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January 14, 2013


Bill Tetzlaff

The current environment you describe, of fast moving systems, highly interconnected, with feedback loops, reminded me of the writings of Charles Perrow, and his concept of "normal accidents." He is an industrial psychologist/industrial engineer, and now Emeritus Professor at Yale. His book looks at major disasters, like Three Mile Island, and concludes that many of our industrial systems are much more prone to accident than our normal engineering analysis would suggest. He cites systems that are so complex that people really do not understand them when they are working, much less than when they are going haywire. Fast movement, so there is little time to think and react, and feedback loops, make systems fundamentally unstable. His point was that we need to build robust systems, that assume that failure will happen, rather than trying to design failure out of the system. This way we create a robust system that can withstand failures that we do not anticipate. He was thinking about industrial accidents, but he was also talking about all the same characteristics that you cite about our current world environment.


Nassim Taleb, comes to similar conclusions about world changing, unlikely events, being more common than we realize, though through a much different analysis.


Bringing all three together, it seems to me we are in an environment in which the next 20 years can bring an enormous number of possible outcomes, some of which are good, and some of which are terrible. As a systems person, I lean toward wanting a world political system that is robust in the face of partial failures. I am left pondering what that might mean in this case.

Mark Stahlman

Irving: Wonderful summary and penetrating thoughts about the best attempt so far by the US intelligence community to understand the BIG PICTURE. As you know, I think they fell *significantly* short on understanding the impact of technology on all this, in fact I think they FLUNKED. Most importantly, if, as they intimate, we are no longer in the 200+ year-old "industrial revolution," then what is this? The answer today, just as way-back-then, lies in way our technologies and the sciences that underlie them have already and will later reshape society. Alas, those putting this together will need some help to deal with these issues!

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