In this months interview we speak with David Wood, director of the treasury department. We find out what David's first thoughts were whilst considering his activity within the Transhumanist party, what motivates him to continue his efforts alongside his many other responsibilities, and his assumptions for the future of the party.
I'd like to thank David for his time with these questions, and for agreeing to accept follow up questions by our readers. Questions should be submitted by Sunday 14th February and will be answered and possibly published to our website in our next update.
1 – Who is David Wood?
My background is in the smartphone and mobile computing industry. This includes being co-founder of Symbian, the company behind the most successful of the first wave of smartphone operating systems. At Symbian my executive responsibilities included at various times software development, technical consulting, developer community, and research and innovation.
I saw phenomenal change over my 25 years in that industry, with the pattern of slow change followed by fast change. I believe the same pattern will be repeated in many other disruptive technology sectors in the next 5-10 years. Because multiple disruptions will be taking place near simultaneously, the overall outcomes are very hard to foresee. That’s why more attention needs to be paid to these possibilities, in order to collectively improve our foresight capabilities, and to prepare us for action to increase the probability of good outcomes.
Since March 2008 I have chaired what became the London Futurists meetup.
2 – You are one of the founding members of the Transhumanist party. What made you realise the need for such a political organisation?
My research into future scenarios for technology kept leading to the same conclusion: the most important questions about technology are actually human questions rather than technical ones. The future evolution of technology - including its potential for tremendous upside as well as its potential for tremendous downside - will be strongly influenced by political decisions on matters such as regulations, standards, subsidies, incentives, taxes, and public funding.
However, most politicians show only a dim awareness of the magnitude of the changes ahead. Collectively, our politicians are sleepwalking into potentially disastrous decisions. I saw the need for a new political movement, that talks about radical future possibilities in a way that is more ambitious, more informed, and more visionary.
3 - What concerns did you have prior to accepting the added responsibility as a NEC member and department leader, and how were those concerns eased?
Because none of the other founding members wanted to take the role of Treasurer, I agreed to accept it. I’ve overseen large departmental budgets at corporations in the past, so I am familiar with setting and tracking financial targets. However, I had been warned that Treasurers of political parties are subject to fines and possibly even jail terms, if they misstate the financial position of the organisation, or fail to submit appropriate reports to the Electoral Commission. Naturally, this made me apprehensive, although I’d faced similar possibilities as a company director in the UK for nearly 20 years.
When I looked more closely into the regulations governing political parties in the UK, I saw they were straightforward and uncontentious. There’s no need for any onerous record-keeping or complicated financial reporting. That set my mind further at ease.
4 – As many of our readers will already know, you are an active and well known member of the community thanks to your efforts in various other organisations and think tanks. What encouraged you to accept the added responsibility of Transhumanist Party involvement?
That’s correct, I’m already busy with futurist and transhumanist activities at London Futurists, the thinktank Transpolitica, and Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association) where I am Secretary of the Board of Directors. But the Transhumanist Party has a different angle from all these other organisations: it wants people to stand up and be counted for an agenda of transhumanist political policy change.
Seeing that the Party could not come into formal legal existence in the absence of a Treasurer, and seeing that no-one else was willing to take that role, I decided to step into that responsibility. In this way, I am happy to enable the Party as a whole to pursue its ambitions.
5 - Having confirmed your involvement what were your first assumptions on the levels of success for the party within the first year, five years, ten years? Having been one year since the party’s launch are the levels of progress in line with those original assumptions?
Right from the beginning, the timescales for full success of the Party were conceived as being around 25 years. That’s the date - around 2040 - when a rich transhumanist political agenda should be fully implemented in legislation.
We didn’t write down a complete set of intermediate goals for the time period up to 2040. However, we wanted to have at least one candidate in the General Election in 2015, and we wanted to have a full NEC in place by the end of the year. The first of these goals has been met, but there are still a number of gaps in the NEC - including a Deputy Treasurer position.
6 – Aside from size and speed of growth, has the party developed in a specific direction different to what you assumed it would?
One thing which hasn’t happened as I expected is in the development of a coherent body of political policy. A considerable number of policy proposals were adopted at the AGM in October, but there remains lots of scope to flesh out and magnify these policies - especially to provide stronger transhumanist angles in some cases. I can’t personally say I endorse all of the Party policies as they stand.
7 – Have you ever been so disappointed with the progress or specific events of the party that you were tempted to resign from your position? If so what was the reason and what kept you motivated to continue?
My own personal instincts are to build bridges rather than burn them. Despite my criticism of politicians from existing parties (see earlier), I see most politicians as being fundamentally well motivated, and as potentially open to persuasion about transhumanist ideas.
This approach of being ready to work with partners from all political parties is the positioning of the Transpolitica thinktank. Transpolitica is prepared to collaborate with potential transhumanist sympathisers from any existing political party - and with people who prefer to avoid any formal party membership. As I look ahead in 2016, I’d prefer to put more of my own energies into Transpolitica initiatives, leaving it to others to prioritise initiatives specific to the Transhumanist Party.
8 – What in your opinion is the most important next step the party must take and why?
The Party needs to become known - and respected - for a small number of important political initiatives. These could include championing the Longevity Dividend, or a version of Universal Basic Income, or the creation of a “Politics 2.0” framework in which collaborative technology would allow the genuine wisdom of the crowd to rise to the surface.
This means that, whenever journalists or analysts want to write about these topics, they will quickly decide they want to contact the Transhumanist Party, in order to include our perspective on the topic.
9 – If you knew when you joined the party what you know now, would you do it again?
10 – I’ll ask you two identical questions I ask in all interviews within this series: What are your views on assisted suicide?
The debate about assisted suicide allows transhumanists to raise the question of support for self-determination of the time of entering cryonic suspension. If people realise their brain is deteriorating, they should have the option - whilst still of undeniable sound mind - to stipulate circumstances in which they would be de-animated (to use the language of cryonicists), without there being any adverse legal consequences for the medical staff involved.
This right needs to be coupled with an exemption from any destructive post-mortem analysis.
11 – The second series wide question: What are your views on Britain’s membership of the EU?
When people express frustration with the EU, they’re often attacking the wrong target. Problems of lack of places in schools, or shortage of health service budgets (both of which are exacerbated by immigration from the EU) have better solutions than undoing the current relation between Britain and the EU. Smart use of technology - including the Longevity Dividend - is what transhumanists should be supporting, rather than causing a fragmentation of relationships within Europe.
This is not to say the EU is beyond criticism. Far from it: the EU, like all existing transnational political bodies, needs a new vision, to make it suitable for the transhumanist future ahead.
Again like other existing transnational political bodies, the EU faces a lot of inertia, that prevents the kinds of change that are necessary. But new institutions can grow up within the EU, with a gradual transfer of natural authority from the existing systems to the new ones. That’s a long-term project which transhumanists in different countries in Europe should be jointly supporting.
12 – Have you learnt anything about yourself through your work with the Transhumanist party? If so, what?
Without strong focus on a clear “massive transformational purpose” (to use a term from the Singularity University), any organisation is going to struggle to achieve breakthrough relevance.
And as for organisations, it’s the same for individuals.