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The proactionary imperative, with Steve Fuller and Veronika Lipinska

How should we approach the broad set of sweeping risks posed by fast-changing technologies with radically unpredictable consequences? Is the 'precautionary principle' the most sensible response? Should we abstain from all actions which lack full scientific consensus as to their safety?

The 'proactionary principle' was introduced by transhumanist philosopher Max More as an alternative to the precautionary principle. It is now the subject of an important new book by Steve Fuller and Veronika Lipinska of the University of Warwick. The two authors are joining London Futurists in this meeting to share a selected summary of the arguments in the book.

About 'The Proactionary Imperative'

From Amazon.co.uk:

Whereas precautionaries believe that we are on the brink of environmental catastrophe because we're too willing to take risks, proactionaries believe that humans stand apart from the rest of nature by our capacity for successful risk taking. In terms of current environmental problems, therefore, solutions lie not in turning our backs on our love affair with technology but by intensifying it - through finding new energy sources or even looking at the possibility of inhabiting other worlds.

This fascinating new book explores attitudes towards the transformation of human nature. The authors point out that, politically, both those on the right and the left contribute to different sides of the precautionary-proactionary debate, and argue that it will be this distinction, between caution and action, that will come to dominate the political landscape and create new political divisions.

Drawing on perspectives from both theology and biology, and completing a trilogy of works exploring 'Humanity 2.0 ', Fuller and Lipinska ultimately endorse the proactionary position, which supports individuals taking risks - for example with new health treatments, as they try to expand their life chances. They accept that such a risk-taking culture may result in set-backs and failures, but argue that this simply requires a new conception of the welfare state.

The results may be an incredibly diverse society that will challenge our notions of tolerance, creating a world where 'traditional' humans live side by side with those who have artificial organs or have received substantial genetic modification. Humans have yet to treat all 'normal' members of Homo sapiens with proper respect and dignity and the proactionary principle opens up new challenges to our conceptions of equality.

The book ends with a Manifesto that draws together the arguments to present a challenging vision for the future.

About Steve Fuller:

Steve Fuller is Auguste Comte Professor of Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick, UK. Originally trained in history and philosophy of science, his research programme of 'social epistemology' now encompasses a quarterly journal (founded in 1987) and twenty books, including Humanity 2.0: What It Means to be Human Past, Present and Future.

Steve is a member of the UK Academy of Social Sciences and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. He is also a member of the Futures and Philosophy advisory boards of the Lifeboat Foundation.

About Veronika Lipinska:

Veronika Lipinska holds degrees in law and sociology from the Universities of Warwick, UK and Lund, Sweden. Her interests include European tax law, intellectual property law and cyberlaw.

A member of the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, she is co-editor with Steve Fuller of the Epistemology section of the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory. She has chaired academic conferences all over Europe and won numerous academic awards. Her focus is on the issue of ‘future generations’ and the consequences of contemporary policies on the development of human populations, technology and ecology.

Meeting Logistics:

2pm-4pm, Saturday 13th September 2014.

Venue: Room B18, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square WC1E 7HX, London.

Room B18 is on the basement floor in the main Birkbeck College building, in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square). Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations.

Coffee and other light refreshments can be purchased from the Costa Coffee shop in the reception area of the building, either ahead of or after the meeting.

The event will be followed by a chance to continue the discussion in a nearby pub - The Marlborough Arms, 36 Torrington Place, London WC1E 7HJ.

Event hashtag:

#Proactionary

Covering meeting costs: 

A small fee (£5) is payable to attend this meetup. This fee covers room costs. Please pay in advance, online.

This will be refunded if the meeting is cancelled or rearranged, or if the attendee cancels at least 3 days before the meetup.

Alternatively, if there are still seats available, payment can be made in cash at the door on the day. (Requesting payment in advance assists with accurate planning of the event.)

Journalists are welcome to attend the meeting free-of-charge - please contact the organiser, notifying us in advance of your plans to attend.

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  • David W.

    A complete video recording of this event is available at http://youtu.be/NkPo1ITqvew. Many thanks to Kiran Manam for the camera work.

    6 · September 14, 2014

    • Anette

      The principles of risk takibg in research in human is not something any particular government is trying to impose. They were developed by the community of medics and they are imposed by Ethics committes in Europe not IRB, which us US term. These groups are not representing the state. The state got nothing to do with risk taken. These groups are formed by medics. So we are called not just disrespect any state effort in mesuring the risks. We are called to disregard 1000 years of human medical practice. And replace it by insurance and litigation instead. That is humanity future? No alternative? How much further away frim actual reality of life science this group can turn? Why health professionals and any medical knowledge is so unwelcomed?

      September 15, 2014

    • Anette

      And why would a medical referenced journal not publish a none IRB research? There are plenty of case based publications on a single patient. All you need is a medic who is willing to run the study and a medical institution which agrees to do it in the premises. What is not getting published is falsified data obtained by unethical means. There is no need to break a law in doing any research. Anybody who claims otherwise use research to cover some other matters. There is not a single example ever given of any research not approved or not published. But a lot of myths and assumptions which built up into whole futurist mythology how all state institutions and all medics are against bioresearch. The last step left for futurists to join animal activists in crashing the medical science labs.

      September 15, 2014

  • Meg Lee C.

    Lots of interesting ideas...

    1 · September 14, 2014

  • Brigette

    It was a very thought provoking discussion. I really enjoyed Steve Fuller's presentation and look forward to attending more in the future.

    4 · September 14, 2014

  • David W.

    I have now obtained an HD camcorder and a directional Rode mic, which should be suitable to record this meeting. If anyone is willing to volunteer to operate the equipment (which I'm told is relatively straightforward), please get in touch.

    1 · September 11, 2014

  • Yissar Lior I.

    3 · September 11, 2014

  • David W.

    The New Scientist this week carries a review of "The Proactionary Imperative". It's available online (for a few days, at least) at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329850.900-a-manifesto-for-playing-god-with-human-evolution.html

    2 · September 4, 2014

    • Peter M.

      If we are to survive, we must transcend politics and religion.

      1 · September 6, 2014

    • Anette

      A simple change from competing to win at any cost into wishing others well would suffice. Politics and religion are just shells to pack that fundamental human choice. The old imperatives "treat others as they treat to you" or "treat others as you wish to be treated by them" is widely replaced by "treat others as you fear they would treat you being just as nasty as you". Ability to trust is a fundamental basis for survival. Trust criteria can only be formed by investment of trust and assessment if responses. These who never invest trust got no idea about others, live in fear and act destructively.

      3 · September 7, 2014

  • Steve L.

    (Rep 2 DW Below) Is Humanism compatible with Trans-Humanism? It depends. Humanism values EVERY human now and in the future. Today’s 7.3Bn are forecast to grow to 7.7Bn in 2020 and 9.6Bn in 2050. From 2012 to the 2014 revisions, the UN’s population f'casts were unchanged. Africa’s share this growing population is still set to rise from 15 to 25% by 2050, an additional 1.36Bn, and equivalent to all in today’s China. In the last 2 years, ‘accelerating technology’ has not mitigated this long foreseen calamity one bit; it has just made the rich richer. Many transhumanists celebrate our current technology roadmap, but it serves 'the few'. Humanism would benefit from a different roadmap that puts 'the many’ first and did not just write off the poor as 'collateral'. Such a roadmap would immediately strive to mitigate future population growth and environmental stress, so that the UN’s 2016 forecasts were lower. It would still deliver much of what transhumanists aspire to, but more ‘humanely’.

    2 · September 3, 2014

    • David W.

      I recommend you to have a good look at http://rameznaam.com/...­.

      September 3, 2014

    • Peter M.

      Despite the "promise", the reality is that the only things becoming more abundant seem to me to be the population, environmental collapse, war, poverty and danger :).

      September 6, 2014

  • Steve L.

    I cannot ignore Asher below, as such ‘Free markets or technologists know best’ memes might then be assumed correct. Free markets have and never will exist. Markets are either overseen by states, which, due to vested interests often involves some rigging, or by incumbents who will then attempt to rig them totally. (N.B. Markets in Capital and IP trump others)

    The 1999 repeal of Glass Steagall led to the banking crash. Belief that ‘rocket scientist’ derivatives eliminated risk, added weight. TARP alone cost $700Bn. The true cost, mainly to the world’s poor, was $Trillions and most are still reeling. The cost of US Healthcare is also revealing. But some still push for more liberalisation, failing to realise how important 'good' state oversight is. I am V concerned with rises in ‘dark pool’ trading, the growth of stateless funds and crytocurrencies, as these shun oversight. I am also concerned by people in and around tech. who make godlike pronouncements. Good oversight is needed.

    1 · September 6, 2014

    • Anette

      in a spirit of compromise could the idea of inevitable merger between capitalism and socialism be finally accepted? This would allow to stop fighting and start listing what the best bits of each we can take to future. And we may also find out thisxway that some states are already moving that way.

      1 · September 6, 2014

  • Steve L.

    I don’t doubt Namm’s, Kurzwiel’s and others’ genius, or that my intellect is relatively tiny. This is not a contest however. My gripe is that there is a startling lack of humility in these views of history and technology, in support of libertarianism. As indicated in Mazzucato’s, The Entrepreneurial State, great advances tend to arise from state-initiated innovation, not unfettered free markets. Libertarians peddle the myth that risk-taking entrepreneurs will save us all, provided we left them alone to innovate and enrich themselves, until the rest of us can enjoy whatever ‘trickles-down’. This is dangerously wrong. All such efforts offload risk elsewhere, most often upon the poor. Some will argue the difference between 2 and 358 degrees is massive, when it is actually trivial. I believe the libertarian movement has already pulled our technology trajectory over to 2 degrees and that we now need a period on a tack of 358 degrees to realise our collective best course of true north.

    1 · September 4, 2014

    • Graham A.

      Luckily, from my point of view, many transhumanists are free-market libertarians, and vice versa. For every so-called market failures in history there have been a hundred, no a thousand, state failures.

      September 5, 2014

    • Anette

      Political view or religious affiliation, or any cultural specifics mean very little till people become ready to kill, jaill or excommunicate these who think differently. Such society quickly narrows into forcing out anybody who just got any opinion at all and express it publicly without high permission or not in line with a "party line". Totalitarism has nothing to do with it. Real freedom is only possible when we are surrounded by kind open minded people. These qualities depend more on how often your mother hugged you than who governs you. Harshly competitive free market liveral cultures carry many more personal traumatic factors making people living in blame-punishment model. One just need to talk to these who traveled enough, saw the world and lived in different cultures to break the myth of western liberal tollerance. It only exists in theory and liberal minds outside the comparative scale.

      September 5, 2014

  • Steve L.

    The authors have no right to claim, ‘precautionaries believe that we are on the brink of environmental catastrophe’, as this is untrue. What right have they got to even label others that do not precisely echo their views? At best the above statement pushes a binary view in an analogue world. In some areas I favour precaution, in others, I do not. Had we discarded precaution, thinking we had mastered risk in science, in the past, we would not be here today. Years ago, the concept that resonated with me was Collignridge’s ‘Corrigibility’. I have not re-read his stuff since, but please check it out. In essence, be wary of what genies you let out of the bottle. Time and again in this futurist space I come across what, admittedly probably mistakenly, I perceive as disturbing outlooks, sometimes even smacking of 1930’s Germany. I therefore await possible ‘correction’. Finally, do ‘trans-humanists’ sometimes see ‘humanists’ as some kind of enemy? And yes, this IS meant to stir debate.

    2 · August 26, 2014

    • Anette

      David. I like somewhat less banal "sometimes i think wise people are just these who lost the energy to fight" . Serinity alone is just deprivation of senses. By itself It does not ensure widening of knowledge base. When we meet new knowledge irritation is natural. Through suppressing it we got serenity, but only through learning to enjoy it as a bazz of oppening a new door we embrace new knowledge. Althrough serinity is good as well. It is like faith and science. It is never possible to know everything and accept everything through understanding. But it is possible to accept absolutely everything through love and trust.

      1 · August 27, 2014

    • Anette

      After viewing the blog. There has to be a clear distintion between observers of the future and influencers of the future. There are two separate futurist activities. Ethical aspects of influencing future can be cleared by a personal "my future vision" declaration. Each step out of self declared future - search for a profit cut from some future technology sale or a big government risk assessment contract.

      August 27, 2014

  • Steve L.

    (Rep 2 Yissar - can't work out below) Humanity will and should 'evolve', but not necessarily in a Darwinian way. There are multiple routes forward. In the context of (better expression sought) ‘Net Present Risk’ to today’s humanity, some are more problematic than others. And we are seeing a dangerous rise in arguments justifying the superiority of humanity type Y over type X, where Y then sees itself as more deserving through wealth, health education, intellect, race or, these days, ‘augmentation’. The danger is then of tomorrow’s self appointed elites regarding others as less-deserving or even ‘sub-human’. To realise Kardashev Type 2 status, humanity actually needs to transcend such arguments by becoming more ‘Human’ (cultured, empathetic, humble, loving etc.) to escape the clutches of today's ‘selfish gene’. ALL could then thrive as valued individuals, regardless of status (or augmentation) by virtue of working together toward a common vision, Naive I admit, but ultimately possible.

    1 · August 26, 2014

    • Yissar Lior I.

      Hi Steve,
      I mostly agree with what you say.
      Unfortunately this is a very complex issue that deserves much more in-depth discussion than this medium allows.
      When I reflect on the current state of humanity, I can see many great achievements but also many flaws. Just to give some ‘headlines’: social issues (Growing divide of classes, inadequate spreading of resources, poverty), cultural issues, brain biases, behavioural and ethical issues and the list is long. Even before looking to the future the current situation is quite dire.
      I love the story of the Baron Münchhausen who according to the tale pulled himself out of the swamp by his own hair. It seems to me that we somehow need to perform a similar trick.
      1/2

      1 · August 26, 2014

    • Yissar Lior I.

      The question of how this can be done and even if it can be done should be at the centre of the discussion.
      I will conclude this by saying that I do believe that we should take control of the direction of our evolution but it seems a far-fetched task given the current state of affairs on the one hand and the lack of consensus about a mutual future and its directives on the other.
      2/2

      3 · August 27, 2014

  • David W.

    Anette - I agree that we must avoid unhelpful obsession with a wide spectrum of risks. We need to become smarter at:
    (1) figuring out which risks *do* deserve serious attention,
    (2) putting in place scanning mechanisms, to be aware of any changes in the horizon of these critical risks (these mechanisms are analogous to scanning the solar system for incoming large asteroids),
    (3) developing contingency plans (e.g. methods to deflect incoming large asteroids),
    (4) having a balanced sense of the opportunities as well as the risks, and being able to take positive actions in the spirit of "embracing risk".

    July 22, 2014

    • David W.

      Hi Anette - I think you'll enjoy the presentations by the two co-authors :-)

      July 22, 2014

    • Anette

      I want to talk to people who already realised the level of paranoid mentality and the risk of its dominance. To find them and do sothing about it together. That is the only risk I am interested in at the moment. Listering again people how totalitarism is top of the world risks while sharing no responsibility for all the devastation that priority placement had caused is for smebidy who work on individual risks separatly. I want to work on change and positive side of that change. Could we move to that matter eventually?

      July 22, 2014

  • Yissar Lior I.

    First of all, nothing in the world is guaranteed to be risk-free. Everything has a measure of risk, whether potential or actual. Risk-free is an ideal concept.
    Simply not taking action on the basis that it might yield some risk may lead to inaction (paralysis).
    Having said that, the point should be to evaluate and analyse these potential risk and argue for / against them rationally and make an educated decision.

    1 · July 22, 2014

    • Anette

      This is not about illusions that things are risk free. This is about loosing ballanced view and any ability to take advange the change would always offer. Simple example. Climate change. Flooding. Deserification. Two risks at the same time. Both managed separatly. While a simple advancement in directing excess of water to dry areas could improve the living conditions. You have to think. Flooding - too much water-where I need more water? What can help to move it over there. And find a technology to do that. Can you manage this within risk model. You probably can. But with a big streach as the risk model is not fit to purpose.

      July 22, 2014

  • terence f.

    oops - I double checked and found that I am supposed to be at a luncheon. I hope there is a recording.

    July 21, 2014

  • Anette

    The only real alternative is to move from pananoid mentality inherited from decades of focusing on risks only into assessment of possibilities. The future studues are all about risks. For that reason our future is so full of risks and getting more and more riskier day be day. Risk obsession and risk searching is the key modern risk. Had just so enough of these risk talks. Need for change we all feel is exactly that. Change is needed. Not a new un on the same.

    July 21, 2014

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