January 1, 2013. This page is retired. Ten years ago it really seemed like the whole system was about to come apart. People who saw a crash coming were seeing things that were being ignored by people who expected business as usual. Yet we were still wrong. After seeing how little daily life has changed after the 2008 financial collapse, seven years with global oil production on a plateau, and two catastrophic hurricanes, I think the big mistake of doomers was assuming that failures would have positive feedback like a house of cards. At this point, anyone still using the “house of cards” metaphor is not a serious analyst but an entertainer. It’s clear that the interconnectedness of modern complex systems makes them stronger, not weaker.
This is especially true of technological systems. I no longer expect any kind of tech crash, except that resource-intensive benefits like driving and eating meat will become more expensive and less available to poor people. Economies will collapse as they adjust to decades of zero or negative growth, weaker nations and businesses will fail, but computers will continue to get stronger, and manufacturing will adapt to resource decline by becoming more efficient and better able to compete with human workers. At the same time, no government that can possibly avoid it will allow its citizens to starve, so there will be even more subsidies for industrially produced human dog food.
Over the next few decades I see the global system passing through a bottleneck as it shifts from nonrenewable to renewable resources. We fantasize about apocalypse because we want the world to get looser, but I see it getting crappier and tighter. When we emerge from the bottleneck, life will get nicer… but are we coming out of the bottle, or going in? I think the “singularity” will match its meaning in astrophysics: the center of a black hole, with 90% of increasing computing power being used to stop the other 10% from doing anything interesting. I imagine an airtight sci-fi utopia/dystopia, where almost everything will be automated, nobody will have to do any work, everyone will be comfortable and safe, and we will have amazing powers to entertain ourselves. Other than that, we will have less power than any people in history or prehistory. The world will be lifeless and meaningless, a human museum, a suicide machine. Making the world alive again will be our next challenge.