In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

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In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by SolarpunkFan » 2018-09-26 03:15pm

bigthink
In 1973, a computer program was developed at MIT to model global sustainability. Instead, it predicted that by 2040 our civilization would end. While many in history have made apocalyptic predictions that have so far failed to materialize, what the computer envisioned in the 1970s has by and large been coming true. Could the machine be right?


Why the program was created

The prediction, which recently re-appeared in Australian media, was made by a program dubbed World One. It was originally created by the computer pioneer Jay Forrester, who was commissioned by the Club of Rome to model how well the world could sustain its growth. The Club of Rome is an organization comprised of thinkers, former world heads of states, scientists, and UN bureaucrats with the mission to “promote understanding of the global challenges facing humanity and to propose solutions through scientific analysis, communication, and advocacy.”


The predictions

What World One showed was that by 2040 there would be a global collapse if the expansion of the population and industry was to continue at the current levels.

As reported by the Australian broadcaster ABC, the model’s calculations took into account trends in pollution levels, population growth, the amount of natural resources and the overall quality of life on Earth. The model’s predictions for the worsening quality of life and the dwindling natural resources have so far been unnervingly on target.

In fact, 2020 is the first milestone envisioned by World One. That’s when the quality of life is supposed to drop dramatically. The broadcaster presented this scenario that will lead to the demise of large numbers of people:

"At around 2020, the condition of the planet becomes highly critical. If we do nothing about it, the quality of life goes down to zero. Pollution becomes so seriously it will start to kill people, which in turn will cause the population to diminish, lower than it was in the 1900. At this stage, around 2040 to 2050, civilised life as we know it on this planet will cease to exist."

Alexander King, the then-leader of the Club of Rome, evaluated the program’s results to also mean that nation-states will lose their sovereignty, forecasting a New World Order with corporations managing everything.

“Sovereignty of nations is no longer absolute,” King told ABC. “There is a gradual diminishing of sovereignty, little bit by little bit. Even in the big nations, this will happen."


How did the program work?

World One, the computer program, looked at the world as one system. The report called it “an electronic guided tour of our behavior since 1900 and where that behavior will lead us.” The program produced graphs that showed what would happen to the planet decades into the future. It plotted statistics and forecasts for such variables as population, quality of life, the supply of natural resources, pollution, and more. Following the trend lines, one could see where the crises might take place.
Can we stave off disaster?

As one measure to prevent catastrophe, the Club of Rome predicted some nations like the U.S. would have to cut back on their appetites for gobbling up the world’s resources. It hoped that in the future world, prestige would stem from “low consumption”—one fact that has so far not materialized. Currently, nine in ten people around the world breathe air that has high levels of pollution, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). The agency estimates that 7 million deaths each year can be attributed to pollution.

Here, Parag Khanna gets into the specifics of what the world may be like in the near future, if we don't change course:

OP: presents a video with no share link.

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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-09-26 03:24pm

Loss of national sovereignty in favor of a rule by a few wealthy elites is definitely happening, though not in the manner I expect most people think. The most dangerous oligarchs have not tried to form any sort of one-world government (which I actually think would be a good thing in some ways), or to get rid of government in favor of corporate rule- instead, they've learned that they can use ethno-nationalists as gullible pawns, playing a divide-and conquer strategy while controlling the nationalist movements from behind the scenes (see Putin and his Kremlin oligarch buddies as the prime example of this in action, or the Koch brothers in the United States).
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by MKSheppard » 2018-09-26 05:11pm

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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-09-26 06:37pm

MKSheppard wrote:
2018-09-26 05:11pm
Elon Musk laughs in SpaceX.
Elon Musk and other space businessmen have been getting a lot of flak from progressive leaders lately, who basically see them as callously planning an escape for the rich into space while the poor masses are left stuck on Earth.

Now, as a progressive and a space advocate, it pisses me off to no end when other progressives use space as an example of wasteful spending, or the butt of tired jokes, or attack space advocates. But they may have a point about some of these billionaires. We should use space research and development to improve conditions for everyone, not just provide an escape for the super-wealthy.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Zixinus » 2018-09-27 04:22pm

An escape to where? Mars? The moon? A space habitat not yet built? They have nowhere to go to in the entire solar system.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by The Romulan Republic » 2018-09-27 05:21pm

The end game for Musk I believe is a Martian colony. Opinions may vary on how realistic that goal is within the lifetime of anyone living, though I think its a worthy goal, for reasons unrelated to oligarchy.
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"Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow though."

Generals William T. Sherman and Ulysses S Grant, the Battle of Shiloh.


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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Crazedwraith » 2018-09-28 04:42am

SolarpunkFan wrote:
2018-09-27 09:06pm
Off topic, but it's interesting that so far no one has pointed out how much of a worrywart I am in this thread.
You're a worrywort.

As for the predictions, I'll guess we see if our standard of living drops to zero worldwide next year. I mean it might here because Brexit but worldwide. I'm sceptical.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Beowulf » 2018-09-28 08:18am

The Romulan Republic wrote:
2018-09-27 05:21pm
The end game for Musk I believe is a Martian colony. Opinions may vary on how realistic that goal is within the lifetime of anyone living, though I think its a worthy goal, for reasons unrelated to oligarchy.
Even if he retires to a Mars Colony, that colony will still be dependent on Earth for his lifetime, most likely.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-09-28 11:04pm

SolarpunkFan wrote:
2018-09-27 09:06pm
Off topic, but it's interesting that so far no one has pointed out how much of a worrywart I am in this thread.

Progress?
You're improving. I sent you a private message with some reading material that may help with your point of view.

Overall, we are making general progress with the world, and things are much better than they were a couple centuries ago, a century ago, a few decades ago, and even in the past twenty years, things have improved in quite a few ways in the areas of education, literacy, health, etc.

We have to be ready to fight forces that want to pull down civilization for their own ends, but on the whole, the human race is in the best place it has ever been in it's entire history.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Simon_Jester » 2018-09-29 04:29am

SolarpunkFan wrote:
2018-09-27 09:06pm
Off topic, but it's interesting that so far no one has pointed out how much of a worrywart I am in this thread.

Progress?
Partly yes. Also partly that we're used to it by now. As an increasingly accepted member of the community, you get a bit more tolerance for known behavioral tics like being consistently prone to pessimism or panic attacks. You're part of the ecosystem, instead of being an invasive species, so the behavior isn't grating the way it would have been.

...

More generally, let's note a few key trends that the Club of Rome may have failed to predict in 1973.

1) They probably didn't predict global warming accurately and maybe not at all. This is now what we clearly identify as our biggest coming problem related to ecology and sustainability. In 1973 it was barely on the radar. This is the one area where our long term prognosis as of today is probably going to be gloomier than theirs was 45 years ago.

2) They may well have underestimated the available stockpiles of key resources. I'm not so sure about this one, but given some of the iffier predictions the Club of Rome made about when we'd run out of things, I can't help but suspect they severely mis-estimated some things.

3) They were using fairly crude models with things like "resources" that could be lumped together easily. This was partly a limit of 1970s computing, but it means a lot of their core assumptions can be invalidated by new technology. This includes...
3a) The Green Revolution (then underway, greatly increasing the food yield of crops),
3b) Genetic engineering (further yield increases, or letting us grow the same number of calories at the same density without so much reliance on petrochemical fertilizers... there are a lot of potentialities here).
3c) Increasing sophistication of recycling, and of technologies intended to process what was then waste material into useful substances. This may further improve over time; nanotechnology is potentially a killer app in this area, though it may not prove significant for the foreseeable future.
3d) Renewable energy sources and high-density battery technology supplementing and ultimately replacing fossil fuels. At the moment this isn't quite economical, but as long as we hit the point at which it becomes economical before we hit the point where we no longer have the energy reserves to drive modern civilization, it still works out.

4) Many countries, including the ones whose ongoing development is spurring the largest rise in our resource consumption footprint (e.g. China) explicitly planning ahead for when the resources we are now consuming will no longer be available so easily. This is why China has made major investments in nuclear and solar power, and so forth.

Things may take a downturn in terms of, for example, per capita GDP in the richest nations, and that is going to suck if it happens, but we have reason to think that the things we need to preserve industrial civilization as such are in place or going to be in place, as long as we don't cause so much unremediated global warming that it destroys the biosphere across much of the planet.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Zaune » 2018-09-30 03:52am

SolarpunkFan wrote:
2018-09-27 09:06pm
Off topic, but it's interesting that so far no one has pointed out how much of a worrywart I am in this thread.

Progress?
Not especially, if you're self-aware enough to realise that the satisfaction of being proven right does not even remotely make up for everything else.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2018-09-30 03:59am

So the computer was probably somewhat accurate, but it was also rendered invalid within a few years of the program being run.

Seriously, in 1973 you still didn't need a catalytic converter in the US or Europe, and cars that got eight miles a gallon were commonplace. Pretty easy to see how that NEVER changing through 2020-2040 would cause all kinds of massive problems on it's own. But in 1975 the US mandated cats... The same goes for a bunch of other forms of pollution. Rampant in the early 1970s, the worst now at least pared back.

That CO2 and shit like plastic bags can be the main worry in the west now, and not literal smog blocking out the sky (thanks VW for costing us ground on this) or rivers catching on fire is a pretty big improvement on it's own.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by madd0ct0r » 2018-10-01 01:19am

I just finished Schmil's 2002 book - global catastrophes snd threats if you want a slightly more up to date set.

He flags global warming as troublesome but adaptable to in the short term. Sea rise of a few mm per annum, climate bands shifting a few miles a year. He recommends following the insurance industry's cost estimates, which at the time were $180 a year. He notes this is a crippling burden for the global poor, and that rising global inequality compounds this.
Its worth noting he is clear we do need to move to a no emissions scenario and need to reduce energy use by an order of magnitude.

He is much much more worried about our hijacking of the entire nitrogen cycle but does not give any clear dominoes
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by His Divine Shadow » 2018-10-01 04:40am

Sea Skimmer wrote:
2018-09-30 03:59am
That CO2 and shit like plastic bags can be the main worry in the west now, and not literal smog blocking out the sky (thanks VW for costing us ground on this) or rivers catching on fire is a pretty big improvement on it's own.
Was that really solved or just moved abroad.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-10-01 04:12pm

His Divine Shadow wrote:
2018-10-01 04:40am
Sea Skimmer wrote:
2018-09-30 03:59am
That CO2 and shit like plastic bags can be the main worry in the west now, and not literal smog blocking out the sky (thanks VW for costing us ground on this) or rivers catching on fire is a pretty big improvement on it's own.
Was that really solved or just moved abroad.
As I understand it: yes and no.

Advanced industry in Asia hasn't been around quite long enough to have the same massive cumulative effects that Western industry would have had if it'd continued up to this point.

That said, it exploded fast enough and without enough regulation that the effects were similarly bad pretty quickly.

But, they do have the example of Western countries' environmental regulations and clean-up measures to follow, and in some cases have started adopting certain measures to help rectify the problem.

For example, recently China shut down quite a few small metal-work shops-- I know about this because it impacted the sword market somewhat, and I'm a sword guy, so I noticed that-- to help obviate the pollution created by those shops. It was something like, any business below a certain level of operation in certain towns must close. As far as the sword market went, that meant a lot of cheap blades on Ebay and such suddenly went off the market or up in price, and the level of cheap customization you could get went away. The notion was that these small shops tended to not bother much with following environmental regulations-- dumping chemicals down the drain and whatnot-- while larger companies would be more likely to abide by whatever the government told them to do.
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Re: In 1973, an MIT computer predicted the end of civilization

Post by MKSheppard » 2018-10-01 06:09pm

Jeff Bezos basically wants to move almost all heavy (polluting) industry off earth, for one...
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