We live in an era marked by escalating challenges, with numerous existential and catastrophic risks materialising on a global scale. Climate change, once considered a distant concern, has evolved into a pressing issue with wide-ranging implications. The increasing frequency of extreme weather events, such as widespread wildfires and devastating hurricanes, serve as stark reminders of the urgency to address this global threat. Additionally, human activities have led to environmental degradation, with the depletion of the Amazon rainforest and overfishing in the oceans being prime examples.
Global health crises, such as COVID-19, demonstrate our susceptibility to pandemics and the potential for devastating impacts on economies and societies. Geopolitical tensions and the heightened risk of nuclear conflict, as evidenced by the war in Ukraine, add to the list of growing concerns.
Exponential technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, offer immense benefits but also harbour the potential for misuse or unintended consequences. Challenges posed by specific technological advancements, such as deep fake technology and autonomous weapons, require careful consideration and regulation. Diminished sensemaking and political polarisation further undermine our ability to collaboratively address these problems, pushing societies further apart rather than fostering cooperation.
In light of these mounting challenges, this essay aims to explore the underlying forces that contribute to these risks, as well as the broader implications for our global and socioeconomic systems. The first half of the essay examines three key generator functions. Next, we discuss the interconnected nature of the risks and how globalisation and cascade effects contribute to their complexity. We then introduce potential future scenarios, focusing on two negative attractor points and envision an alternative path. Finally, we will outline the necessary criteria for a transitional economic system that effectively bridges the gap between our current reality and the vision of global cooperation.
To better understand the root causes of the existential and catastrophic risks we face, we need to examine the generator functions that contribute to their emergence. Generator functions can be considered underlying mechanisms that create the conditions where these risks proliferate. In this section, we will explore three key generator functions and their respective subcomponents: 1. Rivalrous Dynamics, 2. Exponential Technology, and 3. Substrate Subsumption.
Rivalrous dynamics encompass the competitive nature of human interactions, which can exacerbate global risks. Two notable examples include the arms race and the tragedy of the commons.
A) Arms race: The ongoing war in Ukraine has intensified the arms race among global powers, increasing the risk of nuclear conflict. As nations compete for military dominance, the potential for misunderstandings, accidents, or escalation rises, posing grave dangers to global security.
B) The tragedy of the commons: This concept refers to the phenomenon in which individuals or groups, acting in their own self-interest, deplete shared resources to the detriment of all. Overexploitation of resources, such as the depletion of the Amazon rainforest or overfishing in the oceans, can lead to environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change, thereby exacerbating our challenges.
The rapid advancement of technology has given rise to new risks, as well as amplifying existing ones. Two areas of particular concern are the democratisation of catastrophic weaponry and the negative influence of digital media.
A) Democratisation of catastrophic weaponry: Exponential technologies, such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and additive manufacturing, can enable the creation of increasingly powerful and accessible weaponry. This democratisation of destructive capabilities poses significant risks, as non-state actors or rogue states may acquire the means to inflict widespread harm. For example, the development of autonomous weapons and deep fake technology has the potential to disrupt global security and erode trust in information sources.
B) Negative influence of digital media: The pervasiveness of digital media can contribute to the spread of misinformation, the erosion of truth, and the amplification of political polarisation. As our reliance on digital platforms increases, so does the potential for these technologies to undermine our collective ability to address global challenges effectively.
Subsuming the substrate involves the degradation of the very foundations upon which human societies and ecosystems depend. This generator function has two primary aspects: A. Humans degrading the environment and B. Damaged society and relationships.
A) Humans degrading the environment: Human activities, such as industrialisation, deforestation, and pollution, have led to widespread environmental degradation. This process undermines the natural systems that sustain life on Earth and contributes to a range of challenges, including climate change, loss of biodiversity, and resource scarcity.
B) Damaged society and relationships: The erosion of social cohesion and trust, fueled by political polarisation and diminished sensemaking, makes it increasingly difficult to address global challenges collectively. The breakdown of interpersonal and intergroup relationships hinders cooperation, undermining our ability to respond effectively to risks.
Globalisation, Cascade Effects, and Interconnected Risks
In an increasingly interconnected world, the challenges we face have evolved into global risks that transcend national boundaries. Traditional post-World War 2 nation-state solutions are no longer sufficient to tackle the complex and interconnected issues that affect us all, as problems cascade across borders with unprecedented speed and scale.
Globalisation has accelerated the exchange of information, ideas, goods, and services, fueling innovation and economic growth. However, it has also led to the emergence of problems that cannot be addressed by individual nations or unilateral action. Climate change, for example, triggers cascade effects, such as extreme weather events and resource scarcity, which demand international cooperation and coordination. Similarly, pandemics like COVID-19 demonstrate how a localised health crisis can quickly escalate into a global emergency, necessitating a coordinated response to minimise socioeconomic consequences.
Furthermore, exponential technologies, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, can generate ripple effects across the globe, leading to security concerns that require collective action and global governance. The spread of digital misinformation and the erosion of trust in information sources exemplify the cascade effects of technology, emphasising the need for international collaboration to develop frameworks and regulatory mechanisms that promote responsible use and protect the integrity of our information ecosystem.
Chaos, Oppression, or Global Cooperation
Throughout history, civilisations have often faced a tipping point where they either succumb to chaos or veer towards oppression. The trajectory of a civilisation’s decline can be attributed to the balance between top-down forcing functions, which create coherence, and the absence of these functions, which leads to chaos. When a society attempts to maintain order through excessive top-down control, it can become oppressive. On the other hand, a civilisation may descend into chaos when it lacks sufficient top-down mechanisms to ensure stability and cohesion.
As we examine potential future scenarios for our world, it is essential to consider these historical patterns and the new attractor points they suggest: chaos and oppression. By understanding these trajectories, we can better anticipate the challenges that may arise and work towards more resilient and sustainable systems.
Attractor 1: Chaos
In a world increasingly characterised by interconnected risks and challenges, one possible future scenario is chaos, where the breakdown of civilisation and the absence of control lead to global disorder.
A) No one in control: Historical events, such as the collapse of the Roman Empire, illustrate the potential for large-scale disintegration of societies and institutions. In a modern context, the increasing complexity of global challenges and the failure of existing governance structures could lead to a world where no one is truly in control. This scenario might involve the proliferation of failed states, the rise of non-state actors, and a general decline in global cooperation.
B) Breakdown of civilisation: The chaos scenario could also result in the collapse of global systems that underpin modern civilisation, such as food production, trade, and communication networks. Historical examples, like the fall of the Mayan civilisation due to environmental degradation and resource depletion, serve as cautionary tales. In a contemporary context, a breakdown of civilisation might involve the convergence of multiple crises, such as climate change, pandemics, and geopolitical conflict, ultimately leading to widespread social, economic, and political disintegration.
Attractor 2: Oppression
Another potential future scenario is oppression, where governments adopt totalitarian measures to maintain control over their populations and resources.
Governments become totalitarian: Historically, governments have used crises as a pretext to consolidate power and implement repressive policies. Examples include the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and the establishment of authoritarian regimes during the Cold War. In a future scenario, governments could use the growing complexity of global challenges to justify surveillance, censorship, and the erosion of civil liberties. This oppressive scenario might resemble the dystopian worlds portrayed in works of fiction like George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where the state exercises total control over individuals’ lives and suppresses dissent through pervasive surveillance and manipulation.
Attractor 3: Global Cooperation
While the preceding scenarios of chaos and oppression are undoubtedly unfavourable, they prompt us to imagine a more desirable alternative. A third potential attractor envisions a world characterised by global cooperation, where neither chaos nor oppression dominates, but instead, societies thrive through collaboration and mutual support. This favourable scenario encompasses the following elements:
A) Lasting global peace: In such a future, conflicts would be prevented and resolved non-violently, fostering an environment of sustained peace and understanding among nations.
B) Thriving physical and psychological well-being: Every individual would enjoy optimal health, with disease prevention and comprehensive healthcare addressing all causal dynamics swiftly and effectively, utilising all available tools and minimising side effects.
C) Transparent, open information sharing: A world where information that empowers people is readily available, interests are aligned with truth, and systemic positivity is valued. Disinformation would be identified and discarded, enabling informed and unbiased decision-making.
D) Abundance of all meaningful goods and values: Economic valuation would be rigorously connected to real value, with scarcity progressively engineered out of the system as a design goal, ensuring access to essential resources for everyone.
E) A thriving, diverse ecology and biosphere: This future would emphasise environmental stewardship, with closed-loop, upcycling materials economies, nutrient-rich soils, and protected natural areas. Industrial pollution would be eliminated, and the human-built world would coexist harmoniously with nature.
F) Maximum individual freedom and self-actualisation: This scenario supports personal growth and encourages interpersonal intimacy and synergy. All people would have access to the best resources in healthcare, education, and creativity and be incentivised to contribute to a world that appreciates beauty and fosters meaningful connections.
G) Good systems of choice-making: Unbiased, inclusive processes for decision-making and conflict resolution would be emphasised, ensuring optimal outcomes that benefit all stakeholders.
H) Anti-fragility and full richness of complex systems: A thriving future would prioritise resilience, anti-fragility, health, and aliveness in all aspects of life, from ecology and culture to physiology and psychology.
I) Antifragility in the presence of exponential technology: Harnessing the power of advanced technologies would necessitate developing the wisdom and care to manage their potential impact responsibly and sustainably.
This vision represents a future where humanity unites in pursuit of shared goals, working collectively to overcome global challenges and create a thriving, interconnected world for all.
Transitional Phase: Bridging the Present to the Third Attractor
To transition from our current reality to a third attractor, the vision of global cooperation, we must establish a transitional economic system that effectively bridges the gap between the present and the desired future post-transition attractor. This system should fulfil several criteria to ensure its success in facilitating a shift towards a more cooperative and sustainable future.
A) Interface with the current economic system: The transitional system should be capable of interacting with existing economic structures, allowing resources to move smoothly from the current system to the new one.
B) Create an attractive alternative: The transitional system should outcompete the current system by offering significant advantages that attract a critical mass of resources. As it grows, it should become self-sustaining, eventually transcending the competitive dynamics that once defined it.
C) Accelerate the collapse of the current system: Ideally, the transitional system should hasten the decline of the existing economic model, allowing for a quicker and more efficient transformation to the desired future state.
D) Ensure resilience and scalability: The transitional system should be resistant to attacks from the current system and its various components (media, law, military, etc.), while also remaining resilient against competing emerging systems. Furthermore, it should be able to scale rapidly to keep pace with potential collapse scenarios.
E) Foster omni-considerate decision-making: The transitional system should allocate economic capacity to decision-making agents and processes that exhibit a high level of consideration for all stakeholders involved.
F) Serve as a bridge to the post-transition system: The transitional system must function as a conduit to the envisioned post-transition society, paving the way for a smooth evolution.
G) Prevent capture and corruption: The transitional system should be designed so that it cannot be co-opted or manipulated to serve the interests of a select few.
H) Evolve beyond the transitional phase: The system should be oriented towards evolving into the post-transitional state rather than remaining static or clinging to its transitional structure.
I) Minimise risk and accelerate change: The transitional system must not increase the probability of near-term catastrophic risks or long-term tipping points. Instead, it should actively work to move towards the post-transitional system as quickly as possible, allocating resources to build the infrastructure required for the future economic model.
By satisfying these criteria, the transitional system can serve as an effective bridge between our present circumstances and the vision for global cooperation, fostering the development of a thriving, interconnected world.
The Open Digital Society: Leveraging Technology for a Better Future
Embracing an open digital society is crucial in bridging the gap between our current state and the vision of global cooperation. The following technological advancements and innovations can play a significant role in this transition, fostering greater transparency, accountability, and collaboration.
Personalised Digital Learning:
A) Utilise social media-like technology to offer personalised developmental learning experiences, empowering individuals to expand their knowledge and skills.
B) Teach people how to identify and overcome personal biases, fostering critical thinking and self-awareness.
C) Promote media literacy, enabling better sensemaking and the ability to discern truth from misinformation.
A) Implement transparent blockchain technology to track and log government spending, ensuring responsible and efficient use of public funds.
B) Record history on the blockchain to prevent corruption and obfuscation, preserving the integrity of historical records.
C) Establish an open science blockchain system, allowing for transparent updates and corrections to research citations, fostering a more accurate and reliable body of scientific knowledge.
Ethically Harness AI:
A) Leverage AI for semantic integration, enabling the establishment of common values and shared ground during global “town hall” discussions, fostering greater collaboration and understanding.
B) Utilise AI-generated, crowdsourced consensus mechanisms to avoid coercion and manipulation by special interest groups, ensuring that decisions and policies are representative of the collective will.
By harnessing the power of these technological advancements, we can create an open digital society that promotes transparency, accountability, and collaboration, ultimately leading us towards a more cooperative and sustainable future.
In conclusion, humanity faces a meta-crisis of existential and catastrophic risks resulting from global rivalrous dynamics, substrate subsumption, and exponential technology. As our world becomes more interconnected, we must recognise that these challenges are global in nature and can no longer be effectively addressed by post-World War 2 nation-state solutions. Instead, we must embrace new approaches and seek alternative futures that can lead us away from chaos and oppression.
The vision for global cooperation outlined in this essay offers a potential path towards a more desirable future, characterised by lasting peace, universal well-being, transparency, abundance, a thriving ecology, individual freedom, and effective decision-making processes. By leveraging the power of an open digital society and ethically harnessing emerging technologies, we can build a transitional system that bridges the gap between our present reality and the ideal of global cooperation.
This transformation requires the collective effort of individuals, communities, and nations working together to create a world that is resilient, equitable, and sustainable. By embracing this vision and striving towards it, we can shape a future that benefits all of humanity and safeguards the planet we call home.