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8 recommendations to improve the public conversation
David Wood
@dw2
Chair, London Futurists
londonfuturists.com
Principal, Delta Wisdom
deltawisdom.com
Lessons from 10 years of public
meetups addressing existential risk
Cambridge Conference on Catastrophic Risk 2016
@dw2 Page 2
Is it wise to discuss existential
risks with “the public”?
• No!
• It’s bound to alarm people
• They will over-react
• Populist politicians will
inexpertly impose
inappropriate constraints
• The discussion will result in
more harm than good
• Yes!
• It’s risky, but doing nothing
is also risky :-o
• A discussion will happen,
whether or not x-risks
professionals are involved
• We can learn to apply
good skills from the fields
of marketing and politics
@dw2 Page 3
Technology marketing lifecycle
Laggards,
sceptics
Early
adopters,
visionariesTechnology
enthusiasts
Early
majority
Late
majority
Geoffrey Moore: Crossing the Chasm; Everett Rogers: The Diffusion of Innovations
Initial
messaging
Initial messaging,
amplified (louder) ?
@dw2 Page 4
Technology marketing lifecycle
Laggards,
sceptics
Customers want
technology and
features
Customers want
complete solutions, reliability,
and convenience
Early
adopters,
visionariesTechnology
enthusiasts
THECHASM
Early
majority
Late
majority
Can accept poor
usability
Won’t accept poor
usability
Ready to walk a
solitary path
Require social validation
Geoffrey Moore: Crossing the Chasm; Everett Rogers: The Diffusion of Innovations
Credible, comprehensive
solutions to real-world problems
@dw2 Page 5
Theoretical problem
• A future AGI consciously
choosing values different to
those programmed into it
by humans
• Climate change will cause
drastic rise in sea water
level by end of 21st century
• Synthetic biology causes a
split of the human species
• Physicists create black hole
Real-world problem
• Near-future software systems
with bugs, design flaws, or
security defects, with
pervasive impact
• Climate change is already
causing increasingly chaotic
weather: floods, droughts…
• Experimental genetics creates
fast-spreading pathogen
• Terrorists obtain new WMD
@dw2 Page 6
Real-world solutions
• Cessation of all science?
• World government?
• Software companies must
accept more responsibility
for defects in their products
– Like the car companies raising
priority of safety in 1960s+
• Borrow features of safety
culture from nuclear industry
– NB still will be hard
– Most change programmes fail
Real-world problem
• Near-future software systems
with bugs, design flaws, or
security defects, with
pervasive impact
• Climate change is already
causing increasingly chaotic
weather: floods, droughts…
• Experimental genetics creates
fast-spreading pathogen
• Terrorists obtain new WMD
@dw2 Page 7
Eight reasons why change initiatives fail
1. Lack of a sufficient sense of urgency
– Perceived pain of change vs. Perceived pain of status-quo
2. Lack of an effective guiding coalition for the change
– Aligned management – a team with the ability to make things happen
3. Lack of a clear appealing vision of the new method
– Otherwise it may seem too vague – too many unanswered questions
4. Lack of communication for buy-in, keeping the change in people’s mind
5. Lack of empowerment of the people who can implement the change
– Lack of skills, wrong org structure, wrong incentives, bureaucracy…
6. Lack of celebration of small early wins
– No momentum established
7. Lack of follow through – may need wave after wave of change to stick
8. Lack of embedding the change at the cultural level
– Otherwise management changes can unravel the change
From John Kotter,
“Leading Change”
Over 70% of organisational
change projects fail
Pick the right battles
Not a “world gov’t” but
an open lean alliance
Work out the details
of positive scenarios
Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile)
Art!
Management!
@dw2 Page 8
Skills that need to be developed
• Compelling narrative
– Inject urgency, and also positive hope
– Learn from Hollywood, soap operas, box sets, memes
• Scenario development
– Map out likely interactions: tech, social, political
– Partner with futurists
From John Kotter,
“Leading Change”
Over 70% of organisational
change projects fail
Pick the right battles
Not a “world gov’t” but
an open lean alliance
Work out the details
of positive scenarios
Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile)
Art!
Management!
@dw2 Page 9http://valleywag.gawker.com/the-biggest-bullshit-job-titles-in-tech-1521536472
Fashion Evangelist at Tumblr
Digital Prophet at AOL
Entrepreneur-in-Residence
at The Atlantic
Hacker-in-Residence at LinkedIn
Chief Curator at eBay
Chief Happiness Officer
at Delivering Happiness
Anyone who self-describes as a
Futurist
– which is barely even a word,
let alone a job.
@dw2 Page 10
Data driven, hypotheses formed & tested
Wishful thinking
Futurology
Futurism
Astrology
Astronomy
Alchemy
Chemistry
A community of reflective, critical, evidence-based practitioners
@dw2 Page 11
The set of
credible
future
scenarios
Futurists…
Trend analysis
1. Identify scenarios
2. Assess scenarios
Brakes 
Extrapolation 
Interactions
3. Explore actions
Accelerators 
Disruptions
Opportunities
Threats
@dw2 Page 12
Skills that need to be developed
• Compelling narrative
– Inject urgency, and also positive hope
– Learn from Hollywood, soap operas, box sets, memes
• Scenario development
– Map out likely interactions: tech, social, political
– Partner with futurists
• Political alliance building
– Can’t insist on “purity”; Avoid burning bridges
– Identify & prioritise “key influencers”
• Agile development
– More than just a software technique
From John Kotter,
“Leading Change”
Over 70% of organisational
change projects fail
Pick the right battles
Not a “world gov’t” but
an open lean alliance
Work out the details
of positive scenarios
Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile)
Art!
Management!
@dw2 Page 13
Inertia (Waterfall)
• Elaborate planning
• Painstaking execution
• Stick to the plan!
• Big Design Up Front
• Executives’ intuition
• Secrecy
• Execute a single scenario
• Typically disappoint market
Agile / Lean
• Experimentation
• Sprints deliver incrementally
• Be ready to pivot!
• Iterative Design
• Customer feedback
• Customer feedback
• Search for insight on scenarios
• Anticipate market delight
(early & often)
@dw2 Page 14
Drawback of non-Agile execution
What the market
would, in the end,
like to have
What the initial plan
estimated the
market would like
Time
in the (non-agile) case
when “the plan is king”
Delivery
Measure of
market
dissatisfaction
Don’t lock into
scenarios too
early
@dw2 Page 15
With Agile development
(and regular customer feedback)
What the market
would, in the end,
like to have
What the initial plan
estimated the
market would like
Time
following agile
(adaptive) planning
Delivery
Measure of
market
delight
Improve your foresight
planning with regular
feedback from wider circle
@dw2 Page 16
Skills that need to be developed
• Compelling narrative
– Inject urgency, and also positive hope
– Learn from Hollywood, soap operas, box sets, memes
• Scenario development
– Map out likely interactions: tech, social, political
– Partner with futurists
• Political alliance building
– Can’t insist on “purity”; Avoid burning bridges
– Identify & prioritise “key influencers”
• Agile development
– More than just a software technique
From John Kotter,
“Leading Change”
Over 70% of organisational
change projects fail
Pick the right battles
Not a “world gov’t” but
an open lean alliance
Work out the details
of positive scenarios
Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile)
Art!
Management!
@dw2 Page 17
Paradigm shift
Thomas Kuhn – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift
Duck? Rabbit?
@dw2 Page 18
Paradigm shift
Need higher level, integrative vision
@dw2 Page 19
The post-scarcity vision
• An abundance of clean energy (via greentech++)
• An abundance of healthy food (via synthetic biotech++)
• An abundance of material goods (via nanotech++)
• An abundance of affordable health (via rejuvenation biotech++)
• An abundance of all-round intelligence (via cognotech++)
• An abundance of time for creativity (via automation++)
• Supported by cooperative robots, value-aligned AI, better collabtech
• Underpinned by wise use of accelerating technology
– Enabled by directing and utilising positive feedback cycles
Technoprogressive transhumanist vision
@dw2 Page 20
• An abundance of human flourishing and freedom
– Underpinned by wise use of accelerating technology
– Enabled by directing and utilising positive feedback cycles
1. Sustainable (not transient)
– Resources come from renewable sources
2. An “extropia”, not a “utopia”
– A journey (a progression)
3. A possibility, not an inevitability
– Many things could go badly wrong en route
– But the basis of the positive journey can be secured well before 2040…
– Via improved foresight and corresponding action
The post-scarcity vision
Technoprogressive transhumanist vision
New
dark
age
ahead?
@dw2 Page 21
8 recommendations to improve the public conversation
Lessons from 10 years of public
meetups addressing existential risk
1. Prepare to “cross the chasm”: real-world problems, ready solutions
2. Focus – pick the right battles; target selected key influences
3. Engage story-tellers – partner with the best of Hollywood, Netflix…
4. Evolve credible scenarios (tech + human) – partner with futurists
5. Skilfully transcend paradigms – beyond “simply telling the truth”
6. Paint a compelling vision – technoprogressive transhumanism
7. Agile development – incrementally deliver updates to scenarios
8. Embrace politics – little can be achieved without smart alliances

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Lessons from 10 years of public meetups addressing existential risk

  • 1. 8 recommendations to improve the public conversation David Wood @dw2 Chair, London Futurists londonfuturists.com Principal, Delta Wisdom deltawisdom.com Lessons from 10 years of public meetups addressing existential risk Cambridge Conference on Catastrophic Risk 2016
  • 2. @dw2 Page 2 Is it wise to discuss existential risks with “the public”? • No! • It’s bound to alarm people • They will over-react • Populist politicians will inexpertly impose inappropriate constraints • The discussion will result in more harm than good • Yes! • It’s risky, but doing nothing is also risky :-o • A discussion will happen, whether or not x-risks professionals are involved • We can learn to apply good skills from the fields of marketing and politics
  • 3. @dw2 Page 3 Technology marketing lifecycle Laggards, sceptics Early adopters, visionariesTechnology enthusiasts Early majority Late majority Geoffrey Moore: Crossing the Chasm; Everett Rogers: The Diffusion of Innovations Initial messaging Initial messaging, amplified (louder) ?
  • 4. @dw2 Page 4 Technology marketing lifecycle Laggards, sceptics Customers want technology and features Customers want complete solutions, reliability, and convenience Early adopters, visionariesTechnology enthusiasts THECHASM Early majority Late majority Can accept poor usability Won’t accept poor usability Ready to walk a solitary path Require social validation Geoffrey Moore: Crossing the Chasm; Everett Rogers: The Diffusion of Innovations Credible, comprehensive solutions to real-world problems
  • 5. @dw2 Page 5 Theoretical problem • A future AGI consciously choosing values different to those programmed into it by humans • Climate change will cause drastic rise in sea water level by end of 21st century • Synthetic biology causes a split of the human species • Physicists create black hole Real-world problem • Near-future software systems with bugs, design flaws, or security defects, with pervasive impact • Climate change is already causing increasingly chaotic weather: floods, droughts… • Experimental genetics creates fast-spreading pathogen • Terrorists obtain new WMD
  • 6. @dw2 Page 6 Real-world solutions • Cessation of all science? • World government? • Software companies must accept more responsibility for defects in their products – Like the car companies raising priority of safety in 1960s+ • Borrow features of safety culture from nuclear industry – NB still will be hard – Most change programmes fail Real-world problem • Near-future software systems with bugs, design flaws, or security defects, with pervasive impact • Climate change is already causing increasingly chaotic weather: floods, droughts… • Experimental genetics creates fast-spreading pathogen • Terrorists obtain new WMD
  • 7. @dw2 Page 7 Eight reasons why change initiatives fail 1. Lack of a sufficient sense of urgency – Perceived pain of change vs. Perceived pain of status-quo 2. Lack of an effective guiding coalition for the change – Aligned management – a team with the ability to make things happen 3. Lack of a clear appealing vision of the new method – Otherwise it may seem too vague – too many unanswered questions 4. Lack of communication for buy-in, keeping the change in people’s mind 5. Lack of empowerment of the people who can implement the change – Lack of skills, wrong org structure, wrong incentives, bureaucracy… 6. Lack of celebration of small early wins – No momentum established 7. Lack of follow through – may need wave after wave of change to stick 8. Lack of embedding the change at the cultural level – Otherwise management changes can unravel the change From John Kotter, “Leading Change” Over 70% of organisational change projects fail Pick the right battles Not a “world gov’t” but an open lean alliance Work out the details of positive scenarios Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile) Art! Management!
  • 8. @dw2 Page 8 Skills that need to be developed • Compelling narrative – Inject urgency, and also positive hope – Learn from Hollywood, soap operas, box sets, memes • Scenario development – Map out likely interactions: tech, social, political – Partner with futurists From John Kotter, “Leading Change” Over 70% of organisational change projects fail Pick the right battles Not a “world gov’t” but an open lean alliance Work out the details of positive scenarios Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile) Art! Management!
  • 9. @dw2 Page 9http://valleywag.gawker.com/the-biggest-bullshit-job-titles-in-tech-1521536472 Fashion Evangelist at Tumblr Digital Prophet at AOL Entrepreneur-in-Residence at The Atlantic Hacker-in-Residence at LinkedIn Chief Curator at eBay Chief Happiness Officer at Delivering Happiness Anyone who self-describes as a Futurist – which is barely even a word, let alone a job.
  • 10. @dw2 Page 10 Data driven, hypotheses formed & tested Wishful thinking Futurology Futurism Astrology Astronomy Alchemy Chemistry A community of reflective, critical, evidence-based practitioners
  • 11. @dw2 Page 11 The set of credible future scenarios Futurists… Trend analysis 1. Identify scenarios 2. Assess scenarios Brakes  Extrapolation  Interactions 3. Explore actions Accelerators  Disruptions Opportunities Threats
  • 12. @dw2 Page 12 Skills that need to be developed • Compelling narrative – Inject urgency, and also positive hope – Learn from Hollywood, soap operas, box sets, memes • Scenario development – Map out likely interactions: tech, social, political – Partner with futurists • Political alliance building – Can’t insist on “purity”; Avoid burning bridges – Identify & prioritise “key influencers” • Agile development – More than just a software technique From John Kotter, “Leading Change” Over 70% of organisational change projects fail Pick the right battles Not a “world gov’t” but an open lean alliance Work out the details of positive scenarios Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile) Art! Management!
  • 13. @dw2 Page 13 Inertia (Waterfall) • Elaborate planning • Painstaking execution • Stick to the plan! • Big Design Up Front • Executives’ intuition • Secrecy • Execute a single scenario • Typically disappoint market Agile / Lean • Experimentation • Sprints deliver incrementally • Be ready to pivot! • Iterative Design • Customer feedback • Customer feedback • Search for insight on scenarios • Anticipate market delight (early & often)
  • 14. @dw2 Page 14 Drawback of non-Agile execution What the market would, in the end, like to have What the initial plan estimated the market would like Time in the (non-agile) case when “the plan is king” Delivery Measure of market dissatisfaction Don’t lock into scenarios too early
  • 15. @dw2 Page 15 With Agile development (and regular customer feedback) What the market would, in the end, like to have What the initial plan estimated the market would like Time following agile (adaptive) planning Delivery Measure of market delight Improve your foresight planning with regular feedback from wider circle
  • 16. @dw2 Page 16 Skills that need to be developed • Compelling narrative – Inject urgency, and also positive hope – Learn from Hollywood, soap operas, box sets, memes • Scenario development – Map out likely interactions: tech, social, political – Partner with futurists • Political alliance building – Can’t insist on “purity”; Avoid burning bridges – Identify & prioritise “key influencers” • Agile development – More than just a software technique From John Kotter, “Leading Change” Over 70% of organisational change projects fail Pick the right battles Not a “world gov’t” but an open lean alliance Work out the details of positive scenarios Create x-risk solutions in sprints (Agile) Art! Management!
  • 17. @dw2 Page 17 Paradigm shift Thomas Kuhn – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift Duck? Rabbit?
  • 18. @dw2 Page 18 Paradigm shift Need higher level, integrative vision
  • 19. @dw2 Page 19 The post-scarcity vision • An abundance of clean energy (via greentech++) • An abundance of healthy food (via synthetic biotech++) • An abundance of material goods (via nanotech++) • An abundance of affordable health (via rejuvenation biotech++) • An abundance of all-round intelligence (via cognotech++) • An abundance of time for creativity (via automation++) • Supported by cooperative robots, value-aligned AI, better collabtech • Underpinned by wise use of accelerating technology – Enabled by directing and utilising positive feedback cycles Technoprogressive transhumanist vision
  • 20. @dw2 Page 20 • An abundance of human flourishing and freedom – Underpinned by wise use of accelerating technology – Enabled by directing and utilising positive feedback cycles 1. Sustainable (not transient) – Resources come from renewable sources 2. An “extropia”, not a “utopia” – A journey (a progression) 3. A possibility, not an inevitability – Many things could go badly wrong en route – But the basis of the positive journey can be secured well before 2040… – Via improved foresight and corresponding action The post-scarcity vision Technoprogressive transhumanist vision New dark age ahead?
  • 21. @dw2 Page 21 8 recommendations to improve the public conversation Lessons from 10 years of public meetups addressing existential risk 1. Prepare to “cross the chasm”: real-world problems, ready solutions 2. Focus – pick the right battles; target selected key influences 3. Engage story-tellers – partner with the best of Hollywood, Netflix… 4. Evolve credible scenarios (tech + human) – partner with futurists 5. Skilfully transcend paradigms – beyond “simply telling the truth” 6. Paint a compelling vision – technoprogressive transhumanism 7. Agile development – incrementally deliver updates to scenarios 8. Embrace politics – little can be achieved without smart alliances