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Introduction

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 death.

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 it.

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:

  • 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 Eyjafjallaj√∂kull 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
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?

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 Earth".

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 condition.


   
   
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