Tools for Thought

Humanity 2050 was dedicated to helping society find better ways of addressing the challenges of the Anthropocene. The problems that society faces are so complex that the cognitive capacity of the human mind is easily overwhelmed in the search for solutions—when considering all the elements of potential plans and potential outcomes in a physical world, and when trying to minimize the risk that there will be unforeseen, unintended consequences.

Society needs new methods of thought to develop effective plans for a livable human future, and we are working on a number of novel approaches.  We expect (as in ongoing work that will be described on that new methods—based on recent advances in AI—will help speed our progress, but our work at Humanity 2050 developed a few key strategies to help. These are briefly described in the notes below.

Special Focus Teams

As described in our first white paper, “‘Special Focus Teams’ to Help Solve the Problems of the Anthropocene,” special focus teams are small teams dedicated to developing a plan (or set of plans) to address a single, specific challenge of the Anthropocene. (We took climate engineering as our first test case.) These teams differ from other efforts in the way they are allowed the space and time for careful “multi-cycle thought”—working for months or years to analyze the problem, considering risks and alternatives, and proposing an action plan that is realistic yet simple enough to be understood, debated, and modified (as necessary) by citizens and policymakers.

Algorithm for Thought

Such special focus teams need time and freedom from distraction, but they also need ways to sort and analyze and understand a massive amount of “pan-disciplinary” information as they try to consider the scientific, technical, social, political, economic, legal, and moral implications of any given strategy. Our second white paper, “An Algorithm for Thought to Help Solve Problems of the Anthropocene,” outlined a new algorithm for thought that will allow teams—at intermediate stages in the planning process—to break the overall problem into a series of thousands of smaller, more manageable subproblems, thus avoiding cognitive overload. This new algorithm for thought should help humans survive in a world where complexity otherwise threatens to overwhelm the capacity of the human mind.

When these two strategies are combined—that is, when special focus teams employ this algorithm—we believe that fresh progress can be made on the most complex challenges of our time. With these strategies, we offer ways to dramatically improve the planning process, allowing more careful thought, and thus facilitating more effective action and improving the prospects for a flourishing human future.