A (not very convincing) singularity paper

From: Anders Sandberg (asa@nada.kth.se)
Date: Mon Feb 14 2000 - 07:40:53 MST

Found a paper at http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/cond-mat/0002075 (abstract
below) about a possible future literal singularity in human population
and economy.

The authors have done curve fitting to the population and some
economic indexes, and conclude that both have singularities around the
same time, 2058+-5. Of course, this is a good example of the dangers
of curve-fitting, since given the equations they are using they are
bound to get a singularity *somewhere* and they only use population
data from *before* the slowing down of birth rates. They also do some
even less convincing arguing about log-periodic oscilliations near
this singularity. In short, I doubt this sees publication in any good

What I consider interesting isn't the conclusions, they are not
exactly new, but the final sentence of the abstract: "With a
world-wide concern about the sustainability of this accelerated growth
beginning to bud as well as the very recent slowing down of the
population growth rate, this transition will hopefully be smoothen
out". This suggests a worrying memetic possibility, namely fears of a
singularitarity as a harbinger of total ecological and economic
disaster. If you believe this, then it makes a lot of sense to do
everything you can to smooth it out or cut the feedback loops. We tend
to see the Singularity as something good, exciting or unavoidable, but
with this view it is yet another horrible threat that must be
prevented and whose proponents are obviously evil and misguided.

Personally I'm not that worried. I'm more of a swell than a spike
person and I seriously doubt the use of curve fitting and analogies
with simple physical systems with unchanging rules accurately
describes long-range development in civilisations. I also think that
the above potential negative meme can be defused if we apply enough
intellectual rigor when describing our future scenarios,

The End of the Growth Era?

Authors: Anders Johansen (UCLA), Didier Sornette (CNRS/Univ. Nice;UCLA)

       Both the world economy and human population have grown at a
       tremendous pace during the last two centuries, raising
       increasing worries about the sustainability of this growth as
       well as concerns that we humans as a result might cause severe
       and irreversible damage to eco-systems, global weather systems
       etc \cite{Cohenscience}. At the other extreme, the optimists
       expect that the innovative spirit of mankind will solve the
       problems associated with a continuing increase in the growth
       rate \cite{vonFoerster}. Specifically, they believe that the
       world economic development will continue as a successive
       unfolding of revolutions, e.g., the Internet, bio-technological
       and other yet unknown innovations, replacing the prior
       agricultural, industrial and information
       revolutions. Irrespective of interpretation, the important
       point is the presence of an {\it acceleration} in the {\it
       rate} of growth. Here, we show that both the acceleration in
       the growth of the worlds human population until the 1970's as
       well as in a proxy for capitalistic expansion in the United
       States since its creation as a nation until present are
       consistent with a spontaneous singularity at the {\it same}
       critical time $2058 \pm 5$ AD and with the same characteristic
       self-similar geometric patterns (defined below as log-periodic
       oscillations). As a consequence, even the optimistic point of
       view has to be revised, since the acceleration of the growth
       rate contains endogenously its own limit in the shape of a
       finite-time singularity to be interpreted as an abrupt
       transition to a qualitatively new behavior. With a world-wide
       concern about the sustainability of this accelerated growth
       beginning to bud as well as the very recent slowing down of the
       population growth rate, this transition will hopefully be
       smoothen out

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!
asa@nada.kth.se                            http://www.nada.kth.se/~asa/
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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