Starting with some books about our future:
Jared Diamond's "Collapse",
Lester R. Brown's "Plan B 2.0", and
Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near",
let's consider where we are going.
Diamond and Brown point to the many cases of
collapsing societies, both in history and the present, and the few
instances of societies that corrected course in time to recover,
survive, and flourish. The failures in history are well known -
Easter Island, the Mayan classic period, the desertification of
Mediterranean and Mesopotamian societies, the Greenland Viking
collapse. Iceland is one of the more successful recoveries from near
Kurzweil points to the exponential advance of
science and technology. He asserts that the extent of technical
progress of the twentieth century will be matched again by 2014 and
then again by 2021. At that rate of acceleration the year 2028 will
see extraordinary events beyond which no one can predict, a sort of
technical/cultural event horizon, thus the term "Singularity". He
never mentions the factors likely to derail that curve, of which the
two most prominent are ecosystem collapses and the cultural
rejection of scientific pursuits by a neo-fundamentalist wave.
It is clear that we need better information on the
likely futures we are creating. Recently, it became clear that the
acceleration of history, if we may call it that, is not some event
of the 2020s. It is perceptible now.
In February of 2011, when the Tunisians had already
expelled their leader, and Tahrir Square in Cairo was filled with a
million people chanting for the departure of Mubarak, someone
tweeted, "If someone were to predict today what the world would
look like in five years, we he be even remotely credible?" The
obvious answer today is no. In 1980, the answer would have been
different. We conclude, from this and other evidence, that the
future is already getting harder to see. The shadow of the
Singularity is upon us.
The progress of technology is driving history today.
Cairo was an example. What do you get when you mix a despot, 80%
unemployment, educated youth, web enabled cell phones, and social
media? You get revolution. That was predictable, but few predicted
How will we stay ahead of this accelerating curve?
We propose two ways.
1) Use the technology to help see what's coming. The
speed of technical progress will then drive our perceptive
capabilities at the same curve as history. This will involve
modeling the major drivers of cultural economic and ecological
change and projecting the futures to choose from. Our FGIS proposal
implements some of this.
2) Use crowd sourcing to predict and understand the
events ahead. Popular consciousness also grows with the times, and
when tapped properly can help us keep up. See James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom
of Crowds" . More specifically, "prediction
markets" can help. Just enlisting/enabling citizens who are
intersted in the problem will do a lot.
The state of the world has been taking 'hits' at an
increasing rate. Look at this list of events:
Many modern societies are charging toward ruin
today: much of Sub-Saharan Africa, North West China, the American
West, Central Russia, North Korea, Haiti, Myanmar (Burma), Yemen,
Somalia, Madagascar, ... On the other hand, some societies could
still turn around. The U.S., Russia, and China* could do so. Why don't they?
- Cuban missile crisis 1962
- JFK,RFK,MLK Assassinations 1963, 1968, 1968
- OPEC oil crisis 1973
- Khmer Rouge 1975-79
- Chernobyl 1986
- Berlin wall falls 1989
- Soviet collapse 1991
- Web appears, Mosaic browser 1993
- Rwandan genocide 1994
- Dot-com bubble of 2000
- WTC attack 2001
- Hurricane Katrina 2005
- Real estate bubble 2008
- Great Sichuan quake 2008
- Iceland ash cloud of Eyjafjallajökull 2010
- Russian heat wave and forest fires 2010
- Pakistan flood 2010
- Haiti quake 2010
- BP oil spill 2010
- Chilean quake 2010
- Australia flood 2010-11
- Tunisian revolution 2010
- Egyptian Revolution 2011
- New Zealand quake 2011
- Sendai quake-tsunami => Fukushima 2011
These societies do not seem to see the consequences
of their choices. If these consequences were better understood,
would people choose better options? If so, how could our future
probabilities be better illustrated?
Let's say our
mission is to make the future consequences of present actions more
visible and comprehensible, so we can act more rationally with
respect to them.
The medium proposed here is a Future-oriented
Geographic Information System (FGIS) that can display future
scenarios based on present inputs. It would be an overlay on a
Google-Earth-type interface to satellite imagery. It would
dynamically respond to user-controlled inputs, and it should display
a sequence of data for 100 to 300 years ahead. It would also be
useful to show the same data for 100 to 300 years past. A
time-resolution of five years would be sufficient for the near
century, so 20 steps ahead and 20 steps back would get us a full 200
year span bracketing the present.
Let's call this a "Dashboard for Spaceship
We see a need for this tool to get us to the year
2200. At this time we are not concerned with more distant
projections. The next 200 years will be critical for the human