Erik Larson

Oct 3, 2007

The Problem

The world is getting less explicable, not more. The basic model for change is: technological innovation creates new social, political structures that enable more and more “nonzero” interactions. True, but innovation is accelerating.

The world is thus becoming a system that enables more and more powerful interactions, and it is becoming “tightly coupled”. The world we are creating thus has an interesting property: it can both lead to very large benefits, and it can blow apart fantastically.

What is more than a little troubling about this new world is that we have very limited powers to predict outcomes. The easiest way to see this is that the new world is coming to resemble the messy physical world. Nonlinear systems such as the weather, not idealized systems allowing of description by a small set of mechanical laws.

I think that the outcome of this technological acceleration is either a huge step forward—a reshaping of outdated modes of interactions, economical systems, and so on—a better world in other words; or, it will be one of constant conflict and a descent or at least trend back towards a Hobbsian state of war. I also think that we’ll decide which outcome, largely, and so we bare most of the responsibility for the shape of things to come.

Given that we can’t well predict outcomes in the new world (that is anyway the argument I’ll make), but that we must fix on a plan, we have a significant problem that would seem to require some clear thinking about what we can accomplish, and about the real nature of human intelligence and its ability to create and (we hope) solve problems.