Tagcollapse

Mathematicians Predict the Future With Data From the Past

cliodynamics-chart-660x474

I wrote for Wired:

In Issac Asimov’s classic science fiction saga Foundation, mathematics professor Hari Seldon predicts the future using what he calls psychohistory. Drawing on mathematical models that describe what happened in the past, he anticipates what will happen next, including the fall of the Galactic Empire.

That may seem like fanciful stuff. But Peter Turchin is turning himself into a real-life Hari Seldon — and he’s not alone.

Turchin — a professor at the University of Connecticut — is the driving force behind a field called “cliodynamics,” where scientists and mathematicians analyze history in the hopes of finding patterns they can then use to predict the future. It’s named after Clio, the Greek muse of history.

These academics have the same goals as other historians — “We start with questions that historians have asked for all of history,” Turchin says. “For example: Why do civilizations collapse?” — but they seek to answer these questions quite differently. They use math rather than mere language, and according to Turchin, the prognosis isn’t that far removed from the empire-crushing predictions laid down by Hari Seldon in the Foundation saga. Unless something changes, he says, we’re due for a wave of widespread violence in about 2020, including riots and terrorism. […]

There are competing theories as well. A group of researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute — who practice a discipline called econophysics — have built their own model of political violence and concluded that one simple variable is sufficient to predict instability: food prices. In a paper titled “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East,” they explain that although many other grievances may be aired once the violence begins, the cost of food is the primary trigger. They make a similarly grim prediction: large-scale riots over food, beginning around October of this year.

Full Story: Wired Enterprise: Mathematicians Predict the Future With Data From the Past

I’d actually recommend reading journal articles I cite before reading my article:

Dynamics of political instability in the United States, 1780–2010 by Peter Turchin

The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East by Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam.

Also check out Turchin’s blog.

Previously:

Revolution – history and praxis. Technoccult interviews Johnny Brainwash

The Rise of Predictive Policing: Police Using Statistics to Predict Crime

Are We On the Verge of the Next Psychedelic Explosion?

Wyoming Considering So-Called “Doomsday Bill”

State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.

House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.

The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

Casper Tribune: Wyoming House advances doomsday bill

This may sound like wingnut survivalist paranoia, but this is pretty interesting. Much of the state quite vulnerable to system shocks. Services ranging from food shipping to postal mail processing depend on out of state resources. The state is extremely petroleum dependent, so gas shortages would hit people hard. I’ve been told that although Wyoming produces huge amounts of coal, but is highly dependent on out of state resources for electricity (but I’m not sure that’s true).

Have any other states proposed official bills for state resilience?

See also: Resilient communities with Jeremy O’Leary – the Technoccult Interview

Update: This has already been shot down.

Dmitry Orlov: Social Collapse Best Practices

Full transcript of Dmitry Orlov’s talk (part of Long Now’s longer term thinking seminar series). This is much better than the Thriving in the Age of Collapse and Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century papers I’d read before.

Moving on to shelter. Again, let’s look at how the Russians managed to muddle through. In the Soviet Union, people did not own their place of residence. Everyone was assigned a place to live, which was recorded in a person’s internal passport. People could not be dislodged from their place of residence for as long as they drew oxygen. Since most people in Russia live in cities, the place of residence was usually an apartment, or a room in a communal apartment, with shared bathroom and kitchen. There was a permanent housing shortage, and so people often doubled up, with three generations living together. The apartments were often crowded, sometimes bordering on squalid. If people wanted to move, they had to find somebody else who wanted to move, who would want to exchange rooms or apartments with them. There were always long waiting lists for apartments, and children often grew up, got married, and had children before receiving a place of their own.

These all seem like negatives, but consider the flip side of all this: the high population density made this living arrangement quite affordable. With several generations living together, families were on hand to help each other. Grandparents provided day care, freeing up their children’s time to do other things. The apartment buildings were always built near public transportation, so they did not have to rely on private cars to get around. Apartment buildings are relatively cheap to heat, and municipal services easy to provide and maintain because of the short runs of pipe and cable. Perhaps most importantly, after the economy collapsed, people lost their savings, many people lost their jobs, even those that still had jobs often did not get paid for months, and when they were the value of their wages was destroyed by hyperinflation, but there were no foreclosures, no evictions, municipal services such as heat, water, and sometimes even hot water continued to be provided, and everyone had their families close by. Also, because it was so difficult to relocate, people generally stayed in one place for generations, and so they tended to know all the people around them. After the economic collapse, there was a large spike in the crime rate, which made it very helpful to be surrounded by people who weren’t strangers, and who could keep an eye on things. Lastly, in an interesting twist, the Soviet housing arrangement delivered an amazing final windfall: in the 1990s all of these apartments were privatized, and the people who lived in them suddenly became owners of some very valuable real estate, free and clear.

Full Story: Club Orlov

Or read Stewart Brand’s summary reprinted at Grinding.

Somewhat related: My round-up of commentary on Obama’s stimulus bill.

Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2009

An Indo-Pakistani nuclear war might conceivably take a *back page* to the fiscal crisis.

I always knew the “War on Terror” bubble would go. It’s gone. Nobody misses it. It got no burial. I knes was gonna be replaced by another development that seemed much more burningly urgent than terror Terror TERROR, but I had a hard time figuring out what vast, abject fright that might be.

Now I know. Welcome to 2009! […]

As Orlov accurately points out, in the Russian collapse, if you were on a farm or in some small neighborly town, you were toast. The hustlers in the cities were the ones with inventive opportunities, so they were the ones getting by.

So the model polity for local urban resilience isn’t Russia. I’m inclined to think the model there is Italy. Italy has had calamitous Bush-levels of national incompetence during almost its entire 150-year
national existence.

Before that time, Italy was all city-states — and not even “states,” mostly just cities. Florence, Milan, Genoa, Venice. Rome. They were really brilliantly-run, powerful cities. (Well, not Rome — but Rome
was global.) Gorgeous cities full of initiaive and inventive genius. If you’re a fan of urbanism you’ve surely got to consider the cities of the Italian Renaissance among the top urban inventions of all time.

Full Story: WELL

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