Tue 30 Oct 2018 7:33PM

A Response to Nature 2.0

MS Michael Shea Public Seen by 181

Hi All,

Here is an opinion piece that I have written in response to the Nature 2.0 presentation given at the web3summit last week. My intent is to publish this tomorrow (Wednesday) or Thursday, but if you have the time to read and give response it would be appreciated.

Here is the link to the document: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iGgWBmzgy-8samafZBeBq48i7CqpEtZWUAx447YEgN0/edit?usp=sharing

Thanks for taking the time to review it!


Josh Fairhead Tue 30 Oct 2018 8:18PM

Hola, I previously left ruffeled notes in the document; I've pointed out some assumptions but regardless there are legitimate concerns worth discussing.

The particular points that stand out to me are:
1) As we displace "jobs" through AI, and reasons to have them through UBI displacement of "survival drivers" - how will people create purpose and meaning for themselves?
2) How can this be angled towards constructive rather than destructive patterns?
3) How do we ensure we don't do something stupid again - like over look security (story of the internet...)?


James Fairhead Tue 30 Oct 2018 8:59PM

Hi Michael

Thanks for inviting my response to your interesting and intelligent thoughts on Nature 2.0 (I will get round to having a look at this soon enough). From what you report about this thesis, you make a rather important qualification to it.

A couple of comments that may or not be helpful, but are intendedly so:

i) I always think it’s a bit of a wasted communication opportunity not to be a bit more specific when labelling ones report, or its sections or sub-sections. How you do this is of course up to you. Though for me, doing my best to understand and appreciate classical philosophical possibilities that we moderns are so effectively trained to be blind to, I might think of re-phrasing your title to try to capture and emphasise your two main points in a particular way, reflecting this neglected classical inheritance, that also chimes with just about every other conceivable “Axial Age” philosophy from all round this earthly realm.

ii) As I see it, the two key conceptual points you make very well are first, that techies should be less gung-ho and fantasy-full and more realistic and prudent (prudence is of course a good classical word, once upon a time enshrined as you may know in all professional practice, notably accounting and finance.) And second that we all, not just technological techies, are in need of being educated, not just trained, so that we can lead a ‘good life’ whereby we achieve our full humanity and join with others who are likewise encouraged and enabled to achieve theirs.

Unfortunately, the modern ideal of education has long been so corrupted, that to achieve anything more civilisationally-constructive might seem like an ambitious aim. But on the other hand, given the times that we are in (or about to be in) and given the undoubted goodwill and assistance of many more-enlightened technophiles (especially our blockchain brothers and sisters?) you never know, maybe this is just the time to institute some fairly profound educational offerings on a more widespread scale than the current encouraging glimmerings.

So maybe you could build up your title somewhat? From “A Response to Nature 2.0”? to something like “A more educated and prudential vision for Nature 2.0” ?

Just a thought.

If needs be I would be happy to chat. I am no classical scholar, far from it, but I do my best to learn from people who might be considered so. Not that being a classical scholar necessarily means you understand (or care about) classical philosophy. Or about philosophy in the old sense as a way of exploring the mysteries of life and death. To give just one example, Plato is often described as having an “ideology”. And the very term prudence (or phronesis) is often nowadays translated as “practical wisdom” by all kinds of celebrated modern philosophers, who then tend (as it seems to me) to turn it into a largely pragmatic, almost engineering matter, that thereby sits more comfortably with our modern ‘positivistic’ and ‘hyper-rationalist’ epistemology and worldview. This, of course, has a history of only two hundred and fifty years against the twenty thousand or more previous years, across multiple civilisations, that we might just occasionally be learning from. If we were educated a little (as I also was not) rather than just trained.

Perhaps we will meet and chew the cud one day? As it happens, I am in London briefly from this Friday till Monday, and hope to meet up with Josh my son. And I will be back in early December.

All best wishes



Michael Shea Wed 31 Oct 2018 1:11PM

Hi James,
Thank you for your thoughts and insights! I did briefly consider sub-headings, but discarded it primarily due to the length of the piece. At ~900 words sub-headings would break the flow of the article.

As an aside, I am putting myself through a small experiment in limiting any piece I write for posting to between 750 - 1000 words. Forcing me to stay on point, and focus the arguments being presented.

I am thinking on what is the right way to title this piece. Your points are valid, but also trying to frame it with a bit of ‘edge’ to spark interest for readership. That said, my intent is to spark discussion not a 'put down' to what has been proposed. One of the most refreshing elements of the Ethereum community is the deliberate efforts to maintain engagement and build a collaborative community. This comes right from the core team, they certainly appear to be going out of their way to maintain open communication. One of my keen area’s of interest is around cross-generational work teams, leveraging the strengths of experience and the energy/excitement of youth (poor word) to bring far more impactful products to market and this community seems to welcome the interaction.

Many years ago I read an interesting book call Education’s End by a former head of the Yale Law School. He had some very interesting insights around the post secondary education system in the US, many of which were new to me. One that has always stuck with me, was that since the abandonment of the ’Natural Philosopher’ approach in the Anti-Bellum period to a more German specialist approach, that the PhD mental frame in many ways is approaching that of an assembly line worker. They must become so specialized in order to attain their degree, that they have very little exposure to all the other factors impacting their environments.

It looks like our trips to London will cross but not meet. Maybe next time, otherwise, I’m certainly open to the ‘virtual coffee’ if you are up for one.


Michael S.


James Fairhead Wed 31 Oct 2018 2:06PM

Hi Micheál

Good thoughts. I take your point that the title I was playing with could have been taken as a cheeky dig, as well as a pointer to the honest and constructive point you aim to make in the article. But of course you can easily re-frame if it seems worthwhile to do so.

And I am delighted that the community you are engaging with are Ethereum enthusiasts of an open-disposition. I did find this very refreshing about similar folk at the Pillar Unconference. I had perhaps mistakenly thought that the Web Summit was still as resolutely progressivist as it has apparently been in the past (eg the last time it was in Dublin) where I am told that the only voice advocating a degree of prudentia was met with stony silence…

So good good indeed. As the auld Fred Astaire song goes: “things are looking up…”

And thanks indeed for the education reference—this is really helpful. Keep ‘em coming. Not least because I am aiming to put together the beginnings of a ‘genealogy’ of educational reform in the US and Europe from around the 1850s. And this will be a really helpful complement. Thank you. Re-balancing our philosophy of education could indeed doubtless do with a bit more cop-on about the history of what has been. My own interest in the area was much stimulated by a chance conversation at the Skibbereen Arts Festival where I was told about the massively enthusiastic and intelligent researches of an American secondary school teacher, a two-time New York “Teacher of the Year” who resigned his post publicly on the op-ed pages of the NY Times, where he declared that he could no longer participate in a system that was designed to render passive and incompetent great swathes of our naturally-intelligent youth. His name is Gatto. If ever you wish I can send you a pdf or two of his historical review. Quite fascinating, even though it is the kind of enthusiastic work that lacks references and is prone just occasionally to tendentious (if well-meant) interpretation. So I use it as an indicator, rather than an entirely-trusted source, and double-check his manifold references, while still giving him great credit. A popular work, it seems, but unlikely to be in most university libraries, which perhaps tells us more about the narrowness of academic educational agendas rather than the value of his opus.

As for virtual coffee, that’s also a nice idea, thanks. Maybe if and when I can pin down Josh. Meanwhile let’s keep in touch if any thoughts strike us. Not sure what I am replying to in the way of email address—is a whole Loomio community able to read this?—but you have my private email which is fine. Woof woof. My research interests are probably rather hard to gather even from my academic CV, and my available papers rather few, but I am lucky enough to be part of a fabulously-interesting research group who put up with me, even encouraging me to strike out soon and go public… You never know, though I think your own publishing strategy is rather more sensible…

All best and thanks again for the reference…



Josh Fairhead Tue 30 Oct 2018 9:25PM

Hmmm, given messages from both of you about London dates it sounds possible to do Friday. I'm also up for that, and if it happens would welcome anyone else here to join too if it can be coordinated - potentially via a time poll tool (on the right) and in a pub? ;)


Michael Shea Wed 31 Oct 2018 9:38AM

I’m not in London until next week. I will be there Wed - Friday, with a 5pm flight from Gatwick.
If your in London on the 9th it would be great to meet!

Michael S.