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InvisibleInstabilities

A semi-famous futurist paints a glowing picture of the information age soon-to-come: hyper-networked society, hyper-productive technology, and exponentially growing wealth for the next ~25 years. Nice rice bowls for all, if we can get them --- so what's wrong?

The big question to always ask with proposed new ways of life: what are we overlooking? A strongly-connected network will always exhibit new, unanticipated behaviors, due to the complex feedback loops that the network possesses ... and those feedback loops can suddenly transition from one mode to another under slight perturbation. Rare but catastrophic events will happen. These are uninsurable risks --- "once in a millennium" floods, unprecedented interest rate fluctuations, extraordinary infrastructure failures --- due to what seem to be incredible conjunctions of coincidence. By their very nature, it's impossible to gather enough data to predict such exceptional events, even in principle. They've never happened before, and by the time one could have seen the signs to anticipate them, conditions have changed. Another surprise is brewing, not the one you're watching for. Want to let your refrigerator monitor your food supply, your car decide your route to work, your software agent invest your retirement savings? Be prepared for a "whoops! - we never thought of that" meltdown.

The solution: go slow. Don't bet the farm on the newest new thing. Have a fallback strategy, suspenders and a belt, a buffer zone against surprise. Don't panic, and don't envy those who gamble and, in the short term, make big profits. This too shall pass.

Saturday, February 24, 2001 at 20:03:22 (EST) = Datetag20010224

TopicSociety


(correlates: SelfConfidence, BigLessons, CondescendingComputerUser, ...)