What will A.I. and automation mean for society and the economy?

Another fantastic chat was had for this topic. Some of the issues we covered:

Universal income, can AI be paired with universal income so more people are more free to be creative and explore their own talents/ideas without worrying about sustaining themselves via a paid job?

Get rid of the stigma of poverty, recognise that, economically, we need a certain proportion of the population to be consumers, and we should value those. Thus those who are “on benefits” should instead be viewed/labelled as “paid consumers”?

How serious could A.I. warfare and bitcoin mining become?

Do we have to impose human morals for self-driving cars to be successful, or do neural networks take car of that for us?

How do neural networks function, is this analogous to how children learn grammar?

Neural networks are now better at recognising birds than humans, can they be better at driving too? Unsupervised machine learning.

If a neural network makes the best possible decision based on all of the available data, but still kills a person, is this psychologically easier to accept than if a person had killed another person?

People get distracted by their shopping, emotional worries, stress from work, not having enough sleep, being hungry, and any of these minor effects can kill people, but self-driving cars are focussing entirely on making the optimal decision at every possible moment.

Is our creation of A.I. analogous to artificial selection of dogs/cats etc? What about their free will & morality? If we strip our brains back to their bare components, is ‘morality’ there? What about cognitive dissonance? Does A.I. get cognitive dissonance? Do cats and dogs?

Who should have ‘human rights’?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that “Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death.”
But historian and author Yuval Noah Harari reminds us that rights are not an intrinsic property of human beings: “Human rights are a fictional story just like God and heaven. Biologically speaking, humans don’t have rights.”

We see them as fundamental to a fair society, but are they? We decide who should have rights, but how? Should non-human animals have rights? Why, why not, or which ones?

Bacteria are masters of Tai Chi

Really fun session! Beginning with the article in Nautilus: http://nautil.us/issue/37/currents/bacteria-are-masters-of-tai-chi

We then went on to discuss: “movement theory” and the Physical Theatre group “DV8” https://www.dv8.co.uk/projects

Embodied cognition, see the logic that takes us from “mental states” to the purely physical:


Lesson: If Clark Kent is superman, but Lois Lane doesn’t know this, and she runs over Clark Kent, she also runs over Superman.

But if Lois Lane loves Superman, she doesn’t also love Clark Kent.

We discussed how the Greeks didn’t necessarily have a concept of “consciousness” and the influence of Descartes, the definition of “good” and how we can predict what the tables will do next….

Modelling biodiversity loss in a Global state

We had a great discussion led by John, who had some ideas for modelling a global state in populations’ fertility varied, as did their resource use/sustainability.

We discussed how fertility is defined in different fields, the importance and value of modelling in science, “the repugnant conclusion”, is it possible to maintain a stable population, will “mutations” which increase reproduction/resource use invade and take-over?

A nice relevant chapter here: https://www.academia.edu/33135347/Chapter_11_Population_and_Ecological_Sustainability

Climate Change

Another great discussion this week: we discussed some of the issues brought up in the article (the appearance of hypoxic ‘dead zones’ in the oceans, melting permafrost, climate refugees…) and why there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of urgency around climate change as there are around more human-scale issues. We also discussed a thought experiment proposed by John about how a fertile sub-population would spread in an otherwise steady state world under a global state versus nation state conditions, which led into a discussion about population size and back into climate change, optimising land use for ecological diversity, and perpetual growth versus circular and steady state economies. 

Can we create a global state?

Another great discussion, covering everything from “us versus them,” global citizenship, wealth inequality, global freedom of movement, wealth redistribution, philosophy of self, freedom of choice, universal basic income, marxism, climate change, evolution of cooperation and much more! Some links of interest below:

“I have no enemies” – Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo:


Film: “Divergent”:


Black Mirror season 3 episode 1:


Essay on diminishing returns and wealth inequality:


Book by Rodrik:

Evolution of Trust cartoon:







Knowledge Inequality

Another great session discussing information overload, whether the internet needs a filter, how to combat conspiracy theorists, is science the best way to know truth, should university lectures be openly available to all members of the public?

Some weird and wonderful recommendations that came up:

The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin

The left hand of darkness by Ursula le Guin

The Buddha in the Robot by Masahiro Mori



The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia by Bryan Talbot and Mary M. Talbot