The APPG for Future Generations team. L to R: Beth Barnes, Natalie Jones, Lord Martin Rees, Tildy Stokes, Simon Beard, Julius Weitzdörfer, Mark O'Brien
The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) has supported the formation of a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Future Generations in the UK Parliament, and will provide the Secretariat for this group in the coming years.
This will allow us to directly challenge political short-termism and work towards more productive discussions about future generations, and hence existential risk. It builds on existing engagement activities, such as our meetings with civil servants and our recent submissions to the Parliamentary Select Committees on Science and Technology and Artificial Intelligence.
The meeting saw the election of the group’s first officers, with Daniel Zeichner MP being elected as its inaugural Chair, Bambos Charalambous MP as Vice Chair, and Cheryl Gillan MP and Lord Martin Rees as Officers. Potential future activity for the group is planned to include both hosting public events and convening parliamentary debates on issues of particular importance to the interests of future generations, such as environmental change and technological development. The APPG will hold its first event towards the end of 2017. The group aims to work collaboratively with other APPGs on issues of common concern.
This group came out of a research project undertaken by Natalie Jones, Mark O’Brien and Thomas Ryan from the Cambridge Future of Sentience Society, whose creation CSER supported in 2016, into different models for representing the interests of future generations around the world. The model of an APPG was chosen as appropriate for the UK context as it allows this initiative to both retain direct access to the political decision making process whilst retaining its independence from the UK government. As far as we are aware this will be the first time that such a group has been founded by parliamentarians, rather than by governments or civil society.
Speaking at the group’s inaugural general meeting, CSER co-founder Lord Martin Rees reminded those present that most children born now will be alive in the 22nd century, and their interests, together with those of other people who will live in those times, should not be ignored. However, he pointed out that whilst our horizons are getting bigger and bigger, political decision making seems to be getting more and more short term - even in medieval times it seems governments were better at planning for the long term than they are today. Furthermore, whilst many past generations looked to the future with optimism, he argued, we are increasingly having to take a far more pessimistic view about the prospects we are creating for future generations.
Following Lord Rees’ speech CSER Research Associates Simon Beard and Julius Weitzdorfer spoke about their research and how this might interact with the APPG. Dr Beard, who works on evaluating extreme technological risks, talked about the difficulties in finding ways to regulate emerging technologies, such as AI, whose true potential may not be known for many years, but whose development we are currently in a strong position to influence. There is currently a productive debate about how to ensure that such technologies are developed to be maximally beneficial and minimally risky going on amongst developers, but much more could be done to help regulators and other policy makers learn from this discussion so that they can make the right decisions for future generations. Dr Weitzdörfer, who works on responsible research and innovation, spoke of three challenges that we face when considering future generations:, the tragedies of the commons, the horizon and the uncommon. He described how CSER is working to solve these problems across domains such as environmental regulation, horizon scanning and disaster planning and highlighted the need for politicians to be forward thinking, scientific and visionary in their approach to solving global challenges.