The Cognitive Roots of Conflict

TechCast’s study of mis/disinformation leads us to this broader focus on studying the Cognitive Roots of Conflict.

The table below maps various thoughts regarding climate change – the biggest crisis of our time. Entries are noted attitudes defining the Crisis and the Status Quo, highlighting the differences that have blocked action for decades.

Cognitive Maps have become the very heart of AI. To understand and automate some human activity, we first have to define its components, how they interact, and the goals. We have to map the cognitive terrain.

These data, beliefs, and other thoughts are organized along the cognitive scale of 9 functions identified in our AI vs Humans study. It’s not perfect, but a sound framework out of our TechCast Expert work.

If this study proves useful, we could expand it to include other intractable conflicts — abortion, gun control, inequality, immigration, etc.

Research Method:  The TechCast Collective Intelligence Process

This study used our normal method of collective intelligence. We first created a cognitive map of the Climate Crisis and then analyzed the map to produce three alternative scenarios at about 2030. While endless scenarios are possible, these capture the most dominant variations. In all cases, it is assumed that the climate crisis will become more severe in this decade. The scenarios differ in the timing and ability to respond. It could be thought of as political will or strategic foresight capability. 

Scenario 1 plans to Anticipate the Crisis quickly and thereby return to normality.

Scenario 2 reacts to Meet the Crisis as it becomes more severe and thereby heads off disaster.

Scenario 3 tries to Stall the Crisis in an attempt to muddle through, provoking a far more dangerous climate shift.
 
 
Map of Climate Change

The following analysis suggests provocative strategies that could resolve this conflict.

 

Analysis  of the Cognitive Map

9. Vision  Thoughtful, plausible, and inspiring visions of sustainable futures may help resolve the climate problem. If done well, especially with the participation of those opposed, some hearts and minds are likely to soften to grasp that a better world is possible.

8. Imagination, Creativity  We certainly could benefit from a healthy dose of creative thought to bolster a sustainable vision. 

7. Values and Beliefs  This function may be the nub of the problem. How to recast the diehard beliefs of climate deniers? Some will never yield, of course, but an honest engagement with those holding opposing belief systems could possibly shift opinion toward reality, especially if supported by compelling visions and the hard facts further down in this table.

6. Purpose, Will, Choice   Noting the actions being taken by governments, corporations and communities should have desirable impacts on overcoming resistance.

5. Emotion, Empathy   If those doubtful about the need for change could witness some of the enormous tragedies possibly ahead, a change of heart and mind would make a difference.

4. Decision, Logic     This cognitive function demands a great deal. How can we engage people in realistic problem-solving experiences that weigh the evidence to reach sound conclusions for change? 

3. Information, Knowledge, Understanding   See above. These are major basic elements needed to reach sound choices.

2. Learning, Memory   Better processes and information sources are needed to break through misunderstandings to gain accurate knowledge. 

1. Perception, Awareness  The very source of experiential life. What could creative simulations of the disasters lying ahead possibly do to shift awareness? Visits to locales actually experiencing climate shift?  Meeting those who have taken action?

 
Three Alternative Scenarios

A useful outcome of this study is to examine scenarios of various strategies and their outcomes at about 2030. While endless scenarios are possible, TechCast proposes the following 3 scenarios that seem to capture the most dominant variations:

 

Scenario 1 – Anticipate the Crisis

Proponents of resolving the climate crisis moved quickly to resolve the problem and revert to the pre-fossil fuel era. They invited opposition leaders to visit locales with unusually heavy floods, wildfires, scorching heat, drought, and violent storms. They spoke with people who were suffering, change advocates, city governments and business leaders. They examined a variety of information sources to break through misunderstandings and gain accurate knowledge of the even bigger dangers ahead. 

Some opponents would not yield, of course. But, after engaging all these different parties in participative discussions and problem-solving, along with a dose of creative thought, people reached their own conclusions about remedial actions that would solve the problem with desirable impacts. A compelling vision emerged finally that most agreed would lead to a healthy and sustainable world. 

 

Results

 

Comments

 

Peter King:

Business will continue with the short-term profit motive and climate change may even trigger more aggressive investment strategies as business leaders “see the writing on the wall.” They feel a need to extract maximum profits before their sector is regulated out of business or experiences structural failure in their supply chain.

 

Brian (Bo) Newman

I feel that current political climate appears to be moving in this direction but probably not quick enough to achieve stated end conditions.


Ted Gordon

I think the crisis is being anticipated (in some places by some people at least) but political reality is delaying implementation of any real effective action. Look at the difficulty President Biden is having implementing his big jobs and infrastructure initiatives. “Normality” will come to mean accepting a degrading environment. Probability of widespread acceptance of a looming crisis and implementing near-term effective action.

 

Yul Anderson

I agree that the dominant issues blocking action on climate involve subjective forms of thought. For industrialized countries, the fear of loss is key. They fear “other nations will gain and they will lose.”  Those in power question whether there will be enough for them, as a result, there is no sympathy for the weak and marginalized in the current situation.  The probability of those in power putting policies in place to preserve their futures is very likely. The use of technology and access to information will make the marginalized more aware of how abused they have been and how negatively global contacts have been on their countries and contributions to climate change. 

The scenarios are too Western-based with no hope for Southern countries and continued dominance by Western countries resulting in a lopsided future. The West has polluted the planet so badly that the only result for the South is to migrate to the North.  The North will run out of resources, leading us to off-world explorations in search of a more sustainable world and leaving what’s left to live under climate-controlled earth domes. We need to change the present economy we are in.  There are water shortages in the Western part of the US, but yet we allow Coke to sell us water in a bottle without a green tax. There is no sense in implementing a green tax on Southern Countries that have not been able to participate in polluting the world.  Africa is just learning how to use tech and then the West wants to tax Africa? The end result here is that the West and wealthy remain wealthy, while the poor will have to migrate to find sustainability.

Clayton Dean

I think this is wishful thinking. We all know what’s happening.  Yet the system of ‘Big Science’ isn’t adroit enough to effectuate the change in the desired timeframe.

Jacques Malan

Too much singing of kumbaya in this framing. In general, people don’t and won’t react until their tails are on fire. Politicians are worse.
Kent Myers

I don’t see that this is a technical possibility.  There is too much inertia in the natural, technical, and social systems. Nothing could be done to slow them down before much more serious destruction.] 

Scenario 2 – Meet the Crisis

The mid-2020s proved critical as climate change grew more severe, leaving parts of the southern US, Middle East, Africa, and Asia uninhabitable. The resulting economic disruption caused the global depression that had long been feared as national debt reached stratospheric levels. Climate-change refugees fled to northern regions, cities like New York City struggled to subdue chronic flooding, much like Venice.  Public riots soon forced politicians to take serious steps to curtail CO2 emissions.

Forecasts for the coming years were even more severe, creating a global shift of opinion to resolve the climate crisis. Fresh ideas and new leadership emerged to rally a movement to “Create a Sustainable World.”  Beliefs flipped as former climate deniers found faith in Nature, and environmentalists accepted the need for economic reality. Green technologies and environmental research were shared around the globe. A universal green tax was adopted, with revenues to be returned to taxpayers. And with millions of high-tech jobs opening in environmental work, the global economy entered a period of clean growth. It is estimated that “peak CO2” or “peak warming” was likely to be reached about 2034. 

 

Results

 

Comments

Margherita Abe

I am very pessimistic regarding global leaders responding to the climate crisis with the urgency that it demands.I give the second and third choices equal weighting because right now I consider them to be equally probable.  What I wish for is scenario 2, especially since I think that scenario 1 is totally unlikely and dread the possibility of scenario 3 actually occurring.

 

Peter King

Climate change is not going to be seen as a “day after tomorrow” flipping a switch. It will be a slow onset, incremental set of changes. Similar to the “boiling frog syndrome,” business will adjust to the changes and consumers will pay more for climate-adjusted prices, including things like carbon taxes. The “blah, blah, blah” buzzwords from the political class will become more strident but will be increasingly seen as empty words. We will learn to live with daily news items of disappearing countries, climate refugees, floods and wildfires as the new normal.

 

Brian (bo) Newman

Without the emergence of effective leadership at the global level, there is still a significant risk of delays in timely response and solution adoption. 

Ian Browde

This implies that national debt will cause a depression. That is not necessarily accurate. It may in fact be true that the global depression arrives because the national debt did not reach stratospheric levels and hence little action was taken. This appears to be possible in the USA as we edge towards an autocratic oligarchy.

 

Owen Davies

The median scenario has a better chance, but it seems likely to be the 2030s before China, the US, and India feel the heat–pun intended–enough to respond effectively and longer before new environmental policies yield significant benefit.


Arthur Shostak

It is very difficult to see the foreseeable future in the matter. Each has a plausible possibility of dominating the scene for at least the next 25 years – though a Trump second presidency would assure stalling.

Assuming Trump does not “steal” the leadership in 2024, I then expect the middle course – “Anticipate the Crisis” to take the lead at least until 2028 by which time we might finally be ready for the more extreme corrective measures of “Meet the Crisis.” This reflects my confidence that younger people around the globe are increasingly convinced something significantly “green” must be accomplished ASAP.

The Devil of course remains as usual in the details: Can solar be sufficiently upscaled? Will nuclear fusion energy ever make sense? Can existing nuclear plants and their waste be better managed? Can rising coastal waters and flooding of low-lying farmlands be overcome? Will the world’s top 10% agree to pay more taxes to fund green changes? 

In short, can we soon develop a complex globe-wide reform formula guided by creativity, imagination, and goodwill? If not, a corrosive stall will increasingly dominate, possibly even despite an increasingly frightening desire to rectify the matter. 

 

Paul Haase

I wish I could be more optimistic regarding “anticipate the crisis” but taking into account that key elements of climate protection are being taken out of public investment programs leaves me hesitant. The same seems to be happening in Germany in these days with the Green Party giving in on key climate protection initiatives like the speed limit on the German autobahn – just to gain power and make the new coalition work. Key actions to make climate protection effective tend to be popular for a short period of time after the catastrophes happen (e. g. Californian fire, German flooding). However, people forget too easily, focusing back on their day-to-day business issues very quickly. This is what drives their election decisions eventually resulting in a much less ambitious public climate protection program – a weakness of democracy.

 

Xin-Wu Lin

Collective actions are required for avoiding the climate crisis. When some more severe disasters happened, the evidence and witnesses would inspire more voices from the public, and then push politicians to take action.

Green tax might come out and become a universal norm because it is a way to internalize environmental issues into all human beings’ daily life.

Return to the model of the cognitive map, as an economist, I think Information, Knowledge, Understanding, Decision, Logic, Emotion, Empathy are very critical.

 

Ted Gordon

This scenario should include well-meaning attempts to geo-engineer around climate change. But some of these programs may well create negative and unanticipated outcomes. Examples might include attempts at weather control, trying to move the Gulf Stream, stirring up the oceans to change their surface temperature, weather weapons (ugh!), changing the earth’s albedo, orbiting sunshades or mirrors. To encourage such programs, the scenario should mention some incentives: prizes, scientific and popular recognition, media hype, and new university courses. Will any of these “solve” the crisis?

 

Yul Anderson

While there may be a great migration as a result of global migration due to climate change, a change in global resources from North-South contractual arrangements shifts, forcing Northern counties to change resources for building materials, food, and energy.  The universal green tax, while a good idea, still marginalizes developing countries and prevents advancements in using carbon fuels. However, developing countries like Africa, Asia, Middle East, are forced to develop sustainable societies as the west increasingly shuts its borders to climate migration.

 

Clayton Dean

Look at what’s happening in the US. We are getting a resurgence of labor movements.  If you’re part of the 60-80% of Americans who has seen their wages stagnate over the past 40 years — you can’t afford to worry about much more than family, food and housing. Heck, a sitting U.S. Senator just blocked any subsidies that would ‘discriminate against coal. Coal!!! The current political climate incentivizes the U.S. to double down on buggy whips rather than fusion cells. The hope has to be on private companies to innovate us out this. 

 
Jacques Malan

This would be my “best we can hope for” scenario. And the developed world will likely jump on this bandwagon. Africa, South America and most of Asia (with notable exceptions) will likely not, as that will decimate their already fragile economies. As an example, no matter what the politicians say, with unemployment at over 44% in South Africa (yes, official figures), the vox populi doesn’t give a hoot about climate change.

 

Kent Myers

This would take an emergency political-social response on the order of WWII or Meiji Restoration.  While it would be possible for two groups to rise up fiercely — worldwide angry youth, and old people guilty for killing generations forward — there seems to be no significant political class in the world that could be moved by those groups. The problem with the examples (WWII and Meiji) is that these movements were focused on one society and a more visceral “ethnophilia.”  There’s not enough broad “androphilia” or “biophilia” or even “cosmophilia (spiritual)” to generate pressure in multiple societies.  But, as I say, the pressure has to move a political class, and no amount of pressure seems capable of doing that in any of the major emitters. 

 

Scenario 3 – Stall on the Crisis

The same environmental threats as above took place, but the comfortable path of muddling through prevailed.  The onset of more heat, drought, wildfires, floods, and violent storms was devastating, but opinion remained divided, so there was insufficient political will for serious change. The global economy suffered from lost jobs, rising poverty, and lesser social services. The professional and wealthy classes maintained the bulk of national income.

People tried to adapt in various ways. Some left southern regions as they became uninhabitable, so Canada, Nordic nations, and Russia boomed in population. To fend off excessive immigrants, some countries built borders walls to limit their passage. Investments were poured into green energy, carbon capture, and geoengineering, although it was too little too late. Climate decline continued, fed by big increases in air conditioning and other attempts to stave off the heat. This created a positive feedback loop that increased CO2, merely accelerating the impending shift in climate.

 

Results

 

Comments


Peter King

The climate crisis is not new, as we have known about the potential changes and impacts for more than a century already. Stalling is what we do best.  It is what we have done so far and will continue to do as long as “it doesn’t affect me personally”. Yes, there will be some feeble efforts to change like carbon taxes, offsets, and climate laws but economies will adjust to these changes.  Slogans like “net-zero” will be proven to be idle dreaming and not possible in the real world, especially in industries requiring fossil fuels such as aviation.

I can tell the difference between spin and reality. The following empty words are just spin – green economy, circular economy, net-zero, climate neutrality, clean energy, sustainable cities, carbon capture and storage, decarbonization, decoupling, etc.  I have to examine what each of these slogans means in real-life programs and projects.  Let’s take “green hydrogen” as an example.  The concept is good – use renewable energy (e.g., concentrated solar) to break water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis.  When you do a life cycle analysis of the system to produce and use “green hydrogen” you find that the carbon emissions are anything but negative – the materials that go into constructing a concentrated solar plant, the transportation of materials and workers, the mining of the catalysts that are needed, the steel that goes into the pipelines, the construction and operation of the shipping to export the hydrogen to Japan, the embedded carbon in the steel production, the steel and other materials that go into constructing the trucks and planes that would use the hydrogen, etc. – and the net effect is an increase in GHG emissions. 

 

For an analysis that claims to be climate neutral or net-zero or climate negative, I challenge the proponent to define the system boundaries and then do a complete life cycle assessment.  So far, I haven’t found any technology being claimed as a climate solution actually offering the potential to be climate negative and potentially scalable to the global level.  Even technologies like direct air capture of carbon, you find that most of the captured CO2 is actually used to increase the extraction of the last oil and gas from a fracking operation.  So, yes, I am pretty sure we will continue to muddle through claiming lots of green credentials that actually don’t stack up in the cold light of life cycle analysis. I really wish I could be more positive, by the way.

 

Clayton Rawlings

I wish there was room for scenario 2.5 where we are not as bad as scenario 3 but still worse than scenario 2. The unspoken truth is we will have to stop burning hydrocarbon as our voracious need for energy continues to increase exponentially. Big Oil knows this, and they will continue to fund climate deniers (fake science) and political campaigns for those who will do their bidding. “The center will not hold” and over the cliff, we go. Advanced AI is the wild card. Severe rational thought could be our rescue.

 

Brian (Bo) Newman

The emergence of extreme disruptive political factions could disrupt or reverse any meaningful progress. 

 

Ian Browde

While I hope with all my heart that I am wrong, my personal take is that scenario 3 is most likely since most of the big powers USA, Russia, Brazil, and India are in the throes of becoming more authoritarian, more fragmented and less open-minded. Europe and China will be swept along by those tides even though there the predominant intent seems to be climate change-oriented. This scenario is the one that has played out historically, no matter the crisis. 

Owen Davies

I see no real prospect that the largest polluting nations will change their ways before the world is fully committed to environmental catastrophe. The evidence to date suggests that political obstruction will delay their full benefits much too long.

The critical issue, as you rightly point out, is one of values. Unfortunately, the values that matter are those of the rich, powerful, and ruthless. For every Gates and Soros, there are a dozen Adelsons, Kochs, Waltons, Uihleins…the list goes on. The worst of our wealthy have bought a Republican Party to serve them in compounding their money and keeping the heat and the rabble outside their estates. The death of American democracy now being engineered in red-state legislatures ensures that their priorities will dominate the nation’s actions, even as politicians maunder about changing its ways.

For our current purpose, the oligarchies of China and India and the Russian kleptocrats are almost indistinguishable from their counterparts here, save that they need give even less token support to global well-being. The world can expect little help from them a least until Beijing perceives an agrarian uprising in the making.

We do have one last hope. That is technology. So much faster than anyone hoped, wind and solar energy have become cheaper than fossil-fueled power plants, and their advantage grows daily. Eventually, it will be impossible to hold back. But politicians like Sen. Manchin will continue to obstruct them at every step until our window to avoid environmental catastrophe has long closed–assuming it has not done so already, and that is not clear to me.

Effective environmentalism, like almost all other policies I consider valuable, is the stuff of social democracies. The United States isn’t one, and it will not become one soon.

Orwell told us to picture the future as a boot stamping on a human face. Given current political trends, I picture it as neo-feudalism, or perhaps neo-manorialism, the rich and their servants living behind well-guarded walls, while the serfs scratch for a living outside. One group will be comfortable no matter what happens to the environment. The other won’t matter.

 

Art Murray

The reason I weighted scenario #3 so heavily is that I always try to take a total system view:

  • Environment (not just climate and weather, but toxicity, air, water and soil contamination, etc.)
  • pending economic collapse (from runaway government and corporate spending built upon nearly one quadrillion dollars in total global debt, derivatives, re-hypothecated securities, unfunded liabilities, and “off-the-books” shadow debt)
  • more pandemics, as we discussed with Jerry, et al, especially the Nipah virus, which is hundreds of times more deadly than Covid and is already seriously impacting our offices in India
  • war and terrorism (always with us, just review 5,000 years of human history), including the growing threat of cyberattacks which can bring a whole country to its knees
  • hunger from the collapse of food and supply webs, even before taking climate change into account
  • loss of social cohesion that comes with all of the above

So the main reason I rated scenarios #1 and #2 very low is simply that as the economy is already weighed down from debt, and social security and other benefits run dry, another more severe pandemic hits, war and terrorism break out and intensify, along with rioting in cities because of loss of jobs, food, etc. – there is NO WAY people are going to even think about pouring trillions of dollars into addressing climate change

 

Ted Gordon

Like Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss we will accept whatever we get and call it the best of all possible worlds. This scenario should include some “normal” progress that accompanies the usual development paths: e.g., electric vehicles brought about through marketing, competition, consumer choices, economic advances, etc. And don’t forget some hopeful random events such as fusion-based electricity generation, new means for massive energy storage, species preserving (or even species re-creation) genetics, teleportation (via entanglement), and who knows what?  Will any of these stall the crisis? 

 

Yul Anderson

While this scenario may prove true, the global economy shifted its use of resources (for example, cement).  It was proven that cement, like many of the resources used in the Western building industry, was warming the planet as well as C02 emissions.  Southern countries were less reliant on cement and able to leapfrog into the future using drone technology to power personal and public transportation.  Southern countries were able to adapt to new technologies and reverted to southern-based architecture long lost or denied by Western countries.  Air conditioning in southern countries was a luxury anyway, and the poor had not benefitted for more than 200 years anyway. 

 

Clayton Dean

I don’t buy the end results — migration patterns, et al — in this option only that we will continue to stall. I prefer to think of it as chipping away at the problem. Change is slow to happen until it isn’t.  Socially we’ve gotten there on gay rights and marijuana but not on guns.  Change is really slow… until a tipping point is reached.  We won’t get to said tipping point on climate through external events (e.g., migrations, equator being uninhabitable, et al). Rather we will get there because innovation will.  No one can reasonably argue that coal is the future.  No one can reasonably argue that greenhouse gases and smog are great.  It’s just that they’re cheap and easy.  Things like Biden’s wind farm off the U.S. Coasts may take 5 years to build, or if admins change… 25 years.  But they will be built.  And they will slow down the crisis and eventually ameliorate the effects.  But I don’t see things like ‘climate riots’ or even massive immigration being realistic levers to the sorts of changes.  As such stall, stall, stall until either the science is so irrefutable or hope that the next 3 Elon Musks opt to build companies and not work for Apple.  And I suspect it’s easier culturally/legally to change the workweek to 4 days/week with two days at home — to limit greenhouse gases — than it is to get 51 Senators to agree on ‘science’ when there are so many monied interests lurking.  The changes, if any, will NOT be coming from policymakers.

 

Jacques Malan

Most likely scenario, with a probability around 60%, for the reasons already outlined above, and due to the fact that a growing totalitarian ineptocracy (which include mainstream media) struggles to recoup the trust of the ordinary citizen (viz the whole Covid debacle). We need these idiots to be completely honest with us, or we will continue to lend our ears to “alternative” media (which is actually already more trustworthy IMHO). 

 

Kent Myers

Clearly the winner.  A great deal of energy will be wasted on pointless ‘personal’ good deeds.  Heat will need to be reinterpreted as pollution that gets severely regulated and taxed. Easy money needs to be made in a building spree for low-heat infrastructure.

 
Analysis and Conclusions
 
These results are depressing in their implications. The most likely outcome is the “Stall the Crisis“ scenario with a 48.3% probability. The “Meet the Crisis” scenario was only rated at 30.4%. Similar estimates are available that confirm this pessimistic outlook. See the Guardian article “The Climate Disaster Is Here.”
 
We conclude that civilization is facing a moment of truth. This decade will decide whether the world is plunged into a disastrous shift in climate or if it can be pulled back from the brink. Muddling through is no longer enough.
 
While gloom is everywhere, there are sound reasons for hope. A recent report by the PEW Research Center shows that two-thirds of those living in the US and other modern nations are so alarmed by the Covid Pandemic that they now demand major changes in political, economic, and health care systems.  The World Economic Forum called recently for a “global reset” in all spheres of society.
 
These results confirm the thesis of Beyond Knowledge: How Technology Is Driving an Age of Consciousness. The book faces climate change and other crises squarely, calling it a “Crisis of Global Maturity.” But it also recognizes the forces countering this Global MegaCrisis — the relentless drive of social evolution now moving beyond the Knowledge Age. The next stage of development is an Age of Consciousness, although it is disguised by all the post-factual nonsense being spewed from both right- and left-wing radicals. Liberals focused on being woke, politically correct, cancel culture, defund the police, etc. — while conservatives insist on the big lie, anti-vaccination, and climate denial, etc. All these claims are beyond knowledge — they are subjective thought, or higher-order consciousness.

This conclusion is supported by the cognitive map of the climate crisis. The dominant issues in the map involve subjective forms of thought (cognitive functions 5-9) rather than objective thought (functions 1-4). Objective thought (knowledge, logic, etc) is crucial certainly. But the main reason nations are unable to resolve the issues of our time is that action is blocked by subjective consciousness (emotion, purpose, values, beliefs, vision, etc).

If this analysis of social evolution holds, we are likely to witness a historic shift toward global consciousness. All stages of evolution have been powered by revolutions — the Agrarian, Industrial, and Digital Revolutions. This means the Age of Consciousness is likely to produce a “Mental/Spiritual Revolution.” Yes, this seems almost hopeless, but that is usually the case before revolutionary change. Nobody thought the Soviet Union would collapse until it actually did.

William Shatner (Capt. Kirk) exuded an overwhelming love for the planet after orbiting Earth — the foundation of global consciousness. 
 
The year 2024 seems likely to become a critical pivot point for the US. Former President Trump seems likely to seek reelection, while climate disasters are likely to escalate. With a raging climate crisis combined with the results of Trump’s first term, are enough Americans willing to accept more of the same? Anything could happen, of course. But 2024 seems destined to be a moment of truth.  If Americans seize this opportunity for epochal change, the world is likely to follow.
 
Beyond Knowledge receives flak constantly for forecasting that global consciousness is likely to arrive about 2025 +/- 5 years. No later than 2035 at the extreme. Despite doubt everywhere, this remains our most likely forecast. We will know in a few years.

This study illustrates the central role of consciousness today. Our next study will examine how extensively consciousness dominates public policy today. We are moving closer to the heart of the problem. Our working hypothesis is that modern nations are today living beyond knowledge in a state of subjective consciousness.  Look for our next issue.

We are grateful for the following experts who helped with this study: Owen Davies, Peter King, Clayton Rawlings, Brian (Bo) Newman, Ian Browde, John Meagher, Young-Jin Choi, Margherita Abe, Aharon Hauptman, Kent Myers, Art Murray, Ashish Manwar, John Frieslaar, Art Shostak, Paul Haase, Xin-Wu Lin, Adam Siegel, Ted Gordon, Yul Anderson, Adam Siegel, Clayton Dean, Jacques Malan, Carlos Scheel.

 

 

Mis/DisInformation

Executive Overview

You would think we should have been enlightened by the past few decades of the Knowledge Age, so why do people seem badly misinformed, confused, emotional and unreasonable? Many do not believe in evolution, climate change, vaccination and other established science. 

Roughly one-third of Americans have accepted conspiracy theories and the “big lie” that the 2020 US presidential election was stolen. Statistica reports that 70 percent of Internet users think fake news causes doubt and confusion, with social media the least trusted news source worldwide. And 83 percent of people believe disinformation negatively affects their country’s politics. [6]  Norman Lear, the famous TV producer, said: “We just may be the most-informed, yet least self-aware people in history,” [1]  and Senator Ben Sasse worried, “We are living in an America of perpetual adolescence.” [2]

Extensive studies confirm that attitudes, beliefs and even rational decisions are largely shaped by a variety of well-known biases, political party allegiance, and other extraneous factors.[3]  Even hard-nosed business people admit that bias in decision-making is a major problem.[4] These irrational tendencies explain why demagogues successfully use the lure of self-serving fantasies that blind people to the truth and mobilize them into violence.[5]  

This dilemma poses one of the great ironies of our time. The digital revolution has created a wealth of knowledge that is almost infinite. The smartphone alone has made the world’s store of information available at the touch of a finger. There is no shortage of knowledge, but its power is badly limited. Although the world is covered with an abundance of communication, it is not a very happy place. Just as the Gutenberg printing press unleashed a flood of information that led to disruptive change, brutal conflict and the Protestant Reformation, this deluge of digital knowledge has brought a “post-factual” wave of nonsense, fake news and conspiracy theories that pose global threats.

The graph below summarizes results for the 10 questions (Qs) posed for respondents. One of the most striking conclusions is that people think mis/disinformation has devastating impacts. The data to questions 1, 8, 9 and 10 rate the issue above 7 on a 10-point scale, well above any thought that mis/disinformation is of middling concern. Further, responses to Qs 8, 9, and 10 show that the magnitude of concern is not expected to diminish with time.

Another major conclusion is the distrust of institutions to remedy this situation. Qs 2 and 3 show a marked distrust in big tech companies and the federal government to help. In contrast, Qs 4, 5, 6, and 7 suggest people are more confident that education, culture, leadership, and AI are likely to be more useful. Better education stands out as the most powerful force for change.

Finally, we can see bipolar distributions of the data showing the prevalent divide in attitudes toward government, culture, leadership AI and education.

In short, the mis/disinformation problem is deadly serious, it is here to stay, and companies and governments are not likely to help. But there seems to be hope in reforming education, social cultures, leadership and AI applications.

This analysis is supported by the many comments also included below, but opinion varies widely, as noted the bipolar data. To fully appreciate the richness of this complex issue, please look over the comments and savor the wide diversity of thoughtful viewpoints. You will be grateful for the thought poured into this crucial study.

A final conclusion runs through many comments. There seems to be a serious and compelling suggestion that mis/disinformation should be penalized through fines, dropping service, penalties or some way to discourage misuse of the media.  An authoritative body, aiding by good AI, would have to judge when mis/disinformation has occurred, of course. But that is needed in any case, and “internalizing” costs has been shown to be a powerful regulator of behavior at minimal social cost.

 

The Mis/DisInformation Ecosystem

“Mis/DisInformation” includes misinformation (honest errors) and disinformation (intended to deceive). There is a constant stream of mistakes, distortions, false news, and endless other information corruption in public media. Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants have faced mounting criticism for allowing inflammatory and even violent traffic to spread dangerous falsehoods. Even where care is taken to avoid mistakes, ethical behavior is hard to enforce.  Revelations of widespread surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence organizations have brought demands for public exposure of data-gathering practices.  Transparency in government is often promised but seldom delivered. In parts of the world, rampant corruption is taken for granted.

A New York University study found that mis/disinformation on Facebook gets 6 times as many clicks as factual information.  Also, 68% of Republican posts are mis/disinformation while 38% of Democratic posts are mis/disinformation. This confirms our study showing the problem is deadly serious. The article appeared in the Washington Post

The spread of Mis/DisInformation” involves individuals making choices. They comprise an ecosystem. This suggests there are about 3 major “causes” involved: The environment and the individual interact in a social environment to determine the information that is accepted as valid and passed on.

 
The Information Environment

This includes all the various sources of information that surround us, good, bad or otherwise.

The individual Making Choices

People bring a variety of values, beliefs and other predispositions that encourage particular choices of information.

The Social Environment

Significant others, leaders, culture, etc. all influence individual’s choice of information.

This is just a rough and simple framework. I do think it moves us toward a better way to think about disinformation. Note that this Mis/DisInformation Ecosystem can become a vicious cycle. A tasty bit of disinformation appears in the environment. Individuals pass it on to friends and family. They in turn spread the disinformation further to create “buzz.” The buzz takes on a life of its own and stimulates more related disinformation. And so on. The reverse can occur when accurate information spreads to dispel Mis/DisInformation in a virtuous cycle.

Robert Finkelstein has produced two chapters on the disinformation ecosystem for the SAGE Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (published in 2021). One chapter is about Evolutionary Psychology and Cyberwarfare (and the other is about Evolutionary Psychology and Robotics).  Contact Bob at bobf@robotictechnologyinc.com if they might be of interest to you.  

 

Forces Driving Mis/DisInformation

Here are some major sources of Mis/DisInformation:

Willful Ignorance 

It does not help that large parts of the public embrace confusion out of sheer perversity. TV and the Internet have produced what has been called “the dumbest generation” with a brazen disregard for books and reading, often favoring religious and political beliefs. [6] Following are choice bits of willful ignorance in the US and other modern nations.

  • The US ranks near the bottom of nations whose citizens believe in evolution, with less than 40 percent saying they accept the science.  [7]
  • Two-thirds cannot name the three branches of government. [8]
  • Half of Trump voters believe President Obama was born in Kenya. [9]
  • Thirty percent of people think cloud computing involves actual clouds.[10]
  • Twenty-five percent don’t know the Earth revolves around the Sun.[11]
  • Fewer than half know that humans evolved from primitive species.[12]
  • Two-thirds of undergraduate students score above average on narcissism personality tests, up 30 percent from 1982.[13]

Corporate Misbehavior  

Despite a drive to increased openness, corporate secrecy and cover-ups remain common. In the US, whistle-blowing events have increased, and SEC actions against public companies hit an all-time high. (Bloomberg, Feb 14, 2017)

Public Complicity

In many countries, corruption remains a major problem. In India, the most corrupt country in Asia, almost 70 percent of the population accessing public services report having paid a bribe to do so. (Forbes, Mar 8, 2017)

Fake News Proliferating

Intentionally false articles and slanted reporting have proliferated in recent years. US intelligence agencies found a widespread Russian program of fake news and disinformation, although they are unsure of the impact. Fake news imposes real social costs and serves to destabilize society. (Journal of Economic Perspectives, Spring 2017)

Deep Fakes Are Hard to Detect 

Increasingly sophisticated machine learning can create, often in real-time, convincing but fake audio and video. While being developed, tools to guarantee the authenticity of a given video or audio clip are lagging behind. (MIT Technology Review, May 1, 2017) Ted Gordon thinks the technologies will increasingly make voice, facial, gait, aroma, provenance, and the like, indistinguishable from reality. How will we be able to tell “the real thing?”

Post-Factual Mess

The advent of today’s “post-factual world” carries the problem to an extreme by forcing us to sort through fake news and conspiracy theories. An entire cottage industry has sprung up to produce books titled “Assault on intelligence,” “The death of truth,” “A world without facts,” “The death of expertise” and “Truth decay.” [14]

Inƒormation War

Commercial firms conducted for-hire disinformation in at least 48 countries last year — nearly double from the year before, according to an Oxford University study. The researchers identified 65 companies offering such services.

 

Governments and Corporations Responding 

Throughout Western democracies, governments are requiring disclosure of corporate information to ensure ethical dealings. Many shareholders want even more.


DARPA Working to Spot Fake Media

With machine learning algorithms becoming adept at generating believable fake audiovisual content, it’s important to be able to detect the fakes. To that end, DARPA has launched a project aiming at catching the so-called “deep fakes”.  (MIT Technology Review, May 23, 2018)

Shareholder Demands 

Investors in growing numbers are demanding greater transparency from corporate boards and executives in matters of compensation, company operations, and political contributions. 

Social Media Companies Responding to Fake News

In response to concerns about fake news’ impact on society and even election results, organizations are taking further steps to prevent fake news from spreading. Facebook, for example, has created algorithms that automatically flag suspicious stories, are then sent to fact-checkers. If shown to be false news, the company attempts to limit their spread across the social network. (Advertising Age, Aug 3, 2017)

Crises Forcing Corporations to Act

Recent corporate scandals have highlighted the need for greater transparency in business, recruiting even top executives to the cause. Corporate scandals ranging from dishonest mortgage practices (Bank of America, et. al) to bribery in Mexico (Walmart) and fixing of LIBOR trading (at least 10 multinational banking firms) have brought growing demands for business transparency. So have legitimate but largely hidden activities such as political contributions. (Inc, Jul 8, 2016)

Executives Endorse Ethics  

A survey of business executives in 30 countries found that 79% believe their companies have an ethical duty to fight corruption. Executives said the most effective anti-corruption tool was the transparency enforced by investigative journalism. (Institute for Global Ethics, Jul 8, 2016)

Public Demands

Roughly half of U.S. adults (48%) say the government should take steps to restrict such misinformation, even if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content. That is up from 39% three years ago. A majority (59%) say tech cos should restrict disinformation. (PEW Research Center, Aug 21, 2021)

 


[1] “Norman Lear calls for leap of faith,” The New Leaders (May/June 1993)

[2] Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult (St. Martin’s, 2017)

[3] Elizabeth Kolbert, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” (The New Yorker, Feb 27, 2017). Yuval Harari, People have limited knowledge. What’s the remedy? Nobody knows,” (New York Times, Apr 18, 2017)

[4] Tobias Beer et al., “The Business Logic in Debiasing” (McKinsey, May 2017)

[5] Harari, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth,” (The New York Times, May 24, 2019)

[6]  Statistica (June 16, 2021); Latterly (2021); Mark Bauerian, The Dumbest Generation (New York: Penguin, 2008)

[7] Ker Than, “US Lags … Acceptance of Evolution” (Live Science, Aug 11, 2006)

[8] Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (New York: Pantheon, 2008)

[9] Catherine Rampell, “Americans … believe crazy, wrong things,” Washington Post (Dec 28, 20015)

[10] Mark Morford, “Human stupidity is destroying the world,” alternet (Mar 20, 2013)

[11] John Amato, “25% of Americans don’t know the Earth revolves around the Sun,” National Science Foundation (Feb 25, 2014)

[12] Ibid

[13] Bauerian, Op. Cit. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a well-established phenomenon in which those who know little actually believe they know more than others. Angela Fritz, “What’s Behind the Confidence of the Incompetent?” (Washington Post, Jan 7, 2019)

[14] Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 2018) Anne Applebaum, “A world without facts,” Washington Post (May 20, 2018)   Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford, 2018) Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich, Truth Decay, (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 2018) Adrian Chen, “The fake news fallacy,“ The New Yorker (Sep 4, 2017) George Will, “The high cost of cheap speech,” Washington Post (Sep 21, 2017)

 

Questions

We invite you to read over the above analysis, and then answer the following questions. Send your responses to Prof. Halal at Halal@GWU.edu. Please answer all questions on a scale from 0 to 10, and provide comments as well.

 

1. How serious is the Mis/DisInformation problem now?

 

 

Owen Davies: Catastrophic. It feeds “conservative” nihilism and justifies any extreme in their holy war against liberalism. Without mis/disinformation, for example, the current movement among Republican state legislatures to overturn elections that did not go their way and replace electors with their own partisans would be shouted down by their own voters (assuming their claims to love America, freedom, rights, etc., have any basis in reality.) This is an existential threat to American democracy, and democracy is losing.

Nir Buras: Most likely worst since the late Middle Ages.

Fran Rabuck: A more serious problem is a swing to the other side. Control of communication has never had good outcomes in the past. Before we worry about policing our media, we need to get focused on policing our streets. I believe that over time the masses will respond and fractioning of information and followers will evolve.

Xin-Wu Lin: When Covid-19 get into the US, some local Chinese groups flew into superstores collected groceries, just because of disinformation in some Chinese discussion groups. It did not happen again since it was clarified.

Margharita Abe: This problem affects multiple areas of current life, not just the political arena, and makes discussion and implementation of solutions to ongoing problems (like climate change, COVID vaccine use and other issues related to public health measures, widespread environmental degradation, to name just a few) almost impossible to imagine.

In the current legal environment, these social media companies have no constraints on their behavior and face little if any pressure to effectively manage their media content. Expecting them to “police” their content is extremely optimistic and possibly naive

Craig Boice: The problem has always been serious, and uncontrollable, but belief systems had ways of dealing with it. In a closed-minded belief system like the one we are moving to now, there is only the reflected murmuring of like-minded group members, and static. Information and disinformation are both merely data. The group will still react to stimuli, like a flatworm, but it is a form of unconscious life.

 

2. How effective would it be to have media companies self-manage their content? 

Ian Browde: Can we address the challenge by certifying sources of information more accurately? For example, sources of propaganda, while ok under the 1st Amendment, should not be labeled “news organizations,” “news people” and so on much like fiction is not non-fiction.

Owen Davies: We already know the answer. Self-management programs work only to the extent that they do not reduce company profits. That is to say, not well enough to have any benefit.

Nir Buras: The hybrid digital communications/information/news platforms—so-called “social” media have no long-term use other than spreading misinformation. Do you trust the people who created the problem for their personal gain to fix it?  

Milind Chitale: The general comment on this topic of self-regulation of and by the media is that IT CAN BE BIASED. Period.

Fran Rabuck: Not very effective now. Social Media has its Bias and will execute under that assumption. They also have financial interests to favor their advertisers. And they have obvious political leanings. I believe they have a right – under current laws – to do this.

Peter Von Stackelberg: Media companies, if we include social media (i.e Facebook, Twitter, etc.), content aggregators, search engines, as well as traditional media outlets like TV, newspapers, etc. are doing a terrible job of self-managing content. Social media and search engines are the worst, doing 0 out of 10 in terms of managing content. They pretend they are just carriers of information, but their use of algorithms to focus the attention of users on content belies that assertion. Traditional media (i.e. New York Times, Washington Post, local newspapers, etc.) are somewhat better, but there is wide variability depending on ownership, political perspective, etc

Peter King: Many of the social media companies skirt around the laws governing the media by claiming they are messenger services.

 

3. How about Federal regulation of media companies?

 

Owen Davies: Not a prayer. The Republican hardcore would view Federal regulation as proof that liberals and the “Deep State” (whatever that is) were conspiring to pollute their precious bodily fluids. This would further harden their positions, assuming that remains possible. At best, it would convince the less rabid minority among them, and also many genuine independents, that “government overreach” had become a problem requiring correction.

Dennis Bushnell:   Only ‘fix’ that makes sense IMHO is to have the Govt. develop a site where folks could send the stuff to get a read wrt the accuracy, so your query wrt an AI to do this is cogent. ….not a panacea, in a democracy there cannot be such. Cannot make folks do the checking, or believe what the site tells them.

Milind Chitale: Media is like a wildfire. Regulation of Media by Governments is a double-edged sword.

Fran Rabuck: First Amendment. Social media is now media and needs revision. I fully expect changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Some bills are now in Congress on this — https://hbr.org/2021/01/are-we-entering-a-new-era-of-social-media-regulation

Peter von Stackelberg: Regulation is going to be difficult in any political climate because of issues of free speech, censorship, etc. In today’s polarized political climate, government regulation will be difficult if not impossible.

Leopold Mureithi: Fraught with bureaucracy and corruption. 

Peter King: The biases of media owners and advertisers will remain regardless of government regulation.

Margherita Abe:   If these companies were held liable for their content then the Federal Government would be able to “police” them. A change in their liability would help…requiring that they have the same constraints as a utility company would work here.

Craig Boice:  How about criminal charges against individual executives who fail to execute their public duty in assuring that their services are safe? Public trust is a vital asset we hold in common. Without trust (the ability to accept information based on its source, rather than our personal verification) our society comes apart. Oxycontin, jet aircraft, and Facebook all seem necessary to our society  —  and all of them pose immense risks. 

Owen Davies: I doubt that effective regulation of content validity is constitutionally possible. Otherwise, technology provides too many ways to bypass regulated media: private servers, ad hoc networks of private websites, “alternative” social media based in countries that ignore American regulation.

4. How effective would it be to develop social cultures that encourage a social ethic of “Seeking Truth”?

 

Owen Davies: Not at all. The great majority of so-called conservatives already believe that they seek the truth. They of course recognize truth when they see it because it supports their political positions. Claims that do not are almost by definition untrue–sincere error at best and more likely partisan lies. We also see this problem on the far left, but to a much smaller degree.

Nir Buras: That is an individual choice. We would likely need a new Continental Congress for that. Goodness and truth always win out. sometimes it takes them a very long time.

Milind Chitale: In the 21st century, seeking the truth has completely lost its meaning, as truth is a tinted vision of reality. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, truth is similarly tainted by our beliefs, experiences (good and bad), personal views on important things… all these are greatly varied even in the most ethical people of the world, leave alone meek and mere mortals.

Fran Rabuck: Where does “truth” begin and end? Will we seek truth in religion? Science? If we encourage a single mindset for all – we stifle innovation, progress and even overall government.

WE ALL HAVE Bias of some type.  “Trust” Factor could be included in other business/metrics – BBB, Sustainability measures (many), and even Financial Statements. If this is truly a problem all these external groups could share in collective pressure to report the “truth.”

Xin-Wu lin: Transparency and hard evidence could help!

Peter von Stackelberg: I am somewhat hopeful that American society as a whole does value the truth, although reading the news often shakes my confidence in American society. I think western European nations are more likely to have a social ethic of “seeking truth”. Part of America’s problem is that it has had more than a century of being the dominant “truth” globally. Americans are used to dominating the world in terms of culture, with the American version of the truth being the only truth. It will take a lot to shake Americans out of their complacency and get them to see that American social and political values are built on a mountain of myth, propaganda, and outright lies that are deeply ingrained in the American consciousness. Americans as a whole are very reluctant to accept the negative aspects of their history.

Leopold Mureithi: Culture change is intrinsically difficult and long, long term. 

Peter King: Not only a social ethic is required but also the willingness of individuals to question their own biases.

Craig Boice: Seeking truth has long been a quest some individuals have chosen. However, the search for truth is personal, and cannot improve either the quality of information or our society’s ability to process information properly. Accepting truth might be a skill to develop for some; others could try to master the dangerous skill of creating truth. Respect for the truth is different and could be a learned social norm, with appropriate rewards and punishments.

Owen Davies: But only if it were possible. I do not believe it is. If it were, such a change would require two or three generations at best, rather than being available when it’s needed. Any such attempt today would be rejected by the truth-challenged as liberal indoctrination.

 

5. Would strong national leadership help?

 

Owen Davies: We have strong national leadership. They are called Republicans. They don’t help.

We also have weak, incoherent, and narcissistic national leadership. They are called Democrats. They also don’t help.

Some progressive replacement for the Democrats–a party with a shared sense of priorities, coherent policies, and enforceable party unity–would, in my view, have a chance of being effective. Let’s not hold our breath until it appears.

Nir Buras: Dictatorship, no. Ethical politicians? I pray for that. people who are for the constitution—I pray for that.

Milind Chitale: Having strong leadership at the national level always helps, as good leaders are normally very well developed in establishing the sense of right and wrong at the outset in the top line of command, this helps trickle down to the common man, the establishment of truths and righteousness. But a strong leadership with a bent vision will be equally hurtful in this endeavor.

Fran Rabuck: I think you’re leading the question here. What is strong leadership? Dictatorship? Should our leaders be religious? Boy Scouts? Are the leaders in cities that have strong lockdowns, right? Name an example of a strong leader in the US now? NY? LA? Seattle? Chicago? White House?

Xin-Wu Lin: It depends on how national leadership makes people trust.

Peter von Stackelberg: National leadership is vital. However, I have serious doubts that we will see it. The political right is not willing to address the issue of misinformation and disinformation because it goes against their political interests. A vocal minority on the political left is also problematic, particularly with the “cancel culture” that has sought to silence diversity in thought and speech.

Carlos Scheel: Find a straight, transparent and capable leader. We need a Champion.

Leopold Mureithi: Leading by example, yet endemic suspicion of politicians dent credibility. 

Peter King: One could argue that strong leadership aka dictatorship is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Craig Boice: It depends on what kind of strength, and what arena of leadership. We need leadership by example  —  leaders who respect the truth and seek it. We need leaders in journalism (e.g., Walter Cronkite), education (e.g., Mr. Rogers), and science (e.g., Drs. J. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall).

Owen Davies: It depends on whether those strong leaders oppose extremism or find catering to it politically useful. The United States has too few of the former and an endless supply of the latter. 2 is an upper limit.

 

6. How about AI systems that automatically detect and remove inaccurate content?

 

Owen Davies: There are at least three issues here:

AI replicates the prejudices and serves the purposes of its designers. This means that computerized content moderation developed by social-media companies will never be effective enough to hurt the developer’s profits. It therefore will never be effective enough to benefit American politics and government. There will never be enough resources to make content policing, whether by humans or by AI, effective, even if it theoretically could be. 

The social media and some elements of traditional mass media earn significant revenue by serving up half-truths and baseless propaganda. Until change is forced upon them, mis/disinformation seems likely to remain the strongest single force in American politics.
 
Unfortunately, there are few options for their correction, and none seems likely to be effective. Their consumers will never ask for change. Their sponsors will act only after catastrophes like the January 6 insurrection, and that response seems likely to prove limited and temporary. No attempt by government to enforce standards of truthfulness will be Constitutional. The FCC’s abandoned Fairness Doctrine, if resurrected, would die within 24 hours after Congress next changes hands, and today’s Supreme Court would gladly ignore precedent to declare it unconstitutional.
 
In the end, our present situation may change only by slow, spontaneous evolution. What force could make truth and fairness the fittest to survive is unclear.

Peter von Stackelberg: With technology enabling ever more realistic audio, video, and virtual experiences, how do we deal with real vs. fake?

Tom Ables: Can AI/ML engines on social media detect what my predilections are as opposed to another’s, and thus take inflow and sort it into different ideological “bins” for distribution? Articles A,C,Z for person 1 and articles B,Q, X for person2? und so weiter?

Jerry Glenn: AI systems are improving that will identify and trace deep fakes. Create a “cognitive immune system” for the individual and community.

Young-Jin Choi: I’m afraid that the problem is bigger than that it could be solved by AI or social media regulation alone – the critical reasoning capabilities and the worldviews of at least a critical mass. Those who are currently misinformed need to be elevated by a public awareness/education campaign.

Milind Chitale: AI has become a dangerous tool. As we have seen Deepfake videos that completely take real people and put words and phrases into their mouths in the most believable videos ever even though we know they are fake.

Hannu Lentinen: Artificial intelligence will certainly be used to verify the information. It will become a competitive factor in the media industry. We don’t have time and we don’t want to read or listen to bad information.”

Fran Rabuck: First, I suspect this is already happening behind closed doors at media companies now. How do you think they discover those questionable posts to begin evaluation? Historically, insurance companies would have digital monitoring of all outgoing messages. They didn’t want agents saying the wrong things legally. It was useful, but not perfect.  Language translations and idioms in cultures make this more difficult. And as many in the AI industry now fear, we are building bias into all AI systems. AI may help and I expect application will surface, but it’s not the silver bullet to the problem. We can probably prevent George Carlin’s – 7 words from leaking out, but the full content of messages is a huge challenge.

Peter von Stackelberg: It really depends on who is programming the AI systems and whether they can effectively compensate for their own bias.

Leopold Mureithi: Who can you trust to control it? Can be abused. Combine with question 2 above. i. e. self-regulation by a representative body of the private sector, civil society and governments, etc.

Peter King: The concern would be who gets to write the algorithms and to what extent their own biases are included.

Margherita Abe:  A big issue with AI is that it mirrors the world view/beliefs/attitudes of the entities that create/train it…If trained by Facebook, for example, it would reflect FB’s worldview….This may result in a very skewed assessment of content being reviewed rather than an objective assess

Owen Davies: Witness the report several months ago that QAnon members had evaded Facebook’s AI by merely avoiding the term “QAnon” and Facebook’s temporary ban on the word “breast” even when followed by “cancer.” AI will deal effectively with human communication written to avoid obvious trigger words only after it is too late to help with this problem. And, of course, if it worked the social-media companies would never use it.

 
7. How effective would educational institutions play in developing critical thinking? 

 

Milind Chitale:  Overall improvement in the pre-primary and the primary school education to invoke and seed ethics very early in life

Imposing a structured course that is compulsory for all students of tertiary education which will empower them with the tools to seek the truth and separate the chaff from the grains of information is an immediate need of the hour, and must be part of all nations with any form of education policy.

Knowledge is power, and Knowledge is the truth, so any attempt to keep society knowledgeable and ethically bound will be good to solve major issues here.

Hannu Lentinen: Schools should teach checking information and “why and how to doubt information.

Ian Browde:  Is mis/disinformation a topic that should be taught in school, at all levels? Can this be overcome by learning/teaching critical thinking?

Art Murray: I’ve hesitated to respond because I think framing the question in terms of mis/disinformation doesn’t go deep enough.  Instead, I’ve been thinking along the lines of… ”How do we overcome learning apathy?”

Jonathan Kolber: The same kids who are bored and unengaged with industrial education systems will play well-designed video games with full intensity for hours. I submit that the major difference between such kids and those who change the world is that the latter figure out how to bring that intensity to a real-world game, which they are committed to both playing and winning. An educational environment that cultivates student curiosity, purposeful play, risk-taking. and self-directed learning may support this outcome. 
 

Fran Rabuck: Education! Starting at a young age, we should begin to educate students to be critical media consumers. We can start by exposing them to different opinions. Courses in Logic would be most useful at later ages. (A college course in this has proven to be most helpful for me thru the years). Focus on creating independent thinking. Teach the ideas of Critical thinking: analysis, interpretation, inference, explanation, self-regulation, open-mindedness, and problem-solving. Most learn the Scientific Method – which is just the start. Understand the basic theory and interpretation of probability and statistics. There are several efforts and games available now that are just starting to make their way into the system. More later.

Work to eliminate Bias in education, workplace, government, etc. Not just racial bias – but all bias that we naturally have. At a minimum, we all need to recognize and accept Bias – not necessarily agree.

Xin-Wu Lin: Training the trainers is the first step and very important.

Peter von Stackelberg: Educational institutions could play a significant role in developing critical thinking. The question is whether there is the political will to do so. K-12 schools are doing a very poor job of developing critical thinking. Colleges and universities are doing a slightly better job. However, the focus on STEM curriculum neglects developing critical thinking in students. Many STEM curricula seem to assume that the courses they teach are free of social and political values. The de-emphasis of the arts, humanities and social sciences in the educational system from start to finish contributes significantly to the lack of critical thinking skills in American society. 

Leopold Mureithi: Education is the foundation of character formation.

Peter King: Education is part of the answer, but educational institutions would need to be transformed first.  In addition, everybody would need to adopt a lifelong learning approach as education does not stop at school/university

Margherita Abe:  Of all the possibilities for a change I am most optimistic about education as an effective way to develop critical thinking in its students. This would be a decades-long commitment but an overhaul of the US educational system is long overdue…   

Owen Davies: Again, right-wing fantasists would consider this to be liberal indoctrination. If it were seriously proposed, it would be shouted down. If it were enacted, it would be contradicted at home and would promote the spread of homeschooling. It seems likely as well that most who completed such a course would forget it as quickly as students forget geometry and foreign languages.

 

8. How probable is it that mis/disinformation will sway US Presidential elections in 2024?

 

Xin-Wu lin: The conflict interests between the US and other countries like Mainland China are becoming more critical. Disinformation will from everywhere.

Hannu Lehtinen: In the U.S. presidential election, it is customary to spread false information about candidates. While the candidates are usually equal and the winner takes all the votes of a state, then the current electoral system is sensitive to fake news. – The electoral system should be improved – e.g. by counting only direct votes for the candidate on a US-wide basis. It will probably take years to change the electoral system. The probability of the result turning false due to mis/disinformation is 20% in 2024 and 2028, but 10% in 2032.

Owen Davies: Whatever the source, the social and mass media pick up the most incendiary lies and propagate them as widely as possible. Thus, there seems no practical difference between domestic and foreign mis/disinformation. The same means will be used to combat them, with equal success or failure.

Leopold Mureithi: This is the nature of politics, no?

 

9. How probable is it that mis/disinformation campaigns originating in other countries will change the outcome of US Presidential elections in 2024?

 

Hannu Lehtinen: The US has been warned in the 2016 election. It is unlikely that foreign parties will succeed in changing the outcome of the election in the US for the second time. However, domestic election campaigns can do that

Owen Davies: In 2016, we came as close as possible to having the outcome of a Presidential election changed by mis/disinformation. However, not even the unprecedented efforts of Vladimir Putin and his proxies could get the job done. In the end, putting Donald Trump into the White House still came down to last-moment manipulation by the FBI director, then as trusted a figure as could be found in government.

It can be argued that a year of mis/disinformation prepared the way; without that, even the biased announcement of a renewed probe into the Clinton campaign probably would have failed to sway the election. If others view mis/disinformation as the critical factor, it is a reasonable interpretation.

My own view is shaped by 2020, when Mr. Trump and his allies lacked that final push. Despite a campaign of mis/disinformation, with tactics presumably refined by the experience of 2016, this time including serious efforts by China and Iran, Trump lost. I suspect this sets the pattern for future elections. However, for 2024, the odds against changing the outcome appear no better than 55-45.

They should improve in 2028 and beyond. Although I cannot imagine how, it seems likely that some modestly effective counterweight to mis/disinformation will be developed in the next few years. More significantly, the electorate will include more voters from the internet-native generations, many of whom are used to filtering out the worst of the garbage the net brings them. These factors will make only a small difference in voting, a few percent at best. Yet, even this will be enough to offset any growth in the mass or sophistication of mis/disinformation.

I believe a much greater menace to democracy is the attempt by state legislatures to give themselves authority to overturn elections that don’t go their way. Republican assets on the Supreme Court are likely to ratify these efforts as part of the states’ Constitutional authority to set the “manner” of elections. At that point, mis/disinformation and efforts to defeat them become irrelevant.

I like to believe that the growing influence of the internet-native generations will slowly turn extremist propaganda into one more category of spam. It seems at least as likely that those raised by extremists will, on average, believe that the ways of their fathers are the ways of the gods, offsetting any potential benefit from generational change.

 

10. Considering all of the above, how serious generally is the Mis/DisInformation problem likely to be in 2030?  

Leopold Mureithi: History repeats itself. 

Peter King: It can only get worse

Margherita Abe: Even if efforts are made to change the current situation these efforts are likely to require time (more than a decade) to bear fruit

Craig Boice: Disinformation will be more serious than it is now, because messing with human perception will continue to become easier and cheaper, and we are unlikely to impose more serious criminal consequences on those who do so. We are in a phase of legalizing drugs, not restricting them. Other belief systems will continue to attack us because they can, and because we’re attacking them. In the past few decades, we have revealed to the world that as a nation, Americans can be deceived rather easily, and there are no consequences for doing so.

Many great religions and cultures find deception to be among the worst evils. The first step for us would be to recognize that wisdom. We could condemn and prosecute those who do not respect the truth: not those who have well-reasoned opinions different from our own, but rather those who deliberately lie and mislead, and those who deliberately manipulate or distort the search for truth. Today, our laws are much harsher on criminals who attempt to harm our bodies than those who attempt to harm our minds.

Margherita Abe: Even if efforts are made to change the current situation these efforts are likely to require time (more than a decade) to bear fruit

Craig Boice: Disinformation will be more serious than it is now, because messing with human perception will continue to become easier and cheaper, and we are unlikely to impose more serious criminal consequences on those who do so. We are in a phase of legalizing drugs, not restricting them. Other belief systems will continue to attack us because they can and because we’re attacking them. In the past few decades, we have revealed to the world that as a nation, Americans can be deceived rather easily, and there are no consequences for doing so.

Many great religions and cultures find deception to be among the worst evils. The first step for us would be to recognize that wisdom. We could condemn and prosecute those who do not respect the truth: not those who have well-reasoned opinions different from our own, but rather those who deliberately lie and mislead, and those who deliberately manipulate or distort the search for truth. Today, our laws are much harsher on criminals who attempt to harm our bodies than those who attempt to harm our minds.

Fran Rabuck: Much of the future direction for the US and the world depends on Government and Education systems. Hopefully, we’ll see more open opinions and better-educated consumers/students over the next 10 years. Going back to my comment on DRIP – I think the future will supply us with more Data than we can realistically consume – and we’ll just decide who/where to get our information based on our personal Bias.”

 

11. What other solutions are possible?

Leopold Mureithi: Code of conduct mutually enforceable.

Yair Sharan: Defining disinformation as a crime with significant punishments.

Aharon Hauptman: Teaching media literacy from kindergarten. Using social media “influencers” to promote awareness and recommend reliable sources. Establishing “self-correcting” mechanisms that combine human & artificial intelligence. (The imitation model is something like Wikipedia, but should be more sophisticated)

Hellmuth Broda: I do not see a straightforward solution to the growing issue that truth is being sacrificed for the dominance and power of a minority. By ignoring facts and building a parallel reality populists and strongmen around the world are trying to toll the death knell to democracy-building oligarchies and kleptocracies in its place. Democracy can only work with an agreed base of facts that voters agree on. Discussions and different opinions must center on options for policies and not on different facts and “realities.”

Xin-Wu Lin: Should encourage more NGOs from different domains for assisting to clarify and report the truth of information. Those NGOs could apply “Civic Tech”, for encouraging or incentivizing people from different domains to clarify information voluntarily. The public could label some NGOs are trustable. NGOs should have good governance, at least with a transparent process.   To prevent or early detect Mis/DisInformation won’t just count on Federal and media companies, civil participation and engagement will be a big help. However, they need easier use of tech and incentives for doing that.

Chris Garlick: Civil and Criminal penalties should be considered for those who pass misinformation or misrepresent events

Hannu Lehtinen: Search engines sort out low-quality information – Google has started this. All media check their pieces of news in advance and (at first) automatically by checking the sources and the quality of the sources.

Ian Bowde: Form a privately and publicly (nonpartisan) funded consortium chaired by a Board of diverse representatives against mis/disinformation with representatives of the top 500 companies as well as representatives from educational institutions, small and medium-sized businesses, nonprofits, community organizations to create a strategy for minimizing mis/disinformation in American society, turn it into an online easily accessible forum and share it with the rest of the world.

Peter von Stackelberg: First, I think there needs to be a range of solutions. The misinformation/disinformation we are grappling with are symptoms of deep systemic problems coupled with the rapid pace of change with information and computing technology. Addressing these problems effectively will require systemic solutions.

Dennis Bushnell: A govt. supplied AI capability where folks could send stuff for a believable evaluation.

Carlo Schell: A strong rule of law that promotes an inflexible and universal education based on ethics of the truth.

Leopold Mureithi: Moral rearmament: Thou shalt not lie; The Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Again, a long haul in civic education and mutual fairness. 

Peter King: A constant campaign to name and shame purveyors of disinformation – taking every opportunity to call them out and show who is calling the shots behind the scene.

Craig Boice: The only solution, as philosophers have long recognized, is the development of citizenry who (1) believe there is truth and respect it, (2) reason well, (3) recognize and respect evidence, (4) remain open to new reasoning and evidence, (4) link judgments to values, and (5) dialogue with one another effectively. Unless individuals learn to use their minds, trust never expands beyond the group, and the group rarely learns.

Owen Davies: Three approaches occur to me. Two are tangential and simplistic to a degree that makes them automatically suspect. Neither would have many benefits by 2024, nor by 2028. The third is a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that would be of limited effectiveness and could incur retaliation the US to date has been unwilling to face. I very much hope someone else will suggest something better.

One is to restore the civics classes that were standard fare in grammar school six or seven decades ago. They taught not only the basics of government but that citizenship brings more than rights. It brings responsibilities to the community that are not captured in the phrase “blood of tyrants.” That last is a lesson too much of the population seems to have forgotten. Call it two generations to make such a scheme work, assuming it could. Raising and training teachers who truly believe such classes are essential would be a long process.

Second, attack the worst of the extremists. Treat the militias and their political kin as the FBI once treated organized crime. Investigate vigorously. Prosecute energetically on any charge that presents itself–illegal weapons, incitement of violence, armed confrontations like the Bundy standoff of 2014, or whatever. Seek the maximum sentences possible. Convince those who are open to the message that extremism is an unattractive aberration. Convince the rest to keep their heads down. No event will supply a better opportunity to apply this approach than the insurrection of January 6. Position it as getting tough on crime.

The third is to identify and block foreign sources of disinformation. This effort would be essentially identical to any anti-hacking program but on a much larger scale. It is one place where AI might be helpful. This would be an expensive long-term program, and it would invite retaliation from the source countries, much as an all-out effort to stop Chinese cyber-espionage would. However, I rate this problem more serious than Chinese hacking because it strikes directly at the foundations of American democracy. Accept that, and the price becomes worth paying.

Clayton Rawling  I would suggest criminal penalties for clear misinformation that causes serious harm to individuals or businesses. Freedom of speech is not license to use speech as a weapon or strategy to destroy when saying things that are verifiably not true. Civil penalties and private lawsuits are ineffective because lawyers (me) will not sue and obtain judgments against indigent bad actors because they are uncollectible and it amounts to a pyrrhic victory at best. While this gives the state a very serious hammer in the commons of discourse, we presently have really nasty people ruining lives with immunity. I do not see any good options but the present status quo is untenable as this escalates.

Dr. Peter Bishop has a project called “Teach the Future” where he is trying to get a foresight curriculum into the high schools to teach critical thinking to our young people. I think AI, if used appropriately, could go a long way to exposing what is going on. 
 
We are clearly a world civilization in transition, which creates a lot of fear in many people. The lunatic fringe can connect with others and using powerful communication tools can create a lot of destruction. The easiest example is Covid 19 death numbers. A plague that should have killed less than 100,000 people in the USA now totals 650,000 dead. Another example is QAnon where there are people who claim that liberal democrats have sex with infants and then eat them. Suing a belligerent nut job with no assets or income will do nothing to stem the tide of this onslaught against the age of reason. Without true accountability, we will soon be drowning in this. Each year it becomes more oppressive. How do we get quality people into government when they know that service comes with death threats and constant slander as a part of your public life? Death threats are clearly against the law but law enforcement is slow to act unless it is the most egregious. We need the law enforced against these people. They are actual criminals, plain and simple, yet most act without consequences. For some reason, we have allowed our metaverse to become lawless.
 
Back in the 60’s Big Tobacco declared war on science and claimed there was no link between smoking and lung cancer. They got away with it for several decades until the state attorney generals threatened them with criminal prosecution for fraud. The lung cancer deaths were over 400,000 per year before the government acted. The following tobacco litigation, by state governments, then forced Big Tobacco to repay all the Medicaid cancer treatment costs born by the states for their activity. 
 
Big Oil ripped a page from the Big Tobacco playbook and went to war on science to deny global warming, to allow for unrestrained burning of hydrocarbon. It has spilled over into anti-vaxxers and conspiracy lunatics claiming Bill Gates put a chip in the vaccine to track them. This unethical and irresponsible behavior is not without consequences. Private lawsuits could not combat Big Tobacco and are now unable to combat Big Oil. It will require the state to intervene if we have any hope to reverse the damage. I do not view big government as benign. The alternative is to leave us exposed to the mob. As I said, I see no real good options at the moment.

 

General Comments

Ian Browde

My sense is that the platform company business model is the problem. Here is my rationale.

Section 230 is being used by platform companies like Facebook, Twitter, etc., to evade responsibility for curation and editing information. Consequently, we find ourselves plagued by claims of 1st Amendment support for any idea, thought or opinion, whether or not supported by any evidence, advanced by people with an ax to grind, an ideology to push or a belief system to maintain. When these ideas are either promulgated by elected officials or famous people, they tend to carry more weight than they would typically, and there is little the public can do to mitigate their effect.

Companies that are supported by advertising could and should be regulated like advertising companies. Facebook, Google, Twitter, et al fall into this category for the most part. Others that push ideology and/or propaganda (Fox News a lot of the time, CNN some of the time) should be regulated as newspapers or entertainment companies and hence not permitted to use the word “news” in their name.

The key to understanding this whole issue is an understanding of what a platform company is. It is a 3-legged stool of technology (the infrastructure), data (knowledge about users, subscribers and their likes and dislikes, etc) and community (where folks feel they belong and resemble others in the same group). The key to a platform company’s success is the “network effect” i.e., people generating buzz and telling others about it. Going viral is the most obvious example of the network effect. In order to keep people engaged and enhance the network effect, content needs to be more and more edgy, more and more titillating, more and more outrageous. Until we understand that the business model is the problem things will only get worse.

Mis/disinformation in society is a ‘wicked’ problem. In other words, it is a social and/or cultural problem that is so difficult, impossible even, to solve that it requires investigation and addressing in a complex way.  Some of the reasons for its ‘wickedness’ are incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the background context of uncertainty and fear, the prevalence of demagoguery (this might be a result of the problem, not the cause too), the large economic burden or opportunity, and the interconnected nature of the wicked problem with other problems.

So other questions might be:

  1. Is mis/disinformation a topic that should be taught in school, at all levels?
  2. Can this be overcome by learning/teaching critical thinking?
  3. Is there such a thing as “accurate information?”
  4. Are there certain facts that are uncontestable, for example, the earth revolves around the sun? If so, should teaching/communicating other possibilities be banned?
  5. Can we address the challenge by certifying sources of information more accurately? For example, sources of propaganda, while ok under the 1st Amendment, should not be labeled “news organizations,” “news people” and so on much like fiction is not non-fiction.
  6. What is the difference between a fact and an opinion?
  7. What is evidence of mis/disinformation and what types of evidence are trustworthy?
  8. Is the phase (in the USA especially) we are going through of mis/disinformation really a transition from democracy to autocracy and the way that occurs is for people to develop consensus around an alternative reality?
  1. Is the disease we are identifying, mis/disinformation, the precursor to a world where people are not trusted and AI (artificial intelligence) is? 

NOTE – BJ Fogg at Stanford warned against computers as persuasive technology many years ago. Are certain societies more or less prone to mis/disinformation than others and can we learn from them?

 

Peter King

There have always been snake oil sellers but now they have the communication means to reach millions anonymously.  I think your questions may elucidate the answer but if not, an additional question may be: “What is the most significant fundamental reason, or reasons, why mis/disinformation is influential, persuasive or effective?” 

The disinformation situation has become so bad in Thailand that they have had to create a new Anti-Fake News Agency. There is massive concern however that cracking down on “disinformation” that may actually be true but shows the government in a bad light, is akin to State censorship. One area where disinformation is rife is in the “comments” section of online newspapers like the Bangkok Post, where trolls cut and paste the same anti-vaccination nonsense every day and evade the censor by changing their avatar every few hours.

More than 25 celebrities and influencers are being investigated for insulting the government over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, deputy Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) commissioner Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai said “Under the Computer Crime Act, offenses, such as putting false information into a computer system, which causes damage to people, carry a fine of no more than 100,000 baht and/or a jail term of no more than five years. Bangkok Post today.”

The Government has threatened to invoke Article 9 of the Emergency Decree, which was enforced on July 15. According to the decree, strict action will be taken against people spreading false information or fake news to cause fear or shake the state’s stability. However, the media organizations pointed out that this announcement aims to limit the freedom and rights of people and the press. Also, it said, branding reports as “fake news” is only an excuse for the authorities and is calling on those in the press to demand the Government stop using this excuse to control the public. The Nation today.

The Thai Government is even going further with its crackdown on “fake news”.  It is intensifying a ‘fake news’ crackdown despite outcry from media, netizens, shrugging off complaints by Thai media organizations and netizens of an ongoing state crackdown on free expression. 

So, a key question, in my mind, is where is the dividing line between disinformation and factual information that makes the government, a company, or an individual look bad? Where are the independent fact-checkers or should that be a public peer review process like Wikipedia? How can fact-checking be made fast enough to head off the disinformation before it has done the damage and gone viral on social media? How can we ensure that anyone posting information online (true or not) can ultimately be traced by law enforcement agencies using some form of digital fingerprint? Under what circumstances should law enforcement agencies be allowed to track down and close purveyors of disinformation?

The EU approach may be worthwhile referring to in the next round: Online disinformation | Shaping Europe’s digital future. The Commission is tackling the spread of online disinformation and misinformation to ensure the protection of European values and democratic systems.

 

John Meagher

These are excellent questions.
I think your questions may elucidate the answer but if not, an additional question may be: “What is the most significant fundamental reason, or reasons, why mis/disinformation is influential, persuasive or effective?”
Mis/Disinformation been a problem with long historical roots in many societies, past and present.

 

Carlos Scheel Mayenberger

The theme of fake news and disinformation is quite complex and impossible to clarify if the population does not have a solid “values and believing structure.” I think is not a problem of the source but of the receptor. A person who is well-informed and educated will detect immediately that the news …the earth is flat…is not correct, no matter the source, or at least may give any well-informed argument against it. Although the informant believes 100% the truth of this sentence… but who knows what is the purpose to inform this? 

So I think, this theme is so complex because it goes directly to the “believing system” of each individual. And on the intention of the news ….not on the news itself. And to be able to separate the true from the false is not a matter of the description of the news or the statistics but on the “intention behind it.

 

Peter von Stackelberg

While misinformation and disinformation are bad. I think we need to look deeper.

One of the ironic aspects of the Information Age is that we have massive amounts of accurate information available to us almost instantaneously, yet our ability (or our willingness) to use that information seems extremely limited. In the classroom, I see on a daily basis how a generation of students who have access to more information than I could have dreamt of when I was their age, are simply ignorant. It’s not that these students are stupid or unintelligent. In fact, it is quite the opposite. However, many of them have tuned out and checked out.

It’s not just students and the current generation of young people. I am continually baffled by the overall ignorance present in American society. The biggest problem, from my perspective, is not that many people are misinformed or “disinformed”, they are uninformed. I don’t think this ignorance is uniquely American, but it is painfully clear that a significant portion of Americans revels in their ignorance, wearing it proudly and publicly. 

Many American institutions, including the educational system and churches, either fail to teach critical thinking skills or actively discourage it. For all of America’s talk of liberty, I think there is a deep, wide authoritarian streak in our society that finds critical thinking a threat. For more than a century, educational institutions have been focused on the transmission of information for application to industrial production. Critical thinking, particularly at the primary and secondary levels of the educational system, has not been seen as particularly important. In fact, I think it has often been seen as a pain in the butt to have students engage in independent critical thinking. 

I think some important questions that need to be asked are:

  • What role should state-run educational institutions play in developing critical thinking?
  • What role should private institutions (educational, church, and others) play?
  • What is the role of the news media, social media, and popular media in developing critical thinking among their audiences/users?
  • How can our society bring about a rapid change in the level of critical thinking? Can it be done in a relatively short time or will it take a generation or two to instill critical thinking into a majority of the population?
  • Is there a political will to ensure people are able to think critically, particularly when that leads to disagreement with prevailing social beliefs and values? (NOTE: We see a sustained campaign on the right to eliminate critical thinking from the educational curriculum. In my opinion, the ultra-left is also not a big fan of critical thinking and independent thought.)

I think it is really important to go beyond the issue of misinformation, disinformation, deep fakes, and so on as they are only the surface layer of the problem. Perhaps questions to ask are:

  • How can society deal with a glut of information? 
  • Is too much information — whether it is true, false, or somewhere in-between — part of the problem?
  • If so, how do we fix that in a democratic society?
  • How did social media become part of the problem? 
  • Are the news and popular media also part of the problem?
  • With technology enabling ever more realistic audio, video, and virtual experiences, how do we deal with real vs. fake?
  • What do we actually mean by “fake”? Is fiction fake? Is artwork developed with the assistance of AI fake?

So starts my list of questions I think are important when taking a deep look at information, misinformation, and disinformation.

 

Salvatore Fiorillo

How much does our (… put here any name like deep state, social media companies) needs entropy in information? I was in Dubai in the last five years and I could feel I was under an information umbrella, but not with entropy at all. Of course, that one is a monarchy and we all understand why there is not entropy there: but for the western democratic world is information chaos going to be a management tool?

 

Dennis Bushnell

Much requires folks’ interest in trying to learn whether is correct or not, much depends upon “information control”, much concerns beliefs and personal motivations.

My learnings from renewable energy and much else is that a prime motivator is PROFIT, folks will check into things that they could obtain a profit from, or could lose money on….other issues are the educational level and interests of the reader etc., many believe what they want to believe,  then there is the herd mentality. As you unpack this issue it gets really complex and really deep very rapidly. Propaganda warfare is  ancient, and now with the IT age a very rapidly developing art. My previous post stated what I thought we could do about it in a democracy with freedom of speech etc. that might be acceptable to many.

 

Jerry Glenn

Thousands if not millions of infowar stuff is already doing damage by the time it is identified and shown to be false. Improved identification is just treading water and the long-term consequence of treading water is drowning. We have to get ahead of the problem and intervene.Here is a 6-minute edited video one anticipation/intervention approach from an hour talk for the South Korean Chosen Newspaper’s centennial 

Use info warfare-related data to develop an AI model to predict future actions; identify characteristics needed to counter/prevent them; match social media uses with those characteristics and invite their actions, feed results back into the data bank to continually improve the model. Here are some more drawn from the Global Futures Intelligence System; each of these alone will not solve the problem, but together will have impact:

  1. Internet platforms should create automatic prompts when a user is about to forward information that is from known source disinformation.
  2. AI systems are improving that will identify and trace deep fakes.
  3. Notify people when they forward proven disinformation about the originates from foreign toll farms; people should know when they are unwitting agents of information warfare.
  4. Explore how information systems could build in resilience features, and honey pots to waste info attacks
  5. Create a “cognitive immune system” for the individual and community.
  6. Expose, isolate, public shaming, deny visas, countervailing trade duties
  7. Make “pursuit of truth” fashionable, popular, cool, a road to success, a motto of schools of journalism
  8. Consider issuing “Letters of Marque to non-government actors to counter information warfare and cyber warfare.
  9. Foster ethics for online systems to clarify issues, show a range of positions on the issues and allow for pro and con arguments on the positions.
  10. Remove financial incentives in social media.
  11. Use a Risk Rating system with index based on content, operations, and context of publishers who spread disinformation based on:
  12. Metadata and computational signals of news domains with an AI program
  13. Blind review rating system of news sources based on credibility, sensationalism, hate speech, and impartiality.
  14. Analysis of how the site’s policies, standards, and rules abide by the Journalism Trust Initiative.
  15. Analysis of the practices, reliability, and trustworthiness of a site through an independent expert survey.

According to the National Defense University, a few elements that can be used to identify and deter threats are:

  1. A threat to something of value that exceeds the perceived gain of non-compliance.
  2. A clear statement of the behavior to be avoided or performed.
  3. Clear and unambiguous communication of the threat and the desired or proscribed behavior to the target.
  4. Credible threat, meaning that the actor is perceived by the target to have the will and capability to execute the threat.
  5. Situational constraints make it impossible for the target to avoid punishment.
  6. Controllability of the threat and its implications by the actor.

Tom Abeles

A lot of the responsibility is for the reader to have good screening tools. The problem is in those screening tools which could be developed with a “personal” AI/ML engine. Lacking such, most people use their limited time and capabilities by using trusted “others” as a screening mechanism. But all of these have multiple dimensions. For example, there is a large community that “believe” QAnon, Trumpers, etc as truth-tellers whereas most of those on this list use other “screeners” to filter the far-right materials out. 

 

Margherita Abe

Apart from leaving the onus on the reader or viewer of the “news”, maybe we should consider having social media organizations (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc) assume liability for what they post.  Another version of this would be to consider these organizations to be utility companies and thus subject to the same rules that other utilities must follow….government oversight.

 

Young-Jin Choi

I suppose astute observers of our time are likely to conclude that we have entered a “dark information age” which has led to a dysfunctional public sphere and a further weakening of our already weak democratic institutions. Who would have thought at the beginning of the internet, that with all the world’s knowledge available at our fingertips, so many people could become even less well informed? This epistemic crisis is tragically coinciding with a truly dangerous period for the future of the human species and the possibility of continued human progress:

1) the risk of a possibly civilization-ending climate catastrophe (which may play out over centuries/millennia but might bring human societies to a breaking point already within the next couple of decades)

2) another possibly civilization-ending risk of geopolitical nuclear conflicts over increasingly scarce resources driven by rising temperatures.

Such a grave emergency would normally require the best of what our institutions can offer in terms of collective foresight, scientific rationality, ability to cooperate, wisdom and empathy.  But they were never designed to prevent or resist the assault on science by fossil fuel-funded think tanks, political operatives, or private bloggers.

I’m afraid that the problem is bigger than that it could be solved by AI or social media regulation alone – the critical reasoning capabilities and the worldviews of at least a critical mass of those who are currently misinformed need to be elevated by a public awareness/education campaign. 

In order to reduce the spread of conspiracy theories (misinformation), the authors of the conspiracy theory handbook suggest four communication strategies addressing the general public:

  1. Preventing/slowing down the spreading of conspiracy theories (e.g. by encouraging people to ask themselves four simple questions before sharing a post: Do I recognize the news organization that posted the story? Does the information in the post seem believable? Is the post written in a style that I expect from a professional news organization? Is the post politically motivated?),
  2. Preventively “inoculating” the public against the techniques of science denial (”prebunking”) by creating awareness about the risk of misinformation (see John Cook
  3. Debunking conspiracy theories by refuting weak pieces of evidence, and by exposing unjustified/unreasonable beliefs as well as logical/factual incoherences (e.g. through fact-checking, source analysis etc)
  4. Cognitively empowering people to think more rationally rather than relying on their intuition. This strategy requires more substantial interventions in terms of education and culture, which are examined in subsequent sections.

(https://yj-choi.medium.com/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-a-conspiracy-theory-and-a-theory-about-a-conspiracy-d89193ebab0)

The currently widespread lack of emergency awareness among many political leaders and older generations (many of whom seem to be stuck in the worldview of the 1990s) is explained by this terrific interview with Lee McIntyre.

“3:16:  Linked to this is the hot topic of post-truth. What is post-truth and why is it so horrendous? Is it a version of bullshit? It’s often linked with right-wing fascist and populist agendas but it seems to have many familiar traits associated with left-wing positions too – Derrida and the constructivists and cultural relativists and identity politics etc – do you think there is a lefty zeitgeist informing this stuff as much as a right-leaning one? It seems left populism is just as adept at using this tactic as the right populists. 

LM: In my 2018 book Post-Truth, I define this concept as the “political subordination of reality.” It is horrendous because it is in some ways the exact opposite of science. It’s deciding in advance what you want to be true, and then trying to bend the public to your side. But it is not a version of bullshit. If you read Harry Frankfurt, he quite clearly says that people who engage in bullshit do not care about truth. Well, post-truthers care a LOT about truth, because they are trying to control the narrative about what’s true and what’s not. A lot of them are authoritarians or their wannabes, who understand that the best way to control a population is to control the information they get. Historian Timothy Snyder said it best: “post-truth is pre-fascism.”

Now it’s a contentious question where post-truth comes from, but I think there are several roots. The main one is from science denial. Seventy years of awesome success by those who wished to deny the truth about evolution, climate change, etc., did not go unnoticed by political operatives. One day they said, “Hey, if you can lie about scientific facts, you can lie about anything.” Like maybe the outcome of an election? And yes, I think that one of the other roots is post-modernism, which is largely left-wing. Now they didn’t intend it. They were playing around with the idea that there was no such thing as objective truth, and that perhaps this meant that anyone making an assertion of truth was merely making a power grab. That all sounds fine when you’re in the university doing literary criticism, but at a certain point these ideas began to create the “science wars,” where humanists began to attack the idea of scientific truth. And from there, it leaked out even further and fell into the hands of right-wing political operatives. They picked up a weapon that had been left on the battlefield and began to use it against some of the same people who had invented it. Post-modernists get irritated with me sometimes for “blaming” them for the Trumpian attack on reality, but all I’m really saying is that even if their intentions were good, they caused some damage. George Orwell said it best: “So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” 

“3:16: And why do you think we’re in the dark ages about human behaviour and we should do something about it?

LM: One of my earlier books is called Dark Ages: The Case For A Science of Human Behaviour. In it, I argue that political ideology is doing to social science what religious ideology did to natural science about the time of Galileo. I am against any kind of ideological interference in scientific reasoning. To me, “dark age” thinking is emblematic of the type of mind that wants an answer — that wants certainty at all costs — and damn when the evidence tells you you’re wrong. To me, that’s the mark of an incurious mind. Scientists may make mistakes sometimes, but I think their hearts are in the right place. But do you want to know something sad? I wrote Dark Ages with the idea that natural science was pretty solid, and we should build on that to come up with a better way to study and explain human behavior. Then, while that book was making the rounds, science denial started to heat up and suddenly people were attacking the results of natural science! To defend that I wrote another book Respecting Truth, in which I took on evolution deniers and climate change deniers, and tried to highlight the stupidity of their attacks. Couldn’t they see that they weren’t reasoning scientifically? Well, then you know what happened. Things got worse from there. All of that unchecked science denial eventually metastasized into “post-truth”….into reality denial….under Trump. So my career has been marked by me wanting to defend science and extend it, and the world keeps pulling the rug out from under me and attacking science even where it is working. It’s pretty depressing actually. I sometimes wonder if I’m making any difference, yet I can’t give up the fight. When I was a kid and read that World Book Encyclopedia I used to mourn that I was born too late. All of the great ideas had already been discovered. Who was attacking science and reason now? All of the ideologues were dead. Boy was I wrong.” 

 

Milind Chitale

Mis and Disinformation are very powerful tools of the evil mind as explained below:

Most people today rely on information found on the internet and social media to make decisions and form ideas of what exactly is happening around them.

Depending on their level of education, awareness of real-life and real things, they can be swung to any point on the scale of complete lies to the absolute truth using the media they consume. Print media itself is also completely deregulated in many ways and has to pander to the sponsors who may want to seed print items with half-truths, blatant lies of even the truth itself in some cases.

When people follow these packets of information, they can be swayed any which way, as described in the paragraph above.

This makes understanding the truth very deeply connected to the source of information and with the cacophony of available sources, people find it very difficult to discern the sources that are generally truthful from those that are not.

As seen in using a common code of ethics in multi-national corporations operating around the globe, depending on the society, the levels of ethics, morals, standards, judgment and many things that affect one’s judgment are very skewed. So an internal panel that self-regulates the media may sound good to an audience on a matter in a certain locale, but that very point may be completely at odds with people in another locale. Examples of points that have variable sensitivity: Obscenity, blasphemy, religion, cultural aspersions ( clothing, style, methods, fashion sense, etc), Humour ( Australian vs British vs African vs India, etc),

Scientific discourse itself is open to debate in spite of being a rigorous and highly structured field of knowledge. Even today people have to debate whether climate change is a real thing or is actually a natural cycle of events spanning thousands of years and is actually on of earth’s natural cycles.

There have always been a group of people entrusted to deliver the verdict on various facets of truth like justice, societal rules, social equality, etc since the dawn of civilization. However, equally true is the fact that these entrusted dominions also do falter and deliver improper outcomes to the very society they seek to protect.

To put things back in perspective, this is still a necessary facet of society to keep a ring of reality, authenticity, and balance, in having wise people appointed to such circles.

In the hands of a worthy government is a very wise thing to do. But in the hands of Autocratic and off-centre government (either far right or far left) is a very bad thing to do. But the problem is that these governments themselves can appoint a committee on their own anyway, making the discussion kind of lop-sided

What should be done is to include a panel of citizens from a large range of professions and sectors along with government officials together with equal voice and authority to come out with a unified/unanimous regulation of media.

The problem has always been the appointments and how they can be twisted in favour of the governments.

My view on this is that even if it is not going to be very accurate, it still needs to be done as without this, people speaking a thousand lies can begin to drown out one truth after another and slowly change the entire landscape of reality.

Having strong leadership at the national level always helps, as good leaders are normally very well developed in establishing the sense of right and wrong at the outset in the top line of command, this helps trickle down to the common man, the establishment of truths and righteousness.

But a strong leadership with a bent vision will be equally hurtful in this endeavor.

AI has become a dangerous tool. As we have seen Deepfake videos that completely take real people and put words and phrases into their mouths in the most believable videos ever even though we know they are fake.

When AI  can create its own video games, and characters and change the complete sense of the character and what he is trying to achieve by hook or by crook, this affects kids and enthusiasts very deeply and these kids will eventually be the citizens of tomorrow with their skewed societal values and ethics. Many youngsters die for virtual gaming by giving up food and drinks for extended periods of time. This shows the extent to which gaming can be tweaked to change their reality.

Overall improvement in the pre-primary and primary school education to invoke and seed ethics very early in life.

“Appreciating that people are different all around us, and that is ok”- a programme similar to many multinational organisations to harness the spirit of oneness in a diverse population of race, regions, religion, society, etc is the need of the hour to reduce the pressure on communities in trying to outwit, fool and edge out the others by foul means gets reduced greatly.

Imposing a structured course that is compulsory for all students of tertiary education which will empower them with the tools to seek the truth and separate the chaff from the grains of information is an immediate need of the hour, and must be part of all nations with any form of education policy.

Knowledge is power, and Knowledge is the truth, so any attempt to keep society knowledgeable and ethically bound will be good to solve major issues here.

Countries that are trying to fudge each other’s social media to gain cheap military, economic and other gains have to be knocked down several notches for establishing a world order based on truthfulness.

Eliminate the free flow of funds to media is an issue that is urgently worth pursuing just like the blocking of funds to terrorism and its activities. Free flow of funding eventually tips the balance of the media to become biased towards the fund sources which are also the sources of the falsehoods.

 

Hannu Lehtinen

I think one- or two-party systems easily start to spread false information. A one-party system has control over information (the Internet) and the two-party system accepts and disseminates two sets of information because each party disseminates its own information to its supporters.

The open internet allows us to check information. We already do a lot with smartphones as we search for information about services and new concepts and devices. We are used to biased information in marketing.

The UN should defend the open flow of information more effectively.

Schools should teach checking information and “why and how to doubt information”.

Artificial intelligence will certainly be used to verify the information. It will become a competitive factor in the media industry. We don’t have time and we don’t want to read or listen to bad information.

 

Art Murray

I’ve hesitated to respond because I think framing the question in terms of mis/disinformation doesn’t go deep enough.

Instead, I’ve been thinking along the lines of… ”How do we overcome learning apathy?”

There’s a growing body of work in this area, and I’ve personally experienced it many times standing in front of a classroom (and less, by the way, when I got off the stage and sat right in the middle of the classroom, among the students).

Students absolutely hate, and are bored to death with, today’s mainstream approach of rote, industrial-age-based “education.”

Yet when we’ve tried to introduce new approaches, such as deep learning (the human, not the machine, variety) students resist because it requires them to think on their own.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that this growing student apathy toward learning carries over into adult life.

Students keep asking: “what do I need to do in order to get a passing grade?” – for the exam, paper, course, whatever…

So it’s no surprise that when they become adults, they want instant answers to questions (for whom do I vote, what stocks should I buy, when should I retire, etc., etc., etc.) that would normally demand thinking, research and learning, rather than a “one-click” answer at the top of the search results.

If people had a true hunger for learning and seeking the truth, the matter of mis/disinformation would not be anything close to the problem it is currently…

That hunger for learning is inherent, and in many cases, lying dormant.

The question is, how do we awaken it?

Mark Sevening

How data is framed is something that has been troubling me.  Even the news outlets are biased.  CNN is left-leaning, while Fox News is right-leaning.  The rest fall somewhere in between.  What troubles me most is that a highly educated society like what we have now at times refuses to acknowledge facts and rely on opinions and editorials instead.  Those editorials show one point of view and may not present all the facts. 

There is also a troubling trend for an ‘informed’ consumer to choose which articles to read, which mostly reinforces their pre-existing views, going as far as rejecting anything that contradicts their beliefs. 

I will give this more thought and post soon.  Good thought exercise, by the way.

Jonathan Kolber

I believe that redesigning the educational system to encourage exploration of what people care about, rather than a fixed one size fits all agenda, will elicit a curious and questioning mindset. 

In researching my book, A Celebration Society,  our most startling finding was that superstars in all fields examined– including business,  sport,  invention, science and arts– characterize their engagement with their fields not as work but as the playing of games. 
 
Most of us can’t imagine playing that hard, so we view what they do as work. They don’t. 
 
The same kids who are bored and unengaged with industrial education systems will play well-designed video games with full intensity for hours. I submit that the major difference between such kids and those who change the world is that the latter figure out how to bring that intensity to a real-world game, which they are committed to both playing and winning. 
 
An educational environment that cultivates student curiosity, purposeful play, risk-taking. and self-directed learning may support this outcome. 
 
This is not only my view but that of Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator; the world’s most successful startup incubation system.
 
To those who fear such a system will deprive kids of basic, necessary skills, I invite examination of the Finnish national educational system’s outcomes, which are in this direction and world-class. Likewise, the unschooling, movement,  now over 60 years old and in many countries, have data. 

 

Michael Mainelli

Enjoying this thread.  A bit of a gimmick against some deep thinking here, but on cyber-security and financial literacy I’ve been pushing for more gaming as well, but in earnest.  As an example, try to spot real cyber fraud or financial offers that are “too good to be true”.

I often point to an analog study, the Pacific Northwest Tree Climbing Octopus. 

 

Steven Hausman

To quote Prof Feynman: “The problem is not people being uneducated. The problem is that people are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught, and not educated enough to question anything from what they have been taught.”

 

Fran Rabuck

This is a great topic, although not sure what you are trying to “predict” for the future. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years in this area of “information” – both in data and “facts”. In my math and statistics training – I learned more about how/why/proper application of data – than the mechanics of stats itself. I’ve added some quick comments below – but under separate other msg threads, I’ll address some detailed ideas and excellent sources for information on this topic.

Starting [with right-wing problems] seems to have an internal bias/setup. Can you balance this with a left-wing example also? It also seems to base bias on political positioning. I highly recommend that the coverage of this topic NOT become a politically positioned focus.

I also recommend as background on this topic a little history on the speed of information delivery. Hyde/Town Square, Pony Express, telegraph, newspapers, radio, tv, internet, social media and the next generation of groupware (private chat sites, metaverse worlds, closed communities, etc.) Move from broadcasting to narrowcasting of information.

Also when I talk about data analytics/AI – I usually start with the idea from “In Search of Excellence” – We are Data Rich and Information Poor (sometimes just abbreviated to DRIP)

“fact” or information is interpreted by the individual and guided by his/her internal Bias. We all have Bias – and this difference is what makes the collective opinions on information so important. 
 
There are several movies that show an event from different perspectives. It’s fascinating to see the story unravel and see how each individual is right – from their viewpoint. Here’s a list of some:
 
Everything we experience creates an inner belief system and influences almost everything we do. It’s very difficult to be totally objective. 
 
Most attention recently has been on race and political bias. But there are many more bias systems that are generally recognized.
Here are a few and a discussion on the topic:
 
I might suggest that we do a survey of the TechCast group and ask for a scaled (1-10) response on where they stand personally on these 14 bias. It might be interesting to discover the bias we have as a group. I’d be glad to create the Google forms survey to publish and analyze.
 
BTW, the above article comes from a related site on Media Bias. They collect newsfeeds and create an unbiased news stream. I’m not judging the validity of this, just noting it. Note also their classification of news sources by bias.
 
Too much emphasis in the political sphere – has focused on just general Left vs Right, along with each party’s collective platform. One might argue that we have 4 “parties” now Extreme Left (Squad), Moderate Dem, Moderate Rep, and “Trump” followers. From my own viewpoint – I do have some Bias – but none of these 4 groups aligns perfectly with my total belief system.  I think I’m not alone for the majority of people in the US (and worldwide). 
 
Dale Deacon
The advent of the internet undeniably changed the Earth’s historical trajectory since it radically disrupted how homo sapiens (the progenitor of the Anthropocene) interacted with the information itself. The flow of information is everything. (See Shannon, Schrödinger and Von Neumann)
 
Importantly, with regards to information flow, since the 90s, more and more people have had access to validation bias
 
Today, we can all justify our suspicions, hence the astronomical rise of conspiracy theories (qanon, UFOs, pizzagate, flat-earthers, chemtrails, infowars, etc.) over the last twenty to thirty years or so. We live in a postmodern soup where everyone feels deeply vindicated in their convictions. 
So what is to be done? I defer to Aguilar’s (genius) PESTLE framework. 
Politically, we’re at the behest of free-market economics. By and large, Hayek crushed Keynes. Economically, monopolies dictate the terms of consumerism. Socially, we wallow in the muck and mire of social media-induced outrage. Technologically, we seek tools and techniques to address our ailments but unfortunately are largely incentivized by survival-of-the-fittest competition. Legally, we’ve tied our waning nation-states to outdated ideologies and lobbyists. And environmentally, we’ve Increasingly become psychologically detached from our ecology for centuries.
 
This is all very Orwellian, I admit, but I am yet hopeful. Our scientific and philosophical endeavors, I think, might produce solutions to the predicaments listed above. How so? 
 
Politically and legally, transparent and traceable blockchain ledgers have the potential to address corruption and graft. Economically, these same tools are already facilitating the greatest transfer of wealth we’ve seen since the colonial era. (Not to mention the industrial and intellectual productivity to be gained through further robotic and cognitive automation). UBI also holds much promise here, if unequivocally proven viable.
Socially, we’ve never had such vigorous cultural debate, fast-tracked by a litany of social media platforms (see the metaverse for the next iteration of this phenomenon). 
 
All of these advancements are made by scientific and philosophical breakthroughs made possible by an ever-increasing ability to access information. (Even misinformation spreads data, albeit with noise)
 
I despair on the ecological front and suspect we’re in a most perilous circumstance. Perhaps there’s an economic shift that may incentivize us away from peril, but it will take a memetic shift (information/misinformation/disinformation) away from the status quo to do so. With progressivism and conservatism apparently (politically) so evenly matched, I am curious as to how radical change might possibly manifest.
 
Either way, dystopia or utopia, we get the future we deserve, not necessarily the one we want.
 

John Freedman

In my experience and assessment, there are two distinct groups of no-vaxxers/conspiracy theorists, with very little overlap. The vast majority are the ‘innocent gullible’ – unable to distinguish between hearsay and evidence. This large, mostly benign ‘vaccine-hesitant group is actively preyed upon by a smaller ‘malignant minority’ of willfully ignorant misinformers/disinformers who exploit gullibility for personal gain. Although the two groups are morally and ethically distinct, In the end, the outcomes are equally dangerous and destructive:  the two groups together – one victim, one predator – are responsible for the prolongation of the pandemic and the massive human suffering incurred. 

The larger group – the gullible masses who are deceived but are not willfully (and thus hopelessly) ignorant – is the one to target. The time to target them is early in the development of cognitive skills and critical thinking abilities. Thus educational institutions are the only sphere where I can garner any hope of addressing the problem long-term in a robust way. 

Part of the pessimism that comes through in the comments from the group is due to the dark fact that the misinformation/disinformation problem is neurobiologically programmed into the human brain by evolution. Our brains are not fundamentally designed to seek truth or distinguish between fact and fiction. They are designed to seek survival and procreation, ends that do not require a search for or appreciation of truth. The Buddha (the world’s first evolutionary neurobiologist, unbeknownst to him) understood this and entreated humans to move beyond their inherent nature and cognition to seek truth and attain freedom from suffering.

We ingenious modern humans have in fact developed a powerful means to seek and identify truth. It’s called science. In its essence, it is simply a mode of cognition that tests falsifiable hypotheses and assesses the preponderance of evidence to identify truth. The essence of all misinformation and disinformation campaigns, including virtually all false conspiracy theories like anti-vax propaganda, is anti-science. Developing the cognitive skills to assess evidence is the only way out of this curse of anti-science that has been amplified by the internet. It is very likely that the actual biophysical neuronal substrate for this is set up in early life, and without it there can be few ‘conversions’ from anti-science zeal to evidence-based rational thinking. To wit, there are precious few COVID deathbed ‘conversions’ of anti-vaxxers – the very few which do occur are considered newsworthy.

Thus my hope rests with humankind overcoming its neurobiological evolutionary constraints, and seeking ‘the better angels of our nature.’  Peaceful non-tribalism and the rejection of anti-science (which are actually related) would be two of those better angels. Education and cognitive skills development are the means to that end. 

 

Ian Browde

This conversation is highly complex and I am inspired by the input and learning a lot. 

An article by Jill Lepore, Mission Impossible compares FB to Standard Oil back in the early 1900s. The Internet (read: the digital world) is more than media, it is a life extension, with young people increasingly becoming digital amphibians. 

Lepore’s article supports a comparison of the earth/physical world polluters – fossil fuel companies, cigarette manufacturers, etc and the digital world polluters – online advertising companies like FB, porno companies, human traffickers and now mis/disinformation distributors.  


Craig Boice

The immediate problem is less about disinformation (which has always been with us) and more about changes in culture and technology that have combined to make disinformation more virulent, particularly in the United States.

Perception, Information, Belief

Since Plato, philosophy (i.e., epistemology) has noted that perception and reality differ. Socrates was executed for providing disinformation to young people.

Perception and the analysis of perception are fundamentally individual and personal. What each of us consciously recognizes as “information” differs. Religious, cultural, and scientific schemes of analyzing perception (i.e., belief systems) can be learned, and lead groups of individuals to become similar. The identity of these groups is often based on their conviction that they (and only they) have the ability to perceive reality as it is. Belief systems can be who we are.

Being Open-Minded Can be Risky 

The United States was founded by distinct, radical groups who elected to live together with one another. American society saw itself as diverse and dynamic, within limits. There was an opportunity for invention. Our society became open-ended. We generally accepted that new information might arise, justifying changes in beliefs.

This occasional tolerance did nothing to limit the consequences of holding misguided beliefs. As Will Rogers noted, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into the most trouble. It’s what you know that ain’t so.” The United States had witch trials, genocide against indigenous people, lynching, and centuries of persecution of others based on skin color, sex, sexual preference, and place of birth. There was a Civil War. The Mormons were expelled from Illinois. Immigration was restricted. Despite all of these tragedies based on bad information and savage beliefs, American culture was still committed to the proposition that today’s information may be tomorrow’s disinformation. Americans believed in progress: information could become true. Innovation could triumph. A belief system could adapt. Our society developed a great appetite for new information and respect for iconoclasts and rugged individualists.

Belief systems are aspirational, and the American belief system had us always learning. “What have you learned since we last met?” Emerson asked. Even today, our open-ended belief system leaves us in a constant tension between what we seem to know, what we learn, and what has changed since we last looked. That tension is immensely healthy and well-aligned with evolution, but it also leaves us vulnerable. So long as we had our bearings (e.g., some form of religion, the pursuit of happiness, Manifest Destiny, fighting fascism, the American Dream, fighting communism), we had a reason to sort out perceptions, and regard information carefully. We were on a mission. But today, our belief system lacks a compass and adapts to the winds rather than the stars. 

Many of us are now “politically correct,” believing that as long as somebody is willing to face the legal consequences, they have a right to personal beliefs, actions based on those beliefs, and advocacy of those beliefs. We might label Chicken Little ignorant or misguided, but not dangerous, or evil. We’d describe that whole sky-is-falling panic as a “difference of opinion.” We’d let the courts sort it out. Furthermore, as the Trump presidency and the pandemic have demonstrated, we’ve taken another step. In many cases, we’ve abandoned standards of verification, because “who’s to say?” It’s so hard to sort out every claim. We would kind of prefer sound reasoning, decisive evidence, and consistent ties to values, but we don’t insist. So we now make little distinction between well-grounded beliefs, and beliefs that have no basis in reality. We substitute the apparent intensity of belief, and whether our online “friends” seem to believe the claim, for verification. 

We had already accepted that reality was dynamic and information changed. We liked “rugged individual” points of view. Then we started thinking that it was only fair to regard any observations as potentially as good as any other, even if they lacked verification. At that point, our belief system is no longer adapting to a dynamic reality but is instead adapting to some version of a media construct. We let it all in, and we weigh the perceptions emotionally. We have lost track of the difference between adapting to reality and living in our group’s fantasies.

Closed-Ended Wasn’t Great, but Closed-Minded is Worse

Meanwhile, the most prominent and authoritative closed-ended belief systems on the planet (e.g., Chinese communism, Islam) have continued to survive as they always have, by reinterpreting novel information within their own frameworks and indoctrinating each new generation of believers. Across the last few decades in the United States, as “education” has become custodial and experiential, and religion has become ceremonial, we have largely abandoned indoctrination. We still recognize that there is a reality that is what it is and will be unforgiving, but only STEM students and ambitious athletes are required to pay attention to it. Everyone else is urged to discover the “best version of themselves” without much guidance about what counts as best.

Now receive a gift from technology: the simple and rapid ability of individuals to establish and nurture ‘like-minded’ groups. No miracles or sacred texts are required, although celebrity texts can assume the role of fatwas. No sophisticated Russian desinformatsiya is required; deception and misdirection can come simply in the form of virtual “friends”. Technology now allows any belief system to reinforce itself through social preference, and the substitution of digital messages for perception. No reflective thinking is required. The belief system has created its own hall of mirrors to reflect messages over and over. Technology’s gift can invigorate a closed-ended belief system. But technology’s gift will be toxic to open-ended belief systems. Rugged individuals have few friends. The open-end is replaced by those mirrored reflections. “Cancel culture” emerges immediately, as a means of screening out discordant voices, including the voice of reality itself. Minds close.

So a belief system without a compass encounters a technical environment where it seems that if we just align ourselves with a herd, we no longer seem to need a compass. In fact, we can obtain herd immunity against new information. The beliefs of other people become our perceptions. Isn’t it remarkable how many different kinds of people seem to be thinking just what I was thinking? We are no longer independent nodes of consciousness and insight. It’s what Socrates meant when he said “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We have an open-ended, closed-minded belief system that is technically enabled. So many kinds of diversity, but not diversity in belief. Equity among all those who believe. Inclusion in the belief system is the basis of both recognition and belonging. Our society becomes AI in a distinctive, dangerous sense. 

What Happens Next?

It’s not good. Especially in the United States, where we have developed little resistance to misinformation.

Elsewhere, closed-ended belief systems cope with change and stress through periodic resets, not admitted to be such. These resets are often initiated by a reinterpretation of history, followed by exile, imprisonment, or execution of the misguided. Behavioral economics shows us how cults continue even in the face of complete failure of their initial predictions.

However, our open-ended closed-minded belief system may simply dissolve, as change and stress aren’t recognized. Disinformation may prove to be fatal, a cultural “wasting disease”. The truth is no longer differentiated from illusion. Everything might be true or might be false; it looks like a choice. But in fact, the choice is only to recognize reality, or not, when establishing beliefs. In a contemporary open-ended closed-minded belief system, recognizing reality may take a while, or never happen at all. Society may never get to that option. In the meantime, beliefs become shallow and dispensible. Ephemeral opinions storm through the system as fads. 

Recognizing reality, recalling it, and planning for its consistencies comprise one of humanity’s most powerful skill sets. Disabled by the acceptance of disinformation as indistinguishable from information, these skills atrophy. Life gets a lot harder. Discipline, habit, aspiration seem to have no point. Into that confusion usually rides the leader of a closed-end belief system, who announces that prior perceptions have been flawed. Lost souls flock to the peculiarly compelling message. Citizens in practical difficulties sign up for what seems like a promising path. When gods and their ceremonies multiply, but ills continue, it’s time for a new pantheon.

Many of us have come to believe in climate change caused by human progress. We project dire consequences from our collective actions. We note how dependent human society is on maintaining the physical climate around us. Yet the information that swirls around us is even more vital than the weather for human survival and aided by technology, our information climate is changing faster than the weather.

Ian Browde, USA

 

PROFILE SUMMARY

My experience includes human/machine interface design for leveraging computers for personal growth, see U.S. Patent #7574415, cybersecurity and cyber-physical security and safety. Also, sustainability, agriculture, teaching, coaching and mentoring. For much of my career I focused on, and engaged in, strategy (development and implementation), systems thinking, conscious innovation and how to create and sustain a learning organization. In business in the USA, I had the fortune of working at some great companies. At Apple, I led business development for Apple International, created the Apple/San Jose State University MBA program and launched Apple in China at the West China Medical Center of Sichuan University, as it is now called. At Nokia I was a Diversity Champion and ran business development for the Internet Communications business unit. I have also worked at a wide range of smaller companies and start ups. I hold a JD from Santa Clara University Law School, California and a BA in Political Science from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

 

Email: ianbrowde@gmail.com

Bill’s New Book

TechCast is pleased to announce the imminent publication of Prof. Halal’s latest book — Beyond Knowledge. Below is the Table of Contents, the book cover, and Chapter One. The book is available here at Amazon

Beyond Knowledge has already a dozen reviews on Amazon and they are all 5-stars.  Here are a few of these reviews:

 

Hazel Henderson — “A gem” 

Michael Lee — “Best since Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock”

Mark Schutzman  — “A Masterpiece of human thought”

Margherita Abe — “Guide to Survival in the Anthropocene”

 

Professional reviews from publications:

“I’ve always thought that the problems in the world need to be
solved through politics and spirituality. How delightful to find that Beyond Knowledge does exactly that. It is an extraordinary perspective on why there are so many problems on Earth. Indeed, it suggests that the world could be poised on the cusp of transformation from a society based on knowledge to one guided by consciousness.” Reviewed by Tommy Wong for Readers’ Favorite

“An essential guide for individuals, governments, businesses, religions, and educational institutions. Provides substantial solutions and cases for their effectiveness to resolve the mega-crisis that confronts humanity. An excellent, well-researched, and informative read that is hard to put down; an x-ray of contemporary society and what shapes it.” Reviewed by David Reyes, Book Commentary

“Visionary, balanced, pragmatic, a gold mine of information, and impressively thorough. A refreshing change from the daily staple diet of doom and gloom we are bombarded with from all directions. I am eternally grateful for this olive branch of hope. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and recommend Beyond Knowledge to anyone looking for an intelligent and informative analysis of our present and future.” Francis Mont for Readers’ Favorite

Comments from readers:
  • “I think you are right on. People filter the facts based on their beliefs and opinions. It’s all subjective. We are acting like adolescents.  Can’t wait to read the whole thing. I want to order my copy early.”

  • “Professor Halal’s book about a new paradigm of consciousness will have implications for all areas of human endeavor. “

  • “If you are looking for enlightenment, BUY THIS BOOK. Beyond Knowledge provides a brilliant approach for coping with a rapidly changing world.”

  • “Prof. Halal’s vision is intriguing and thought-provoking. I’m anxiously awaiting the rest of the story from his upcoming book.”

  • Beyond Knowledge tackles our current, complex, confusing world in a way that allows readers to understand the future. People will be standing in line to review this book.”


About the Cover

The stunning cover symbolizes a modern goddess giving humans a vision of  “global consciousness” needed to develop a mature world. The goddess is female to recognize that surviving today’s massive threats requires the feminine qualities of wisdom, cooperation and love. She also represents the younger generation that must lead this transformation.

 
Beyond Knowledge:
How Technology Is Driving an Age of Consciousness

 

Contents

Forewords    Hazel Henderson, Michael Lee and Amy Fletcher

Preface          Blessings of Maturity                                                    
 
One                 Introduction:
                        The Noosphere is Here                                

 
Two                Promises and Perils of the Technology Revolution:
                        Eating Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge 
 
Three             Uniting Science and Spirit:
                        Technologies of  Consciousness
Four               Democratic Enterprise:    
                        Collaboration Between Business and Society
 
Five                A New Social Contract:   
                       Centrist Politics and Government Markets
 
Six                  Virtual Education:
                       The Uneasy Shift from Teaching to Learning
 
Seven            From Religion to Spirit:
                       The Ultimate Technique of  Consciousness
 
Eight             Managing Our Minds:
                       Living and Working in Spirit
Nine              Toward a Global Consciousness:
                       Start by Being  Responsible 
Ten                Evolution’s Climax:
                       The Flowering of Human Spirit 

  
 
 
Excerpt from Chapter One


Introduction: The Noosphere Is Here

The great Jesuit anthropologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, has long fascinated us with his vision that the world would evolve into a “noosphere,” [1] a great web of consciousness enveloping the Earth. It seemed a lovely but distant ideal, yet the Digital Revolution has now made that dream a reality. As this book will show, the noosphere is here today, and it promises to transform our lives, our work, social institutions, the global order, and our very minds and souls.

Not too long ago, we relied on telephones and newspapers to communicate. We now use two billion personal computers (PCs), 14 billion cell phones and laptops, and two billion TVs. The information flows through 30 million Internet servers, 3,500 space satellites and almost one million miles of undersea cables. This planetary layer of digital connections knits eight billion people into a living overlay of thought – the noosphere.

Although the world has an abundance of communication, it is not a very happy place. Just as the Gutenberg printing press unleashed a flood of information that led to wars and the Protestant Reformation, today’s deluge of knowledge has brought a “post-factual” wave of nonsense, government gridlock, raging pandemics, the climate crisis and other global threats. We will see later that a “global consciousness” able to handle such threats is likely to emerge soon. But, in the meantime, the noosphere has highlighted the limits of knowledge.

 

Beyond Knowledge

You would think we should have been enlightened by the past two decades of the Knowledge Age, so why do people seem badly misinformed, emotional and unreasonable? Despite the great evidence readily available, many do not believe in evolution, climate change, vaccination and other established science.

Even national policies are often based on emotions, as when the English left the EU and Americans elected President Trump. Political “rebellions” like this are common, of course, with their own logic and patriotic goals. But today, the technology can amplify disinformation. Trump, for instance, gained power using digital media to deny inconvenient facts as “fake news” and “conspiracy theories.” An entire cottage industry has sprung up to warn of this “Assault on Intelligence,” “The Death of Truth,” “A World Without Facts” and “Truth Decay.” [2]

It does not help that large parts of the public embrace this confusion. TV and the Internet have produced what has been called “the dumbest generation” with a disregard for general reading in favor of news sources echoing their beliefs. [3] Here are some choice bits of willful ignorance:

  • The US ranks near the bottom of nations whose citizens believe in evolution, with less than 40 percent saying they accept the science. [4]
  • Two-thirds cannot name the three branches of government. [5]
  • As of early 2021, more than 70 percent of Republicans still believe the presidential election was stolen, after this was discredited by the courts and Republican officials themselves.

Extensive studies confirm that attitudes, beliefs and values are shaped by a variety of well-known biases, allegiance to political parties and other extraneous factors. [6]  Even hard-nosed business people admit that bias in decision-making is a major problem. [7] Demagogues use self-serving fantasies to blind people to reality and mobilize them into violence. [8] It seems that objectivity is a thin veneer shielding base impulses as well as noble motives.

Norman Lear, the famous American TV producer, said: “We just may be the most-informed, yet least self-aware people in history.” [9] 

This dilemma poses one of the great ironies of our time. The Digital Revolution has created a wealth of knowledge that is almost infinite. The smartphone alone has made the world’s store of information available at the touch of a finger. There is no shortage of knowledge, but the power of facts is badly limited. Knowledge cannot tell us what is worth doing, or what is right morally and what is wrong. Rational logic does not explain why people are altruistic or selfish, kind or cruel, enlightened or ignorant. Knowledge can never replace love, wisdom or a guiding vision.

This rule of unreason pervades life, and it is rampant in politics. The US government, for instance, has been locked in stalemate for decades, though Congress has more knowledge than it can handle. Emotional issues like abortion, gun control and immigration supported by strong majorities have been studied to death. Still, gridlock persists because of conflicting values, reluctance to compromise, and hunger for power – issues that lie beyond knowledge. Senator Ben Sasse worried, “We are living in an America of perpetual adolescence.” [10]

This political stalemate is largely responsible for the poor US response to the coronavirus pandemic. China, Singapore, South Korea and other Asian nations weathered the storm reasonably well. But the US mismanaged it so badly that Americans fear structural weaknesses in government could inflict more damage from other crises. The pandemic brought these systemic flaws on vivid display for all to see. People are frightened and searching for solutions.

Many are ready to break from a past that no longer works. The World Economic Forum called for a “great reset” in all spheres of society. The result is a loss of faith in the reigning logic, or ideology, of money, power and self-interest. These values have their place, but they seem unable to address the crises of our time. Climate change is starting to bite, more pandemics are likely, inequality is growing, and there is a growing sense that the status quo is not sustainable. The conflict over these complex issues seems overwhelming because, once again, they are beyond knowledge. They hinge on stark differences in consciousness.

This existential threat has shattered confidence in what Francis Fukuyama proclaimed to be “The End of History” – the fall of communism and the triumph of capitalism and democracy. [11] A variety of voices suggest this crisis could trigger a “collapse of capitalism,” roughly like the “collapse of communism” in the 1990s. It also stems from the same fatal flaw – an inability to adapt to a changing world. Communism could not meet the complex demands of the Information Revolution, and now capitalism is failing to adapt to this confluence of global crises.

 

Next Step in Social Evolution

What is going on here? Why is the US, the most prosperous and best-educated nation in the world, so inept? How can great knowledge produce such misguided behavior?

These problems can be best understood as the passing of the Knowledge Age and the opening of an unusual frontier – consciousness itself. Knowledge remains crucial, of course. But today’s explosion of smartphones, social media and artificial intelligence (AI) has created a post-factual mess governed by raw emotions, distorted values and outmoded beliefs. An Age of Consciousness is starting now, though one may not like its current form. Whatever one thinks of former President Trump, almost all would concede that he is brilliant at creating an alternative reality. He is a master at shaping consciousness.

A “beyond knowledge test” helps clarify the role of consciousness. If some problem remains unresolved due to values, beliefs, self-interest or other subjective issues – climate, abortion, gun control, for example – the solution lies beyond knowledge. This simple test highlights how the disorders that plague our time are not rational problems to solve by reason. They involve all the messy mental baggage of normal people, so they must be addressed by altering consciousness. That is where the problems lie, and it is also where the solutions are to be found.

This is a bold claim, but that is roughly how the shift to a world of knowledge looked when the Information Revolution began a few decades ago. Back when computers filled rooms, I recall telling people that we were entering a world of personal computers, and the typical response was, “Why would anyone want a personal computer?”

Yet in 2000, PCs were everywhere, books on knowledge became rife and the majority of jobs involved managing knowledge.  I am equally confident that an Age of Consciousness is opening up today, and we simply do not yet understand this intriguing new frontier.

Beneath this tectonic shift in consciousness is the driving force of artificial intelligence, the most powerful agent of change today. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said “AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on … more profound than fire or electricity.” [12] The advance of AI is automating knowledge work, threatening to eliminate roughly half of all jobs and posing one of the most perplexing questions of our time: What lies beyond knowledge? As Chapter three will explain, everything beyond knowledge is consciousness. This historic shift in social evolution is illustrated by the graph below.

I have struggled with this problem for years, and the result is Figure 1 showing what I call the “Life Cycle of Evolution (LCE).” Similar graphs have been sketched in general terms, [13] but this is the first to plot the long-term evolutionary trend using real scales and real data. The logarithmic time scale is needed to encompass the billions of years at the start of life, as well as just decades today. Without a log scale, the shape of the LCE would not be recognizable; the trendline would run flat and make a sharp 90 degree turn straight up.

Figure 1

Above the fray, there is a direction to this accelerating evolutionary process, and the logical next step is consciousness. Roughly four million years were needed to found Agrarian Civilizations. Nine thousand years to invent Industrial Society. One hundred years for the Post-Industrial Era. Five decades to a Knowledge Age. And the past 20 years to an Age of Consciousness.

Today, the world is poised at the cusp of transformation from a society based on knowledge to one guided by consciousness. This extraordinary acceleration through previous stages reveals how the planet suddenly came alive in a flash of awareness. The entire rise of civilization occurred in an extremely tiny fraction of one percent in the LCE. Historian Arnold Toynbee foresaw it as the “etherealization of life.” [14] Teilhard de Chardin envisioned planetary consciousness to be the natural apex of evolution – the Omega Point. [15]

Consciousness has been around throughout history, of course, so what is really new? This transition can be understood through a similar evolutionary shift to the Knowledge Age. Information has also been used throughout civilization, of course. But the Knowledge Age began when digital technology matured about two decades ago into the most powerful force on Earth, occupying the bulk of the labor force, and our very minds.

In a similar way, shaping consciousness is now a powerful technology, although barely understood, and it is changing the world. Think of the explosion of opinion, disinformation and emotion blasting out of loudspeakers like Facebook and Twitter. Anybody can use social media to shape public opinion, for better or worse. Politicians around the globe struggle to infiltrate the information systems of their adversaries, and they casually dismiss criticism as fake news. One analyst framed the problem this way: “In the past, wars were conducted with weapons. Now it’s through social media.” [16] The great challenge now is, how to shape a workable global consciousness out of this morass of differences to support almost eight billion people coexisting on this single planet?

This historic transition also poses enormous threats that seem almost impossible. Climate change and the entire constellation of end-of-the-world challenges comprise what I call the “Global MegaCrisis,” or the “Crisis of Global Maturity.” My studies conducted with a colleague, Michael Marien, found that roughly 70 percent of the public thinks the present world trajectory will lead to disaster. Ask anyone off the street and you will probably get the same answer. People have deep fears over today’s failures in governance, and they attribute it to a lack of leadership, vision and cooperation.

The late Stephen Hawking worried about “widening inequality, climate change, food, decimation of species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. This is the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity, and our species must work together.” [17]

The Technology Revolution will add even greater threats. The next chapter forecasts how advances across the technology spectrum are providing vast benefits, but also the enormous problems of  “eating fruit from the biblical Tree of Knowledge.” Smart cars, for example, will pass on the faults of smartphones. “A car is like a cell phone, and that makes it vulnerable to attack,” said Jonathan Brossard, a security engineer. Many are horrified at the prospect of AI-controlled weapons turning on people. Now, ponder what could happen when billions of intelligent devices are wired into the Internet of Things?

The great S-curve formed by these eras is the universal symbol of the lifecycle. All living systems pass through this same process of birth (start of the S-curve), growth (upward phase), and maturity (leveling off) – a culture of bacteria, a growing child or the life of a planet. From this systems view, the Global MegaCrisis is an infinitely larger version of the same crisis of maturity that transforms teenagers into adults. Anyone who has raised children knows that teens may be fully grown physically and “know everything.” But the typical teenager has not learned to control their impulses, struggles with inner doubts and can’t cope with a confusing world.

That is roughly the state of our world today. Industrialized nations are fully developed, awash in information and with enough armaments to destroy us all. Yet they lack the wisdom to address climate change, regulate economies safely, curb terrorism and solve other nagging problems. As I will show in the next chapter, many people think we are heading toward a disaster of catastrophic proportions, and they have little faith in their leaders.


Consciousness is not the same as “goodness,” as is often thought by New Age enthusiasts. Like knowledge, consciousness encompasses all in its domain – including hate, conflict and delusion.

At some point, the stress becomes so severe that most teens eventually find the courage to grow up and become responsible adults. In a roughly similar way, the MegaCrisis is humanity’s challenge to become a mature civilization. The world is being forced to grow up and to develop a sustainable global order – or perish. This passage to maturity is more than a historic challenge; it is also a historic opportunity. Like adolescence, surmounting this painful process can lead to a better future. How could we let this singular moment pass?

 

Triumph of Human Spirit

This evolutionary perspective helps us understand how a global consciousness is emerging today to resolve these threats and create a mature civilization. More than a theory, the chapters ahead will show how people are changing their lives, their work, social institutions and global mindset. I make a point of fleshing out these concepts with details, evidence, supporting examples and steps to consider. We will see how an Age of Consciousness is likely to develop into a tangible, productive and more meaningful way of life.

Consciousness is the inner terrain in which we live our lives, and it is changing rapidly to cope with the slightly crazed demands of high-tech life. People are embracing mindfulness, living with nature and using psychedelics to relieve stress, provide insight and improve health. I call these “technologies of consciousness” – methods that people use to guide their awareness, mood and understanding. The evidence shows that these techniques can instill the values of cooperation, understanding and compassion that are essential to a unified globe.

The main chapters outline how shifts in public consciousness are transforming the major organs of society – government, business, universities, religions and other institutions. In each case, I will show that a small avant-garde is quietly bringing a mature awareness to these varied facets of public life. Drawing on numerous examples, I show how business is turning democratic, government can be lean and responsive, education becoming student-centered, and religions moving from doctrine to a personal relationship with the spiritual world.

For instance, the Business Roundtable announcement that firms should serve all stakeholders is truly historic. The New York Times called it a “watershed moment … that raises questions about the very nature of capitalism.” Leading corporations like Johnson & Johnson, IKEA, Nucor Steel, Nortel, and Unilever collaborate with employees, customers, suppliers and governments to solve tough problems and create value for the company and stakeholders. Larry Fink, who runs the biggest investment firm in the world (Black Rock), directed the companies he owns to address social issues, even including climate costs in their operations.

These ideas may be reasonable, but many doubt such dramatic change is possible. In 2020, the “Black Lives Matter” movement began shifting attitudes around the world, illustrating that consciousness is changing even now. This push for racial justice is led by young people across the political and racial spectra, the cohort that favors global consciousness. It is reminiscent of the “Me Too” movement that ousted sexual predators, and the passing of gay marriage laws a few years ago. Big change arrives when the time has come.

The power of global consciousness provides the key to resolving the multiple crises of today. Each stage in social evolution has been propelled by revolutions – the Agrarian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, Post-Industrial Revolution and, most recently, the Information Revolution. As my graph of the LCE lays out visually, we are now in the beginning throes of what I call a “Mental/Spiritual Revolution” to kick-start the Age of Consciousness. In short, it appears the world is heading toward some type of historic shift in consciousness, a collective epiphany, a new mindset, code of global ethics or a spiritual revolution.

Civilization survived the fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, World Wars I and II, and a cold war bristling with nuclear weapons, and it seems likely to survive the Global MegaCrisis.

Such heroic change may appear daunting, especially at a time when hostilities seem endless and environmental disaster looms ahead. That is often the case before upheavals. Nobody thought the Soviet Union would collapse until it actually did. The evidence outlined throughout the book supports this evolutionary trend.

The reason this claim seems optimistic, perhaps even foolhardy, is that we have no experience in global consciousness. Huddled in our small section of the universe, humans have little conception of planetary evolution, much less the transition to a unified world. Our understanding is roughly similar to that of a naïve person who first witnesses the agony of a human birth or a teen struggling to adulthood. Without previous experience, these painful transitions would seem awful, too hard to bear. Yet they are entirely normal and usually successful.

So too could our passage to global maturity develop into a fairly normal transition in a few years. The LCE graph shows that a Mental/Spiritual Revolution is likely to arrive about 2025 or so. I am as confident in this forecast as I was that the Knowledge Age would arrive about 2000. This historic shift to an unknown era requires a new conceptual framework to map the terrain, a vision to provide inspiration and principles that work – the elements of this book.

A mature global order will still bear the normal human failings, but it will make our current strife look as primitive as the brutal reign of kings in the feudal ages. This may sound too good to be true, yet these trends suggest we will see the beginnings of a unified planet over the next decade or so, and the triumph of human spirit, once again.

 

References

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper, 1955)
[2] Hayden, The Assault on Intelligence (New York: Penguin, 2018); Anne Applebaum, “A World Without Facts” (Washington Post, May 20, 2018); Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael Rich, Truth Decay (Santa Monica: The Rand Corporation, 2018)
[3] Mark Bauerian, The Dumbest Generation (New York: Penguin, 2008)
[4] Ker Than, “US Lags … Acceptance of Evolution” (Live Science, Aug 11, 2006)
[5] Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason (New York: Pantheon, 2008)
[6] Elizabeth Kolbert, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” (The New Yorker, Feb 27, 2017); Yuval Harari, “People Have Limited Knowledge. What’s the Remedy? Nobody Knows” (New York Times, Apr 18, 2017)
[7] Tobias Beer et al., “The Business Logic in Debiasing” (McKinsey, May 2017)
[8] Harari, “Why Fiction Trumps Truth” (The New York Times, May 24, 2019)
[9] “Norman Lear calls for leap of faith” (The New Leaders, May/June 1993)
[10] Ben Sasse, The Vanishing American Adult (St. Martin’s, 2017)
[11] Ishaan Tharoor, “The Man Who Declared ‘The End of History’ Fears for Democracy’s Future” (Washington Post, Feb 9, 2017)
[12] World Economic Forum (Jan 24, 2018)
[13]  For instance, the field of “big history” has studied similar time scales. See ibha.wildapricot.org (June 2, 2017)
[14] Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History (Oxford Univ. Press, 1960)
[15] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper Perennial 1976)
[16]  “Quote of the Day” (New York Times, Sep 13, 2019)
[17] Stephen Hawking, “This Is the Most Dangerous Time for Our Planet” (The Guardian, Dec 1, 2019)

Life Extension

Summary

Life extension is defined as prolonging human life beyond the normal limits of roughly 120 years. There is some evidence that demonstrates this is possible. Research shows that aging can be delayed in experimental animals, sometimes manyfold. Science is increasingly able to repair damage to the body, replace damaged organs, and modify genetic makeup to extend life spans.

Sharing the blood of a young animal has been shown to rejuvenate older animals and prolong their lives. Substances like NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) and rapamycin can improve mitochondrial function genes associated with aging.

Many authorities are confident that human life can be meaningfully extended. Ray Kurzweil forecasts that life extension treatments are likely to become available before 2030. Aubrey de Grey of the U. of Cambridge believes the first person who will live to see his 150th birthday has already been born. Some think the first person to live for 1,000 years will be born in the next two decades.

But many therapies only stretch normal aging to the 120-year limit, rather than extending life spans beyond those limits. For instance, a respected medical journal, The Lancet, projected that most babies born since 2000 in industrialized nations will live to celebrate their 100th birthday.

Some scientists doubt that life extension is possible beyond a theoretical maximum of 120 years. S. Jay Olshansky, professor of public health at the U of Illinois, once pointed out, “There are no interventions that have been documented to slow, stop, or reverse aging in humans.” Yet Olshansky later writes, “It is only a matter of time before aging science acquires the same level of prestige and confidence that medicine and public health now enjoy, and when that time comes, a new era in human health will emerge. …the 21st century will bear witness to one of the most important new developments in the history of medicine.”

While the number of centenarians has increased dramatically, the number of supercentenarians (people living 110 years) has failed to keep pace. The number of centenarians worldwide is about 450,000, yet there are only 300 to 450 supercentenarians. Ned David, president of Unity Biotechnologies, says his company does not expect people to be living to 150 years and has chosen to focus on improving the “healthspan” rather than increasing lifespan. The concept of “healthspan” arose largely in response to priorities at NIH, which does not consider aging to be a disease. Research to extend lifespan does not get funded. Research to extend healthspan does.

Others contend that many apparent breakthroughs from animal research (resveratrol, antioxidants, etc.), like their counterparts in cancer treatment, have proved ineffective in humans. In mid-2021, there is little if any sign of actually extending normal human life spans.

The challenges and consequences of increased life spans could be enormous. If serious life extension does prove feasible, there remains the fear that longer lives will simply prolong poor health and feeble minds rather than adding capable years. Political scientist Francis Fukuyama warns that society may soon “resemble a giant nursing home.” 

Jose Cordeiro’s new book, The Death of Death, has been published in several languages and is very optimistic about life extension. Cordeiro notes:

“A group of scientists under the direction of Spanish biologist María Blasco, director of CNIO (the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre) in Madrid, has created the so-called Triple mice, which live approximately 40% longer.[i] With totally different technologies, other scientists such as the Spanish Juan Carlos Izpisúa, an expert researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, have also been able to rejuvenate mice by 40%.[ii]”

“In 1993, Kenyon and colleagues found that mutations in the gene daf-2 increase the longevity of C. Elegans hermaphrodites by more than two-fold compared to wild type nematodes.”

Earlier studies by TechCast estimated that useful medicines and other anti-aging treatments are likely to enter markets about 2028 +/- 4 years. This would lead to a commercial market of roughly US$600 billion at saturation about 2040. The experts were 58% confident in this forecast.

The results below are less optimistic but equally compelling. Our sample of 22 experts estimates a 73 percent probability that life extension technologies will become commercially available in about 2043 +/- 10 years. We also estimate that the average life span will crease to about 200 years for most common applications when the technology matures. The data also suggests an “elite” could possibly increase life spans to 500 years or more using advanced applications.

 

Note that this new forecast expects arrival later than the earlier study — confirming once again the tendency toward optimism that is common in forecasting.

 

Expert Survey Results

Results from our experts are shown below for three research questions:

What is the probability that treatments for extending human life beyond 120 years are demonstrated within the following few decades? (Please specify probability from 0% to 100%. Or specify “Much Later/Never”)

If this is likely, when do you think life extension will be demonstrated to be feasible and available commercially?  That is, when the adoption level first exceeds zero: >0.  (Specify the most likely year. For instance,  2045.)

Please estimate the average human life span when life extension technology matures. Think of this as reaching the “limits” of life extension.  (Specify average future human life span in years. For instance, 250 years? 400 years? 600 years?) 

TechCast is grateful for the following experts who contributed to this study:

Clayton Dean, Andrew Micone, Peter King, Pierpaolo Dotoli, Margherita Abe, Owen Davies, John Frieslaar, Chris Garlick, Jonathan Kolber, Jose Cordeiro, John Meagher, Altan Koraltan, John Freedman, Mke Ryan, Art Shostak, John Coale, Wendell Wallach, John-Clark Levin, Jaques Malan, Ian Browde, Craig Boice, Dennis Bushnell. 

 

Probability of Life Extension Demonstrated   

The distribution of responses shows a striking convergence at the upper range of the probability scale, with an average of 73 percent. While there is no assurance the experts will prove to be correct, the sample size is more than adequate, there is a fairly tight convergence around 73 percent, and the comments are persuasive. We conclude there is a strong probability that life extension will be shown to be feasible in the coming decades. A more precise estimate for the date of this arrival is examined in the next section.

 
Most Likely Year of Arrival

The distribution of responses converges around the average year of 2043 when life extension is estimated to enter commercial use. The standard deviation from this mean is +/- 10 years, reflecting the wide range of uncertainty in the survey data and comments. 

 

Maximum Life Span Expected

Finally, the bar chart below shows a bi-modal distribution of responses at the two ends of the scale. While one could dismiss the high estimates as unrealistic, we think a more careful analysis suggests two different modes of life extension may be likely. The low end of estimates averages about 192 years, and this could be the ordinary range of life extension for most individuals as the more common forms of technology mature. This consensus is also seen in the comments.

The high end of estimates suggests what is possible for those with the means to undergo more heroic forms of life extension that enable them to reach 500 years of age or longer. The comments make a strong case for a scenario in which a small segment of society is able to afford the sophisticated treatments shown in the research trends below — replacement of body parts, bioengineering the body to eliminate aging cells, replacing blood, and other more advanced technologies.

Expert Comments

Clayton Dean

I think this is the wrong question or a bit of a red herring.  Life, specifically cellular life, is not what is going to be extended.  Life is fragile and prone to breaking, aging, and deterioration.  Cells age, slow, perform ever less efficiently.  Our current human biology is akin to trying to keep an aging car on the road.  It becomes ever more prohibitive and needful of maintenance.  Instead, the breakthrough will be in ‘consciousness porting’ which essentially means taking the mind and moving it to a new body (or equivalent) which, in turn, equates to age without limits. The body will just become a transitory vessel: temporary and easily shed.  Rather the mind with all of its experiences, instincts, and accumulated knowledge will be the critical thing.  Just as you can’t have interstellar space travel without a fundamental paradigm shift in engine technology, you can’t get too far above 100? 150?  250?  years without a similar paradigm shift regarding our biology.

Read no further than the first 35 pages of John Scalzi’s ‘Old Man’s War’ (amongst many options, books, and TV shows) where humans, at age 75, are given the option of aging (and dying) on Earth OR joining the ‘Space Army’ with an amazing new body AND your brain with all of your loves, likes, experiences, and knowledge downloaded into an 18-year super body — but most critically:  a promise of another 100 years in a customized and equally youthful body at the end of the service period.   It will be as easy as downloading a movie onto your iPod.  

I don’t believe that biology can be extended beyond a certain point.  Sure, like silicon in CPUs our biology can be stretched to last longer.  And some innovations will continue to extend its shelf life: vitamins, a cure for cancer, etc… And certainly, some ‘cyborg’ hybridization would further that linear progression.  However, the only way we get over 200 – 250 years is a paradigm shift away from biology, either in a synthetic hybrid or by uploading ourselves into empty shells.

 

Owen Davies

This presumes that research can get funding and that governments do not panic at the thought of radical change and act to inhibit research. Billionaires who would prefer to continue enjoying their wealth make funding essentially inevitable. Government interference? When politicians take the possibility of life extension seriously, I would not put it past them. 

However, to take an obvious example, how long would Putin and his cronies like to rule Russia? Oligarchical societies are likely to pursue aging research for the benefit of the rich and powerful, believing they can keep the results to themselves. In this, they will be wrong.

Note that this also somewhat assumes I am right in believing therapies that will keep us alive and vigorous, both physically and mentally, will be available within fifteen years. The first may already be in use, requiring only time to confirm their efficacy. This is not an absolute prerequisite to my 95-percent estimate, but I find it personally desirable.

Five to ten years before researchers announce the first true life-extension therapies, people will be treating themselves individually, with or without formal medical supervision, with therapies that seem effective in animals, as people now are treating themselves with senolytics, GDF11, and Klotho. Some of them will pick the right ones.

Getting from a few individuals to even 5 percent of the population could take a lot longer. Of course, if “big pharma” can make a buck out of these treatments, widespread adoption becomes quick and inevitable (albeit politically controversial.) The justification will be the need to avoid the growing costs of age-associated disease. A preventive or treatment for Alzheimer’s reduces the cost of one disease. A preventive or treatment for aging deals with them all.    

Note that I have no reason to believe any of the therapies now available will extend our ultimate lifespan. However, they and other possibilities now in development are likely to keep us alive and well much closer to the 120-year limit. Thus, when true life extension arrives, those of us who would be significantly less than 120 in 2050 have a good chance of still being around when the ultimate breakthrough becomes available. At that point, death becomes no more than an option for the bored or hopeless.

Average lifespan with true life-extension therapies.    I don’t see how we can begin to guess based on the data currently available. Average life extension with the first therapies could be anything from a few years to infinity. We won’t have any basis for a forecast until we know how they work in animals, and animal studies are poor proxies for human experience in this field.   

However, each advance in anti-aging therapy will improve our chances of being around for the next one. If the first such treatments keep us going to, say, age 200 on average, it gives us most of a century in which science can develop the next breakthrough therapy. And so on in like manner.   

There could be some ultimate age at which the limiting factors to further extension become so many and complicated that we have no practical way to get past them. But any such suggestion today is baseless pessimism. It has no predictive value.

 

Jonathan Kolber

If it’s not through drugs/supplementation, it will be through genetic engineering (e.g. CRISPR). If neither of those, nanotech will suffice before the turn of the century. The most likely year is 2030. By then, George Church’s experiments on age reversal in mammals will have limited human results. This technology will then be offered in medical tourism countries not under FDA control. 

We will become immortal, save for accidents and voluntary exits. As Aubrey DeGrey puts it, all that is necessary for functional immortality is to extend healthy lifespan one day for each day lived. Given that the body and brain are, at core, physiological systems with significant redundancy of subsystems, if lifespan can be extended beyond presently known limits with full rejuvenation to mid-20s equivalent physiology, then there is no effective limit. (We will explore what kind of society could emerge from this in our forthcoming SF TV series.)

 

Jose Cordeiro

The first senolytics treatments are already starting. Life extension has already been demonstrated in many model organisms, from worms to mice, and human clinical trials are starting for the first human treatments, like metformin and rapamacyn. According to my friend Ray Kurzweil, we will be reaching LEV (Longevity Escape Velocity) by 2030, and rejuvenation treatments will be widely available and affordable to anyone who wants them by 2045.

I don´t believe that there are any limits to life extension, and people will be able to live as long as they want to, keeping in mind that accidents, homicides, and suicides will also be possible. Thus, immortality might never be achieved, since there might be fatal incidents in the future, but immortality is certainly in sight. Again, those who make it to 2030, will be able to live long enough to live forever, as my friend Ray Kurzweil has pointed out many times.

In biological terms, the proof that biological immortality is possible is that it already exists. Germ cells are considered “biologically immortal” (this means that they can live indefinitely since they don´t age biologically), and the same can be said about cancer cells, which discovered how to stop aging and become biologically immortal. Some small organisms are also considered to be biologically immortal, as well as bacteria that divide symmetrically, which were the first life forms in the planet.

 

John Meagher

The practical research presented in the study for life extension (LE) is extensive and credible. A key comment mentioned is “healthspan” or quality of life extension as a requirement to extending  life and not prolonging disability and suffering. This is vital for life extension technology to be truly value-added. Combatting dementia/Alzheimer’s is one example mentioned. Replacement body parts including sense organs and brain/neurological tissues are mentioned as possibilities and this will be necessary for sustained extended quality of life.

If FDA approved and accepted by the scientific/medical community life extension treatments are highly likely to become an accepted standard of care or desired, similar to vitamins and nutrition, and will be adopted above 0% very quickly if available and affordable. This is a fast-moving area with high interest and speaks to a human fundamental desire. When technically available LE will be used. A reasonable expectation is human trials in the near term (2021-2030) and depending on the milestones for effectiveness required with successful results tabulated possible LE technology could be available in the 2030 time frame.

Biological life is a chemical reaction subject to entropy even with energy and chemical input and it will not be 100% reconstituted/maintained, far too complex. Homeostasis (life) can be extended but not indefinitely in a single biological entity.  Beyond that human beings are mobile (if healthy) and subject over time to external conditions that can terminate life suddenly and irreparably (accidents, violence, natural disasters, suicides) and this may put a limit on practical average life extension when mature with some exceptional cases. Provisional data for 2020 published by CDC estimated that unintentional accidents accounted for about 200k deaths, the 4th leading cause of U.S. death right behind Covid-19, or about 6% of total 2020 deaths. 

 

Dennis Bushnell

 We have, for too long now, been extending human life at some  .3 Years/year. A while ago the folks at Stanford projected, due to the various manifestations of the bio revolution, we would, in a few decades, be closing in on extending human life at 1 year per year. Death then becomes an accidental occurrence. Such would alter much the child production/ population changes situation, in ways none have yet thought through. Actually, there are 4 disparate ways to extend human life, the piece proffered considers one of them, extending humans as historical humans. The second is extending life for altered, designer humans, an ongoing activity. The third is via the impacts of the ongoing cyborgization of humans, we are now working on artificial hearing/ implants, artificial eyes, hearts, limbs, printing organs, and implanting brain chips. The effects of such activities on life span are liable to be major. The 4th approach, farther term, and revolutionary, is to slough off the wet electrochemistry that wears out and do brain uploads…with very long life spans. In actuality, we are studying the 4th seriously now and actively engaged in the other three. There are many events/ happenings/ occurrences like pandemics, many other existential issues, possibilities that could seriously reduce life span. The ongoing many tech revolutions are attempting to anticipate, mitigate such occurrences. Much of the current thought on all this, which is really “whither the humans”, especially in the context of the development, via AI, of a second, non-electrochemistry, intelligent species, is relatively near term. With all that is underway, someone needs to seriously consider “where is it all going?, what is the next act for humans going forward. Currently, it is all of the above, all are in progress.

 

Art Shostak

By 2053 it is very likely to be feasible and available commercially, though at the outset only to the Top 2%. The masses are unlikely to gain employment before 2060 at the earliest unless there is a major reset in economic privilege in favor of reduced inequality. 

As there is no necessary limit to AI, quantum, and cyber gains forward there is no “limit” in life extension, though LIFE itself is likely to be redefined as we merge our biology with the strengths of machines and machine-aided “intelligence.” Our future is most likely an existence in a new hard-to-imagine hybrid form after 2075 or thereabouts. Our Great/Great/Great Grandchildren will wonder how we ever managed in our disadvantaged 2021 severe “handicap” format – and, pity us. 

 

Wendell Wallach

While I suspect that we will get moderate life extension for a percentage of the population over the next 20-100 years, my main concern is that there is little or no evidence that we can maintain the vital mental life of individuals.  I am fearful that the world will become a warehouse with aging bodies whose mental faculties have deteriorated. Unfortunately, we already have this in nursing facilities around the country and the world. That places great hardship on relatives and becomes another societal cost, that I believe is ethically unacceptable, though it will be ignored by those anxious to pursue life extension for themselves. 

The main caveat is that it’s unclear how long a gap there will be between getting technologies that can effectively arrest aging and those that can reverse it. But reversing aging appears to be significantly harder than preventing it (due to something of a stock/flow problem—reversing decades of accumulated damage requires much greater control over biology than just reducing the daily rate of new damage to around zero). Thus, there will probably be at least a 30-year gap between achieving these technologies and large numbers of people living past 120. 

If this is likely, when do you think life extension will be demonstrated to be feasible and available commercially?  That is when the adoption level first exceeds zero: >0.  (Specify the most likely year. For instance,  2045.)

 

John-Clark Levin

For the reasons given above, I don’t think there will be a clear answer here. There won’t be a singular moment when people know they are taking a treatment that gives them dramatic life extension—they’ll have hopes of this, but there will be much debate and it won’t be provable until people actually start living through 120 successfully. My view of the most likely scenario is: during the 2030s, AI-assisted biology simulation allows rapid acceleration of drug discovery and gene editing. At some point in that decade (2038, if I’m pressed for a year), affluent and forward-thinking people below roughly 80 or 90 start to use technologies that will be shown to give this cohort around a year of life expectancy for each chronological year that elapses. This will become evident as their annual mortality rate increases decelerate and then mortality stabilizes. That will be the first widely-acknowledged sign that aging is on the road to cure (think Time magazine covers frequently blaring “Has this group of Silicon Valley visionaries defeated aging?”). But there will also be doubters insisting that the things that kill people in their 90s (e.g. heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s) are fundamentally easier to solve than those that uniquely kill supercentenarians (e.g. kidney tissues that just break down and stop working). This is probably true, but solving the 90s killers will buy humanity another couple of decades to cure aging at a deeper cellular and histological level. By this point, that endeavor will likely be assisted by superintelligent AI and nanotechnology, so I am optimistic about its long-term success. Taking all this together, I don’t expect we’ll be able to consider aging cured until the 2060s at the earliest. At the same time, I would be greatly surprised if (barring existential calamities derailing scientific progress in the meantime) it took until the end of the century. 

I don’t think there would be a natural ceiling on life extension. Once we achieve cellular-level control over human biology, people could live for arbitrarily long periods without dying of natural causes. At that point, people would mostly die of accidents and violence. Aubrey de Grey and others have calculated that this would suggest an average lifespan of around 5,000 years (i.e. how long a person without biological aging would be expected to survive if current mortality rates from accidents and violence stay constant). But this is such a discontinuity from previous human history we can’t really judge how long those conditions would be likely to hold. Counterintuitively, curing aging would also greatly increase each individual person’s risk of dying from an existential catastrophe (either directly, or from disruption to medical technology caused by such an event). The problem is that these events are high-impact, low-frequency occurrences, so we can’t predict how long a biologically immortal person would live before dying in a nuclear war with anywhere near the statistical rigor with which we could predict how long someone would live before contracting and dying of Alzheimer’s.

Jacques Malan

I have no doubt this will be accessible to the rich within this decade (before 2030) but I think it will be a step-change progression. 120 for everyone will be easy. 200 more difficult.

This is a tricky question. There are several issues to consider. (1) For humanity to continue as meatbags, I think a limit of 200 is “adequate”; AND (2) If we manage somehow to hit the holy grail of transferring our consciousness to computers (with several back-ups of course) this can be several thousand years; BUT (3) And this is the rub, would our MINDS (whether organic or silicon) survive the “God-like Power” of living forever (or even 200 years)? Personally, I think humanity will go insane and destroy itself if we stretch it beyond 200 years by any means.

 

Craig Boice

Much of the thinking on this topic ignores the fact that the biological determinants of the length of life are multidimensional and interactive, e.g., multiple systems and organs (e.g., the brain) must function together for life to persist, Many of these systems and organs  —  indeed, many types of vital cells  —  appear to have internally-programmed lifetimes. We simply don’t understand enough, and it will take decades to appreciate what needs to be done, let alone to do it.

Furthermore, the serious attempt we are making as a species to degrade our DNA and our environment at the same time could argue that lifetimes will erode well before they are extended. In that event, research will focus on reproduction and survival rather than extension.

In the meantime, on an economic basis, it will prove much more profitable to make each of our 80-100 years better, avoiding premature and unexpected disabilities and death. The impacts and implications noted, and others will simply prove too daunting compared to the relatively simpler task of addressing specific ailments.

Finally, I would note that we now understand how a variety of factors we can now manage (i.e., diet, exercise, sleep, environmental management, spiritual nourishment) can extend life. Yet few people manage them. Human interest in life extension seems largely restricted to those moments when we are anticipating our imminent death. 

It’s a trick question if seen in the right perspective. I believe the human life span might be extended dramatically by adjusting the nature of sleep, and human metabolism. Hibernation and its variants have a strong basis in the rhythm of life. 100 years or more from now, some may be in a position to choose when to sleep, and when to wake up. Some may be forced to endure hibernation to accommodate the requirements of interstellar travel, to await scientific progress, or even as an economical variant of prison. Some may feel unappreciated in their day or may decide to opt for a later decade as a kind of lottery.

Life span extension is likely to be the province of governments for many decades before it would be available commercially. If, by that point, the concept of commercial availability still has any meaning.

Thus we may be able to extend life span well before we can extend the term of conscious, active life. The clock will still be ticking, but we’ll turn it off from time to time.

 

Research and Treatments on Aging

Genetic defects that cause aging are being resolved and drugs have been found that could delay the process. For example, the common diabetes-Type 2 drug metformin has shown experimental promise in slowing processes related to aging. Below are some recent developments:

Why People Live Past 110  Researchers are beginning to decipher the genomes of supercentenarians (those aged 110 and older) for clues to longevity. The late Dr. Stephen Coles, of the UCLA Gerontology Research Group, found that a condition known as cardiac amyloidosis ends the lives of supercentenarians. He and his colleagues identified drugs that might extend lifespan by preventing or curing that malady.  

Personalized, Predictive, and Preventive Medicine Peter Diamandis, MD and Felicia Hsu, MD, propose applying today’s powerful technologies to  vastly imrove health care, thereby increasing longevity.  Here’s a summary of their vision:

“We envision a world in which devices that monitor our daily behaviors will be able to detect micro-changes and be able to alert us when we’re starting to develop pneumonia, stressing our heart too much, or starting to develop early-onset Alzheimer’s. Medicine is moving away from the annual physical exam and blood work. It’s going to rely on constant monitoring to detect changes that are happening in our bodies every second. 

We are in the midst of a data-driven healthcare revolution: an era of abundance during which we’ll obtain a massive amount of health data. In the next few years, we’re going to see data analytics platforms that will help physicians use this mine of data.

This shift will make medicine personalized, predictive, and preventive.  

Let’s put the power of exponential technologies into patients’ hands and revolutionize how we live.”

Bodily Damage   Various methods are emerging to repair damaged organs, tissues and cells. A TechCast study forecasts that almost all body parts should be replaceable in years to come, including the heart, kidneys, eyes, blood, limbs and parts of the brain. Nanotechnology promises to use fleets of nanobots to clean up cell damage and other cellular flaws. Additionally, CRISPR technology increasingly allows genetic rewiring to eliminate genetic defects and chronic diseases.  If this can be done thoroughly, the body can in principle be continually updated to last indefinitely.

Genomic Bioengineering

  • Studying yeast cells, researchers have demonstrated that a three-to-fivefold reduction in DNA errors results in a 20 to 30 percent increase in lifespan.
  • Experiments with fruit flies have shown that tampering with genes can slow aging and extend life spans. One possible target is aging stem cells, which limit normal tissue maintenance and regeneration. Gene therapy in animals prevented this aging decline.
  • Harvard’s George Church thinks genomic engineering is now beginning to recode DNA germline cells to avoid disease and enhance health. He believes the 170-year-old trend in which life spans increase by three months each year will accelerate dramatically. Church has successfully trialed age reversal in mammals and expects to start human trials by 2030. He recently said: [iii]

“Probably we’ll see the first dog trials in the next year or two. If that works, human trials are another two years away, and eight years before they’re done. Once you get a few going and succeeding it’s a positive feedback loop.”

  • Craig Venter, the co-founder of Human Longevity, Inc., claims that DNA sequencing can predict lifespans and also suggest targets for therapeutic treatments and life extension. 
  • Israeli researchers have developed an algorithm that predicts which genes can be “turned off” to create the same anti-aging effect as calorie restriction. Caltech scientists have found a way to eliminate nearly all genetic damage in mitochondria, a major cause of aging.

Sharing Blood  Linking the circulatory system of an old animal to that of a young one rejuvenates the aged partner and sometimes extends its lifespan. Aging mice given blood plasma from young humans regain the mental abilities of much younger mice. Scientists now starting human tests of compounds from young blood that they believe could improve health in the elderly. Two, called GDF11 and Klotho, seem promising

NAD Anti-Aging Pill  Researchers from MIT are marketing nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), which duplicates the benefits of calorie restriction diets, the most widely successful life-extension treatment yet discovered. “NAD is one of the most exciting things happening in aging,” said Nir Barzilai, director of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Chromosome Length   Studies show that the shortening of chromosome ends (telomeres) decreases lifespan. Researchers at Salk Institute have found an on/off switch for telomerase, and mice treated to maintain telomere length improve age-related disorders.

Rapamycin  “Rapamycin has been shown to extend life span in lab animals again and again and again,” says U. of Washington scientist Matt Kaeberlein. Novartis has licensed a derivative of rapamycin to PureHealth’s start-up company resTORbio. A recent article confirmed the benefits and disputed claims that the drug is harmful. (Aging, Oct 2019)

Epigenetics Is Crucial  Salk Institute researchers have found epigenetic changes in experimental animals using chemicals or small molecules can rejuvenate cells and increased lifespan in humans. Assays based on epigenetic status promise to speed aging research by making it possible to evaluate therapies in weeks or months instead of decades.

Senolytic Agents  Researchers have found drugs (Senolytic Agents) can eliminate old cells and dramatically slow the aging process, alleviating frailty, improving heart and blood vessels and extending lifespan. Middle-aged mice lived 35 percent longer than untreated peers and had less evidence of disease. Even mice dying of cancer lived longer than others. Phase I clinical trials have found the most-studied senolytic treatment, quercetin and dasatinib, safe for human use, though benefits will need much larger, longer tests.

Sirtuins may be ‘Fountain of Youth’ Molecules   Researchers have found that a mixture of four molecules, similar to the proteins called sirtuins, reversed DNA damage and aging in mice. Researchers have identified a longevity gene (SIRT1) that can treat morbid lifestyle diseases and increase longevity.

Not all ‘Research’ Occurs in Formal Studies  A growing number of amateurs, often with scientific training, are obtaining off-label prescriptions for metformin and rapamycin. Others are using senolytics and even GDF11 and Klotho, which are administered by injection in picogram doses. Many anecdotal reports suggest that all these therapies may offer clinical benefits. 

Biotron Technology  Jiang Kanzhen – a brilliant Russian scientist of Chinese origin – has been engaged in Biotron technology, the use of concentrated electromagnetic radiation of young organisms, such as sprouts, on old patients.  Over 20 pilot experiments with old mice and old nematodes received a positive result to extend active life. Old mice did not just live 25% longer, they were very active and died “on the run.” Even at the age of more than 100 years of human standards, they looked young.

 

Impacts and Implications

Data from 188 countries shows that life expectancy worldwide has jumped by more than 6 years since 1990, with many people living longer even in some of the poorest countries. However, extending the healthy period of life remains a challenge.  

Growth of Geriatric Disease  Longer lifespan may not be accompanied by extended “healthspan,” causing geriatric diseases to grow out of control. In the US, over 5 million people already are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and as many as 16 million are projected to have the disease in 2050.

Limited Medical Costs  The growing frailty of old age is confined to a brief period at the end of life.  Extending the healthy period of later life could reduce costs despite the growing number of old people. One study suggests that adding just 4.4 years to life expectancy, most of it in good health, could save US$7.1 trillion in economic value by 2060.

Extended Life Might Not Be Healthy  Experiments with a tiny roundworm called C. Elegans find that long-lived worms remained vigorous no longer than their short-lived brethren, then hung on in poor health. If life-extended humans followed this trend, geriatric diseases could grow out of control. However, roundworms are only one relatively primitive life form. Many studies in mammals have found that senile decay was compressed into a relatively brief period at the end of life.

 


[i] <http://www.encuentroseleusinos.com/work/maria-blasco-directora-del-cnio-envejecer-es-nada-natural/>

[ii] <https://elpais.com/elpais/2016/12/15/ciencia/1481817633_464624.html>

[iii] <https://endpoints.elysiumhealth.com/george-church-profile-4f3a8920cf7g-4f3a8920cf7f>T

TechCast/Cognis Strategic Forum

The First

Strategic Forum –

Planning for Transformative Change

The pandemic and other threats like climate change pose an existential challenge to organizations everywhere, and they have made it clear that the present global order is not sustainable. The World Economic Forum called for  “A Great Reset” in all spheres of society. Leaders in business, government and other institutions need to plan for transformative change – NOW.

The TechCast Project draws on its leading research to bring authoritative studies on the crucial issues of today to a broader audience. See our work on  Global ConsciousnessThe Coming InternetRedesigning CapitalismForecasting the Presidential Election, and AI versus Humans.

Complimentary Admission 

Anyone with an interest in strategy, foresight, future studies and related fields is encouraged to attend. 

Conference Begins at 2000 UTC (coordinated universal time) and ends at 2130 UTC

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 
1 pm PDT (Los Angeles, San Francisco)

4 pm EDT (New York, Washington, DC)
9 pm daylight time (London)
10 pm daylight time (Paris)

Thursday, July 1, 2021
6 am standard time (Seoul, Tokyo)
7 am standard time (Sydney)

PROGRAM

Conference Host

Limor will open the conference by welcoming participants, introduce speakers and their topics and direct questions through the chat function to speakers.  She is a skilled facilitator and will ensure that the proceedings are productive and transparent.

Limor Shafman

Limor Shafman
Director, Strategy & Operations, LG NOVA Center
And a Frequent Speaker

 

At the LGC NOVA Center, Limor is part of a startup/scaleup challenge and incubation program for LG Electronics, activating on the company’s global innovation program. Prior to this, Limor co-founded TIA’s Smart Building Program.  With her consulting company, KeystoneTech Group, she worked with PropTech startups on market strategy and business development. She co-leads the NIST – Global City Teams Challenge Smart Buildings SuperCluster. As an international corporate attorney, Limor draws on her understanding of the digital environment from her work in the theme park, video game, mobile communications infrastructure, and other technology sectors. She has led technology-oriented organizations, serving as President of the World Future Society DC Chapter and Co-founder, Chair Emeritus of the IPv6 Forum Israel Chapter. Limor is also an international speaker and a moderator. She has been a show host for several online media outlets.

 

Global Transformation: 
Most Likely Scenario for 2030

Bill draws on his work at TechCast to provide forecasts of 50 emerging technologies, 30 social trends, and 25 wild cards.  Results are aggregated to provide a macro-forecast of the “Most Likely Scenario for 2030” —  Sustainability Arrives, Green Transportation, Infinite Knowledge and Intelligence, Mastery Over Life, Threats Across the Spectrum and Higher-Order Values.  We conclude with the theme of  Prof. Halal’s forthcoming book, Beyond Knowledge: Digital technology is now driving a shift to an “Age of Consciousness.”

William Halal
The TechCast Project

George Washington University

Bill is Professor Emeritus of Management, Technology and Innovation. He is founder and director of the TechCast Project and a thought leader in foresight, strategy, forecasting and related fields. For more, see www.BillHalal.com

 

State-of-the-Art in Strategy and Foresight: Constant Change from the Bottom Up And the Outside In

Jess and Bill summarize results of their recent survey of strategic foresight practices to outline how strategic foresight is changing to cope with the technology revolution. The study’s main conclusion is that organizations should develop “constant change from the bottom up and the outside in.”

Jess Garretson
CEO, The Cognis Group

As leader of this life sciences consultancy firm, Jess provides leadership for the company portfolio that includes IP research, consulting and strategic partnering services, Pharmalicensing.com and FutureinFocus.com–an online subscription services curating foresight reports on technology and innovation trends driving the next 10-20 years.  Many years of experience in both corporations and consulting provided a multi-faceted perspective for driving solutions most critical to brand and business development.

William Halal
The TechCast Project

George Washington University
(See bio above)

 

Keynote Speech:

The Time For Transformation Is Now

Hazel Henderson draws on a lifetime of work in future studies to suggest what families, organizations, nations, and all of us can do to actually create transformative change.  How do futurists and strategists get their attention? What strategic “processes” do we recommend? How can this Strategic Forum provide leadership?

Hazel Henderson
Futurist, Author, Speaker, Consultant
President, Ethical Markets

Hazel Henderson is a global futurist and her eleven books and current research continue to map the worldwide transition from the fossil-fueled Industrial Era to the renewable circular economies emerging in a knowledge-rich, cleaner, greener and wiser future. Ethical Markets Media Certified B. Corporation, which Hazel founded in 2004 after 20 years advising the Calvert Group of socially-responsible mutual funds, continues the work of reforming markets and metrics to guide investors toward our long-term survival on planet Earth. In the 1960s, with the help of a volunteer ad agency and enlightened media executives, Hazel organized Citizens for Clean Air to inform New Yorkers of the polluted air they were breathing. They showed the late Robert F. Kennedy, then running for his Senate seat, all the sources of this pollution and why they were campaigning to correct the GDP to subtract, not add, these pollution costs.  Kennedy’s speech on the GDP problem at the University of Kansas became a rallying cry for reform of this obsolete indicator, still too often quoted as a measure of national “progress“!  In 1975, Hazel joined Lester Brown on the founding board of the World Watch Institute, and again, she was forced to face up to this Global MegaCrisis at every board meeting, as the human effects on planetary ecosystems deteriorated. For more, see Hazel’s recent presentation at the Family Office Forum in Singapore, March 5th.  Hazel can be reached at hazel.henderson@ethicalmarkets.com

 

Following Executive Workshop

($195 Admission)

The Workshop begins 30 minutes after the Conference ends (2200 UTC).

This Executive Workshop follows the above Conference to assist leaders, planners and other professionals in drawing on the presentations to develop a more powerful strategic posture. In this workshop, you will review the presentations of the previous speakers and assess the impact on your current strategic posture. In a small working group of your peers, you will discuss needed adjustments to account for the anticipated changes. Each group will report their key findings to the entire group. You will come away with a comprehensive set of insights and actions that you can take back to your organization and bring your overall strategy into greater alignment with the transformative changes that lie ahead.

Art Murray
President/CEO, Applied Knowledge Sciences, Inc.
Assisted by Limor Shafman and Bill Halal

Dr. Art Murray is co-founder of Applied Knowledge Sciences, Inc. where he has served as CEO for over 27 years. Since 2005, he’s been the Director of the Enterprise of the Future Program at the International Institute for Knowledge and Innovation. He’s the author of “Deep Learning Manual: the knowledge explorer’s guide to self-discovery in education, work, and life,” and “Building the Enterprise of the Future: Co-creating and delivering extraordinary value in an eight-billion-mind world,” and KMWorld magazine’s popular column: “The Future of the Future.” He holds a B.S.E.E. degree from Lehigh University, and the M.E.A. and D.Sc. degrees from the George Washington University.

Small group breakout discussions and reporting.

Readings:

  • Updating Strategy for a High-Tech World: Constant Change from the Bottom Up and the Outside In
  • Through the MegaCrisis (Awarded “Outstanding pape of 2013” by Emerald Publishing) 
  • VALUING LOVE ECONOMIES: Revealed as Driving Positive Human Evolution!

 

Register Here for the June 30 Conference

Offer Donations to the June 30 Conference

Register Here for the June 30 Workshop


To clarify questions about the program or other issues, email Prof. Halal at Halal@GWU.edu

 


 

Second Conference of the Strategic Forum

July 28, 2021

 

Foresight Lessons From the Pandemic:
Implications for Strategy Formulation and Response

 
Ideally, foresight precedes strategy formulation, but in moments of crisis normal order must be abandoned and foresight and strategy inevitably unfold together in real-time.  We will offer a set of lessons learned from conducting a major Delphi-based scenario foresight project during the darkest days of the unfolding pandemic and reflect on the long-term implications for how foresight and strategy can more effectively blend in the face of deep uncertainty.

 
Jerome Glenn
CEO, The Millennium Project

Jerry is the co-founder of the Millennium Project with 67 Nodes around the world. He is also lead author of the State of the Future reports, co-editor of Futures Research Methodology 3.0, designed and manages the Global Futures Intelligence System. Glenn led The Millennium Project team that created the COVID-19 scenarios for the American Red Cross and lead-author for Scenario 1: America Endures, the baseline, surprise fee scenario.


Theodore Jay Gordon
Futurist and Management Consultant


Ted is a specialist in forecasting methodology, planning, and policy analysis. He is co-founder and Board member of The Millennium Project. Ted founded The Futures Group,  was one of the founders of The Institute for the Future and consulted for the RAND Corporation. He was also Chief Engineer of the McDonnell Douglas Saturn S-IV and S-IVB space vehicles and was in charge of the launch of space vehicles from Cape Canaveral. He is a frequent lecturer, author of many technical papers and several books dealing with space, the future, life extension, scientific and technological developments and issues, and recently, co-author of books on the prospects for terrorism and counterfactual methods. He is the author of the Macmillan encyclopedia article on the future of science and technology. He is on the editorial board of Technological Forecasting and Social Change. Mr. Gordon was a member of the Millennium Project team that created scenarios for the American Red Cross. Ted was responsible for the negative scenario that depicted a bleak but plausible future; this scenario contains many assumptions about the unknowns, but in the end seems endurable and plausible.

Paul Saffo
Forecaster

Paul is a Silicon Valley-based forecaster who studies technological change.  He teaches at Stanford where he is an Adjunct Professor in the School of Engineering and is Chair of Future Studies at Singularity University.  Paul is also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. Paul holds degrees from Harvard College, Cambridge University, and Stanford University.

Readings:

  • Three Futures of the Covid-19 Pandemic in the US,  January 1, 2022.
     
Complimentary Admission 

Anyone with an interest in strategy, foresight, future studies and related fields is encouraged to attend. 

Conference Begins at 2000 UTC (coordinated universal time) and ends at 2130 UTC

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 
1 pm PDT (Los Angeles, San Francisco)

4 pm EDT (New York, Washington, DC)
9 pm daylight time (London)
10 pm daylight time (Paris)

Thursday, July 29, 2021
6 am standard time (Seoul, Tokyo)
7 am standard time (Sydney)

 

Register Here for the July 28 Conference

Offer Donations to the July 28 Conference

Register Here for the July 28 Workshop


To clarify questions about the program or other issues, email Prof. Halal at Halal@GWU.edu

 


 

Coming Speakers

 
The Emerging Global Consciousness

It is increasingly clear that a major shift in values, beliefs and ideology is needed to make sense of today’s turmoil and to grasp the outlines of the emerging global order. This session presents a vision of global consciousness developed by TechCast’s study to resolve the Global MegaCrisis.

William E. Halal
The TechCast Project
George
Washington University
(See bio above)

Story Thinking

A strategic organizational posture that balances collaboration with competitiveness requires a deeper understanding of common ground, and that understanding is found in stories. Beyond storytelling, story thinking provides the visualization of story structure as the holistic business, learning, and communication model. The foundational shared mental model of “process” which was adopted in the Second Industrial Revolution must expand into a shared mental model of “story” to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, given it is based on intelligence, not electricity. Carl Jung said, “You are IN a story, whether you know it or not.” Operationalizing this quotation is the goal of story thinking, and is the key to thriving within transformational change.

John Lewis
Coach, Speaker, Author, Story Thinking

Dr. John Lewis, Ed.D. is a consultant, coach, and is speaker on the topics of human capital and strategic change within the knowledge-driven enterprise. He is the author of Story Thinking, which is about the major organizational challenges related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ways for visionary leaders to begin addressing them now by rethinking traditional views of change, learning, and leadership. He is also the author of The Explanation Age, which Kirkus Reviews described as “An iconoclast’s blueprint for a new era of innovation.” He is the current president of EBLI (Evidence-Based Learning Institute) and holds a Doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, with a dissertation focus on mental models and decision making.

 

Keys to Open Innovation

Many of the world’s most successful business models, companies, and products were born from the synthesis of necessity and collaboration. “Open Innovation” is not a new concept, but rather one that demands increasing attention and robust implementation in the rapidly accelerating technology innovation lifecycle. Despite the success stories, many organizations have not yet fully embraced the concept of leveraging external innovation, as internal stakeholders often mistakenly perceive threats and underestimate opportunities that may arise from partnerships. This discussion will explore the careful balance that must be achieved and maintained between legacy internal processes and the augmented capabilities of external resources.

Anthony Cascio
Director of Research & Engineering
The Cognis Group

Anthony Cascio leads the Cognis team responsible for intellectual property analytics & landscaping, technology scouting, and partnering search engagements. For over twelve years, Anthony has consulted with clients ranging from the Fortune 500 to startups in a broad array of high technology industries related to both the life and physical sciences. He provides unique insight alongside validation to help guide each client’s strategic direction and identify new technology-related business opportunities. Anthony studied electrical engineering at the University of South Florida while conducting research in electronic materials characterization and electrospray deposition of macromolecular structures.

 

Staying Safe in a Digital World

Each day the news is filled with stories about computer crime and hacking which affect our financial institutions, banks, small businesses, large corporations, hospitals, retail stores and threatens to steal even our own identity. Cybersecurity refers to the practice of defending computers, networks and data from malicious attacks. We will provide an overview of aspects of cybersecurity including viruses, phishing, social engineering, identity theft and personal privacy as well as threats to the Internet of Things and physical security and provide tips on how to protect yourself and your organization from these threats.

Steven Hausman
Futurist  and Speaker
 Former Administrator, National Institutes of Health

Which data, what data, what futures: cybersecurity from the cloud to the brain cloud

We live our existence in a space we see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. However, for the last 10 years, this is not just all the space our existence is lived. We spend an ever-growing part of our time in cyberspace, in a global domain within the information environment where our digital life carries on — but for which nature did not equip us for sense-making. In this talk we will explore the strategic structure of cyberspace and its implications, to then broaden our aperture looking at trends for both near future and deep futures.

Gabriele Rizzo
Visionary Futurist and Enthusiastic Innovator
Former Advisor to the Minister of Defense for Futures

Dr. Gabriele Rizzo, Ph.D., APF, holds a PhD in String Theory and Astrophysics. He is the NATO’s Member at Large (“world-class expert drawn from academia, industry or government from the Nations”) in Strategic Foresight and Futures Studies, and the former advisor to the Italian Minister of Defense on Futures. He is a member of the Strategy Board of the European Cyber Security Organization, a PPP worth $2B.  Dr. Rizzo’s works inform $1T (one trillion USD) worth of Defense planning, some were evaluated “important pillars of strategy and implementation of R&I” by the EU, and others shape industrial investments in Research, Development and Innovation for more than $20B in 2020.

 

 

 

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AI versus Humans – The Salient Issue of Our Time

AI versus Humans – The Salient Issue of Our Time

 
Having solved the problems of global consciousness, the coming internet, redesigning capitalism and the 2020 US Election (ha ha!), we now turn to the most salient technology of our times – artificial intelligence (AI). The heart of this issue focuses on the relationship between AI and humans. A good example is TechCast’s study on “AI and Future Work.”  We found that the threat of mass unemployment due to automation is likely to be resolved by pioneering a new frontier of “creative work” that can’t be done by intelligent machines.
 
Let’s start by defining AI in terms of the human tasks it is capable of automating potentially.  The figure “Structure of Consciousness” shows the hierarchy of different tasks or functions performed by human consciousness, or human intelligence (HI).  As noted in the figure, the arrow indicates how AI is automating progressively the lower-order tasks, forcing humans to focus on the realm of  higher-order tasks.
 

  
This raises the big question – “How much of HI is likely to be automated, and how much will humans continue to do?  To get a handle on this profound issue, we frame the problem in terms of the following 15 functions that roughly comprise HI.
 
1.  Perception   Sensory experience and awareness through touch, sight, sound, smell, taste. 
 
2.  Memory   Information encoded, stored, and retrieved for future action.
 
3.  Learning   Knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study.
 
4.  Knowledge   Understanding of a science, art, or technique for some purpose.
 
5.  Decision   A determination arrived at after consideration.

6.  Emotion   Mental reaction (anger, fear, etc.) experienced as strong feeling.

7. Empathy   Experiencing vicariously the thoughts and emotions of others. 

8.  Purpose   An object or end chosen to be attained.
 
9.  Will   Ability to desire, choose, consent to some action.

10.  Values   Things we think to be of relative worth, utility, or importance.

11.  Beliefs   Some idea that is considered true or held as opinion.

12  Imagination   Novel sensations and ideas gained without input of the senses.
 
13.  Intuition   Attaining knowledge without rational thought and inference.
 
14.  Peak Experience   Altered state of consciousness characterized by euphoria.

15. Vision   Guiding thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination. 


Some of this is being done by machines now. For instance, see this example showing that a third generation of AI is coming that goes beyond deep learning to simulate human empathy.  In this example, an avatar listens to a soldier talk of his PTSD experiences and coaches him into resolution of the trauma.  Obviously, the applications could be huge, from automated psychotherapy to teaching to virtual sex.  So we don’t wish to dismiss the prospects for advanced AI.

But we do want to explore the limits of AI. How far up this hierarchy of human thought can AI proceed? And, even if AI can simulate some aspect of human consciousness, what does that mean really?  Would it be the same as what people do? Or would it be just a false replica? A rough approximation?  A feeble substitute for the real thing?  These are difficult and profound questions that bear on the future relationship between AI and HI. Let’s see what we can learn.


When speaking on this topic, we often ask audiences if they think there is a substantial difference between AI an HI. A few brave individuals  usually say “No, there is no difference,” but the vast majority (90% or more) insist there is a substantial difference. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but it seems intuitively obvious to most people that humans are unique. Of course, we could be proven wrong as AI matures. That is the nature of this great experiment now underway as science advances. This little TechCast study is our attempt to anticipate the outcome.

After getting your thoughts on framing this issue in Round Two,  you will be asked to look over the definitions of each function and estimate if AI will be able to do it in the next few decades without human input. (Yes or No). The results should give us a sound grasp of the profile of artificial intelligence (AI) versus human intelligence (HI). These 15 functions may not define the full range of human consciousness perfectly, but they will serve the rough purpose of this study.
 
Round Two — Invitation to Help Frame This Study

For the second round of the study, we now invite you to make sure this issue is framed in the most useful way possible.  Are important functions missing?  Are these defined accurately?  Is  the problem posed effectively? Should we pose other questions? What else is on your mind?
 
Please send your best thinking to Halal@GWU.edu. We will use your ideas to improve this study and post them in the next edition of TechCast Research. 
 


Thanks for your support. The TechCast Team
  

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Dr. Nir Buras, USA

 

PROFILE SUMMARY

A recognized architect and urban design professional, Nir Buras is among a handful of architects and planners that have both classical knowledge and the experience in large, complex projects. He visited 100 cities to write the book.

Nir Buras is an architect and planner based in Washington, DC, with over 30 years of specialized experience in large, complex, and sensitive projects, strategic planning, architecture and transportation design, as well as teaching and lecturing. Projects include East Side Access at Grand Central Terminal, New York; International Terminal D, Dallas-Fort-Worth; the Washington DC Dulles Metro line; work on the US Capitol and the Senate and House Office Buildings in Washington.

Buras learned his first lesson in urbanism while planning in the Negev Desert in Israel – that modernist planning didn’t work. Mid-career he had the opportunity to study “why things look the way they do,” and while writing a PhD on modernism, he came out a classicist. Engaged in numerous projects since then, he has researched first-hand how architecture impacts urban planning.

Working in the 2000s on large urban projects, Buras’s breakthrough came in 2005 when he directed the Anacostia Plan at the open studio of the Washington Mid Atlantic Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Arts which he founded. After ten years of applying in practice what he learned, he now presents the urban design and planning method of Classic Planning with the hope of reintroducing beauty to cities.

Dr. Nir Buras brings to the table diverse expertise in civic, aviation, rail, and commercial architecture and planning. Buras has the proven ability to quickly analyze key project issues, develop strategies to grow designs, and to work well within institutional, stakeholder and industry dynamics. His goal is to continue serving the cities of the world by helping their residents to understand better their cities and to help them overcome the challenges of the 21st Century by helping them develop consensual, 100-year classic plans.

 

Email: nir.buras@burasworks.com

Dr. John Freedman (MD), USA

 

PROFILE SUMMARY

Dr. John Freedman is a retired physician and lifelong polymath with a broad range of experience worldwide. He is a graduate of Brown University and Yale Medical School, and former President of Medical Exchange International, a non-profit charity. He is a Global Studies Scholar & Lecturer who has been a featured speaker at numerous symposia as well as a guest lecturer for many educational travel programs including National Geographic Expeditions, Smithsonian Journeys and several luxury cruise lines. His analytic work and presentations take an interdisciplinary approach drawing from history, geography, anthropology, the sciences, and current affairs in order to better understand lessons of the past, dynamics of the present, and probabilities of the future.

Email:  john.m.freeedman@gmail.com