“Order out of chaos (Ordo Ab Chao in Old Latin)”— Ilya Prigogine
“We live in the best of all possible worlds.”— Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”— Sun Tzu
“Transhumanism is an integral part of The Great Reset and will lead to the fusion of our physical, digital, and biological identity.”— Klaus Schwab
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”— H. G. Wells
“A pandemic is a complex adaptive system comprising many different components or pieces of information (as diverse as biology or psychology), whose behaviour is influenced by such variables as the role of companies, economic policies, government intervention, healthcare politics or national governance. For this reason, it can and should be viewed as a “living network” that adapts to changing conditions – not something set in stone, but a system of interactions that is both complex and adaptive.”— Klaus Schwab
“We all have our time machines, don’t we. Those that take us back are memories…And those that carry us forward, are dreams.”― H.G. Wells
This post has travelled a circuitous and pothole-filled path. It began way back two weeks ago looking at what appears to be happening as we stumble our way into 2022 and where things might be heading, if anywhere. The initial effort did not go well, you will not be surprised to hear.
I started with a list of things that appear to be broken in our world today. To me, at least. It quickly exploded into a way-too-long list that was clearly unmanageable and impossible to address in a single post. Maybe even in a very long book.
By chance, I ran across something along these lines done in 1940 by the very famous English author H. G. Wells (War of the Worlds, Time Machine): “The Fate of Homo Sapiens”. Wells looked at the world situation from his perspective of the early days of World War II in terms of where things stood globally, how they got there, and where they might be headed. He had some quite impressive and very scary insights into how things in 1940 got to where they were and what this seemed to mean for the fate of us late stage-humans – so-called “modern man”.
He ended up not very optimistically with a call for a “World Brain” of some kind that would bring together the smartest people in the world to work things out going forward for the rest of us. Kind of reminded me of Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum (WEF), The Great Reset, New World Order, and most recently, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Overpopulation seems to be a major problem today
Among the way-too-many-things that appear to be seriously broken today, according to my reading, is population – as in “overpopulation”. Contexts vary all over the place but seem to favor things like environment, climate change, sustainability, natural resources, and of course food. Common thread is that there are simply too many people around these days for the world to comfortably accommodate, and for the vital happiness of many important people like Bill Gates, whoever he is.
More troubling even than Bill Gates’ state of happiness is a forecast by a very mysterious entity known as “Deagel.com” – a ‘private online source for the military capabilities of the world’s nation states’. Deagel sources are said to include the US Department of State, the US Department of Defense, the CIA, the World Bank, and the European Union among others. These are some pretty heavy-duty folks.
Deagel forecasts for America in 2025 are for a huge depopulation from its current “overpopulated” levels of about 330 million to just 54 million (2017 forecast below), adjusted upward to around 100 million recently. That’s just three years from now, if my calculations are correct. Goodbye soon to about 230 million of us U.S. people?
This seems very serious. Edwin Deagle (or Deagel), Jr., Ph.D., is a heavyweight, not some science fiction writer. Deagle was Undersecretary of the Air Force under President Bill Clinton. He later became Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary of Defense under Clinton in 1994. He died on February 16, 2021, at age 84 (see Deagle’s Last Words).
Despite the hard-to-believe population forecasts he made, this guy is not someone to ignore or treat lightly. He obviously knew something that we don’t. Something way too important not to address.
“Overpopulation can have several effects on the environment, as well as other species within an ecological system. Indeed, human overpopulation has resulted in technological advances which have increased human lifespan and fertility, and consequently placed pressure on global resources. Such effects are such that the planet is currently in a novel geological epoch called the Anthropocene. In general, overpopulation results in an ecological disruption as resources are depleted. This disruption can lead to the decline of other populations which compete for the same resources. Typically, such effects result in the cycling between periods of population growth and periods of population decline until it can reach homeostasis within a particular ecological niche. Some examples of naturally regulated population growth are rodents, rabbits, and various insect populations (e.g., army worms and locusts).”
To me, this definition means that human population of our world has become a truly serious concern in recent years – perhaps even the last century or so. It appears that Klaus Schwab and the WEF, among many others, also have such concerns.
Are these concerns real and threatening for us non-WEF folks?
Enormous population growth has occurred but we’re still here: Why?
World population reached around 8 billion (2021), up a bit from about 2 billion way back in 1950 when the population growth rate reached its peak. Dr. Max Roser’s “Our World in Data: World Population Growth” website has some pretty amazing population growth charts, two of which are shown below.
From my rough count lately, there are about a gazillion articles on population growth (well, I’m exaggerating a bit: Google reports only 814 million results). Pretty popular topic over mostly the past century. Lots of angst about catastrophic overpopulation. Charts suggest that there is some basis for such concerns, especially as we charge toward what appears to be a peak of 11 billion around 2100 AD. Where on earth are we going to put another 3 billion people?
Looking back a few years, we might have asked the same question in 1987 when population smashed through the 5 billion level. Just where did we put the actual 3 billion extra people who showed up during the past 30 years or so?
The folks working hard on depopulation seem to have seriously dropped the ball on tackling this one. Maybe they’ll figure out the magic solution before 2100.
While these folks are preoccupied with depopulation by one means or another, my question – and perhaps yours as well – is why bother doing anything since we are well past the 1968 peak growth rate estimated by Dr. Roser. Let Mother Nature do its thing and we’ll all be fine.
We all just did a pretty good job of accommodating the most recent 3 billion additions so why can’t we handle the projected last 3 billion just as effectively?
If this population level is truly as catastrophic as so many seem to believe, we should have hit the wall long ago. We simply should not be here. Are you still here? Me too.
Maybe the world is seriously underpopulated relative to its real capacity
Heresy, for sure, but who could have predicted in 1950 that we could add about 6 billion new folks to the then-current 2 billion? Something is quite wrong with this picture.
We might (heretically, of course) take a brief look at what facilitated such an enormous population growth in such a short period of time. Fortunately, Dr. Roser has already had a crack at this: hugely decreased child mortality resulting from great advances in medicine, sanitation, food production, and much other progress. As a species, we have become pretty good at making room for whoever shows up to the party. Is there any reason to think that we can’t handle another measly 3 billion over the rest of this century? From Dr. Roser:
“As we explore at the beginning of the entry on population growth, the global population grew only very slowly up to 1700 – only 0.04% per year. In the many millennia up to that point in history very high mortality of children counteracted high fertility. The world was in the first stage of the demographic transition.”
“Major improvements in living standards, medical knowledge and care, nutrition, water and sanitation, and treatment of disease had transformed outcomes for mothers and children. For the first time in millennia, most parents would not lose a child. Child mortality was still fairly common, but no longer the norm.”
“If we fast-forward to 2015 we see how far the world has progressed. Child mortality continued to fall across Europe, North America and Australasia; in 2015 around 1-in-200 children died before their 5th birthday. But the rest of the world has also seen dramatic improvements. Many countries across South America, Asia and Africa have reduced child mortality to 1 to 2 percent (between 1-in-50 and 1-in-100). China reduced child deaths from 1-in-3 to 1-in-100; India from 1-in-4 to 1-in-20; Kenya from 1-in-3 to 1-in-20; and Tanzania from greater than 1-in-3 (40 percent) to 1-in-20. The countries where child mortality is highest today have comparable rates to many countries across Europe in 1950.”
Being an old engineer who participated in a sub-microscopic way in these advances, I remain quite hopeful in this regard. In fact, barring a manmade catastrophe like a full-blown Word War III, “we” (some of us at least) seem pretty likely to make it easily to 2100 along with all of its three billion newcomers.
Population in practical terms does not need fixing
So, the really good news here seems to be that we don’t need to worry at all about the projected population growth through 2100. We need to worry instead about preventing World War III or equivalent nastiness. This is indeed a very serious concern now that we have the military means of quickly becoming mostly unpopulated and probably quite radioactive as well.
Saber-rattling has begun again recently in the form of Ukraine, Taiwan, and now Kazakhstan (among others). Maybe we don’t need COVID to deal with the “population-problem” after all?
No real progress seems to have been made on the war prevention front but great strides have been achieved on the development of even better and more devastating war machinery. Human (aka Homo Sapiens) ingenuity at its best.
Why is war-prevention such an intractable problem (and seems to have been so since people were invented)?
How to fix the threats of major wars
People cause wars, so it is rumored. If so, getting rid of people would definitely stop wars but this brings us into the “…you first” kinds of dilemmas. So, given that people are here and believed to be necessary by a solid majority, we are forced to address a very tough underlying problem: behavior of people.
We seem to have had wars mostly forever. Probably had wars among non-people critters long before that. War-behavior looks to me like it is built into life itself, with one species or group always competing with another for whatever is around that is worth fighting over.
In past, wars (people-version) could mess things up very badly for quite a while but, as noted in a past post, most of us survive and continue to continue. Recently, of course, we clever humans – who have so far survived wars and much other nasty stuff – have devised very effective ways of knocking off nearly everybody. Just needs a big war to get things moving here.
Mankind has survived many periods of huge deaths from disease since man was invented but, as noted above, the really rapid population growth seems to have been driven largely by recent child mortality decreases. Disease episodes were mostly blips, unless you were unfortunate enough to be among the blipped.
It seems that global population growth has peaked and people counts will max out in about 80 years at about 11 billion. We successfully added about 6 billion since 1950 so the final 3 billion should be no problem. Overpopulation may be a concern to some folks but it is in fact not a problem that needs fixing. Mother Nature will take care of it if we don’t blow up the place first. Our very bad habit over millennia of starting wars is what actually needs fixing. Seriously.
Preventing major wars seems to have been a human goal nearly forever. The practicalities, however, always seem to get in the way of each proposed solution. Humans are born intensely competitive, much-needed for individual/tribal survival, and that inborn trait will inevitably lead to wars. Some big.
That is, Wars ‘R Us.
Turns out that there is one way-out-there solution – potentially imposed on us all by a stern extraterrestrial named Klaatu. You have probably seen the 1951 science fiction (unfortunately) movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal, plus Gort, the all-powerful robot:
“Klaatu tells [Professor] Barnhardt’s assembled scientists that an interplanetary organization has created a police force of invincible robots like Gort. ‘In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us’. Klaatu concludes, ‘Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer’. Klaatu and Gort depart in the saucer.”
Great movie but today we desperately need to make contact with Klaatu and/or Gort, or their 2022 equivalents.
OK, so if a suitable extraterrestrial isn’t readily available, what about an artificial intelligence (AI) alternative. Turns out that this possibility has already been considered – via Wikipedia: “AI takeover”:
“An AI takeover is a real-world scenario in which computer’s artificial intelligence (AI) becomes the dominant form of intelligence on Earth, as computer programs or robots effectively take the control of the planet away from the human species. Possible scenarios include replacement of the entire human workforce, takeover by a superintelligent AI, and the popular notion of a robot uprising. Some public figures, such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have advocated research into precautionary measures to ensure future superintelligent machines remain under human control.”
“Scientists such as Stephen Hawking are confident that superhuman artificial intelligence is physically possible, stating ‘there is no physical law precluding particles from being organized in ways that perform even more advanced computations than the arrangements of particles in human brains’. Scholars like Nick Bostrom debate how far off superhuman intelligence is, and whether it would actually pose a risk to mankind. According to Bostrom, a superintelligent machine would not necessarily be motivated by the same emotional desire to collect power that often drives human beings, but as a means toward attaining its ultimate goals; taking over the world would both increase its access to resources, and would help to prevent other agents from stopping the machine’s plans. As an oversimplified example, a paperclip maximizer designed solely to create as many paperclips as possible would want to take over the world so that it can use all of the world’s resources to create as many paperclips as possible, and, additionally, prevent humans from shutting it down or using those resources on things other than paperclips.”
This idea also seems a bit far out to me but it turns out that Arthur Clarke’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey” invented just such an AI-critter – named HAL:
“HAL 9000 is a fictional artificial intelligence character and the main antagonist in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series. First appearing in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) is a sentient artificial general intelligence computer that controls the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacts with the ship’s astronaut crew. While part of HAL’s hardware is shown toward the end of the film, he is mostly depicted as a camera lens containing a red or yellow dot, instances of which are located throughout the ship.”
“HAL’s capabilities, like all the technology in 2001, were based on the speculation of respected scientists. Marvin Minsky, director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and one of the most influential researchers in the field, was an adviser on the film set. In the mid-1960s, many computer scientists in the field of artificial intelligence were optimistic that machines with HAL’s capabilities would exist within a few decades. For example, AI pioneer Herbert A. Simon at Carnegie Mellon University, had predicted in 1965 that ‘machines will be capable within twenty years, of doing any work a man can do’”.
“In 2003, HAL 9000 was one of the first robots to be inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
“HAL’s name, according to writer Arthur C. Clarke, is derived from Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. After the film was released, fans noticed HAL was a one-letter shift from the name IBM and there has been much speculation since then that this was a dig at the large computer company, something that has been denied by both Clarke and 2001 director Stanley Kubrick. Clarke addressed the issue in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001:”
“…about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution … As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence.”
American philosopher and psychologist William James in his 1906 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” had another rather gloomy outlook:
“Without any exception known to me, militarist authors take a highly mystical view of their subject, and regard war as a biological or sociological necessity, uncontrolled by ordinary psychological checks or motives. When the time of development is ripe the war must come, reason or no reason, for the justifications pleaded are invariably fictions. War is, in short, a permanent human obligation. … It may even reasonably be said that the intensely sharp preparation for war by the nations is the real war, permanent, unceasing; and that the battles are only a sort of public verification of the mastery gained during the ‘peace’-interval.”
“Such was the gory nurse that trained soldiers to cohesiveness. We inherit the warlike type; and for most of the capacities of heroism that the human race is full of we have to thank this cruel history. Dead men tell no tales, and if there were any tribes of other type than this they have left no survivors. Our ancestors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow, and thousands of years of peace won’t breed it out of us. The popular imagination fairly fattens on the thought of wars. Let public opinion once reach a certain fighting pitch, and no ruler can withstand it. In the Boer war both governments began with bluff, but they couldn’t stay there; the military tension was too much for them. In 1898 our people had read the word “war” in letters three inches high for three months in every newspaper. The pliant politician, McKinley, was swept away by their eagerness, and our squalid war with Spain became a reality.”
“The notion of a sheep’s paradise like that revolts, they say, our higher imagination. Where then would be the steeps of life? If war had ever stopped, we should have to re-invent it, on this view, to redeem life from flat degeneration.”
I truly hope that James (who in 1906 lived just up the street from where I live today) was seriously wrong. My sense is that the technological advances that have given us our (yet-primitive) AI will also give us mostly-humans many of the tools we need to eliminate war for good.
Open communication among people everywhere might just provide the essential linkage that brings people everywhere together – constructively. Not destructively via war. Not just AI.
“Open”, as you will certainly have observed, is the really tricky part here. But I am very hopeful in this respect.