Welcome to the Club of Amsterdam Journal.
The Future Now Show about City Futures in the Asia Pacific with Shermon Cruz
“Cities have emerged as change agents towards sustainable futures. Discussion about its size, food routes, transportation, health, climate change and community resilience has shifted the way cities are perceived into the future. Questions persist such as: How do we create the inclusive city? How do cities ensure spatial justice and equal access to urban resources and opportunities amidst the impacts of climate change? How do we link strategic foresight to urban governance and strategy development?”
Felix B Bopp, Founder & Chairman
What if we ran society not based on the market but on evidence?
Following the successful Brexit campaign, Dominic Cummings – the then campaign director of Vote Leave – published a series of blog posts describing how the campaign was run and what his plans were for a successful civil service. The last of these posts was released on June 26 2019, just before he became the special advisor to the current prime minister, Boris Johnson. The idea this post resurrects is a promise in public policy that has died since the 1970s – the use of hard scientific (knowledge-based) methods to guide policy choices.
In what looks like to be Cumming’s version of public policy, an elite group of administrators trained in the disciplines of pure thought – mathematicians and philosophers – would run society based on evidence. Collected data points would be used to create a machine simulation (often called the model). Policy makers would then be able to test the simulations with hypothetical policies (“what if drugs were legal?”) and, according to the results, adjust public policy.
A complete cybernetic version of economic policy was advocated, but not practised, in the Soviet Union by the likes of nobel-prize winning economist Leonid Kantorovich and mathematician and computer scientist Victor Glushkov. They hypothesised the possibility of taking things a step further – getting the machines to identify what actions to take to reach optimal outcomes. That is, policy makers would need to decide what they are looking to achieve (“maximise the production of butter”) and machines would come up with the the policy of how to allocate resources to achieve this.
Outside the Soviet Union, this kind of thinking was actually enacted with Project Cybersyn, an effort put together by management consultant Stafford Beer in the 1970s for the government of Chile under the then president, Salvador Allende to help manage the economy (the project was dismantled following the coup by General Augusto Pinochet).
Though Cybersyn was never fully operational, it was rushed into use so as to help break one of the biggest anti-government strikes, which was instigated by a right-wing union. Beer’s vision is far more decentralised and democratic than its Soviet counterpart, but it still falls within the same line of thought.
As you will have gauged by now, the cybernetic vision tends to be securely located on the left of the political spectrum.
Sitting on the opposite side of the cybernetic vision, one will find the fathers of modern liberal economics, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek. Their arguments, taken more broadly, consider the cybernetic dream impossible from a computational perspective, either due to not being able to model the world efficiently, or not having appropriate signals to evaluate the quality of solutions.
They argued that another mechanism that exists inside the real world (in their case, the market) needs to do the heavy lifting, by providing a signal – which, in the case of goods and services, is prices. For them, a good policy is not one that lays out what steps need to be taken towards a solution, but focuses more on setting a “game” of sorts with the right incentives and punishments. This basically just leaves room for one real public policy which can be summed up as “privatise everything, create a competitive arena, let the market sort the problems out”.
Leaving all real policy decisions to the market has been a very traditional (post-1980s at least) right-wing idea. This raises the question as to why someone advising the current UK government is even discussing concepts that are not purely market-driven. In his latest post, Cummings laments the inability of the British state to do serious modelling. This seems a superb contradiction – shouldn’t the market be able to solve everything?
It is worth mentioning that conceptions of planning methods differ a lot across individual thinkers – there are even advocates of socialist markets on the left. Though there is a clear left-right divide, in terms of actual party politics it seems that the idea of some planning has been partially accepted (somewhat grudgingly) by the historical right for some time.
AI and public policy
So, does the progress in AI and (the concurrent) massive increase in computational power and availability of data allow us to circumvent the liberal arguments? I would say yes, but only partially. One can easily envision a solution where the latest AI methods are used to affect policy directly. It’s quite plausible that one could plan and re-plan millions of products and services on a daily basis, find the optimal set of actions to help tackle social ills and generally push for an overall brighter future.
This isn’t, however, trivial – delivering causal models to drive simulations is extremely hard, requires significant expertise, and can only be done in a limited capacity. On top of this, current AI methods lack a concept of “common sense”. A model created with a specific task in mind might be able to optimise for said task, but is prone to generating unwanted side effects. For example, an AI-optimised factory that aims to optimise production will do so without care for the environment.
But the mother of all problems in AI is that a lot of the more modern probabilistic planning algorithms are not stable without excessive human tuning, due to a number of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. In practice, this means that outside straightforward, traditional planning (such as linear programming), getting value from modern AI requires significant human expertise. At the moment this sits mostly within private AI research labs and some university departments. Any serious attempt to create a cybernetic state would need both significant human resources to be moved towards the project and some further algorithmic breakthroughs.
Unfortunately, current AI deployments in public policy do not adhere to the ideas above. It seems that AI is mostly deployed only for simple predictive tasks (“will person X will commit crime Y in the future?”). For this reason, public bodies are finding this technology increasingly useless. But technological innovations almost always experience a series of failures before they find their pace, so hopefully AI will eventually be implemented properly.
Back to Brexit
What does Brexit have to do with any of this? My understanding is that Brexit (according to Cummings) is needed in order to help disrupt the civil service enough so as to allow it to be rebuilt. It would then be possible to deploy serious AI public policy solutions (which is another name for scientific planning). So the British state would be deploying projects that can model the future, with machines or civil servants probing the model for golden paths.
What is truly surprising, in my view, is that such proposals don’t come from the broad political left (though there are, of course, extremely interesting takes on the topic of scientific planning) – but from the right. This might imply the use of AI to hasten the free-market agenda by asking questions like “what is the best propaganda to produce in order to get everyone on board with increasing state pension age to 95, privatising every public service and getting people to accept a ban on immigration?”.
All this AI talk might be a red herring – the more traditional right-wing Brexit party policies are simply an intensification of a deregulation agenda, though again the signals are mixed. Alternatively, it might be the case that there is a split between One Nation Conservatives and free marketeers across the board.
It’s hard to imagine the EU allowing for direct planning (it goes against most of the principles of the internal market), but it’s equally hard to envision post-Brexit Britain doing the same. Most institutions see the market as the only legitimate form of organisation.
But some cracks in the consensus seem to be appearing. Perhaps we may end up in a position where actively planning using AI towards a “good society” is actively pursued.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation.
The Future Now Show
Shape the future now, where near-future impact counts and visions and strategies for preferred futures start. – Club of Amsterdam
Do we rise above global challenges? Or do we succumb to them? The Future Now Show explores how we can shape our future now – where near-future impact counts. We showcase strategies and solutions that create futures that work.
Every month we roam through current events, discoveries, and challenges – sparking discussion about the connection between today and the futures we’re making – and what we need, from strategy to vision – to make the best ones.
City Futures in the Asia Pacific
Cities have emerged as change agents towards sustainable futures. Discussion about its
size, food routes, transportation, health, climate change and community resilience has shifted
the way cities are perceived into the future. Questions persist such as: How do we create the
inclusive city? How do cities ensure spatial justice and equal access to urban resources and
opportunities amidst the impacts of climate change? How do we link strategic foresight to
urban governance and strategy development?
The Future Now Show
Shermon Cruz, Founder, Executive Director and Chief Futurist of the Center for Engaged Foresight
Growcer is setting up Switzerland’s first vertical farm in Basel. At the same time, it’s one of Europe’s most automated Vertical Farms using latest achievements in Robotics & AI. The farm is six floors high and can produce leafy vegetables, herbs, shoots and fruit all year round.
How do we feed a growing population most of whom live in cities?
The farm is fully automated to eliminate 90% of
labor costs, increase the consistency of production,
and guarantee high quality produce.
- 95% of water saved
- Reduced transport costs
- Low cost (fully automated urban argiculture)
- Consistency in costs
- Consistent product quality
- Consistent quantity / yield
- No pesticides or herbicides
- Up to 3x longer shelf life
- Better taste profile — no artificial flavoring, the full natural taste.
- Locally produced, so a faster delivery and ensured freshness.
- No need to wash, ready to eat
Why grow indoors?
For most of human history, farming has been an outdoor operation. Plants need sunlight to live, and soil to get water and nutrients from, so it’s no surprise that the traditional farm is an outdoor farm.
But as agriculture developed, farmers gradually realized that there were benefits to farming indoors. For one, it allowed certain crops to be grown all year long. For another, it kept pesticides at bay. And finally, indoor farming in ‘hot’ greenhouses could cause plants to grow faster than they would outdoors. By the late Roman Empire, greenhouse-like methods were already being used for these and other reasons.
In the 1800s, Greenhouses hit their stride, as European farmers started using them to grow tropical plants that otherwise wouldn’t grow naturally on their continent. This fact illustrates the main benefit of indoor farming: it provides the ability to grow crops year round, in a controlled environment, free from pests.
if you want it a bit shorter, this whole section can easily be cut.
News about the Future
provides a comprehensive review of the state of electric mobility, highlighting key developments in vehicle sales, charging infrastructure deployment, costs, energy use, CO2 emissions and demand for battery materials. This year’s edition features a specific analysis of the performance of electric cars and competing powertrain options in terms of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.
A Puncture-Proof Tire System
Uptis is a significant development in existing airless mobility technology. Uptis eliminates regular maintenance, such as pressure checks, and inspections for damage, such as punctures. This makes Uptis ideal for the vehicles of tomorrow, from self-driving shuttles to all-electric vehicles.
Law of Vibration by Michiko Hayashi
Dr. Masaru Emoto
Dr. Masaru Emoto was a Japanese water researcher who discovered after taking tens of thousands of water crystal photographs that when water is exposed to positive, beautiful words, thoughts, music and vibrations, it creates beautiful, hexagonal crystalline structures. On the other hand, when water is exposed to negative, ugly or destructive words, thoughts, music and vibrations it does not make these beautiful crystalline structures, instead forming ugly shapes.
Because both the human body and Earth itself are about 70 percent water, it is essential that we all learn about water and how it is connected to our thoughts and words. Before his passing, Dr. Emoto founded The Emoto Peace Project (now registered as a non-profit children’s charity) with the aim to distribute 650 million copies of his children’s book, The Message from Water.
Since his transition, Michiko Hayashi has been continuing Dr. Emoto’s life mission as the Ambassdor and Global Director of the Emoto Peace Project by continuing to distribute “The Message from Water”, spreading the valuable lessons of love and gratitude learnt from years of research into water structure.
Dr. Emoto’s Law of Vibration, Resonance and Attraction by Michiko Hayashi
The End of Money and the Future of Civilization
by Thomas H. Greco Jr.
Like the proverbial fish who doesn’t know what water is, we swim in an economy built on money that few of us comprehend, and, most definitely, what we don’t know is hurting us.
Very few people realize that the nature of money has changed profoundly over the past three centuries, or – as has been clear with the latest global financial crisis – the extent to which it has become a political instrument used to centralize power, concentrate wealth, and subvert popular government. On top of that, the economic growth imperative inherent in the present global monetary system is a main driver of global warming and other environmental crises.
The End of Money and the Future of Civilization demystifies the subjects of money, banking, and finance by tracing historical landmarks and important evolutionary shifts that have changed the essential nature of money. Greco’s masterful work lays out the problems and then looks to the future for a next stage in money’s evolution that can liberate us as individuals and communities from the current grip of centralized and politicized money power.
Greco provides specific design proposals and exchange-system architectures for local, regional, national, and global financial systems. He offers strategies for their implementation and outlines actions grassroots organizations, businesses, and governments will need to take to achieve success.
Ultimately, The End of Money and the Future of Civilization provides the necessary understanding – for entrepreneurs, activists, and civic leaders – to implement approaches toward monetary liberation. These approaches would empower communities, preserve democratic institutions, and begin to build economies that are sustainable, democratic, and insulated from the financial crises that plague the dominant monetary system
A smart artificial hand for amputees merges user and robotic control
EPFL scientists have successfully tested new neuroprosthetic technology that combines robotic control with users’ voluntary control, opening avenues in the new interdisciplinary field of shared control for neuroprosthetic technologies.
Climate Change Success Story: Solar Foods
Solein, invented by Solar Foods, is a revolutionary natural protein source for the global food industry: suitable for varied consumer diets, and virtually for all food products and types. An innovation created by leading cleantech expertise of Finland and based on a concept by NASA, the unique and pure single-cell proteins of Solein are produced from CO2, water, and electricity.
Independent from weather and irrigation, Solein is an unlimited protein source that is free from agricultural limitations and the boundaries of imagination.
Founded in 2017, Solar Foods is a Finnish food tech company that creates innovations for producing food without agriculture. With its revolutionary biotech solution Solein, Solar Foods enables natural protein production anywhere by using air, water, and electricity. The unique bioprocess of Solein provides a new platform technology for nutritious food ingredients, plant-based meat alternatives or even cultured meat. With a vision to solve the world food crisis, Solar Foods creates tangible food industry solutions that can scale beyond agricultural limitations.
Conventional food production wastes water at unsustainable and unreasonable levels. We wanted to fix that. Solein is 100 times more climate-friendly than any animal or plant-based alternative. Unlike conventional protein production, it takes just a fraction of water to produce 1kg of Solein.
As with water use, the same game-changing effect applies to land use efficiency as well, with Solein being 10x more efficient than soy production by a metric of usable protein yields per acre.
Futurist Portrait: Mark McCrindle
Mark McCrindle is a social analyst with an international following. His passions lie in tracking emerging issues, researching social trends and analysing customer segments. Mark is an advisor to executive boards and committees across Australia. As a sought-after demographer, futurist and social commentator, he’s delivered over 100 keynotes in the last year.
Mark McCrindle is founder and Principal of McCrindle Research – Australia’s social researchers.”We analyse and visualise the data we collect from research and use these insights to advise strategic decision-makers.
We don’t just deliver the numbers. We bring them to life with imagery that stimulates interpretation and understanding. We deliver forecasts in ways that are compelling, memorable, and inspiring.”
5 Megatrends Reshaping Australia:
While Australia’s population growth rate has recently slowed, we are still adding more than a million people every 3 years. Australia’s largest city, Sydney will also be the first Australian city to hit 5 million (by the end of 2016) however it is our second largest city, Melbourne which is growing the fastest and will take Sydney’s title in 2053 with both cities expected to reach a population of 8 million in 2055. In fact Melbourne is growing by more people every 5 days than the state of Tasmania adds in an entire year (1,400). Our third and fourth ranked cities will also change order over the next decades with Perth’s rate of growth set to see it overtake Brisbane in 2029 when they both reach a population of 3 million. While only these 4 cities currently exceed 2 million people, Adelaide will join the 2 million club but not until 2055, almost a century after Sydney reached this milestone in 1959.
This population growth is leading to more densified living. While 3 in 4 households currently live in a detached home, almost half of all new housing approvals are in the unit, apartment or townhouse category. Australia’s communities are undergoing significant transformation from the horizontal suburbs to the growth of these vertical communities, and as people rent more, move more frequently, and transition across more communities than ever before. The average renter in Australia stays just 1.8 years per abode and even those who have bought a home are not putting their roots down deeply and staying for several decades like their parents did. Those with a mortgage stay on average just 8 years before they sell. While this growth, density and mobility is evident in the capital cities and larger coastal cities, Australia’s top 30 cities now include many inland regional cities that have a growth rate exceeding that of some of the capitals. It is the tree change and not just the sea change that rising capital city house prices is currently facilitating.
Cultural diversity is foundational to Australia- part of the DNA of our communities. More than 1 in 4 Australians was born overseas and almost half of all households (46%) have at least one parent born overseas. And our population mix is now more connected to our region with the top 7 countries of birth of Australians born overseas shifting in three decades from mainly European countries to now include China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines. There remains a deep affection for the traditional Aussie qualities of mateship, ironic humour and the larrikin spirit alongside the richness of our lifestyle which comes through the input of so many cultures. In a nation of world cities and global connectivity, gone is the cultural cringe, replaced with an international perspective that looks out not in.
Three decades ago Australia’s average age had only just moved out of the 20’s to reach 30, today it exceeds 37 and in three more decades it will be 40. This ageing population though is a good news story- it means we are living longer, and consequently active later and able to work later in life than was previously the norm. In the last generation, Australians have added an average decade to their life expectancy at birth. Along with the ageing population goes an ageing workforce- which means that there are more generations in the workforce than ever before and leading teams in diverse times requires better people skills to bridge more gaps than ever before.
Australia’s generations of Baby Boomers and Generation Xers are now sharing the leadership and workforce roles with the emerging Generations Y and Z. These new generations, born and shaped in the late 20th Century are increasingly becoming lifelong learners, multi-career workers with a focus on work-life balance, participative leadership models and a more varied job description. Along with this, the next generation of technology has, in less than a decade, transformed almost every area of business and consumer interactions. How we shop, where we get information from, when we connect and where we work from have all been fundamentally changed in this Wi-Fi-enabled, device-driven, app-based, social media-influenced decade.
While it is self-evident that every business, product or idea is just one generation away from extinction, such is the speed of change today, we are now just a decade or perhaps a few years away from this point. While such change impacts us all, those who understand the trends can drive the change and shape the future.