then we are discriminating against those who are “disabled”. If we accept this as personal injury the where does this end. For many a computer and Internet connection are vital to their jobs and/or lifestyle. Is accidental damage to the computer on your desk a personal injury? Of course not, nor probably if it is a smartphone in your pocket, but what if it is an implant under your skin directly connected to your nervous system? What if, among other things, it was replacing damaged brain cells and thereby holding at bay the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease? What about nanobots that are already being introduced into bloodstreams to report on and repair damaged tissue, are they part of your body or machines in your possession? Already we have a blurring of what it is to be a human being without even looking at the possible sentience of artificial intelligences and whether they have the same rights as human beings.

Politics will also undergo seismic changes. Universal fast and immediate Internet access gives everyone access to all the information to make political judgements, and the means to make their opinions known. The tide that is carrying us towards direct democracy is unlikely to be turned. A popularity contest once every five years is not enough to satisfy an increasing number of disillusioned voters. As we have seen, five years is beginning to mean a long time; the world is likely to change a lot in those five years and that will be even more so in the following five. Interactions between nations, or transnational groupings become ever more complex. Global corporation are richer and more powerful than many countries, so that their influence is ever increasing while people are able to form their own transnational groupings to fight for their rights against both aggressors in the traditional sense and the depredations of those same global corporations who seek to promote discord in order to manipulate markets in search of maximum profit. Politics has always involved compromise but in a rapidly changing world with so many stakeholders and almost universal involvement it seems pointless to even try to define detailed policies in advance. Representatives may still be required for an effective government but they will be chosen for their core beliefs, their philosophy, and their ability to manage change and work as a team, not only with a few comrades but with the population as a whole. They must be subject to recall, or re-election at any time and they must not be beholden just to some restricted faction or party. The days of the political party may well soon be over. Once again I will gloss over a more contentious view that much political decision making may be made in a better, more open and rigorous way by Artificial Intelligences, with humans as a moderating background influence.

The Way Forward

Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”  ― Barack Obama

Many see the old ideas of a “left” and “right” as increasingly irrelevant; after all what relevance do the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly in 1789 have to do with modern politics? On the other hand there is still a clear distinction between two diametrically opposed views of the world which, since we cannot seem ever to get away from the habit of labelling everything, can be called Libertarian and Socialist. Many may disagree about what these mean, or the exact labels that should be used but I want to avoid pedantry and just get at the general gist of the argument. By Libertarians I mean those who believe in small government, laissez-faire economics, free markets and a general free-for-all in which the strongest do best and if there is any support for the weak it is a matter of philanthropy by the strong. By Socialist I mean those who believe in large(r) government, human rights including all the basic necessities for a decent life for all by right, regulated markets and some form of redistribution to avoid runaway inequality. There is no such thing as a political centre, though some still insist on its existence. What there is is compromise and oscillation between the two extremes that lead to an illusion of separate Centrist policies. In reality people who claim to espouse parts of two such diametrically opposing philosophies are simply unprincipled.

It’s the economy, stupid” – Bill Clinton

Politics may still be overwhelmingly about “the economy,” but that may well not be the case for much longer. Instead the emphasis, and the differentiator between sections of society will be access to technology. Some believe the future will be based on Abundance, others fear scarcity. What is undeniable is that a form of capitalism that relies on continued growth, and that, on the whole, rewards excessive growth is inherently unsustainable. There are certainly still large, untapped markets, but as nations emerge and become themselves capitalist economies, the number of new markets left become smaller. It is yet another example of exponential growth. If there are few or no new markets then growth can only occur through innovation, which means technology. It also means that consumers have to be protected; if there are too many people without work or on low wages they cannot consume and there can be no growth. If, as many believe, the number of jobs available for human beings will shrink considerably the same thing applies, to maintain a base of consumers there must be some form of basic income for everyone.

From a socialist point of view, talk about “ownership of the means of production” loses relevance in a world of automated factories and desktop 3D printers. Even talk of “working people” may in future refer just to a small privileged minority. The basic principles of fairness and equality still remain, however. It will be access to technology that becomes important: access to information that enables life-long education, access to the medical advances that enable a long and active life, access to the artificial intelligence that extend human capabilities. Replacing the outdated economics-based divisions we can see new technology-based political divisions.

Technosceptic

These are people who do not believe in the Information Revolution, a form of latter day Luddites. They yearn for a simpler, less complicated life. Often they will cherry pick some technologies, particularly medical advances that they find acceptable, and they ignore historical evidence that societies that do not advance will stagnate and eventually die out. There has always been a minority that holds this opinion, and this has grown as societies become more complex and difficult to understand. On the whole, though, they should not be of any significance.

Technoconservative

These are people who accept the existence of the Information Revolution, but who think that it should be strictly controlled and managed so that it only proceeds at a manageable pace. This can be an attractive position as it enables society to assimilate changes. It avoids some of the tensions between the haves and have-nots because, hopefully, the elastic band effect has time to work.

Technolibertarian

These, like the classic economic libertarians, believe in an unregulated free market in technology. Technological advances will be made in, and owned by, the research laboratories of the global corporations. Smaller companies that make advances will suffer the usual fate, being swallowed up as their owners are made unrefusable offers directly by big corporations or indirectly by private equity companies. Advances made in university departments will still be paid for and owned by those same corporations. New technologies will become available to those at the top; the technologically rich will be the same people as the current economically rich. That technology will trickle down to the poorer sections of society at a rate determined by the rich; some technologies, such as life extension, may remain the sole preserve of the rich and their immediate entourage. Because of the rate at which new technologies will be arriving, the gap between rich and poor, already vast and rapidly increasing, will stretch even further. The dystopian science fiction novels about a split in the human race may prove remarkably prescient.

Technosocialist (Technoprogressive)

Like their present day counterparts, these people will believe in fairness and equality. While the market will remain free and entrepreneurs will be encouraged, it will be regulated to avoid the runaway separation of the few from the rest. Where possible research will be carried out in publicly funded institutions and there will be redistribution of technology so that all will benefit equally. Reasonable reward to fund the often very expensive development of new technologies is encouraged. Reasonable reward for those who work hard to further the onward march of human civilisation is encouraged, but the emphasis is on sharing the benefits and the increased standard of living that the new technologies will bring. The incentive to work hard is not so much personal wealth, however it is measured, but the high regard of fellow citizens in a peaceful world. This is probably a bit idealistic considering the point from which we are starting, however there are places where this has worked in the past and is working here. For example in academia, although the pressures of commercialism have entered here, the Open Source Software movement, and help forums covering a wide variety of topics on the Internet. The Gift Economy movement is not very strong as yet, but has many interesting features.

The dichotomy in human society is likely to continue between these last two categories, the technosocialists and the technolibertarians; the other two categories should remain as minorities, though with the caveat that these latter day Luddites may, though small in number, still cause disproportionate amounts of harm. The important feature that we must take away from this is that in a world of constant rapid change, it is keeping up with the new technologies, understanding as well as simply having the opportunity to use them, that is important. Mere monetary wealth, while in a sense an enabler for technological wealth, is not enough and will become increasingly irrelevant. The need for political change is a peculiarly Socialist problem. The Libertarian parties like the Tories have little need for change; they will still believe in small government and letting the market take care of itself. It is the Socialist or socialist-oriented parties that must change their emphasis from redistribution of monetary wealth to redistribution of technological wealth. This will be particularly difficult as, for the moment at least, money remains the common medium of exchange, and the common unit of measurement of wealth. Libertarians will not mind in the least if socialists miss the opportunity to move into the future by clinging to the ideas of the past.

Future Perfect or Future Shock

May you live in interesting times” – (apocryphally) a traditional Chinese curse

The immediate programs that must be initiated are firstly to push for Internet access for all; not just by provision of suitable hardware and universal high-speed broadband but by emphasising computer literacy and skills for all. It is no good having machines lying idle because people lack the knowledge to use them safely. There must be more international effort to impose security standards. Hardware manufacturers and software producers must include the highest levels of available security by default, and be responsible for preventable security breaches of their systems. There must be much more international cooperation to fight cyber crime and to ensure a safe online public sphere for all; women in particular can be vulnerable. It is not good enough to sit back and say that the perpetrators are in another country, or difficult to trace, and therefore untouchable. Equality of access for all should be the aim, and this cannot be achieved if some groups are subject to the forms of abuse which would not be tolerated in other circumstances.

There must also be a start made towards replacing, or extending, money as the unit of wealth measurement. In a capitalist society it is never going to be possible to expect companies to measure their success in terms of anything other than “the bottom line”. It is, however, unacceptable that the social and ecological costs of a company’s operations, the negative externalities, not be included in those totals. It is difficult to express these type of costs in sheer monetary terms, but this can no longer be accepted as an excuse for not doing it. It cannot be beyond the wit of humankind to develop a system whereby these effects can be measured in a way that makes them comparable with straight financial quantities; they can then be incorporated into “the bottom line” and companies can face the same sanctions for not including them as they do already if they wilfully omit something from their financial reports.

What is a Free Press?

The United Nations‘ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers’”

The Declaration of Human Rights, again from Wikipedia, succinctly states what many people regard as one of the defining characteristics of a “democracy” in the “free world”. This idea of a free press is compared with the state-controlled media of many countries where the information available to inhabitants is strictly monitored, filtered, blocked and in many cases simply made up. I hope to show that in practice this definition is outdated and where apposite the danger comes not so much from states, but from the usual enemy, global corporations and the super-rich who control them. The situation is, in fact, very like the way that those global corporations and especially the banks behaved in the decades following the major deregulation movements of the 1980s and 1990s. Given free rein the banks became obsessed with greed and personal fortunes, creating ever more abstract products that were not based on anything of real value. They treated (and still do) the rest of society as punters ripe for fleecing rather than as people among whom they live and with whose welfare their own is inextricably mixed. In much the same way the modern media have in too many cases seen their readers, listeners and viewers as targets to be influenced and fodder for their advertisers rather than as people to inform and entertain.

It is the way in which information is presented that causes most concern. If people are to participate fully in a modern democracy, then it is essential that they are in possession of the facts that will enable them to make an informed decision. Ever since the enlightenment and the industrial revolution, the newspapers, then radio and television, have been the media used to inform the people about what is going in the world around them.

“What is false is susceptible to an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one form of being” Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences”.

Since the presentation of raw facts can be difficult to interpret, it is usual for them to be accompanied by comment, to explain the context and meaning of the base facts. Some public Service organizations have a legal requirement to make this comment unbiased, others are free to provide their own bias, political, religious or other to their comment in order to publicise their views and extend their influence. There is nothing wrong with this; it is in fact a basic principle of having a free press that this should be allowed. However there has been an increasing misuse of this freedom to comment. Facts are filtered so that only those that support the biased position are presented, the others being conveniently ignored. Facts and comments are confused; the biased position is reported as a given with facts manipulated, for example by being taken out of context, and used to support it. No reference is made to any opposing arguments, so the recipient has no opportunity to compare or even know about differing views. The ideal where some facts are reported, comments are made and context given with reference to different viewpoints and a rational argument to support the desired conclusion is very rare. Most often an extremely biased and emotive headline is given, a few selected facts inserted to give some credence and any differing views, if mentioned at all, simply ridiculed.

Some would argue that it was always so and nothing has changed, but the world itself is undergoing many large changes which are affecting every aspect of people’s life and it is essential that we re-evaluate the position in this light. Control is increasingly moving away from politicians, whether elected or otherwise, and into the hands of large global corporations. These same corporations, or their financial backers, also control many of the media organizations; they can therefore maintain and increase their control without coming under proper public scrutiny. For example many companies move operations away from their country of origin, the country which provided opportunity for them to reach their current position, into another country where wages are much lower, health and safety legislation less stringent and the government easier to manipulate. Many people would not be happy about using the company’s products if they knew the circumstances of the workers and the relationship between the company and the local authorities. They are not told about it though, and the companies use their power to prevent the situation being reported. Occasionally a story does break, but the company simply promises to improve the situation, waits for the fuss to die down, lowers its prices to regain lost customers and carries on before. At worst they simply move on to another poor country with a corrupt government, of which there are many.

The development of the Internet and social media as a news gathering medium could potentially alter the situation, however it then creates a new problem, that of information overload. There is now a plethora of news sources ranging from traditional news agencies to individuals actually present and involved as stories develop and bloggers offering their own personal views. Finding these and making sense of it all is difficult and time consuming, so the traditional news presenters have extended their offering to become news collators or curators. This then exacerbates the problem of Confirmation Bias, where people only ending up seeing the information that confirms their pre-existing opinion. This is then compounded as many of the more popular sites generate a Filter Bubble where they filter what you see to what they perceive to be your taste, as well as what they think you should see. For many, if not most people, the path into news on the internet is through a website run by one of the traditional newspapers or broadcasters. Some internet-only news providers have been set up, but they are usually organized along similar lines to existing ones, and indeed some are simply new façades for those existing organizations. It is easy to end up in a situation where you think you are getting a much wider selection of news and views through the internet, whereas in fact the personalized filtering mechanisms may result in an even more one-sided view than from the traditional media. There is however hope that a proliferation of providers, along with direct access to the original sources might improve matters. The ideal is where a site collects versions of the same story from different viewpoints, and presents it in such a fashion that the viewer can understand the different opinions and make an informed choice as to the version to which they give most credence. Against this there are also moves by many countries to restrict internet access, and attacks on net neutrality which would further increase control of the current large organizations over even this purportedly free and open medium.

Media companies will also cover up their lack of genuine news and bias verging on outright propaganda, by indulging in sensationalism, pandering to the worst tastes of their audience. Titillation and salacious gossip grab the attention so that the required message is absorbed without question. No one who has any public standing, even if only briefly, is safe from intrusion into their private as well as their public life. There is very little that can be done to prevent this or retaliate. There are usually meant to be some sort of standards or ethical watchdog, but these rarely have any teeth and are usually under the control of the media organizations themselves. Recourse to the law is so difficult, lengthy and expensive that it is only available to the very few richest people. The free rein that this gives means that there is much greater emphasis on influencing people rather than informing them, and on profit over principle. Any opposition towards the way that the media companies operate is immediately met with cries of “freedom of the press.” It is very difficult to overcome this misuse of an important political and social principle, since the very people that are needed to get across the reasons for complaint are precisely the ones that are the subject of the complaint.

Another defence often used by media organizations is that the biased and filtered news that they present is a reflection of the public feeling, rather than an attempt to influence it. It is, however generally those same media organizations that measure public feeling, so not only is that measurement probably biased, but it will most often be taken after the subject in question has already been heavily reported. For example if a media company wishes to question a particular policy of government or opposition then it can give that policy a lot of coverage in, usually, a number of different outlets. Other companies may pick that up, or will at least report that the policy is being questioned. After several days or weeks of heavy coverage, members of the public will be asked what policy they feel is open to question. Most people have full time jobs and families so it would be relatively rare for a respondent to answer with anything other than the policy that has been so heavily reported. The media companies then claim that their coverage was reflecting a public feeling rather than being their own invention. This situation is exacerbated by the individual journalists, whose livelihood depends on them being considered as ahead of the game and a scourge of politicians. This is a major contributant to the parlous state of politics which is marked by the regular jousts between politicians and journalists, each seeking to get the better of the other and further their own careers. Politicians are expected to have every fact relating to their subject at their fingertips, so they must undergo extensive briefings to make sure they have some sort of short answer to every question, a sound bite, or a route to deflect questions to subject areas where they have ready built answers. It is not surprising that they have little time for doing their job properly. The journalists need to be seen asking difficult questions so that they look good, so they will hunt out obscure details or minor inconsistencies so they can catch out their target. It is the public that suffers as a result; politicians fear giving honest answers or admitting that they do not know for fear that any sign of weakness will be seized upon and taken advantage of. Journalists do not want to let politicians simply give the facts as they see them, or talk in general terms about their philosophy, as it is a rare journalist that can manage to stay in the background yet still be noticed.

One common defence given when media coverage is considered intrusive or obsessive is that of being in the public interest. This is something that is very hard to pin down. Ostensibly a definition is relatively easy: it is when a majority, or a substantial minority of the audience could make use of the information when making decisions about important aspects of their lives. Unfortunately making that classification is far from easy, since it depends not only on the nature of the information but the context and the intended audience. For example the fact that some minor celebrity is having an affair may be the sort of juicy gossip that some people enjoy, but it is not normally in the public interest to divulge the secret, particular if it involves intrusive surveillance and possible distress. However should that celebrity have made a public point about their faithfulness, then the fact that they had been hypocritical might be of interest since it would affect the manner that any later pronouncements were seen. An affair by a politician, or other supposedly respectable leader of society might be seen as more important, but even there we have to consider that many couples have “open” marriages, and therefore there is no deceit or untruthfulness involved, unless the person has again made a public point which would imply that their lifestyle was other than it actually is. Because some activity can be argued as being in the public interest in some situations, it is all too often seen as carte blanch to report it in every situation, since there are precedents to quote. The consequence is that a lot of plain tittle-tattle gets published which some may use to obtain a perverse form of pleasure, but which neither informs nor properly entertains.

This may seem like a very dystopian view. There are certainly some excellent journalists, and media companies that make a very fair attempt to separate news from comment. There are plenty of examples of investigative journalism that has brought to light serious wrongs and helped put them right. It is just a pity that these bright sparks remain so rare in what is a generally dismal prospect. If the standard is to improve then there must be a regulatory body with more power backed with legal remedies. Such a body can have no more than minimal representation from the media companies themselves. Self-regulation rarely works, never when profit is the primary motive.

Access to the law for libel and slander must be made easier and cheaper to make sure that people who are wrongfully maligned get recompense, and also to ensure that the rich are not allowed to use their virtually sole access to the law to stop investigation of their own activities. Using the law is almost by definition going to be expensive, involving as it does the time of a number of professionals, and it is important that it should not be used frivolously just to gain additional publicity. There has to be a way in which a proper regulatory body can be used. If such a body determines that one or more people have been damaged by untrue or unfair reporting, then this should be enough to justify legal aid if the offending media company refuses to pay adequate compensation, just as a media company may wish to seek a judicial review if they feel they have been wrongly condemned.

There should be a professional body for journalists that emphasises and imposes strict ethical standards. This is perhaps the single most important step. Inherent in the phrase “the free press” is the idea that responsible journalists should be free to report on things they believe is important and in the public interest. This principle has been seriously damaged by media companies that impose direct control over editorial content, and unscrupulous journalists prepared to misquote and take things out of context, in fact do almost anything including telling direct lies in order to make money and further their career. It is absolutely vital that ethics and morality should return into the profession; it is only a properly constituted and universally recognised body that can achieve this.

Advantage should be taken of the internet and the much greater variety of information collators and commentators to break up the big media empires with their multiple outlets, and encourage more independent sites. Politicians must be more open and honest, refusing to play along with journalists who just want to play games. There can be a much too cozy relationship between journalists and politicians. It is a fine line because journalists need access and politicians need a platform, but a general increase in morality in both professions is needed. This goes hand in hand with openness and transparency; people are much more likely to act morally if their actions are going to be scrutinized.

More emphasis should be given in the education system to teaching discernment and discrimination, so that people can detect and allow for bias and extract the genuine information. This is especially vital in an age of “information overload;” it can be only too easy to retreat back to one single source leaving the opportunities for bias and indoctrination that the freedom of the internet is meant to counteract. In this way we will end up with a press that is free to inform, free to entertain, free to investigate wrongdoing, but not free to manipulate and filter news in order to unduly influence people in order to promote unstated or hidden political positions, and not free to pander to people’s basest instincts in order to make extra profit.

What is the Free Market?

“A free market is a market system in which the prices for goods and services are set freely by consent between vendors and consumers, in which the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from any intervention by a government, price-setting monopoly, or other authority.”

This definition comes from that fount of all wisdom, Wikipedia. It is the general view, at least that held by most capitalist business people, that the market, left to itself, would be free and that it is regulatory action by governments that are the sole reason for any lack of freedom. I would argue that markets in the modern era, left to themselves, are far from free and that it is government regulation that brings them closer to the ideal, even though such regulation does mean, by definition, that they are unfree.

Let us first of all look briefly at what we mean by free. This is a subject that has kept philosophers gainfully employed for many centuries, but we can agree that as a starting point it conveys an idea of being unfettered, unrestrained. Things get a lot more difficult when we examine the concept of freedom in the context of a human society. Here most, if not all people would accept that society must regulate individuals who might exercise what they saw as freedom to cause harm to come to others. This may include preventing people from harming themselves since the networks of human relationships are such that harm done to any one person may spread to others. Given this complexity of human societies it is often the case that many quite reasonable actions may cause harm to some while benefiting others. In such cases some form of Utilitarian calculations can be made to try and maximize benefit and minimize harm. The details are of course up for discussion, but the important point here is that markets operate within human societies and must therefore suffer some form of regulation to prevent harm. The amount of such regulation and what constitutes harm, and the appropriate weights given to various harms and benefits are, and always will be, the subject of much political debate. We can all however agree that actions such as enforced slavery, or murder to provide human organs are unacceptable. We must bear in mind The Harm Principle as enunciated by John Stuart Mill:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral,  is not a sufficient warrant.

This is very important in this context because actions by government that enable businesses to make more profit should be construed as benefitting “either physical or moral” the owner of the business, its directors and shareholders or the business itself considered as a legal entity. Whereas actions taken by the company that, for example, pay less than a living wage, put people out of work or pollute the environment are quite definitely doing “harm to others” and should therefore be constrained by regulation.

We can therefore agree that when we talk about a free market, we accept that there is some regulation by virtue of its existence within the framework of a human society, even if we disagree about the nature and extent of such regulation. The next question to consider is whether markets in every commodity should be free, or whether there are some that must be directly controlled or regulated by the state. While there are some who would argue that absolutely everything should be left totally unregulated, and others who believe in universal state ownership, the general consensus is that some form of regulation needs to be applied to goods and services that are essential to the well-being “physical or moral” of the population. These would include water, food, health, education, somewhere to live, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, and would usually extend to transport and communication infrastructure and access to information and entertainment. Even if the state is not directly involved in the supply of these items, it must regulate in order to ensure that the poor and disadvantaged are not left by the wayside and to maintain minimum standards of quality. All these items, in most modern societies, are therefore not and never can be part of a free market and it would be wrong to claim that some particular mechanism proposed by any political faction is opening them up to the “free market.” Additional interference is often necessary in order to implement social policy. So, for example, particular types of education might be encouraged or discouraged in order to provide skills for desirable industries, or public transport fares might be artificially lowered in one area and raised in another in order to attract business and population away from a popular but overcrowded area to a less crowded one in the interests of social cohesion.

The decision whether to supply these essential services directly or to rely on private companies should be made on purely pragmatic rather than dogmatic grounds. It is, however, vital that the total costs be taken into account. Arguments that are made for the private supply of essential service often include the idea that it will attract private finance. However private finance will only find such opportunities attractive if it can get a high enough return on its investment. This return has to come either from prices charged directly for the service, or from state subsidies. Clearly if the state provides all the finance directly itself then it can forego that additional return and prices will be less or subsidies lower. In other words, over the medium or long term the state will pay out more for the private funding than it would for direct state funding. The reason why such deals are attractive is political rather than financial; even though the state can usually borrow externally at extremely good rates or raise the funds internally, it then leaves itself open to criticism. External criticism comes from the capitalist economic organizations who try to prevent countries borrowing while it is not in the remit of such organizations to take into account the long term needs of the population; internal criticism will come from political opponents who will accuse the government of increasing the “national debt” or raising taxes, again without taking into account the reasons behind those moves or the long term benefit. In other words, by allowing private provision of essential services a government can claim benefit from lower initial costs, please powerful companies and individuals who get more opportunities for guaranteed profit, and placate international financial bureaucrats knowing that memories are short; as a government or as individuals they will have left those decisions long behind them  and possibly be out of power before the more questionable results come into effect. One other argument that is worth mentioning is that prices can be lowered by greater “efficiency.” This invariably means that wages will be made lower and people put out of work; the difference is then made up by the welfare system supporting the unemployed and (increasingly) those on very low wages. The costs of that increased support do not appear in the calculations as to the “efficiency” of the privatized industry. One final point here is that for many people there is a moral repugnance in allowing a few people to profit, often very greatly, from the supply of essential services. Alas too often moral arguments are lost in the blizzard of materialist propaganda that conveys the overwhelming idea that short-term financial benefit is the only metric for judging the worth of a policy.

We can now look at the factors which operate to affect the free operation of supply and demand in non-essential markets. It is often said that the market is amoral; this is of course blindingly obvious in that the market in itself is an abstract concept and cannot be ascribed a purely human quality. Since a market cannot exist without humans being involved, at least indirectly as in some financial markets, questions can be asked about the morality of those humans. The amorality of the market is no excuse for immoral behaviour by the market’s participants.

The external regulation of the market usually takes one of four forms:

  • Control of monopolies and cartels,
  • Taxation of businesses and their owners and directors,
  • Product safety and quality,
  • Workers’ rights.

The reason why such regulations have become essential is because of the gross imbalance of power that has arisen between suppliers and consumers, which is then exacerbated by the sheer greed of those engaged in the supply side. They can get away with this greed because of the power imbalance. Returning for a moment to the quotation with which we started, “prices for goods and services are set freely by consent between vendors and consumers” which carries a clear implication that both sides have a reasonable amount of bargaining power. While it cannot be denied that it is theoretically possible for consumers to have an impact on the behaviour of suppliers, this is generally insignificant. In those situations where a seemingly major impact has occurred this has usually been easily remediable by means of artificial price drops, concentrated advertising and in extreme cases by rebranding. The automobile industry attacked by Ralph Nader in the 1960s for making unsafe cars still suffers and survives frequent cases of death and injury caused by faulty design. The companies castigated for trading with South Africa in the apartheid era simply divested those aspects of their business through an impenetrable tangle of subsidiary holdings while claiming to have seen the light about ethical behaviour and continuing to trade with the most horrendous dictatorships.

Major factors that enable this power imbalance include application of the law, advertising, control of the media and global organization across market sectors. The use of these constitutes just as much of an attack on the freedom of the market as does government regulation; it just does not get portrayed as such because those who would do the portraying are in the main under the control of the perpetrators, and those who wish to find it very difficult to be heard.

Civil Law is extremely expensive and it is not in general covered by such legal aid as still exists. Ordinary (in the wealth sense) individuals, or groups of individuals, cannot afford to take businesses to court except in a few minor circumstances. Large companies can easily afford the best lawyers, and often have them on retainer so they can not only defend any action but also prosecute those who criticise their actions or products. Such cases can go on for many years during which the company carries on as before and easily affords the legals costs while the other side faces ever-mounting costs that soon spiral way beyond their means.

Advertising, using all the propaganda techniques honed during decades of warfare has become almost a science. While the results on an individual cannot be accurately determined, the statistical outcome over a large population can. Most large businesses include some media companies within them, or have friendly relationships with them, or at the very least wield considerable influence with their advertising budgets. The “freedom of the press” will be the subject of another article, but the way in which they cherry-pick the news and confuse editorial comment with facts enables them to greatly influence the way in which the public regards the friends of the media company, their products and services, in a good light, and the enemies of those friends in a bad light, if they get mentioned at all.

Large global conglomerates wield an inordinate amount of power over national governments, not only by direct payments to political parties and individual politicians, but also through their decisions on siting factories and offices and outsourcing. They are able to trade at advantageous terms between entities in the same group and can choose where profits are made and declared to take into account the most favourable tax rates. They also stifle competition because their size enables them to lower prices to a point which smaller competitors are unable to match; any reduction in profit or even loss made can easily be recouped by raising prices, or lowering quality, once the competition has gone out of business. The same technique can be used when there is any attempt at concerted action by consumers, who form the demand side of the equation. It is very difficult to resist a bargain and decisions not to do business with a particular company soon vanish in the face of (temporary) extremely low prices or high returns.

The large companies can operate semi-monopolies and semi-cartels that stay the right side of the law while providing almost all the advantages of the real thing. For example a privatised national rail service is not a monopoly because a number of businesses can bid for franchises on various routes, this provides something that can be called “competition”. However for most people in most places that wish to make a rail journey there is no choice of carrier. What is more the requirement to provide a single, through ticketing service means that even where there is a choice, it cannot provide price competition. The rail operating companies must act as a cartel to fix common prices. There are of course a few exceptions where there is some limited form of direct competition, but often these take the form of a small independent company trying to provide a genuine service that is soon put out of business in the traditional manner.

The blatant manipulations of the market by large companies could, almost, be forgiven were the result to be higher quality, lower prices or the development of new products. While this does sometimes happen, overwhelmingly the market manipulation is done in order to provide even larger incomes and bonuses for the privileged few.

This is a very large topic, to which I will no doubt return again, but I hope that I have done enough to show that “free” markets do not exist and that it is the extreme imbalance of power in favour of the supply side that is the cause. Government regulation, far from being the cause of the lack of freedom, is there to try and boost the power of the demand side in order to make the market more free and to provide some form of ethical basis to something that is inherently ethics-free and, unfortunately, operated by people whose natural sense of ethics has been buried beneath an avalanche of cash.

The End of Work?

“Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?”

“Death is the end of life; ah, why/ should life all labor be?”

Tennyson, deep in the golden age of the Protestant work ethic, saw attitudes like those expressed in the above quotes from “The Lotos Eaters” as inherently sinful, brought on by indulgence in a drug which deflected the mariners from their proper pursuit of returning Ulysses to his kingdom. He had seen the fruits of the Industrial Revolution which many had thought would foreshadow terrible times as machinery replaced human workers in many traditional industries. The Luddites and their less violent co-theorists were proved wrong; then and since then, the introduction of new technologies have seen the end of old skills and the need for new, but on the whole full employment remained at least a theoretical possibility.

Why then should it be different now? We are, as most acknowledge, in the throes of an “Information Revolution” and once again we are looking at a transformation in society which promises to be greater and faster than the one from agricultural to industrial. However the big difference is that this revolution replaces the human mind by computers. In the Industrial Revolution it was the manual labour of human beings that was replaced by machinery, which meant that goods could be produced more quickly and more cheaply. The consequence was that fewer workers were required, and their task was now to control and direct the (dumb) machinery; however because the goods were so much cheaper, and transportation systems could be made much better, trade increased enormously so that more machines were needed to keep up with demand, more humans to operate them and those put out of work could find new, albeit different, jobs. It is however difficult to see where any equivalent expansion could come from to replace the jobs lost as a result of computerization. Trade will not suffice; expansion may require more machinery, and more computers to operate them, but no, or very few, more humans. The new machinery and even the computers are themselves built in automated factories. Computer-controlled machinery can handle virtually every stage of a production process from mining for raw materials to transportation, manufacture and even advertising and market research. What is left for humans to do?

Let us just pause for a while to look at some of the jobs that will either disappear completely over the next few years or where numbers will decrease rapidly. We should note that in many cases the technology that will replace humans already exists; humans remain because they are cheaper than the robots that will replace them. This is a situation that will not last as one irrefutable fact about these technologies is that they become better and much cheaper over time.

  • Secondly all driving and most other jobs in transportation will go. All the big automotive companies have invested billions of dollars into the production of self-driving cars (and vans, lorries and busses.) They will be here very soon now and because they will be inherently much safer than human drivers they will take over almost completely. The same applies to air and much sea transport.
  • Call centres, technical support and similar phone response systems will become automatic. Many are almost there already. Humans currently only act as a bridge between human callers and the computers that hold all the information. Voice recognition and speech synthesis are making great strides and it can already be very different to distinguish between humans and computers with the best examples.
  • The armed forces are diminishing in numbers quite rapidly, not just because of political decisions but also because of the increasing use of drones and battlefield robots; currently mainly remotely controlled but increasingly becoming autonomous.
  • Agricultural workers are already on the way out; not just by automated machinery to plant, tend and harvest, but also as genetic modification and vertical farming concentrates and decreases the surface area given over to agriculture.
  • Most tiers of management can be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (a marked improvement many of us will feel!) Fewer humans to manage and faster and more reliable automated decision making give machines the edge even here.

These examples show that the axe will fall on nearly all sections of society. What jobs will remain? First the very top levels of management, dealing with global strategy will remain. This should be no surprise because at this level we find the rich and powerful, the 1% beloved of headline writers. These are the people who, among other things, own the research laboratories and fund the university departments which drive progress. Progress is very much under their control so we should not be too surprised when it is done to benefit them more than others. Secondly there will, for a long time, be the researchers, the scientists and technologists. A growing number of people see a time when the intellectual capacity of Artificial Intelligences will exceed that of humans, the so-called Singularity. This has been predicted as early as 2045 by some. Assuming (possibly wrongly) that this is unlikely, there will remain a need for exceptional humans to lead the search for new ideas. Thirdly there will be jobs in culture, sport and entertainment; it is difficult to see this being completely taken over by machines, though much of the peripheral support will be automated. Apart from this there will probably remain scope for a few servants for those in work but little else.

So what will people do, and more importantly how can they survive without work and an income that they can use to obtain the necessities of life? There are two ways of looking at this, given current political and social norms. If we maintain the current capitalist, consumerist paradigm, then there is no point in manufacturing anything, even in automated factories, without anyone to buy the products. It is therefore in the interests of the rich to allow some of their wealth to spread out to those who have no work in order that they can continue to consume; the circulation of money would continue to drive a capitalist economy. This is why there is support for concepts like “The Basic Income”  even from the right of the political spectrum. The other view is that once their mechanisms for automated factories to produce the goods that they require have been set up by the rich, they will no longer need the rest of humanity, provided they can defend their holdings it will not matter if the rest descend into bare subsistence with war and disease reducing numbers to what the bits of earth left can provide. In this view the rich, being the only ones capable of affording the new treatments for longevity, organ replacement and cybernetic enhancement will have evolved into something that is almost a separate species.

This future, despite the amazing benefits to humanity that technological progress is bringing and can bring, is beginning to look distinctly dystopian, unless there is a new left-wing, redistributive ideology that can take over and guide us into a better one. It is no good continuing to press for full employment in anything but the very short term, the jobs just will not be there. What does “ownership of the means of production” mean in a world where production is carried out by robots under the management of an Artificial Intelligence? It is the fruits of research and progress that need redistribution; wealth is being created in a laboratories more than in factories. Research must be concentrated in University departments which should be state-funded and not have to rely on business that places patents and other restrictions on their results. Enterprise in new ideas and technologies should be fairly rewarded, not the ridiculous rewards for the ability to juggle financial instruments around the world’s markets. People must be educated to understand technology and its implications so that they cannot be bamboozled by clever advertising; they must be taught intellectual self-sufficiency so that they can live rewarding lives without endless toil for others’ benefit. The Basic Income must be seen as a human right, not charity from the rich, and above all the global taxation systems must be reformed so that the gap between rich and poor can be brought down to a sane and sustainable level, while allowing fair reward for those whose efforts deserve it.

The Labour Party in the 21st. Century

 

When I first moved from academia into industry several decades ago, I encountered some of the catchphrases of the time such as “Quality is conformance to requirements” and “There are no such things as problems, only opportunities.” I thought them rather ridiculous in a smug ex-academic way, particular as one of our largest indigenous IT companies proceeded to divest itself of engineers and replace them with HR staff, until it was “lean and mean” enough to be swallowed by a Japanese conglomerate. Later in life I began to realise that inside these trite exhortations there is an element reflecting some profound truths.

 

The Labour Party certainly has lots of opportunities at the moment, which is not a joke but a serious point. We do have the opportunity to change our party to face a future that is going to be radically different from anything we have known, opportunities that we probably would not have had if we had been in government and that may be denied to the Tories as they concentrate on putting their old-fashioned ideas into practice. The world is changing rapidly and the Labour Party must change, not just with it but ahead of it, so that it may help guide those that it is supposed to represent into a brighter future.

 

I want to start with a few don’ts before I move on to the dos. Firstly the Labour Party as a whole must not expend any time on effort trying to reclaim Scotland. It has gone for the foreseeable future. Decades of complacency may have been remediable, but when senior Labour figures appeared on a platform alongside the Tories telling Scottish people what they should do their fate was sealed. Scottish independence should never have been a party issue for us. The SNP has taken our place as the leading left-wing party and if there is to be any future for another party it will have to start from scratch and be a totally separate and distinctly Scottish enterprise.

 

Secondly we must strongly resist any who tell us that we need to move towards the “centre”. There is no such place as the centre ground in British politics. There are two opposing philosophies. There is the classic Libertarianism of the Tories, small government, minimal taxation, everyone for themselves. If you are theoretically capable of taking care of yourself but do not manage to do it then you are a scrounger. If you are genuinely unable to care for yourself then care for you is undertaken as “compassion” or just plain charity. There is then the Collectivist or Contractarian approach where everyone has the right to share in the benefits of the society in which they live and the government, with the consent of the people, is the agent for redistribution to ensure a fair society. Pragmatically a right-wing government may have to spend more on welfare than it considers ideal, and restrain the grossest excesses of extreme wealth in order to stay in power, and conversely a left-wing government may have to restrict welfare spending and allow more latitude to business than it likes for the same reason. Policies may then converge so that it seems that both sides are occupying the same ground but that is not the case; it is simply accepting the necessity of sometimes having to take the average of two extremes, it is not, or should not be, a movement in the underlying philosophy into some compromise position. People do not exist in a central ground; many do not wish to consider or choose the opposing philosophies, so they vote one way or the other to try and maximize their perceived personal benefit.

 

Thirdly we must be very careful how we use the word “aspiration”. For most people aspiration simply means getting a bit more money; they may mean that they want a higher standard of living but the idea that this cannot be achieved by anything other than more money is deeply ingrained. The Tories continually reinforce it by means of bribery; they offer tax cuts without mentioning that you may have to buy textbooks for schoolchildren, empty your own rubbish or replace tyres and suspension on your car more often because of the potholes in the road. They sell off the country’s infrastructure offering shares at a reduced rate to the public knowing full well that they will take a quick profit after a few days placing the new companies into the hands of the usual suspects who will gleefully use their semi-monopolies to bleed everyone dry. They allow building societies to become banks by offering their members  cash-in-hand bonus even though they will pay for it manyfold in increased interest rates and charges.

 

What we must do now is to rebuild ourselves into a new type of political party that embraces change, technological change and societal change, and helps and guides people so that they can fully participate in an exciting and radically different future. It is always nearly impossible to foretell the future with any accuracy but there are enough pointers to be able to make some sort of plans. Moore’s Law, originally about the number of transistors you can fit onto a piece of silicon has been applied more generally to say that the power of computers doubles roughly every two years. It has also been applied to virtually every branch of technology and extrapolated back to show that this exponential growth has been taking place since the dawn of technology, not just the last few decades. The phrase “exponential growth” is poorly understood by anyone who is not a mathematician; to most people it just means “very big”; in fact however big you may think or expect it to be, it will be bigger than that! In the early stages it can look very similar to straightforward linear growth. If you double something that is very small, you still get something very small. Eventually the amount that gets added by doubling becomes significant and things begin to move more rapidly; this is known as the “knee” of the curve that is a graph of the growth rate. After that it starts to move so rapidly that it is nearly vertical. Imagine the amount of change that has taken place over the last 50 years happening every week, then every day! It could come to that unless some natural limit to growth appears, but there is no sign of that yet.

 

In this sort of situation the gaps in society will widen. The rich will own all the new technology; increasingly research takes place in private companies rather than universities, and research in universities is paid for and owned by companies. They will not need the lower orders, work will be done by robots and once past the high initial cost of setting up automated factories, running costs can be minimal so that even a population of consumers is not essential. The only people with real work to do will be those developing the new technologies and artists; even their future is not certain. This is a very bleak vision of the future, I know, and many talk equally strongly about an “age of abundance” with limitless energy and food supplies, raw materials from asteroid mines and colonies throughout the solar system. There are predictions that 100% of the world’s energy needs could be met by direct solar power within a decade, such is the rapid increase in efficiency of solar panels. Whatever the actual future turns out to be it will be dramatically different, even having witnessed the startling developments over the last few decades. One thing that is certain is that the rich will reap much more benefit than the poor; already the life expectancy of the rich is leaving that of most of the world a long way behind. If we are to counter this, without resorting to a Luddite mentality then we have to understand and move with it.

 

Business needs to innovate and it would be wrong to restrict this, but the leading edge research needs to be concentrated in publicly owned universities and not bound up in restrictive patents. We must use technology ourselves, not just increase use of Twitter or online shopping but influencing the development of the replacement of Twitter which is probably just round the corner. We must use the Internet to make sure that everyone has access to and more importantly the knowledge to use all the latest technologies. Why is it Barclay’s Bank (for goodness sake) that is pushing itself as the champion of digital rights? The Labour Party should be out there making sure that “the working people” not only have access to Facebook, Twitter, Skype, streaming media, immediate news direct from the world’s trouble spots etc, but know how to use them properly and safely. Their lives should be part of the narrative of cyberspace, instead of the vapid simperings of a few celebrities. Where should they go when online to help them navigate through the online complexities? The Labour Party’s home page of course! It should be a vibrant, exciting place with the latest news, not just about politics, maybe not overtly about politics at all, but about life in general and coping with change in particular. It should be the launching point to access everything that could interest “ordinary working people” throughout the world. Stories that actually interest people not homilies or boring facts that we think they should hear.

 

The Labour Party I want to see should be more than just a political party. It should be the natural home for everyone who believes in a fair society. It should not shift about looking for political advantage but be unashamedly left-wing. It should provide a convincing narrative based on the lives of (extra)ordinary working people to show that living standards for everyone can be better when there is a fair redistribution of wealth. That the world of today and that of the future can be exciting places and that there is nothing to fear if we keep together. We must fight to stop the alarming rate of increase of the gap between rich and poor that threatens to split not only our society but potentially the entire human race. We must take a leading role in forging global relations between people to counter the global capitalists. We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity. The campaign for the next General Election needs to start now. If we lose a few elections because people want to believe Tory lies and take Tory bribes then so be it, if people are not capable of seeing what is being done to them then nothing we can do will help; which should not, of course, stop us making their machinations public. We should do this not to gain power for ourselves but because it is right.

Blueprint for a Future Polity

 

Preamble

 

Nobody can predict the future with certainty, however systems of government and social organization remain static, considered as philosophies such as Autocracy, Representative Democracy etc., even though their details may vary considerably both between implementations and over time. The rapid and exponentially accelerating progress in science and technology do now and will in the future make many current, even modern, institutions and mechanisms seem ridiculously unwieldy and old-fashioned. This is one of the reasons why young people often seem alienated from political systems that to their eyes bear no relation to the way the world now works. This is an attempt to put forward some suggestions as to the way in which a future polity may be organized so as to cater for the social upheavals that will occur as we move into an era of material abundance [1] where neither work directly for subsistence or work for money to provide subsistence and comfort are the prevailing paradigms.

Certain advances are assumed, all are currently feasible with current technology, or confidently predicted given the current state and current rate of development. These are:

 

  • The (independent) existence of AGIs (Artificial General Intelligence) comparable to and in many situations exceeding the intelligence of a human being.
  • Abundant, very cheap energy from sources such as nuclear fusion (very close now) and orbital solar energy collection (technically possible now).
  • Sufficient food to feed everybody using genetic modification (available now) and 3d printing (experimentally available now).
  • Improved health and lifespan using drugs, organ replacement, regrowth and nanobots (mostly experimentally available now).
  • Construction of material goods as required using nanotechnology and 3d printing (experimentally available now).
  • Universal, secure, fast and personal access to information and computer power through the internet using mobile devices carried or worn (available now) or by implant with direct connection to the brain and nervous system (experimentally possible now, though at an early stage).

 

Some ideas are similar to those put forward by the proponents of Social Futurism[3].

 

 

Constitution

A constitution is where the rights and responsibilities of citizens are set out. It should be short so that details may be inferred from the major principles according to the current norms of the society. It should be understandable so that any reasonably intelligent being can interrogate it and understand the answer. It should be flexible as even the major principles may change with time and particularly important details may be elevated to a premise rather than a consequence. Changes however should be rare and require substantial amount of support as well as expert approval.

The constitution shall exist as the core programming of a dedicated AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) whose purpose will be to interpret the constitution as required, with the assistance of a committee of the current government. It will gather information as to the state of the polity and the prevailing philosophies of its citizens which it will use to assist in its interpretations. It may suggest amendments, but it may not amend itself without the approval of the citizenry in a plebiscite.

 

The Fundamental Right

Every citizen has the right to continue in their present condition, or seek to improve their condition.

Corollaries

  1. Deliberate actions to adversely affect a citizen’s fundamental right are crimes.
  2. Actions that cause avoidable adverse effects on a citizen’s fundamental right will be a crime or misdemeanour according to the nature of the offense.
  3. Necessary actions that incidentally adversely affect a citizen’s fundamental right may be subject to review to determine whether there are alternatives.
  4. All cases where a citizen’s fundamental right is adversely affected must be recompensed at a level determined independently.
  5. Every citizen has a right to life, liberty, health, material comfort, education and the basic necessities such as energy, food and water. If they cannot provide them for themselves then the state has a duty to provide them. Without them a citizen’s condition would necessarily deteriorate and therefore their fundamental right be adversely affected.
  6. The State does not have any right to interfere in or dictate the way that a citizen chooses to live their life, except in so far as it adversely affects the fundamental right of other citizens.

 

The State

The State will be defined by a geographical area and a philosophy. Citizenship is determined by one or both of the following:

 

  1. Maintaining a primary, permanent residence within the defined geographical area.
  2. Acceptance of the Constitution and its current interpretations and consequences.

 

Reasoning beings may become citizens either by being born within the geographical area (Residential Citizens) or by passing a test, administered by the Constitution AGI, and public acknowledgement of their acceptance of the Constitution (Constitutional Citizens), followed by a probationary period. Full citizens are those satisfying both criteria; residents would normally satisfy their acceptance of the Constitution as part of the educational process. Children of residential citizens have automatic residential citizenship. The children of nonresidential citizens will have certain rights because of their association with their citizen parent(s); they do not automatically qualify for citizen status. Residential citizens moving between different parts of the geographical area maintain their residential citizen status. People moving into the area from outside, whether constitutional citizens or not will become residential citizens after a period of time, provided that they maintain a residence within the area and live there most of the time. The two citizen concepts are completely orthogonal, being a citizen of one kind in no way affects qualification as a citizen of the other kind.

 

The geographical area need not be contiguous but may be composed of communities with powers of self-governance known as VDP States, where VDP stands for “Virtual, Distributed, Parallel.”[2]

 

The rights and responsibilities of citizens according to the constitution will differ according to their citizenry status, for example:

 

  • Only Constitutional citizens may participate in government selection and plebiscites.
  • Only Residential citizens benefit from the infrastructure and participate in the care of the local environment.
  • All citizens pay taxes, non-residential citizens may pay reduced taxes for the upkeep of the environment and infrastructure, on the basis that they will pay those taxes at the point where they do reside; they will however pay taxes relating to the maintenance of the government and the constitution. Residential but non-constitutional citizens will pay full taxes as they receive most of the benefits provided by the state.
  • All constitutional citizens must maintain an internet connection to the Constitutional AGI, or one of its satellites in order to participate in elections and plebiscites, and to receive important information.

 

Any citizen has the right to cease constitutional citizenship at any time; readmittance may not be automatic, even if they pass the test again.

The state has the right to suspend or remove constitutional citizenship from offenders, subject to due procedures set out in or consequent from the constitution, and international law.

 

Federations and Regions

States may be a small, homogeneous group, or large containing any number of such groups, provided that they have a common cause and a reason for common governance. Each homogeneous region may be considered a state in its right, and groups may join a federal state, which may itself then join a higher federation. Each state at whatever level will have the same organization and constitution, though with minor regional amendments.

 

The Principle of Subsidiarity

Decisions must be made, and actions taken, at the lowest possible relevant level in the state hierarchy. Relevance is determined by considering the scope of the significant effects of the decision or action and only considering levels of the hierarchy that include all those affected.

 

Corollary: The lowest possible level of the hierarchy is the individual. Any decisions or actions that only significantly affect the individual must be made by the individual, or their nominated representative (e.g. parent). The state may only take such decisions where the individual is unable to make decisions through incapacity and has no nominated representative.

Governance

There will be the usual three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. Each will be managed by an AGI supported by a committee of experts and satellite, specialist AGIs, and under the oversight of the elected representatives and the totality of constitutional citizens. While actual government remains in the hands of human beings, most of the administration and day to day running will be performed by AGIs with oversight by government committees and they will be subject to oversight by the people. This is to ensure openness and transparency and to ensure that that justice and the good of all is not compromised by political expediency and active pressure groups.

Plebiscites

All constitutional citizens are expected to take a part in government. There will be no coercion, though the record of activity may be relevant in certain exceptional circumstances. Plebiscites will be held when:

 

  • The representatives fail to agree;
  • A substantial minority of the representatives (e.g. 25%) request one;
  • A substantial proportion (e.g. 20%) of the constitutional citizenry request one;
  • For any constitutional change.

 

Each plebiscite will be held online and will consist of three phases:

 

  1. The Information Phase, all constitutional citizens will be informed of the plebiscite and all relevant information made available for study;
  2. The Registration Phase, after a suitable time for study, all constitutional citizens wishing to vote will register their interest and undergo a short test, administered by an AGI, to demonstrate a basic understanding of the subject matter;
  3. The Voting Phase, a short period during which all registered voters cast their vote.

 

It is expected that this process will last in the region of seven to ten days.

Representation

 

There are five houses within the Parliament, each with 128 members. Unless otherwise stated election is for a term of 5 years, with a maximum of two terms for any individual.

The Judicial Branch

House of Justice

This is the judicial branch of the government. It is elected from within the legal professions, including police, prison officers and probation officers. It handles legal appointments. It has the responsibility for setting sentencing guidelines and maintaining consistency. It acts as the supreme court. It is formed by representatives elected by and from the legal profession. It is subject to oversight from, and it is expected to consult with the other houses.

The Executive Branch

House of Philosophers:

These are representatives of major political philosophies elected using proportional representation from the entire constitutional citizenry. They are the closest to a modern political party. Each political philosophy must issue a clear manifesto, and a plebiscite will be needed in order to amend that manifesto after election. A philosophy, needs 5% of the vote in order to get seats. The proponents of a philosophy propose a team from within its ranks before the election. After that election that team, or a coalition, form the Executive branch of the government.

The Legislative Branch

House of Experts

These are representatives from expert societies that represent the various professions and specialities, for example IT, Medicine and Engineering. The term here is for two years since it is expected that members will have careers in their respective fields. The task of this house is to oversee all legislation before it is passed to ensure that it reflects what is possible and achievable.

House of People

These are selected from all eligible citizens by lottery, the term is 1 year. All adult citizens that are not members of another House, and who have reached a minimum educational standard, are eligible unless they are prevented from attending meetings by illness, incarceration, or by jobs where substitution is not possible.

House of Regions

The state, assuming it is large enough, is split into regions of roughly equal size. Homogeneity is more important than exact equality in population. Each may have their own parliament but also elect, by proportional representation, a number of representatives to the higher parliament based on their percentage of total population.

Legislation

Legislation must pass all three houses within the Legislative Branch. The houses of the other two branches may veto legislation, in which case it goes to a plebiscite. If legislation fails to pass in all three houses of the Legislative Branch, but has substantial support both there and within the other houses then a plebiscite may be requested. All Citizens have the right to propose legislation, and should they gain enough support it must be considered by the parliament and may be the subject of a plebiscite even without sufficient parliamentary support.

 

Crime and Punishment

Many citizens will access the internet by means of implants. These will have the ability to directly monitor both the physical and psychological state of an individual. Under normal conditions information obtained this way is completely private. Anyone convicted of a sufficiently serious offence must have an implant and, under control of a court, access allowed by legally entitled people to some of the available data. Monitoring will be performed and access protected by an AGI. After completion of a sentence the monitoring will be turned off and complete privacy restored. Second and subsequent offences necessitate longer periods of monitoring. There may be a three-strike rule so that after a third offence the monitor will always be active. The purpose of the monitoring is to detect antisocial and criminal behaviour before or at worst immediately when it occurs. The AGI must ensure that even the worst criminals maintain privacy when engaged in normal activities. Attempts to bypass the AGI to gain information for any other reason, for example commercial gain, will itself be a serious offence.

Most offenders will, it is hoped, be deterred by a technology that makes it very likely that they will be caught. It should also help determine those who are ill, for example drug addicts, or those with some psychological weakness that others could use to manipulate them. Incarceration should be reserved for the very worst cases, not necessarily those who commit the worst offences, but those predators who have no conception of the rights of other people to be free from their depredations. It should be a major goal of technology to be able to detect these people at the earliest possible opportunity and, if no remedy is possible, to remove them from society in order to safeguard others. They must of course be due respect to the basic human right, so even the worst predators must have the right to rehabilitate themselves, so treatment, education and jobs must be available. However if someone is dangerous enough to warrant removal from society then they must demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that they are safe before they can return.

Education

Education must be central to the concept of the state. In a world which is not dominated by the need to have a job to provide for self and family, the quest for knowledge and understanding for its own sake will have a vital role. All educational material will be provided by online courses. For children the primary responsibility will lie with parents, however the state will provide mentors, and premisses in which they can work to help guide children and parents through the courses and provide basic social skills and physical exercise. The education of children is held to be the responsibility of everyone, and everyone may contribute subject to security safeguards. Universities will be provided to do advanced research and as centers for informed debate and the initial development of ideas. The universities will provide most of the online courses, but anyone will be free to present a course if they demonstrate reasonable competence and their material is generally of acceptable standard. Anyone is free to take any course, universities may provide tests of competence and award qualifications as they see fit.

Conclusion

This is a world of plenty. It may seem utopian but it is possible and many think even likely. Abundant power and the use of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and 3d printing provide enough food and material goods to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. The problems of such a society are to avoid stagnation and sinking into a morass of hedonistic excess. There has to be stimulation to ensure that people lead satisfied lives and maintain an interest in progress and expansion. There has to be some form of consumerism to provide a focus for developing new ideas and products. It will be a different world but hopefully an interesting one.

 

[1] Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, The Free Press 2012, http://www.abundancethebook.com/

 

[2] Liberal Democracy, The Third Way, & Social Futurism by Amon Twyman, http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/twyman20140719

 

[3] What is Social Futurism http://wavism.net/principles/what-is-social-futurism/