In a forward-looking exercise for the Maddy Keynote innovation summit, our CEO, Joséphine Goube, returns from her decades-long exile on Mars to share her journey. Prepare for the future…

Those of you who’ve been taking your Longevite™ might remember 2015, before all this hit the fan. Remember how optimistic we were about technology? Nobody had even heard of Cambridge Analytica, Trump was still just a meme. Good times.

Back then, I was attending hackathons and meetups in London almost nightly. That’s where I got to meet Mike Butcher, way before he was Chairman of the Moon. At that point he edited a magazine called TechCrunch and, through him, I joined Techfugees.

By the time we’d hit our stride as an organisation, the 2019 European elections had rolled around. Among the scattering of far-right and Yellow Vest candidates making gains, that year marked a shift in fortunes for the Green movement. Something changed, people awoke to the idea that climate change wasn’t a worry for the future, it was happening before their eyes.

That was huge for us, funding poured in from enthusiastic tech companies and the EU. 2020 to 2029 were the golden years of Techfugees, we became a thousands-strong, refugee-led community, helping one another overcome mounting challenges facing the planet.

And yet, despite growing interest from private donors, nothing was changing in our politics. There was still this reticence to help refugees for fear of angering the far right, things were improving, but not fast enough.

That’s when the Danube Crisis hit.

Stemming the flood

As the history files show, more than 2,000km of river burst its banks, displacing over four million people across Serbia and Hungary, along with what was then Romania and Bulgaria.

Once more, stories swept the media of families fleeing devastated homes, but this time the photos were of European families, those who fell behind were European children.

The Danube changed everything. An annual €1 billion spent policing borders and deporting refugees was instead spent helping resettle displaced Europeans. Finally, governments rose to their responsibilities, the EUDC appointed – and funded – Techfugees as a partner to help manage migration flow using the same technologies we’d used in places like Syria and Angola.

With hindsight, it’s easy to say we should have predicted what was going to happen next. In 2041, while we were opening the UN General Assembly, a Beijing based competitor (who we can’t name here for legal reasons, but you’ve heard of them) were busy developing their own technology with its own set of ethics.

It’s one of those ironies of history that my speech at the Assembly focused on inclusion, on universal human dignity, and on our absolute refusal to adapt our approach to triage and select which of these refugees qualified for resettlement and which did not… Because that’s exactly what the competition was doing.

Outsourced ethics

Check the patent records and you’ll see they copied everything we were doing, except our ethical stance. Algorithms like the famous Desirable Citizen Matrix (DCM) recorded age, sex, medical history, credit score, the works, and passed it straight on to governments.

Was it controversial? Absolutely. But were they cheaper than us? Also absolutely, so guess who won the tug-of-war.

This was 2049, and as the government contracts went east, one by one, I began to lose faith. So I got on a holocall with Mike and he, as he tends to, gave me some straight-talking advice.

Mike told me to stop being the CEO, to stop thinking I could save everyone myself, and go back to the community. Hackathons got us this far, they can still work for us. That’s what kicked off the Ellis Project.

3,000 Techfugees volunteers, over nine long months, produced the trojan virus which successfully wiped out the DCM, along with all the data the company was holding on generations of refugees. Let history judge whether it was right or wrong; if you ask me, all we did was make everyone equal again.

Of course, our competitor didn’t see it that way. Neither did some of the governments using their technology. So, I figured that maybe Mars was nice at that time of year. The media called it my ‘exile.’ I always just called it what it was: I’d become a refugee myself.

Would you believe that even in 2051 there was next to nothing in place to welcome new arrivals on Mars? No support, no help accessing services, nothing. So, what do you think we did? That’s right, we started MarsFugees, laying the groundwork for a new narrative surrounding interplanetary migration.

Lessons from the future

And that’s the story of what I’ve been up to for the last 33 years. You can follow the success of MarsFugees across solar media, but now that I’m back here on Earth, maybe it’s time to share some thoughts.

First and foremost, it’s time to accept that migration flows are a fact of life. From the earliest Europeans migrating out of Africa to the rising Martian Union, human history is a story of immigration. No wall can stop this, any more than it can stop a tsunami.

Secondly, the technology community needs to accept responsibility for what it creates and how it can be applied. No ethical machine is coming to invent the rules for us, we need to have the conversation now.

Finally, seeing the refugee situation dip in and out of the news can be bittersweet. Nobody wants to be bombarded with alarming messages 24/7, but a changing climate means there’s a chance any of us could become refugees tomorrow. News cycles come and go, but vigilance and compassion must be forever.

The technology we create is a reflection of us; as we reach for the stars, we begin to dream of what our civilization might be in the centuries to come. We can choose to dream of control, of borders and walls, or we can dream bigger.

Let’s dream a dream of humanity, together 🌍

This post was produced by the team at Sookio.