Humanity has two existential threats: our disregard for the environment and our disregard for eath other

Hello Edgeryders community! I am so glad to have found you. I was sent a link to your call to action on the Fellowship application on a day or so ago so I apologise firstly for the late submission and secondly for the long post. Although it’s late I still feel it’s important to post this and become a member of your community. I also hope that any conversations continue and won’t stop on the deadline today though if they do I look forward to discovering more about the community and I’m looking forward to engaging in other conversations too.

Innovation and technology progression usually means bigger is better but bigger also comes with greater energy demands So how are we as humans expected to survive in a world already suffering from the demands on its finite resources?

The impact to the planet is also causing a greater intolerance to our neighbours. We find ourselves amidst increasing far-right views driven by fear of an uncertain future that is dependent on our precious dwindling resources.

In my opinion the two real threats to humanity are our disregard for the environment and our disregard for each other. Most individuals wouldn’t argue this yet help isn’t coming from the places that could make the most difference.

For example, The UK Government want the shiny new technologies - they think 5G, AI and blockchain will secure an economy by attracting global industry to UK shores but it’s a misconception that this will solve any problems, all it does is create more. They’re sold the ideas from capitalist machinery that operates without any regards for humanity, and they don’t have the means or will to challenge what they are being sold. They don’t want to think differently, they want to be told how to think.

The world is being nurtured on capitalist values; scaling vertically, making things bigger can only result in a survival of the fittest or a type of natural selection where those creating these changes consider themselves to be the fittest. The help isn’t coming from those who could help the most and it won’t. It’s up to us.

We need to do more with less and we need to innovate to do this. We need to challenge the general material and consumer driven values and demonstrate that the likes of health, community and purpose have more meaning and reward.

Because I have worked at the level of very overarching questions I need to be careful not to just reframe the question of how we make a more human-centric internet. If I try to be more specific I would frame this as:

What technology innovations (infrastructure/hardware/software) could be invested in to ensure that we reduce the demands on natural resources to sustainable levels whilst we enable humanity to thrive and live harmoniously alongside each other? And how do we make whatever solution so attractive that it is readily adopted by society at scale?

Maybe this question is too broad - a rather random set of considerations include: cheap to build low-powered devices and networks, technology that lasts many years rather than just a few, tech investment decisions based on human-centric standards, personal data pods and distributed applications, cooperatives, skills trades, collective action and intelligence, altering value systems, building sustainable local communities.

I propose to work with a team to explore this question in detail or to join in with a team who are already exploring elements of this. The work may be to bring together disparate work into a consolidated package and to design an attractive and scalable product that could be readily adopted by society and easily incorporated into peoples lives.

For me the fellowship would integrate me into a community that appears to be directly addressing the concerns I’ve been trying to address in the wrong places. The financial element would allow me to dedicate time to the questions that this campaign has raised. I’m on a sabbatical from the UK Government, I feel like a student at the moment - the intention is to find the communities, movements and causes that can I fully get behind and collaborate with on this type of work.


Hello @tomab, nice to meet you. You seem to be thinking at a high level, that of value theory:

Last year, I took great intellectual pleasure in Mariana Mazzucato’s The Value of Everything. Through an historical account of value theory and how we do national accounting, she drives home one point: value is a societal choice, and a very political one. At different points in time, the same activity was considered to produce value or not, depending on the ideology of the time.

Value theory can get fairly metaphysical, and one is reminded of medieval scholars debating on how many angels can dance on a pin. With a major difference: value theory drives the world. Once we have decided something has value, then we throw the full weight of human resources and ingenuity to borrow, beg, steal or even produce it.

We might hold heterodox value theories, and many here do. Me, I am very interested in how such theories are encoded into technological artifacts. What are your views here? You say you want to build “an attractive and scalable product that could be readily adopted by society and easily incorporated into peoples lives”. This also what normal-capitalist tech companies want. I imagine your product will be different, and I mean technically different, as it embodies a different world view. But in what way?

Hi @alberto thanks for replying to me. I will take a look at the book, it sounds interesting and might help me understand these points a bit more.

A question I’d have whilst reading it is how do “ideologies of the time” get set? I’m going to assume predominantly through advertising, media and political events in current times - which are all generally encoded with capitalist values - making people want certain things and then things being designed to meet what people want. That feels cyclic and I wonder if the book suggests how to disrupt it?

I once got into an debate with a doctor at Microsoft (Ireland) who during it warned me I was “thinking pseudo-philosophical thoughts” about the value to the world of our work there and how we were conducting business with others. I left there pretty quickly after that but I’ve been considering this question now for over 20 years - what value to the world does my work-effort/life contribute towards? I’m avoiding the depths or heights of the meta and keeping it as practical as possible and have worked for those organisations (BBC, UK Civil Service) where I assumed I’d find aligned values. Although good work has been done, I’m still searching.

What I haven’t done much of is think about other people’s value theories and how they are embodied within the technology. I like your question:

I have thought about your question all morning now and talked myself around quite a few twists and turns and sometimes they’ve put a different meaning to your question… An overly simple answer is that I think it has to be by design and through compromise. I go back to my view of it also being cyclic and a need to break that cycle somehow. A chicken and egg situation - analogous to capitalism and people. Did the people want the consumer goods or was it the consumer goods that made the people want them?

I’ve a photo here I took at a service station a couple of years ago:

This was a busy weekend in summer along a major motorway in the UK. What struck me here was the first fast food place, tossed, had menu was very different to that which is expected of the motorway fast food chain. Personally I dread the service station and only really pop in for the toilets but this place actually had food I would eat. Sure there was still a bit of plastic and convenience but generally the food options were healthy and appetising (to me) and had been ethically sourced.

The reason I took the photo is probably obvious to most of us here. Why was this more healthy and more ethical fast food place not more popular? It looked funky, pink is hard to miss, it was the first and most prominent food place as you entered the building, it had a big sign and the food on display looked good. Yet it was empty, and I was the only customer there for a good while.

The neighbouring options were packed. The burgers and chicken places had queues that backed up quite some way. I really did find this difficult to understand - my own value system programmed to avoid those places - So I posted the photo on social media asking others what they made of it.

The main answer I received: It’s what the people want.

But I’m not so sure. I’m under the impression it’s more like: it’s what the people are told they want.

They probably wanted something: tasty, quick and cheap to satisfy their hunger and they could have got that from the first place just as much as anywhere else. So what else was it that the people wanted?

Did they really want: the grease dripping down their chins clogging up their arteries, eating animals that have been intensively reared in inhumane conditions, paying companies that encroach on natural habitats and cultures, who avoid tax and litter the countryside and seas with their rubbish?

I’m sure if they were asked directly they’d say no.

So I just don’t understand the influences and value theories at play here but feel it must be due to the people being misguided/told/sold an idea in some way…

Another example: If somebody had said just a few years ago:

I’m going to bug people’s houses with listening devices for my own commercial (and political) gain and what’s more they’re going to PAY me to do it! haha!

We would have laughed. But apparently the people want to ask what the weather is, to be told a joke, to have a voice from thin air in their house respond to their questions and consumer needs. The implications which when logically argued surely outweigh the benefits so what value theories are at play here and how are they formed - within the technology/product and/or within the people.

I would really be keen to explore this more - can you tell me more about your specific interest in encoding value theories into technological artefacts?

What I am suggesting here is that we need to tap into this psychology in some way. We need to be able to use the capitalist approach of telling people what they want but based on our more heterodox value systems that benefit humanity. I wrote about this here where I use successful quaker businesses such as the UK chocolate industry as examples of how it might be done.

This is where I come to what I consider the 2 biggest threats to humanity. 1) the environment, 2) our intolerance for each other. And the question - what technologies can help here? I think it’s about 1) downsizing so we can do more with less for longer and 2) altering value systems by moving people away from valuing personal instant gratification and competition with our neighbours to more rooted longer-term purpose and meaning through being valued and needed by our neighbours for our complimenting skills.

Maybe this is along the lines of eco-villages and the technologies that can enhance and support those principles - maybe it is to start to identify opportunities to weave those kind of principles into society as it currently stands rather than create a new eco-village environments from scratch.

I could start listing out things but I’d rather find a group to work on this with in a structured way.

Maybe, if this chimes with your own interests Alberto we could work on it together in some way? You’re the only one to respond to my post so thank you - I wonder in light of this conversation if others would be interested to join in on this thinking too?

Also, if you or anyone knows of other projects or work that is looking at this maybe you could point me to it and I would be very happy to join in there too.

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Partially. The first documented such change goes from physiocratic thinking in the late 17th century (only agriculture creates value) to The wealth of nations in 1780 (manufacturing creates value, too). No advertising, primitive media, VERY primitive capitalism. Political events, yes. I imagine they shaped ideology somehow.

Relatively soon, I will be posting about the Planetmakers Platform which is a project attempting to address both the threats you (and I and many others) are concerned about.

Maybe I need to be more specific here. I was thinking of fairly concrete technical choices. A good example is how the Scuttlebutt community deprioritized support for multiple device accounts. Why? Because it’s a first world problem. “First world techies” with multiple devices are not the demographics SSB is meant to serve. The whole story, as I understand it, is here. The take home point is:

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The name of your project/platform is very intriguing. If I were to guess and apply some of my own interests I imagine it’s a platform for the maker movement to start to think about some of the technologies (sensor/IoT/automation etc) we would need within our environment (the planet) to sustain life. I’m probably off the mark here but it’s something I’m also very interested in for the future and I’mI created a scheme of work for students to do some of that type of thinking.

I’d be interested to hear more about Planetmaker Platform (chances are it’s something totally different)

Also @evangineer I’d be really interested in chatting to you about reach and diversity - I noticed you chatting about this elsewhere, one thing I’d like to ensure with Adventure Labs is that it reaches the more hard to reach and underserved young adults in our society. Maybe we could chat about that (maybe on a different thread or channel).

I just wanted to say @alberto that I am responding it’s just taking a bit of time to write what I’m thinking and I’m snatching moments to do so … hopefully I can post reply in a day or two.

Wow, @tomab, that’s very considerate of you. No worries, Take your time!