London Futurists – Industrial strategy for a sustainable world, with David Bent

London Futurists – Industrial strategy for a sustainable world, with David Bent

David asks a series of questions:
• What are the key questions in formulating a pro-sustainability industrial strategy?
• What part can industrial strategy play in accelerating the shift to a sustainable world?
• What global trends and emerging technologies need to be considered, and how should an industrial strategy bring them in?
• What are the framework conditions which stimulate and support the appropriate innovations?
• How might one support specific industries, without being captured by the status quo?
• What are the different roles of government, business, cities, civil society and citizens?
• How will industrial strategy differ between countries like the UK, New Zealand and Sri Lanka?

These are all great questions in a sense, and they lead to even more interesting questions.

What does sustainability mean?
What is it that is being sustained?
Why would we sustain something?
What sort of somethings can most of us agree need to be sustained?
How do we effectively formulate any sort of policy in an environment containing vastly divergent value sets?

When we look at the history of life on this planet, it seems to involve many different sorts of changes.
Evolution seems to be a process that can start from very simple beginnings, and rapidly explores recursively more complex systemic and strategic spaces.
At the simplest level, evolution can be characterised as something based on differential survival in different contexts.
Most people assume that means competition, and in some contexts in does, and not in all.
What determines if competitive of cooperative strategies tend to dominate is the overall balance of risk to any individual in the population.
If the risk to individual survival is dominated by direct competition with others similar to self, then competitive strategies deliver greatest benefits.
If the risk to individuals is dominated by factors outside of the population, then cooperative strategies tend to dominate.

Historically evolution has been viewed as a strictly competitive domain.
That view is now falsified beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt.

It is accurate to characterise the emergence of all new levels of complexity in living systems as the emergence and stabilisation of new levels of cooperation.
Raw cooperation is always vulnerable to “cheating” strategies, and so requires effective attendant strategies to maintain cooperation. This leads to something of an evolutionary strategic arms race, and while in one sense that would seem to be eternal, in another sense, modern communication and automation tools make it possible to raise the levels of detection to very close to unity, thus delivering very stable cooperative contexts.

So what can sustainability possibly mean in such a context?

Could it possible mean trying to sustain social and cultural forms that are a direct systemic threat to individual survival?

In as far as value measures derived from markets are based in scarcity, and markets value universal abundance of anything at zero, and we now have the technological capacity to fully automate the production and delivery of a large and exponentially expanding set of goods and services, is it in any way sensible to think about sustainability using market based measures?

One can argue that markets are a great tool for the distribution of scarce resources, but it is not possible to mount a serious argument that they deliver an effective value set for long term planning, if one has as a primary value set individual life and individual liberty (both within responsible social and ecological contexts).

Why would we think about sustaining any particular cultural form?

If we value individual life, and individual liberty, then sustainability must mean empowering infinite exploration of the possibility space of all possible forms that are compatible with individual life and individual liberty. And that does require responsibility. Liberty in this sense is not a liberty to do whatever whim happens along into thought, but rather comes with a responsibility to pause long enough to make reasonable assessment of the likely consequences of actions on other people, and on the environment that sustains us all. The set of actions that meet such requirements seems to be infinite, and it is a much smaller infinity than the set of all possible actions.

Most cultural forms seem to be some sort of heuristic approximation to a set of such restrictions that have worked over evolutionary time (in both genetic and cultural terms).

To be human is to be an entity with many levels of embodied cognition, with our higher level conscious and rational experience being but the tiny tip of a vast subconscious computational milieu.

We need to be conscious of the very deep levels of strategic systems in both our genetics and our cultures that have served to sustain us as a species, and we need not be bound by those constraints. We are capable of creativity beyond them. And there is no escaping risk, even inaction carries risk.

So I am all for ecologically and socially responsible action, and for continued exponentially expanding exploration of possibility, and that requires an entirely new level of strategic context.

Given the very high probability that indefinite life extension will become a reality very soon, then the strategic context of the balance of threat changes substantially.
Beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt it becomes in the interests of every individual to create and sustain the highest level of cooperative context that they can.

And raw cooperation is always vulnerable, so attendant anti-cheating strategies are required.

Identifying new levels of cheating strategy, and developing effective strategic systems to combat the risk they pose, is a very high priority.
Arguably most of our current economic system (much of finance, law, politics, marketing) can now accurately be characterised as cheating strategies.

When considering the sustainability of humanity, and the wider ecological context, sustaining our current economic system does not seem to be a viable strategy.

How we transition from a scarcity based value system that is fundamentally competitive (money and markets), to an abundance based value system firmly rooted in cooperation and the values of individual life and individual liberty, in contexts of social and ecological responsibility, does seem to be the great question of our age. If we fail to do so, then the probability seems to approach unity that we will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Transitioning from a concept of “industry”, to a system that is based in massively distributed, fully automated technology that has the capacity to meet any and all peak demands (even under the most extreme of conditions) seems to be the greatest intellectual challenge of our age.

Doing this in a context of vastly divergent levels of awareness poses real challenges.

We seem to find ourselves in the midst of a very complex set of complex adaptive systems.
Hard predictability is not an option.
All we have is probabilities, and a willingness to engage with the systems.

[followed by]

Hi David,
I like that anyone is even beginning to approach this topic.

I wish I was going to be there, but live on the far side of the planet and still have my hands full dealing with the aftermath of a 7.8 Earthquake, that 5 months on and we are still looking at another 8 months to restore the State highway. The rail and harbours should be working a bit sooner, but not much. Fairly chaotic here.

Once one starts to get a decent handle on the complexity of multidimensional structures (like Hilbert spaces as an example), on the nature of probability and the role of evolution in setting “priors”, on the nature of the many dimensions of uncertainty (Heisenberg, Bayes, Goedel, Wolfram), on complex systems, and computational spaces more generally, then uncertainty turns into an entire ecosystem of intersecting infinities.

One must accept that there are real limits on the degree of influence we have, and the limits on the very ideas of control and predictability. It seems entirely possible that the substructure of our existence may have a fundamentally random aspect to it, that does very closely approximate causality at the scale of normal human perceptions in many domains.

So looking at the evolution of both understanding and technology, in the sort of contexts that includes the sorts of notions that Jordan Peterson talks of in his developmental psychology lectures on youtube is a fascinating exercise.

Very best wishes for the conversation.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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