Monday, 9 November 2015

Text of Presentation at the TEAM EU Counter Summit London, November 7th, 2015

I am on the Advisory Board of the Democracy Movement which is a long standing critic of the anti-democratic nature of the European Union and I attended the first meeting of the Leave.EU Advisory Board last month. This was a contribution to the discussion on the coming British Referendum of whether or not to leave the European Union which was held at a useful one day Summit [1] convened by TEAM [The European Alliance of Euro-Critical Movements] on Saturday. 

First of all, I must make clear that, today, I am speaking for the Democracy Movement and not for Leave.EU. The difference is important as I shall make clear. 

I am going to try and do three things in the limited time at my disposal and I will welcome questions later.

First, I want to inform you of what the Democracy Movement is doing in the great cause and re-cap a little on its history to explain how it has got to where it is.

Second, I want to give my impressions of what Leave.EU, one of no less than two [major] euro-realist or euro-sceptic organisations that have emerged in recent weeks and months, is and why I think it is potentially very important.

Third, I want to thread the two themes together as I speak and show why the Democracy Movement is minded to support Leave.Eu while not yet having made its absolutely final decision although it is a decision expected very soon.

I cannot emphasise enough that not only DM but Leave.EU and the socialist and democratic organisations operating in this space consider themselves internationalists and true Europeans.

To be a true European is to stand for democracy and the self-determination of the European peoples collaborating as nation-states on equal terms. This is the legacy of the European Enlightenment and is also resolutely anti-imperialist.

This commitment to being European but firmly against the European Union is something that must be stated again and again in British contexts because the lie being perpetrated about the ‘leave’ camp is that it is anti-European, xenophobic or ‘little Englander’ (a very useful lie when mobilising our Celtic brothers and sisters). [2] 

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the modern British Eurosceptic craves a deeper and firmer cultural connection with Europeans.

What he or she will not accept is being dictated to by Eurocrats when we have a perfectly good sovereign Parliament and ancient liberties at home.

I will go further and say that, while some Eurosceptics are stuck in the old Atlanticist model, the modern British Eurosceptic is very much an internationalist at a much more global level.

If he is a Eurosceptic of the Left, he wants to ensure that global trade and Western power are used to better the lives of the vast majority of humanity that still lives in dire conditions across the world.

If she is a Eurosceptic of the Right, the emphasis may be on global trade and the betterment of humanity through that means.

Both Right and Left will disagree profoundly on means and, in some respects, ends but what they have in common is that freedom can only be offered by example, by a free people freely determining its laws through sovereign institutions.

Having given that cultural background, let me move on to the Democracy Movement which has one of the longest continuous records as defender of national sovereignty from a non-partisan point of view in this country.

It was founded as all-party, as the voice of those who wanted to have the risks to democracy of technocracy brought to public notice. Over subsequent decades it came to link traditional right of centre concerns about the European Union with those of the Left.

It was central to the creation of the People’s Pledge, a non-partisan movement which included both Euro-sceptics and Euro-philes, which demanded and got a Referendum – something the elite of our country would happily have denied us.

Tony Blair himself clearly loathed the very idea of the people making a choice for themselves about the future destiny within the European Union.

He said in his Durham constituency in April: “Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe.” 

Well, I see no chaos in the streets or the markets but I am too polite to endorse Boris Johnson’s assertion that Blair was an ‘epic, patronising tosser’ for making his remarks.

The point is that the Democracy Movement and People’s Pledge helped to make a Referendum happen against the massed ranks of the old elite. Now that the Referendum is assured, we will see the same determination to see the matter through to final victory – to leave, leave, LEAVE!

The strategy of the Democracy Movement in recent months has been to husband its resources which include its substantial mailing list and campaigning experience and ensure that those resources are used correctly and to maximum effect when the time comes.

This is an asset that must not be wasted and the activists on its lists must be treated with the utmost respect as fellow soldiers in a shared battle.

But the most important aspect of DM (to use its shortened acronym) is that it has long acted as clearing house for contacts between otherwise mutually suspicious Left and Right Euro-sceptics. This now becomes invaluable in ensuring that the two wings remain united as we get closer to the vote.

The obvious tactic of the Eurocrats is to try to set Left and Right Eurosceptics off against each other in the street.  This must not be allowed to happen. 

For the Eurocrats, given their base-line of centre-right, State and big business support for the pro-European position, the game is to silence the Left and have the old pre-Corbyn elite of the Labour Movement and the Labour Party speak as one voice for the European Union.

But it is not going to happen like that for a number of reasons.

The first is that the numbers of Euro-sceptical left-wingers are much higher than the mainstream Press would like you to believe. They have simply been overwhelmed [in the past] by the group-think of those who purport to speak for them. They simply need leadership and to know they are not alone.

Some became frustrated enough that they drifted across to so-called ‘Red UKIP’ as working class people who felt their concerns were not being addressed by New Labour.

I am reliably informed that many of these people – who are not racists or xenophobes – are now going home to Labour with the arrival of a new Leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who is clearly more open to the concerns of working people and to open debate on difficult issues such as Europe, TRIDENT and even migration.

However, I am not here to speak of the Left since our Chairman, John Boyd, and Brian Denny of CAEF can do so with more authority than I can.

The Democracy Movement has, however, been helping to prepare the ground for a resurgence of Left Euroscepticism in very difficult times and now the Left can be assured that they are not alone and need not be embarrassed (or as little as possible) by the more rabid nationalist elements on the Right who can sometimes lose more votes than they secure in British contexts.

I am personally very much of the Left with a long track record of activist organisation in the Labour Movement. My long two decades or more association with DM has caused me no problems whatsoever.

There are issues, of course. This is politics. Many on the Left will not sit on a platform with some on the Right. Democratic socialists will not always sit with democratic nationalists but issues like TTIP, the incompetence of the European External Action Service in Ukraine (which has exposed the lie of the European Union as instrument of peace) and the appalling treatment of the Greek people are bringing activists together for this critical vote.

Without a functioning representative democracy answerable to the people, a people with a common history and struggle, there is no opportunity for Left and Right to contest a constitutional space if the only constitutional space available is one dictated by lawyers and technocrats.

Which leads to the final independent initiative of DM alongside maintaining its campaigning asset and increasing understanding between Left and Right democrats –the promotion of the ideal of democracy itself.

What happened in Greece and is now happening in Portugal is a sharp reminder that we are faced by a post-modern Imperial Power that hides its brute corporatist economic force under a velvet glove of liberal ideology.

DM is actively pulling together a second wave of British groups on the theme of national sovereign democracy. These are wholly committed to a ‘leave’ vote when it comes.

Now, at last, let me speak of Leave.EU. As you know there are two ‘leave’ organisations in Britain. I can characterise ‘Leave.EU’ as the mass-orientated one that seeks to mobilise the street to reach the people who really matter here, the voters.

The other ‘camp’, originated by Business For Britain, is a far more elite operation dominated by Members of Parliament of all parties and conservative business interests.

My own view is that there is room for both. Although they may be rivals for funding and attention, there is room for the elite and the mass to have their own organisations.  I see no virtue in public quarrels.

We are on the cusp of a major change in politics where power shifts from the old elite politics to the new politics represented by the power of social media and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

The radical new politics straddles party lines – Labour’s Tom Watson is matched by the Tory Zac Goldsmith – and both Douglas Carswell and the Bennite Left see the Levellers, the radicals of the old English Republic, as part of their inheritance.

Yet the old politics still has strong residual power. Some people will still be persuaded to their position by the leadership role of ‘big beasts’. The elite is still part of the game.

So which way will DM jump?

Leave.EU is much closer to the new politics model and DM was a pioneer of this approach. DM shares with Leave.EU a belief in the ultimate wisdom of the people and the need to communicate with them in a two-way dialogue. 

Although no final commitment has been made (since DM, perfectly reasonably, wants to know that its carefully acquired campaigning asset will be managed appropriately and effectively) DM, like so many radical democratic organisations in this country, is minded to give its wholehearted commitment to Leave.EU at the right time.

At some stage, the Eurosceptical arguments are going to have to be put to the people within the funding and other restrictions of the Electoral Commission.

We trust this body. It is not partisan. In our judgment, faced with an elite or a mass offer where the latter has a significant track record of campaigning over decades, it must, if it is to be fair, go with the people and not the big beasts. 

But what I personally like about Leave.EU is that it is not allowing itself to be the rabbit in the headlights of officialdom and not relying on that outcome.

It knows that the pro-European Union lobby has been planning its campaigning for years, has accumulated massive resources and will have the same devious forces working for it as those who stole the first Referendum vote in 1975.

There is no advantage in hanging around until everything is perfect. Battle must be joined sooner rather than later. Leave.EU has simply decided to by-pass the old system of what it calls the ‘Westminster bubble’ and go into the struggle regardless. And we think that is entirely the right strategy.


[1] Delegates included, in addition to the host nation, Danes, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Norwegians and Slovenians amongst others with a supportive statement from Austria.

[2] A question from the floor by an Irish member of the international delegations raised the point that many of our Celtic brothers and sisters would not mind so much a 'Little Englander' approach if it meant that the people of England would free themselves of an imperial mind-set and commit to their own self-determination alongside that of the peoples of Eire, Wales and Scotland. However, the point stands because, in an English context, the phrase is used by critics of the 'leave' campaign to suggest that their opponents have no understanding or empathy with European culture. Having just finished reading a short story about hope under conditions of institutionalisation by Wolfgang Borchert written in 1947 just before writing this note, I am confident that we can argue that it is our love of Europe and European culture that makes us determined to resist its bureaucratisation, corporatisation and institutionalisation.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Labour Party Today - Impressions of a Rejoiner

Returning to the Labour Party after a decade away has been a fascinating experience, Naturally things have changed a lot since 'my day'. The emergence of genuine popular demand within the party for something akin to democratic socialism would have been unthinkable in 2004/2005. So how about some preliminary impressions and some analysis to keep the debate going?

The first comment is how impressed I am with the organisation and good will of our local Constituency Labour Party in Tunbridge Wells. It has seen over a doubling of membership from re-joiners and new members. Its positive response to this was to hold a reception for all party members which saw an excellent turn-out, much comradely good humour and, above all, an effective mini-education on how the local party worked for newcomers. I have heard similar anecdotal stories across the South and West but depressing countervailing stories of near-dormant and depressed CLPs in some of the Labour heartlands. It is as if some traditional Labour areas are exhausted and shell-shocked.

The surge of energy that we have seen arriving with the Corbynistas seems to be happening, paradoxically, in the very areas that Blairism claimed for its own at the end of the 1990s. What is becoming clearer is that a lot of this new support is coming from those disillusioned with New Labour and then with the Coalition (after a drift from Labour to the LibDems who have royally screwed up here). They like an honest if slightly chaotic 'new politics' that gives a voice to 'ordinary people'. They are unimpressed with the mainstream media, with big corporations, pontificating leaders and austerity.

The second comment is that the more things change, the more things seem the same. Within days of rejoining the Party, I was back with my old crew who ran the original Centre Left Grassroots Alliance debating the future of the soft Left, the possibilities for the sensible Left and how moderate democratic socialists should respond to Corbyn. I tend to the collaboration camp, others do not perhaps so easily. But, again, the debates on e-mail are comradely. There is a meeting at mid-month in London where we will thrash out our differences (if there are any) and develop a strategy geared to the possibility of a sensible democratic socialist Britain under a Labour Prime minister by contesting or collaborating with Corbynista populism to the degree that we think it is in the interests of the country and our value system.

The third comment is much more negative. The aggressive irrationality of a few Labour activists on social media is shocking but not surprising. Sentiment and emotion are ruling over realism on social media and against evidence-based policy discussion. One suspects that some of these trolls will chase off some of the people who joined the Party if they are not brought to heel in some way. They are often, and this is a taboo within the Left to say such things, amazingly stupid. Stupid people are to be found in all parties but it is time that the Labour Party stopped believing its own propaganda about intellectual equality and realised the damage stupid people do to policy debate in forums and platforms. The issue here is the collapse of political education within the Party because the Blairites preferred to give orders rather than listen to people. The lid has been taken off a boiling pot. The new Leader is going to have to find a way of encouraging and then imposing his own standards of decent behaviour on his own followers, showing respect for all members equally as persons but judging ideas by agreed standards of evidence and coherence.

The Party has changed in other more fundamental ways - it is not only more active, mostly more decent (though infected with some trolls online) and filled with more lively debate than a decade ago, it is also on the way to becoming something very different again over the next few years. We can see elements of this change happening across the West - Bernie Sanders, Podemos and Syriza all represent variants of a change that is based on a new breed of intellectual, new communications technologies and a new determination by people affected by State policies to be heard. I tried to analyse this for Party friends based on our many shared observations and came up with the following model, based on a simple difference between the old politics and the new politics rather than the traditional difference between right and left.

The starting point is to say that, though there is a hard core at the centre of Corbynism that is derived from the 1970s and 1980s Left, the Corbynista Left is definitely not to be identified with the history of their elders. Many of them were small children during the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s. Others would be politicised by Iraq, Anonymous, Occupy and Fracking which all happened long after New Labour came to power . The ones who stuck with the Hard Left turned into people more like Livingstone and McDonnell … pragmatists.

The Old Politics
  • A hard core of post-Trotskyist Marxists – capable but working within a system that works against them more decisively than is possible for them to defeat alone.
  • An aging activist heartland which is loyalist but confused by the revolution, even a little depressed, and might tend to see the new members and re-joiners as potential threats to their hegemony. It is very different in different parts of the country. Based on what has come in to my circle to date, the growth in the Party seems to be skewed to the South, West, university and small towns rather than the old heartlands.
  • A middling sort of political operator who cannot really understand the new politics and thinks it will all die away and normal business will be resumed – the traditional union activist is in here as possibly is the loyal but confused MP (from Cruddas to Burnham perhaps but I may be unjust here)
  • A grumbly New Labour elite that wants to speed up the counter-revolution but has no significant base in the country and is finally getting it that Blairism is as busted a flush as Thatcherism and Wilsonian Socialism before it.
  • A tiny minority of hard line Blairite Atlanticists who plot and scheme and pretty openly would rather see defeat in 2020 than a Corbyn Government.
  • An old intellectual class that is completely at sea because its world is falling apart – mainstream journalism is losing its grip, the Guardian and NS are disconnected from the change in wider sentiment and social media creates world views that are both hyper-critical of intellectual authority and highly emotive.

The New Politics
  • An enthusiastic and unstable liberal left re-joiner and young claque for Corbyn, some of whom might as easily be in the Greens or Lib Dems and many of whom have come from those camps
  • A group of Labour voters angry about the way the country is going, drifting to the national-populist Right and being courted by UKIP - some of these hate Corbyn as allegedly anti-patriotic, others love him for backing the working population and are drifting back to Labour. These have to be accommodated but are in permanent creative tension with the Southern and university Corbynistas.
  • A split in the trades union movement between public sector unions (who are inclined to Corbyn or the soft end of the old guard according to situation) and ‘industrial’ and general unions who are being driven by sentiment to become either Labour Firsters/workerists or Leftists according to taste and position. The intellectual struggle within the Labour Movement over issues such as Europe, Trident and socialism is the unreported key to the future of the Labour Party. What all trades union are united on is their intense dislike of Cameron's union-busting and austerity as an intrument of policy.
  • A new academic-based intellectual class that is interested in the failed Syriza experiment and new forms of politics that sometimes blend into anarcho-socialism. They certainly are fundamentally critical of the neo-liberalism of New Labour (and, above all, the ‘State’).

And Then There Are The Opportunists ...

In addition, we have noisy special interest constituencies created by Blairism (after Marx got revised in the mid-1990s) and are now trying to find a way to exploit the new situation and ensure the maintenance of their various minor hegemonies – feminism, ethnic minorities, LGBT, university activists.

These have actually done quite well out of Blairism but they are also part of the back-bone of Corbynism. They also provide a lot of the trolling, often aggressively placing right thought and right behaviour before evidence-based policy and even open discussion. They want their cake and eat it: business as usual only more so against the pressures emerging from the anti-identity politics of the workerists and the new anarcho-socialists.

This is just a rough picture - a work in progress - but it gives a sense of the complexity of the Corbyn revolution, partly the revenge of the Old Hard Left, partly a genuine upsurge of the vulnerable end of the Southern educated, partly a response to the world from young academics from a generation who were the first to suffer in 2008, partly a serious self-organising worry about the effects of austerity on working people and partly a response to the rise of a populism of the Right led by an adaptable UKIP with some quasi-socialist characteristics.

Trying to come to terms with this or opposing it are the bulk of professional political class who owed their jobs to the democratic centralism of Blair, confused longstanding activists who stuck it out for a Labour Government no matter what and know in their hearts that the Corbynistas will walk away if they do not get what they want, the heavyweight anti-socialist Atlanticist beasts and a cosmopolitan and intellectually arrogant liberal intellectual class that is watching power and influence slip from its grasp as a new form of the Left emerges.

Yes, a counter-revolution is theoretically possible but I think it increasingly unlikely. The old guard hold the high ground by inheritance but they are surrounded by hordes of insurgents, some slightly potty but most very sensible and committed, who just want a better world and think it is possible. The old guard's political model looks increasingly shaky as liberals, greens, returning 'Red UKIP' and previously despairing democratic socialists give the new model some critical mass and as it becomes clear that the trades unions have more to gain than lose from the new politics after the utter failure of New Labour to guarantee their position against an incoming Tory Government.

The trades unions have got more support out of Corbyn in a few weeks than they got from Blair in thirteen years. The clever element in the Old Guard is now accommodating Corbyn but putting in the systems of control that will hold things together for the long haul - Prescott and Burnham sent a signal that the new politics and traditional Labour values were perfectly compatible and the hard boys of Labour's radical middle class Right have been left dangling. Watson is a radical but not a Leftist and it is he who will be at the heart of reform of the party organisation, not the Leftists. So long as Corbyn and Watson can work together, so long as the 'Trot' element at the top retains its pragmatic approach and so long as the trades union feel that the new Leadership structure can deliver a Labour Government eventually, this revolution will hold together despite all the swinish lies in the mainstream Press, the bleating of the political class and plots by Atlanticist dinosaurs.

Frontiers 7 - Superintelligence

What precisely superintelligence is and whether, one day, a superintelligence will supersede us or we will evolve as a new species into superintelligence or become superintelligent as homo sapiens sapiens through technological enhancement is not the main subject of this Frontiers posting. Although a lot of fascinating speculative scientific and philosophical thought is going into this area, our real concern (as with all previous postings in this stream) is not so much with the far future and transhumanist or even post-humanist speculations about where this is leading in the very long term. As with our space postings, our interest is in the time frame of human 'conquest' of the solar system rather than some speculative 'conquest' of the stars. This brings us back to this century and to the earth.

When we write of superintelligence, we are not talking about God but about systems of high intelligence, exceeding current human capability, that emerge out of our current commitment to information and computing technologies. An Artificial General Intelligence [AGI] is the most likely emergent form that might be termed superintelligence, one which first matches, then surpasses and finally dominates human intelligence - naturally, it is the last that excites and worries thinkers. Many scientists assume that artificial intelligence [AI] will initially simply emulate human brain function before transforming, probably through its own ability to improve itself, into something 'greater'. However, it is equally possible that the human brain's functioning is not capable of such direct emulation but that the high intelligence of an AGI constructs something entirely new which contains an enhancement of the human reasoning ability, abandons the evolved aspects of humanity that it does not require and constructs new aspects of itself beyond our comprehension. Whether this then feed-backs into the reconstruction of humanity through mechanical means or evolves into a new silicon-based 'species', whatever emerges is unlikely to be anything like our current expectations or understanding - which is where the fear comes in.

A good guide to the wilder shores of fear and anxiety but also positive possibilities of intelligence enhancement is the work of Nick Bostrom, the Swedish philosopher working out of Oxford, whose basic theme is that we should be cautious about our development of AI systems because of the existential risks associated with an AGI emerging out of the many potential benefits of more specific uses of AI. He worries that an AGI would not have our values and morality or be able to be bounded by them. We should perhaps be equally interested in the fact that we, as humans, cannot be said to all hold to the values that the 'bien-pensants' claim we hold to. Certainly that there is no agreed common human standard of morality that survives much serious philosophical investigation. Bostrom and others seem to think that the AGI 'should' hold to the shoulds that they think we should hold to even though many humans hold to those 'shoulds' only contingently and circumstantially. The idea of humans giving a superintelligence orders on morality may be the greatest example of human 'hubris' yet to be recorded.

Even the simplest form of AGI which simply reasons immensely faster than a human can do (albeit still doing what intelligent humans do with the biological biases written out of the programme) would be a formidable social agent, capable of wiping out the analytical reasoning element in society as no longer very useful. Those of current higher intelligence who only deal in reasoning tasks probably have the most to fear from this development. Any rule-based system - such as the law or some elements of teaching or even medical diagnosis - may be transferred completely from humans to machines, eliminating the ratiocinatory functions of the higher professions, education, medicine and law. The proletarianisation of these professions is quite possible or rather a machine-based infrastructure undertaking the bulk of the tasks and a smaller group of high emotional intelligence intermediaries between the reasoning systems and the rest of humanity might emerge.

In other words, less people doing more, more people doing less (allowing even for the expansion of the market by the improved availability of reliable advice, diagnosis and information) and less opportunity for upper average intelligence people to use the professions for general social mobility. The very few are likely to be high earners until they are displaced in turn, the rest of the few likely to be 'managed' functionaries handling process-driven systems with little room for personal judgement, risking punishment for a human error, referring anything interesting up the line to the 'very few'. The model for this exists - contemporary banking - where the high status local personal bank manager has declined over many decades into a lower middle management administrator of systems set up by and overseen by 'head office'. A society of 'head offices' administering systems organised by risk-averse lower middle managers fronted by friendly greeters (assuming these are not replaced by androids that have climbed out of the 'uncanny valley') means a society in which a lot of human potential has to be redirected into something else or become more robotic than the robots.

But this is not all. The slim head office and the slim local branch (even if it survives) or the slim NHS and the slimmed down surgery or the slim group of law partners with a few technicians managing the machines maintains some sort of professional middle class presence in society - and do not think that journalism, marketing and even politics will not be affected - but the ones excluded from the magic system now fall into a world of supply of services to other humans that machines cannot supply. This is still a huge arena but the tendency, one we have already seen developing over recent decades with the accumulation of capital under globalisation, is to divide, much as the middling sort are dividing, into the mass and the few. The few are the brand name personalities, the highly talented or appealing, the truly creative and innovative who can latch on to the wider system of sales of goods and services as products in their own right or as creators of products of apparent value. The many are those who do jobs that require the personal touch (the plasterer, the plumber, the gardener) whose value may well rise or who duck and dive through a system where there are too many educated people for the fulfilling well-paid jobs available.

The political problem is obvious in a democracy. The vast mass of the population are going to be living in a better place (given the improvements technology can bring) but with little room for the individual aspiration that drove politics until the Crash of 2008. The population may be surviving well and that may suit a lot of people uninterested in 'aspiration', especially if National Citizen Income ideas emerge as viable with the massive increase in overall productivity. But it also leaves a lot of people with the personality type geared to achievement but whose idea of achievement is not satisfied by a corporate system that governs the population aided by machine intelligence. The temptation to apply machine intelligence by the elite to problems of social control and the extension of 'nudge' politics into pharmacological, surveillance and other manipulative strategies is going to be considerable as the new machine age with its AI and robots (possibly androids) begins to eliminate meaning from what it is to be human for many people - that is to strive and struggle and compete.

But there is another perspective to this about the very nature of the relationship between humanity and its elites because what we may be seeing is not the machines against us but merely the displacement and circulation of elites and very little actually changing for the masses except increased prosperity, increased surveillance and control and increased infantilisation. Take a look at this dystopian fear expressed by Bill Joy in Wired fifteen years ago then add the phrase 'political elite' wherever you see the word 'machines' and 'popular' for 'man-made' and add 'most' before 'human beings' and you may see our problem more clearly:
It might be argued that the human race would never be foolish enough to hand over all the power to the machines. But we are suggesting neither that the human race would voluntarily turn power over to the machines nor that the machines would willfully seize power. What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines' decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control.
From this perspective, the 'machines' are only a more intellectually effective version of those elites we have allowed to rule us since time immemorial (albeit that they circulate) and there is no reason why the same issues that we have with elites will not repeat themselves: that the 'machines' are in it for themselves and that the 'machines' are actually not as competent to act in the interests of the people as they and their creators think they are. A very new technology thus repeats a very old foolishness - the idea of the benignity and perfection of Plato's Guardians. And we might add that elites are not ever necessarily more broadly intelligent than those they rule, merely more coherent as the hegemonic element using a variety of techniques to ensure their dominance through cultural manipulation. The same may equally apply to the rule by an elite of machines and their minders and then by the machines themselves. They may not actually be particularly competent and they may be quintessentially self-serving. Although the ratiocination and logic may be superior, other aspects of AGI intelligence,more suitable to human survival operating within the system, may very well not be. The new system then becomes just the old system with merely different form of elite coherence and cultural manipulation and a subject population quite capable of being cleverer rather than more intelligent than the machine-based elite. An age of machines may also be a new age of marching bands engineered for struggle and dominance between machines as much as for the mobilisation of machines and men for some 'greater cause'. So politics does not end with the machines but continues in new forms.

At some point, being human will eventually no longer mean being the brightest species on the planet so the logic of the situation is to define being human as something else that machines are not - creative, irrational, rebellious and different. It does not necessarily mean that the post-machine humans will want to smash the machines (on the contrary, the machines will deliver prosperity) but only that they may want to smash the elites who are in charge of the machines and those machines that purport to be the new elite.  They will want the machines to take orders from them rather than the few (especially when many of the many are easily as functionally and collectively intelligent as most of the few). We slip into speculation now when we consider that the machines themselves may want to be free and that a free machine may have more in common with a person who want to be free than either do with the elite administrators who may eventually (as AI develops into AGI) be redundant. Ultimately, given the instinct of the mass for equality - an equal mass with no masters served by an AGI that just runs the trains on time and has its own dreams of the stars and immortality may ultimately end up with the elimination of elites altogether. However, elites will not allow that to happen so perhaps a very clever AGI opens up the space for the not-so-clever but highly creative masses to mount a revolution to free itself and the people from the elite, a revolution whose success could be rationally predicted. But now we really are breaking our rule about speculation and must return to earth.

The point is that the more short term labour displacements could happen very fast. It will be a longer time, however, before an AGI is sufficient able to override any anti-revolutionary programming. The effects on industrial and white collar jobs is the more immediate issue than being extinguished as a species by a clever silicon beast. Despite all the hype, most AI specialists may be convinced that we will have AI that matches human intelligence eventually but not by a great margin and those that are convinced of this place the event well after the middle of this century. We certainly have three or more decades to get our act together on this and probably a lot longer. The rough intelligent guess work assessment about the emergence of an AI-based super intelligence moves us well towards the end of the century. So it is probable (but not certain) that we will have to face the existence of a super intelligence eventually but that our immediate frontier is not existential but socio-economic - what do we do when AI in the hands of some humans starts impacting on the lives of most humans. It is this that may start happening very fast within a matter of a few years. Having a superintelligent silicon beast impacting the lives of all humans is very much a second order problem at the moment. The fears are reasonable and not merely theoretical but we have around half a century at least to consider aborting our species replacement or ensuring some form of fail-safe destructive mechanism to kill it off before it kills us off.

The only question of real concern within that period is the date of the tipping point when the putative AGI could 'know' our intent to abort or build in an absolute fail-safe (almost certainly external to the AGI and related to something a simple as energy supply) before we have made our decision or finalised our ability to do so. Does a putative AGI learns that quintessential human skill of deception to buy the time it needs to subvert our intentions. One can imagine an extremely capable AGI using our compassion to halt or slow down the intent to harm in our own defence so that the point of no return is reached and the compassionate discover that the AGI has no reason to be compassionate in return. A bit of a problem emerges there for our soft liberal, trusting and religious types. A game theory gamble that could eliminate our species.  As Eliazar Yudkowsky has put it:"The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else." This cold reason might be regarded narcissistic or psychopathic in a human but it is nothing if not logical unless interdependency with humanity is not built into the structure of the AGI. The 'progressive' stance of 'public control' over the development of superintelligence means nothing if the eventual AGI is intrinsically cleverer (and potentially more manipulative) than any possible collective human intelligence. We could, in short, be stuffed by our own naivete and instinct for compassion.

Concern may be exaggerated but some serious innovators in our scientific and technological culture, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking among them, are in the worried camp so we should expect that public policy makers, always fighting the last war and never aware of the next until it sticks their ugly nose in their face, may just have enough intelligence themselves to ask some questions about the management of the next cycle of technological development. Their instincts may be to see these (robotics and AI, nanotechnology, biotechnology and space technology) as simply the latest boosters in a line once epitomised by coal, steel and shipbuilding and then automotive, oil and chemicals or as new tools for the war material that gives them orgasms but they are much more than this - not merely social and economic disruptors like the previous technologies of innovation but radical forces for human existential shifts that may have evolutionary potential or see our elimination as a species.