Transcript: Dr. James Hughes on What is Technoprogressivism?

This transcription was graciously provided by Gerd Leonhard of the Futures Agency. The original audio version is available here. In this episode, we talk with Trinity College professor and Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology (IEET) founder Dr. James Hughes about the political term Technoprogressive and the recent Technoprogressive Declaration he helped develop (and we here […]

We Were Guests on the Robot Overlordz Podcast


We were just on the Robot Overlordz podcast, talking about virtual reality, technology trends, and science fiction cliches. We had a fun, freewheeling conversation that went a lot of places in just half an hour.

If you’re not familiar, Robot Overlordz is a podcast about the future, and how society is changing, through the lens of pop culture reviews, political commentary, technology trends, and social norms.

You can listen to the episode we guested on here.


046: James Hughes on “What is Technoprogressivism?”

In this episode, we talk with Trinity College professor and Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology (IEET) founder Dr. James Hughes about the political term Technoprogressive and the recent Technoprogressive Declaration he helped develop (and we here at RTF have signed). Hughes contextualizes the movement as a new, techno-optimistic wing of the traditional Enlightenment liberal project, and portrays Technoprogressivism as the left wing counterpart to the noisy Libertarian wing of the futurist movement. We talk about the position of the technoprogressive movement on a host of issues, including universal basic income, longevity enhancement, and how to promote a techno-optimistic viewpoint specifically within the American Left, which has developed a sometimes-justified suspicion of technological solutions to problems.

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045: Dave Ross on “What is the Future of Comedy?”


In this episode we talk with comedian Dave Ross about the ways the technology is impacting the world of stand-up comedy. We discuss how cellphone cameras are disrupting the age-old process of working out jokes in small rooms and about how, soon, virtual reality might be displacing or devaluing live performances. We discuss the problem of writing jokes via computer and a theory of humor called “Benign Violation Theory” that might animate the efforts of future AI comedians. Finally we discuss how technology provides new avenues to test jokes and be discovered, but simultaneously the massive amount of access and competition makes it harder than ever to rise to the top.


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044: Jason Ganz on “What is the Future of Virtual Reality?”

In this episode we talk to guest Jason Ganz of Agora VR. You may know Jason from his role as a moderator on the Futurology subreddit and as a co-host on the Futurology podcast. He’s an enthusiastic VR supporter and we had a wide-ranging, informative conversation we think you are going to find fascinating. We cover some of the newest advances in the rapidly exploding VR space, including the Oculus rift and the Google Cardboard project, omnidirectional treadmills, haptics, new sensors from Leap Motion and the new fibre-optic in-eye monitor being developed by Magic Leap. We discuss the obvious upsides to better VR technology as well as the ways ephemeralizing experiences might add to technological unemployment and superstar economic effects. We also touch on age-old media canards like addiction and problems with realistic violence, and whether the coming VR multiverse is more likely to be an open-source competitive paradise or a nightmare walled-garden “Zuckerverse.”


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In this episode, we review the new documentary THE IMMORTALISTS, which is out in New York and opens December 11 in Los Angeles. The film covers the efforts toward radical life extension of two prominent figures, Aubrey de Grey and Bill Andrews. We discuss the quality of the representation in the film, of both the science behind radical life extension and the people who are the film’s subjects. We decide this movie might not have a lot of new information for those who are already interested, but will introduce the concept of radical life extension to the uninitiated more fairly than most of what’s come before. We have some criticisms, but overall it’s a positive review: Proponents of life extension should welcome this film into the cultural dialogue.


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042: John Danaher on “Will the Future be Ruled by Algorithm?”

In this episode we talk with guest John Danaher, a lecturer at National University of Ireland, Galway and blogger. He has coined the term ‘Algocracy’ to describe a future state of rule by algorithm. We define the term and talk about how modern day algorithms like dating websites, military drones, and tax fraud detection are growing in influence, creating the possibility for algorithmic decision making to unseat democratic institutions and even personal will. Can we really say we are in a democracy if opaque, incomprehensible systems are making many important choices for us? How can we be certain that the algorithm has our interests at heart?


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041: What are the Reasons to Protect Privacy?

In this episode we build on our previous podcast on privacy by examining, from a philosophical point of view, what the instrumental and intrinsic benefits to privacy are. Is there some fundamental, moral reason to protect privacy, or is it simply a way to prevent various misuses of data? If misuse is the real issue, would a co-veillance society be trustworthy enough to simply give up privacy? Or is it intrinsically wrong, like torture? We also discuss how privacy and security are often at odds with each other, and how privacy can be understood as an issue of information flow.


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040: What is the Future of Education?

In this week’s podcast, we discuss the future of education. We examine the advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs and other online courses, and in the process we identify four distinct educational challenges: communicating information, fostering motivation, certifying knowledge, and building community. We also stress the importance of returning to first principles and asking fundamental questions about what the purpose of education is. At the end of the episode we discuss the possibility of augmented reality to revolutionize the practice of “learning by doing.”



039: What is Transhumanism?

In this episode, we discuss the meaning and origins of the term ‘transhumanism.’ We summarize the primary transhumanist goals of increased longevity, greater intelligence, and enhanced wellbeing. We also explore some of the other implications of transhumanist philosophy, such as a commitment to rationalism, morphological freedom, respect for sentience, and avoidance of existential risk.


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038: Can We Predict the Future?

This week’s podcast asks about the benefits and problems associated with both hard “mathematical” prediction and soft “storytelling” prediction. We discuss the limits of mathematical prediction in terms of theory, randomness, chaos, and non-computability. We discuss the limits and benefits of storytelling and scenario planning as predictive tools as well, and we also discuss the self-reference problem, which can apply to both types of prediction. Finally we discuss the fictional discipline of psychohistory as imagined by Asimov, and wonder whether truly working prediction machines could exist without lacking transparency.


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037: What is the Future of the Sharing Economy?

This week’s episode is about the sharing economy. We discuss the term and try to decide if the companies that use it are really doing anything new or just using a buzzword to screw workers and evade regulations. We discuss Airbnb, Uber, Lyft,, Couchsurfing, Seti@Home, Streetbank, Zipcar, eBay, and craigslist. Are these sites really just sophisticated barter systems? If so, what about math trades and offer networks? Is the sharing economy, like outsourcing, just a stop on the way to the much more profound automation economy?


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036: What is the Future of Hell?

In this week’s episode, we wonder if it’s technologically possible to create eternal suffering and torture someone forever in a digital hell. We cover the question of why someone might torture a digital being or nano-enabled Prometheus. Punishment? Spying? Research? Is the persuasive power of hell justification enough? Is it unethical to cause pain to simulated people? Is a right to die connected to the desire to live forever? At the end of the podcast, we discuss and ultimately dismiss the proposition called Roko’s Basilisk (WARNING: some people are very disturbed by Roko’s Basilisk.).


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035: How Do You Filter Content in an Age of Abundance?


We’re back with a new podcast about the growing challenge of digital curation. Every day we digitize more content. As the pile of data grows ever larger, how are we going to find the stuff we actually want? What is it going to take for recommendation algorithms to actually get good? In the future will there be ratings and reviews for literally everything? Is the power of gatekeepers going to get stronger or weaker?

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034: We’ll Be Back in September


Now that we’ve completed 33 episodes, it’s time for us to take a short break. But don’t worry – we’ll be back in early September with new episodes, new discussion topics, and possibly a few surprises. If you only started tuning in recently, now might be a good time to go back and catch up on old episodes. As always, thanks for listening!

033: What’ll be the Impacts of Self Driving Cars?

Everyone knows by now that self driving cars are coming soon. Somewhere in the next 3-20 years, the human driver will become a thing of the past. What will happen when these capabilities come online? We talk through the obvious and not so obvious consequences of self driving car technology, from unemployment of taxi drivers to reclaiming parking spaces from idle vehicles — and ultimately theorize that the ownership model will change drastically.


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032: Are we Wielding Technology or Yielding to It?

In this more conversational episode, we discuss the abstract dichotomy of wielding technology rather than yielding to it. We discuss this wielding/yielding metaphor with regard to form factors, for example how is using a smart phone different from augmented reality glasses, or what’s the fundamental difference between a high functioning AI assistant that can act for you versus an Intelligence Augmentation technology such as nanobots in the brain that can do your thinking for you. Ultimately we discuss how yielding feels creepier than wielding and how product and societal design can influence whether someone feels more like they are yielding or wielding.


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031: Who are the Top Ten Living Futurists?


In this week’s podcast we list the top ten living futurists. These are people who are highly influential in the area of futurology, either for being skillful popularizers or originators of major new ideas. Listen and find out if you agree with our choices. And if you think we made any major mistakes (either misguided inclusions or omissions) please let us know via an email or a comment. We may not agree, but if you make a good case we’ll mention you in next week’s podcast.

030: What is the Future of Emotional Computing?

In this week’s podcast we tackle Emotional (sometimes called Affective) Computing — when computers read and respond to human emotions. We discuss the types of sensory data computers can read, like faces and inflection but also heat-mapping and pupil dilation. We also discuss how this capability might lead to a future that’s worse for liars but better for the impulsive or depressed. Will better emotional computing lead to video games that adjust their difficulty to keep you from getting too frustrated or to movies that never let anyone get bored?


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029: What is Mind Uploading?

In today’s podcast, we discuss the possibility of “mind uploading,” or emulating a human brain inside a computer. We begin with a survey history of the concept, and then transition into a discussion of the sea of philosophical and ethical questions that uploading inevitably raises. Is whole brain emulation a realistic path to personal immortality or just a glorified version of having kids? If a terminally ill person signs a release allowing their brain to be scanned, can you legally hold the copy to the terms of this same agreement? What will PETA have to say about the first successful animal uploads?


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028: Review of Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY, Part 2: Futurist Perspective and Criticism


In this second part of our review of Capital in the 21st Century, we look at Thomas Piketty’s ideas from the point of view of speculation and futurism, and consider some of the criticisms of the book. Last week in Part 1, we covered the book’s basic ideas about how to measure and talk about inequality, so if missed that check it out first. In this follow-up we cover Piketty’s demographic projections and whether they hold up in a world of AGI or emulated brains, as well as whether Baby Boomers will live forever and perpetually own the world. We also cover criticisms such as Larry Summers’s and wonder whether his argument isn’t more Marxist than he indicates.


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027: Review of Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY, Part 1: Summary


In this part one of our review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, we cover the book in detail and summarize its arguments and conclusions. In the next part, to be released next week, we will look at Piketty’s ideas from the point of view of speculation and futurism, and consider some of the criticisms of the book. But this part will cover the book’s basic ideas about how to measure and talk about inequality, its data sets, the illusion of meritocracy, “Vautrin’s lesson” from Balzac’s Pere Goiriot, and will explain the relationships Picketty theorizes among the capital-income ratio, the rate of return on capital, and the growth rate of the economy, as well as the savings rate.

Some of the formulas mentioned in the podcast might be easier to see spelled out:

First Fundamental Law of Capitalism

α = r x ß

Capital’s share of income equals the rate of return on capital times the capital/income ratio. For example, if ß = 600% and r=5% then α = 30%

Second Fundamental Law of Capitalism

ß = s/g

Over time (asymptotically) the capital/income ratio tends toward the savings rate over the growth rate. In low growth, the past eats the future.

Finally it’s key to mention the inequality:

r > g

Which Piketty says is not a law of nature but an observed constant throughout history. Despite drastic changes in the form and uses of capital r seems always to be higher than g.


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026: What is Ephemeralization?


In today’s podcast, we discuss Buckminster Fuller’s term ephemeralization. Many people today are searching for words to describe the tremendous power of technologies to do more with less. Modern expressions like “dematerialization,” “software is eating the world,” and “digitization of everything” can in many ways be subsumed by Fuller’s original term.

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025: What Does Utopia Look Like?

We’d all like to live in a better future, and for ages men have imagined what a theoretical best future might be like. What would a utopian society truly look like? Does the answer lie in external approaches like abundance, decentralization and transparency, or internal approaches like drugs, wireheading and genetic engineering? Is it even possible to formulate a Theory of Fun for human beings, that would define the contours of a world that could exist in perfect equilibrium where the people living in that world never die or get bored?


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024: Will the Future be More or Less Unequal?

In this podcast we examine the issue of inequality from the point of view of game design and ask whether a variety of resources are likely to become more or less unequal in the future. In addition to the obvious monetary dimension, we also discuss inequality as it relates to fame, user base, creativity tools, communication, health, and other resources that affect quality of life. Ultimately we decide that inequality will increase in resources that by their nature propagate themselves, like money and fame, and will likely decrease in resources that are close to reaching a point of diminishing returns, such as food and communication.