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October 31, 2008

Buckminster Fuller Challenge Press Release

(This is an amazingly cool project, one I'm deeply honored to be a part of. I know a lot of you out there have ideas that should be seen by this group -- the deadline for submissions is November 7, so get to work.)



OCTOBER 31, 2008 NEW YORK CITY — The Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) has announced the members of the 2009 Buckminster Fuller Challenge jury. The jury will select the winner of the Challenge, to be announced to the public in May 2009. The jury will confer the prize at a public event at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in June 2009.

The members of this year’s jury are:

ADAM BLY, named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Bly is a powerful voice for science literacy in the 21st century. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Seed magazine and Seed Media Group, winner of the 2006 Independent Press Award for Best Science and Technology Coverage;

JAMAIS CASCIO, pioneering futurist and scenario planner, Co-founder, Worldchanging.com; Director of Impacts Analysis for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology; Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies; Research Affiliate at Institute for the Future; Scenario Design Lead for Superstruct, the “massively multiplayer forecasting game;”

EDIE FARWELL, respected systems thinker and sustainability expert, former Director of the Association for Progressive Communications and current Program Director of the Donella Meadows Leadership Fellows Program of the Sustainability Institute, which aims to apply systems thinking and organizational learning to economic, environmental and social challenges;

HELENA NORBERG-HODGE, A passionate activist for biological and cultural diversity and leading analyst of the impact of the global economy on cultures around the world. A linguist by training, she was educated in Sweden, Germany, England, the U.S., and speaks seven languages. Founder and director, International Society for Ecology and Culture; Co-founder, International Forum on Globalization;

JOHN AND NANCY JACK TODD (serving as a team), John Todd is a celebrated ecological designer and winner of the 2008 Buckminster Fuller Challenge, he has been named TIME’s Hero of the Planet among many other honors. Nancy Jack Todd is an accomplished author and the editor of Annals of Earth. Her most recent book is A Safe and Sustainable World: The Promise of Ecological Design;

GREG WATSON, a renewable energy expert, community organizer, and educator. Watson founded the Dudley Street Initiative, served as Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture, and currently serves as senior advisor to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“As the news gets more troubling, the challenge to each of us gets more critical. My father anticipated many of these challenges and addressed his life’s work to solving them, now we hope to identify others, all over the world, who are doing the same. This year’s jurors will bring their own extraordinary work and experience to bear to select a design science innovator who is pushing the boundaries of what is possible to help us face these challenges. We are honored to have their participation and begin this important work together,” said Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s daughter and Chair of the BFI Board of Directors.


For the call for entries, instructions for how to enter, reference materials, and much more, visit http://challenge.bfi.org

To read about last year's winning entry, visit http://challenge.bfi.org/winner_2008

To view entries to the 2008 Challenge, visit the Idea Index http://challenge.bfi.org/ideaindex

Watch the Buckminster Fuller Challenge movie http://challenge.bfi.org/movie

Contact: Matt Barron, Tel: 718.290.9283, Email: challenge@bfi.org

October 29, 2008

Dear Mr. President...

The good folks at Worldchanging asked me to offer up a hundred words for what the new president of the US should do in the first hundred days in office. I figured that most of the folks they asked would come back with some kind of environmental thing (and I guessed right), so I went a different path. Here's my reply:

Jamais Cascio, Co-Founder, Worldchanging/World-Builder-in-Chief, Open the Future
    Although the present crises demand much of our time and attention, the next president must have a longer-term view of the challenges we'll face this century. The creation of an official Foresight Agency -- pulling in talent and insights from across the spectrum of official government departments -- would both formalize and legitimize the practice of looking ahead at emerging threats, technologies, and opportunities. The UK's Foresight Directorate offers an example of how this might work. We can no longer afford individual departments looking only at their narrow areas of interest; we need a cross-disciplinary view of tomorrow.

Mildly self-serving, perhaps (although I wouldn't expect to get a job with said Foresight Agency), but it's something that I strongly believe. Futurism is a tool for making better decisions about an increasingly complex and uncertain world -- and better decisions are desperately needed right about now.

Other folks weighing in include Bill McKibben, Simran Sethi, Hunter Lovins, and (of course) Bruce.

October 27, 2008

Global Catastrophic Risks - Now With More Doom!

The program for the Global Catastrophic Risks event, November 14 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, has been doubled: Now you have 13 people (now only almost all middle-aged white guys) eager to describe in great detail just how royally screwed we are, as a civilization -- and, just maybe, what we can do about it.

Here's the speaker list, as of late October:

  • Anders Sandberg PhD, Oxford University
    “Global Catastrophic Risks: An Overview, and Caution about Risk Assessments”
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky, Research Associate. Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
    “Cognitive Biases in the Assessment of Risk”
  • Feng Hsu PhD, Head, Integrated Risk Management, NASA
    “Critical Issues of Global Catastrophic Risks - a Worst Case Scenario Assessment”
  • William Potter PhD, Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
    “Reducing the Risks of Nuclear Proliferation”
  • Martin Hellman PhD, Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University
    “Risk Analysis of Nuclear Deterrence”
  • Bruce Damer, CEO of The Digital Space Commons, director of Contact Consortium
    “The Risks of Asteroid Impacts”
  • Mike Treder, Executive Director, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
    “Nanotechnology’s Global Risk and Promises of Resilience”
  • Kattesh V. Katti PhD, Director, Cancer Nanotechnology Platform, Professor of Radiology, University of Missouri
    “Green Nanotechnology: An Economic And Scientific Initiative For the Future Of Human Civilization”
  • Alan Goldstein PhD, CEO of Industrial Nanobiotechnology
    “The A-Prize: Tracking The Global Race To Break The Carbon Barrier”
  • J. Storrs Hall PhD, author Beyond AI
    “The Weather Machine: Nano-enabled Climate Control for the Earth”
  • George Dvorsky, Director, IEET
    “Risks Posed by Political Extremism”
  • Jamais Cascio, IEET Fellow, and research affiliate, Institute for the Future
    “Building Civilizational Resilience” (hey, that's me!)
  • James J. Hughes PhD, Exec. Director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
    “Strengthening Transnational Governance to Mitigate Risks”

$100 if you buy your ticket now, $150 after November 1.

What's missing? I'm surprised that there isn't something explicitly bio-related on the list, either pandemic disease or engineered bioweaponry. I'd also like to see something about cross-issue reinforcement (i.e., how sub-catastrophic problems can mutually boost each others' awfulness), but that might come up in discussion.

Nothing about robots stealing our medicine, either. Maybe next time -- if there IS a next time!

October 23, 2008

This May Not Be the Droid You're Looking For

So, through a series of unlikely events, I have a T-Mobile G1 "Google phone" on my desk right now. It arrived yesterday; beyond the jump are my 24-hours-later observations.

New G1

(More pictures can be found here.)

Short version: it's not even close to perfect, but it's a viable alternative to the iPhone. The combination of camera, GPS, good screen and open source make it a likely first platform for early participatory panopticon development.

Tech geekitude ahoy -- follow the link at your peril.

The first thing that most people notice: It has a great personality. Thick, heavy, and (as a friend put it) vaguely "Soviet" in style, nobody is going to pick a G1 over an iPhone for aesthetic reasons. That's okay -- not all of us want high fashion in our communication devices.

I found its (for me) very usable slide-out QWERTY thumbboard a more convincing argument, and I suspect that the folks who haven’t found iTyping to be all that friendly would agree. (I don’t have an iPhone myself, but I do have an iPod Touch, which gives me a decent comparison point.) Getting to symbols is easier on the G1, and the keys are sufficiently clicky for me to be able to tell whether or not they’ve hit without having to watch the screen.

  • General Features: 3G (T-Mobile style, which means it’s ready for a 3G network nobody else in the world uses); WiFi; GPS; Bluetooth (limited to headset only, no tethering or file transfer); decent browser and a variety of apps; crap camera.

  • Things I Like: Good screen; solid keyboard; good utility overall; feels well-built (so far); decent web experience; it’s open source, and the “market” isn’t restricted in the way the iPhone App store is.

  • Things that Suck: The camera; the Bluetooth; the storage (comes with a 1G microSD card, needs much more); the overall heft (see width comparison between G1/iPT/Nokia N82/Nokia N810 here).

  • Thing that Sucks Most of All: It violates the rule I have for phones I buy for myself – it uses the same port for headphones and for power. If you have it plugged in to power, you can’t use the headset, and vice versa. And the port itself is a variation on the micro-USB standard. Some micro-USB cables will fit, but others won’t work – and the cables that the G1 comes with won’t work with any other micro-USB device.

The iPhone is the obvious comparison, and it’s a decent alternative for people who (a) won’t use AT&T (hi, NSA office in AT&T office!), but want GSM for international use, (b) don’t like Apple’s iPhone software policies, (c) need a physical keyboard, or (d) don’t like looking like a hipster. If the iPhone was unlocked for all carriers (without a hack that Apple could break with the next update), I’d probably go with that over the G1; since it’s not, I’ll probably hang on to this as a web device.

My Nokia N82 is much more of a regular phone with nifty features, but has two major (and very important to me) advantages over the G1: a fully-usable bluetooth (including tethering & file transfer) and a kickass camera. It also has a front-facing secondary camera for video calls.

My Nokia N810 is a good alternative as a web tablet, and is effectively a phone-less G1 (down to the crap camera) – but the keyboard feels flimsier, and it’s not as pocketable. It does have better storage, though, and terrific battery life (easily 8-12 hours of use). It also has more web features, including Flash on the browser, and a video-capable version of Skype.

Worth the money? If you need a new GSM phone with heavy web features, and don’t want the iPhone, then it’s arguably the best current alternative. If the web is less important than other features, but you still want GPS/WiFi/etc, then you’re probably better off with a Nokia N82/95/96 – especially if you want a decent camera.

On a hexadecimal scale, I rate it a “D” for web features and “9” as a phone.

Presidential Insights

Time magazine's Joe Klein has a lengthy interview with Barack Obama, covering a variety of subjects. One section that leapt out at me, of course, was Obama's observations about energy, the environment, and the bigger picture:

The biggest problem with our energy policy has been to lurch from crisis to trance. And what we need is a sustained, serious effort. [...] I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.

For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that's going to be my number one priority when I get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation.

A (potential/likely) president who can talk about monocultures and complex systems? Swoon. And that opening line about lurching from crisis to trance -- a perfect encapsulation of our broader response to a variety of long-term problems.

October 22, 2008

If I'm Quiet...

Here's my next month:

  • Ongoing until November 17: Superstruct (online)
      If you aren't playing, you should be: I'm already seeing some wildly innovative ideas about what can be done to deal with global problems.

  • October 24: Emerging Technologies Workshop as lead-in to the Singularity Summit. (San Jose, CA)
      I'll be on the Nanotechnology panel, and giving the closing keynote to the meeting. All tickets have been sold, but I'm sure there will be recordings/video made available afterwards.

  • November 3-11: Singapore (Nov 5-8) and Tokyo (Nov 8-10).
      I'll be giving a series of talks on forecasting, disruptive futures, and sustainable development to a variety of government officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister. Tokyo, I'm visiting a friend. (And, as the schedule above suggests, I'll be somewhere over the Pacific for most of election day.)

  • November 14: Catastrophic Risks conference. (San Jose, CA)
      I'll be talking about building a resilient civilization, a happy alternative to everyone else talking about us being DOOOOOOOMED! Tickets are still available, by the way.

  • November 16: Green Festival. (San Francisco, CA)
      I'll be giving the updated version of my Green Futures talk, laying out different scenarios of what a successful response to global warming could look like.

  • November 18-19: IFTF Technology Horizons Fall conference. (San Francisco, CA)
      Honestly, at this point, I'll be happy if I can just show up and say something coherent.

  • October 17, 2008

    Word Cloud of Me

    Bill Thompson inspired me to stick my bio into Wordle to see what I get. Yep, this is a pretty decent representation of who I am...


    October 15, 2008

    Resilience and the Next Disaster


    If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, have friends or loved ones who do, or simply enjoy the various products and services to be found around these parts, take heed:

    When the Big One hits, it won't be pretty.

    The US Geological Survey has put out a set of videos showing the shaking associated with a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault. There hasn't been a big one on the Hayward Fault in over 300 years, and it's overdue for a serious seismic event. The USGS videos cover quakes measuring 6.8, 7.0, and 7.2, with epicenters ranging from Fremont in the south to the San Pablo Bay in the north.

    Short version: if you live in the Berkeley hills... well, it's not pretty. No place is truly safe -- Santa Cruz seems to come out okay -- but some places are likely to be flattened, regardless of the precise epicenter. (It's worth noting that the location of the epicenter does not correlate to the worst damage -- in fact, a quake hitting at the Fremont location is actually worse for more of the East Bay than one centered in Oakland.)

    So what do you do to prepare? There are numerous good sources for earthquake advice and kits, but (as is my habit) I want to look at the broader picture.

    Survival in an earthquake, generally speaking, requires much of the same kind of practices as survival in a hurricane, in a terrorist attack, or any other form of shocking hit with long repercussions. It all comes down to resilience.

    Here are my key elements of a diverse system -- I'll explore each in more depth in the coming days (as my schedule permits):

    Diversity: Not relying on a single kind of solution means not suffering from a single point of failure. (Prepare for different kinds of problems -- needing to escape the house, needing to stay in the house, dealing with no water, etc.)

    Redundancy: Backup, backup, backup. Never leave yourself with just one path of escape or rescue. (Make sure you have multiple copies of critical documents and extra amounts of key medications.)

    Decentralization: Again with the single point of failure problem. Centralized systems look strong, but when they fail, they fail catastrophically. (Don't store your emergency supplies in one location -- spread them out.)

    Collaboration: We're all in this together. (Take advantage of -- and learn to use -- collaborative technologies, especially those offering shared communication and information.)

    Transparency: Don't hide your systems -- transparency makes it easier to figure out where a problem may lie. (Make sure key shut-off switches -- for gas, especially -- are readily identified.)

    Openness: Many eyes make all bugs shallow. Share your plans and preparations, and listen when people point out flaws. (You're safer in an emergency when everyone is safer.)

    Fail Gracefully: Failure happens, so make sure that failure states don't make things worse than they are already. (Think about what'll happen when disaster strikes -- what will fall, shatter, burst into flames, and what can you do now to prevent it?)

    Flexibility: Be ready to change your plans when they're not working the way you expect. Don't get locked in to a particular approach. (Pay attention to what's happening around you, and don't expect things to remain stable.)

    Foresight: You can't predict the future, but you can hear its footsteps approaching. Think and prepare. (Make sure you have your emergency kit ready before the emergency hits.)

    Resilience, people. That's how we deal with a chaotic world.

    October 14, 2008

    Superstruct Meetup

    Jane McG passes along...

      What will the year 2019 be like? And who will YOU be in the future?

      You’re invited to a SUPERSTRUCT PARTY & MEET-UP!

      Learn all about and try out Superstruct for yourself. It’s the world's first massively-multiplayer forecasting game!

      Monday October 20, 2008 (2019)
      4:30 PM – 6:00 PM at the Institute for the Future office

      This meet-up will be filmed for the Sundance Channel, which is doing a show about the game Superstruct

      Address: 124 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA (across the street from the downtown Palo Alto Cal Train station) [Map: http://tinyurl.com/3m6y4h]

      FOR NEW PLAYERS: Learn how the game works, register, and complete your first mission.

      FOR EXPERIENCED PLAYERS: Meet other SEHIs, talk to the game director and scenario director about what should happen next in 2019, earn your next badge, and complete an advanced game mission.

      FOR ADVENTURERS: The meetup is followed by an optional “downtown mission”. Are you ready to take Superstruct to the real world?

      Please RSVP by Friday October 17 to jmcgonigal@iftf.org

      Due to the Ravenous Superthreat and the globally disrupted food supply chains, this party is BYOS – bring your own snack to share with others with others. (We’ll provide drinks, including bootleg champagne!)

    October 10, 2008

    Nobody Would Expect This

    Paul Krugman:

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Fear and negative equity … The two things we have to fear are fear itself and negative equity, and the depleted capital of financial institutions … Amongst the things we have to fear are fear itself, negative equity, and the depleted capital of financial institutions.

    October 8, 2008

    More Quick Links

    GCR.04.pngTired & busy with Superstruct. But check these out:

    • We're Doomed! DOOOOOMED! Hey, want to see six seven (see comments) middle-aged white guys talk about the end of the world? You're in luck!

    Building A Resilient Civilization

    A day-long seminar on threats to the future of humanity, natural and man-made, and the pro-active steps we can take to reduce these risks and build a more resilient civilization. [...]


  • Nick Bostrom Ph.D., Director, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University
  • Jamais Cascio, research affiliate, Institute for the Future
  • James J. Hughes Ph.D., Exec. Director, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
  • Mike Treder, Executive Director, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
  • Eliezer Yudkowsky, Research Associate. Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
  • William Potter Ph.D., Director, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
  • I was tempted to use "just some guy" as my title, but thought it too ostentatious.

    It's not free -- $100 before November 1, $150 afterwards -- but just how often do you get to talk about the end of all things and have people nod and say "hmmmmm" at your insights?

    • Needed: Chickpea Rights Management: Israel and Lebanon are in a war of words over who "owns" hummus and felafel as indigenous foods, Foreign Policy reports. Lebanon's claim that it owns the copyright to the two dishes is based on a 2005 European Court of Justice decision to give Greece a monopoly over feta cheese. Seriously.

    • This Means You: Stop Global Warming is a new blog authored by my friend and former WorldChanger Emily Gertz. It's intended as a source for global warming and climate news, and isn't afraid to get into the politics of the situation.

    • A Network, not an Extension: My friend and colleague Stowe Boyd offers a provocative post on his /Message blog today -- The Now Web: Not Now, Or Not Yet?. Here's a sampling:

    Time would be the reason most of us would cite for our online invisibility. But I think that there's something more.

    For lack of a better phrase, I'll call it the "alienation" of social media. To integrate social media into your daily life you need to project yourself into it. You need to be able to live in a kind of time that's very different from the time of the everyday. You need to be able to pay attention without bankrupting your focus and concentration, need to be able to sustain high levels of availability to a world that's neither "here" nor "there," again, without dissociating from the here and now.

    Lots to ponder.

    • Bruuuuuuce: Nebula Awards site interviews Bruce Sterling. Bruce is always worth checking out.

    Electronic vs Print publishing - any thoughts on the matter?

    You should talk to my colleagues in newspapers. If you can find any newspapers left.

    Maybe those guys should be talking about catastrophic risks.

    October 7, 2008

    Superstruct Underway

    superstruct_threats.pngThe Superstruct game is now up and running. In less than 24 hours, there are nearly a thousand people signed up, and nearly a hundred proposed "superstructures."

    Here's the official announcement:

    The Superstruct game is live, and our survival clock is ticking.

    Together, we have just six short weeks to prevent the collapse of the human species in the year 2042.

    We can survive the Superthreats. If we take it one mission at a time.

    YOUR first mission: Register at http://superstructgame.org/UserRegistration. Complete your personal Survival Profile, and invent your future self. Who will YOU be in 2019?

    When you are ready for more missions, read How to Play or watch the How to Play video.

    If you register by 11:59 PM Pacific Time on October 7, you will earn a special honor: a gold diamond for your Survival Profile that marks you as a Fast Response player, one of the founding members of the Superstruct community. So join us now and lets start inventing the future!

    The Superstruct Creators

    My role on the Superstruct site is as the voice of GEAS, the organization behind the extinction report. My first piece just went up this morning, and reflects the changing perceptions of risk:

    The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle -- a basic concept from quantum physics -- tells us, in effect, that the act of measuring the location and motion of a particle changes those very characteristics.

    The same is true with the future.

    The very act of publishing the GEAS report changed the future. We tried to account for that, a bit at least, in some of our later simulation runs, but the funny thing was that some of the models had the report bringing about a functional extinction event much sooner than 2042, and some had the report pushing out the survival horizon considerably. In the end, we realized that we needed to learn more about how people would actually respond before we could understand what we ourselves had done.

    It's going to be fascinating to watch this thing evolve.

    October 2, 2008

    Long-Run vs. Long-Lag

    All distant problems are not created equally.

    By definition, distant (long-term) problems are those that show their real impact at some point in the not-near future; arbitrarily, we can say five or more years, but many of them won't have significant effects for decades. Our habit, and the institutions we've built, tend to look at long-term problems as more-or-less identical: Something big will happen later. For the most part, we simply wait until the long-term becomes the near-term before we act.

    This practice can be effective for some distant problems: Let's call them "long-run problems." With a long-run problem, a solution can be applied any time between now and when the problem manifests; the "solution window," if you will, is open up to the moment of the problem. While the costs will vary, it's possible for a solution applied at any time to work. It doesn't hurt to plan ahead, but taking action now instead of waiting until the problem looms closer isn't necessarily the best strategy. Sometimes, the environment changes enough that the problem is moot; sometimes, a new solution (costing much less) becomes available. By and large, long-run problems can be addressed with common-sense solutions.

    Here's a simple example of a long-run problem: You're driving a car in a straight line, and the map indicates a cliff in the distance. You can change direction now, or you can change direction as the cliff looms, and either way you avoid the cliff. If you know that there's a turn-off ahead, you may keep driving towards the cliff until you get to your preferred exit.

    The practice of waiting until the long-term becomes the near-term is less effective, however, for the other kind of distant problem: Let's call them "long-lag problems." With long-lag problems, there's a significant distance between cause and effect, for both the problem and any attempted solution. The available time to head-off the problem doesn't stretch from now until when the problem manifests; the "solution window" may be considerably briefer. Such problems can be harder to comprehend, since the connection between cause and effect may be subtle, or the lag time simply too enormous. Common-sense answers won't likely work.

    A simple, generic example of a long-lag problem is difficult to construct, since we don't tend to recognize them in our day-to-day lives. Events that may have been set in motion years ago can simply seem like accidents or coincidences, or even assigned a false proximate trigger in order for them to "make sense."

    But a real-world example of a long-lag problem should make the concept clear.

    Global warming is, for me, the canonical example of a long-lag problem, as geophysical systems don't operate on human cause-and-effect time frames. Because of atmospheric and ocean heat cycles (the "thermal inertia" I keep going on about), we're now facing the climate impacts of carbon pumped into the atmosphere decades ago. Similarly, if we were to stop emitting any greenhouse gases right this very second, we'd still see another two to three decades of warming, with all of the corresponding problems. If we're still three degrees below a climate disaster point, but have another two degrees of warming left because of thermal inertia regardless of what we do, we can't wait until we've increased to just below three degrees to act. If we do, we're hosed.

    With long-lag problems, you simply can't wait until the problem is imminent before you act. You have to act long in advance in order to solve the problem. In other words, the solution window closes long before the problem hits.

    We have a number of institutions, from government to religions to community organizations, with the potential to deal with long-run problems. We may not do well with them individually, but as a civilization, we've developed decent tools. However, we don't have many -- perhaps any -- institutions with the inherent potential to deal with long-lag problems. Moreover, too many people think all long-term problems are long-run problems.

    (This argument emerged from a mailing list discussion of the Copenhagen Consensus. Smart people, with lots of good ideas, but clearly convinced that we can address global warming as a long-run problem.)

    Sadly, recognizing the difference between long-run and long-lag problems simply isn't a common (or common-sense) way of thinking about the world. We evolved to engage in near-term foresight (and I mean that literally; look at the work of University of Washington neuroscientist William Calvin for details), and (as noted) we have developed institutions to engage in long-run foresight. Long-lag is a hard problem because it combines the insight requirements of long-run foresight (e.g., being able to make a reasonable projection for long-range issues) with the limited-knowledge-action requirements of near-term foresight (e.g., being able to act decisively and effectively before all information about a problem has been settled). Both are already difficult tasks; in combination, they can seem overwhelming.

    A salient characteristic of long-lag problems is that they're often not amenable to brief, intense interactions as solutions. Dealing with such problems can take a long period, during which time it may be unclear whether the problem has been solved. Politically, this can be a dangerous time -- the investment of money, time and expertise has already happened, but nothing yet can be shown for it.

    Another long-lag problem that shows this dilemma clearly is the risk of asteroid impact. It turns out that nuking the rock (as in Armageddon) doesn't work, but a small, steady force on the rock for a period of years, years ahead of the potential impact, does. Pushing the rock moves the point of impact slowly, and it may take a decade or more before we can be certain that the asteroid will now miss us. That's why the slim possibility of a 2036 impact of 99942 Apophis frightens many asteroid watchers: if we don't get a good read on the trajectory of the rock long before its near-approach in 2029, we simply won't have time to make a big enough change to its path to avoid disaster.

    But tell people in power that we need to be worrying now about something that won't even potentially hurt us until 2036, and the best you'll get is a blank look.

    My interest, at this point, is to try to identify other long-lag problems, and to see what kinds of general conditions separate long-run and long-lag problems. With both global warming and asteroid impacts, the lag comes from physics; with peak oil (and other resource collapse problems), conversely, the lag comes from the need for wholesale infrastructure replacement. What else is out there?

    Jamais Cascio

    Contact Jamais  ÃƒÂƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚ƒÃ‚¢Ã‚€Â¢  Bio

    Co-Founder, WorldChanging.com

    Director of Impacts Analysis, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

    Fellow, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

    Affiliate, Institute for the Future


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