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Posts Tagged ‘MIT

“The idea that there might be limits to growth is for many people impossible to imagine”*…

At some level, we all know that nothing lasts forever…

In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources…

The report, authored by Donella Meadows and colleagues (working for Jay Forrester and the Club of Rome), was controversial from its release, with many pundits (often with sponsorship of mining, chemical, and petroleum companies)suggesting that the report’s logic’s flawed. But as scientists like Graham Turner of CSIRO observed in “A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality” just after after the turn of the century (summarized and updated here), the MIT team’s projections were alarmingly on track. A new study suggests that the LtG projections are holding still…

The analysis has now received stunning vindication from a study written by a senior director at professional services giant KPMG, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms as measured by global revenue.The study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. It concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.

The study represents the first time a top analyst working within a mainstream global corporate entity has taken the ‘limits to growth’ model seriously. Its author, Gaya Herrington, is Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at KPMG in the United States. However, she decided to undertake the research as a personal project to understand how well the MIT model stood the test of time. 

The study itself is not affiliated or conducted on behalf of KPMG, and does not necessarily reflect the views of KPMG. Herrington performed the research as an extension of her Masters thesis at Harvard University in her capacity as an advisor to the Club of Rome. However, she is quoted explaining her project on the KPMG website as follows: 

“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”

Titled ‘Update to limits to growth: Comparing the World3 model with empirical data’, the study attempts to assess how MIT’s ‘World3’ model stacks up against new empirical data. Previous studies that attempted to do this found that the model’s worst-case scenarios accurately reflected real-world developments. However, the last study of this nature [Graham Turner’s update, as above] was completed in 2014. 

Herrington’s new analysis examines data across 10 key variables, namely population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint. She found that the latest data most closely aligns with two particular scenarios, ‘BAU2’ (business-as-usual) and ‘CT’ (comprehensive technology). 

“BAU2 and CT scenarios show a halt in growth within a decade or so from now,” the study concludes. “Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible. Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modelled by LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century.”

Study author Gaya Herrington told Motherboard that in the MIT World3 models, collapse “does not mean that humanity will cease to exist,” but rather that “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the BAU2 scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040.”…

MIT Predicted in 1972 That Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.” The headline notwithstanding, The MIT team’s study didn’t so much make predictions as it played out a systems dynamics model in order to identify issues that might emerge. And like any model, theirs was rooted in assumptions that could/should have eroded over the last 50 years… which makes the fact that “reality” seems to be tracing the contours thatchy sketched even more notable. Time to revisit those assumptions… Bracing– but important– reading.

[Image above: source]

* Donella Meadows

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As we get serious, we might send systemic birthday greetings to Thomas Samuel Kuhn; he died on this date in 1996.  A physicist, historian, and philosopher of science, Kuhn believed that scientific knowledge didn’t advance in a linear, continuous way, but via periodic “paradigm shifts.”  Karl Popper had approached the same territory in his development of the principle of “falsification” (to paraphrase, a theory isn’t false until it’s proven true; it’s true until it’s proven false).  But while Popper worked as a logician, Kuhn worked as a historian.  His 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions made his case; and while he had– and has— his detractors, Kuhn’s work has been deeply influential in both academic and popular circles (indeed, the phrase “paradigm shift” has become an English-language staple).

“What man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also upon what his previous visual-conception experience has taught him to see.”

Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

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“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”*…

Killed by Google is the Google graveyard; a free and open source list of discontinued Google services, products, devices, and apps. We aim to be a source of factual information about the history surrounding Google’s dead projects.

Contributors from around the world help compile, research, and maintain the information about dying and dead Google products. You can join the discussion on GitHub, or follow us on Twitter. A project by Cody Ogden.

206 projects, and counting– some have been supplanted by newer Google services; some, outmatched by competitors; and some… well, maybe just not such good ideas to begin with: “Killed By Google.”

* Winston Churchill

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As we obsess over obsolescence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1995 that The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chronicled the World Wide Web in its A Day in the Life of Cyberspace project.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Media Lab had invited submissions for the days leading up to October 10, 1995, on a variety of issues related to technology and the Internet, including privacy, expression, age, wealth, faith, body, place, languages, and the environment.  Then on October 10, a team at MIT collected, edited, and published the contributions to “create a mosaic of life at the dawn of the digital revolution that is transforming our planet.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“With a library it is easier to hope for serendipity than to look for a precise answer”*…

 

At first, the new website for the collection of MIT’s influential Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) seems like a straightforward web page. But as it scrolls down, through the introductory text and into randomly selected works from the archive, it becomes clear that the content is warping into three dimensional space, and branching into spiraling trees of related work, organized by creator and medium — an experience designed to evoke the sensation of wandering through the center’s physical archive.

“Someone might be coming in to do research on environmental sculpture, and then they see all these images on, I don’t know, holography, and then they’d say ‘oh, I really want to check that out,’” said Jeremy Grubman, an MIT archivist who spearheaded the project. “So I wanted to find a way to produce that in a digital space, to produce that concept of serendipitous browsing.”

50 years of art across three-dimensional space; as Jon Christian explains, “This MIT archive will be your trippiest scrolling experience today.”

Check it out.

* Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), When Did You See Her Last?

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As we prepare for pleasant surprises, we might send cartographically-correct birthday greetings to Gerardus Mercator; he was born on this date in 1512.  The most renown cartographer of his time, he created a world map based on a new projection– the Mercator Projection— which represented sailing courses of constant bearing as straight lines, an approach still employed in nautical charts used for navigation.

While he was most esteemed as the foremost geographer of his day, Mercator was also an accomplished engraver, calligrapher and maker of globes and scientific instruments.  And he studied theology, philosophy, history, mathematics, and magnetism.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 5, 2018 at 1:01 am

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”*…

 

We are surrounded by hysteria about the future of artificial intelligence and robotics—hysteria about how powerful they will become, how quickly, and what they will do to jobs.

I recently saw a story in ­MarketWatch that said robots will take half of today’s jobs in 10 to 20 years. It even had a graphic to prove the numbers.

The claims are ludicrous. (I try to maintain professional language, but sometimes …) For instance, the story appears to say that we will go from one million grounds and maintenance workers in the U.S. to only 50,000 in 10 to 20 years, because robots will take over those jobs. How many robots are currently operational in those jobs? Zero. How many realistic demonstrations have there been of robots working in this arena? Zero. Similar stories apply to all the other categories where it is suggested that we will see the end of more than 90 percent of jobs that currently require physical presence at some particular site.

Mistaken predictions lead to fears of things that are not going to happen, whether it’s the wide-scale destruction of jobs, the Singularity, or the advent of AI that has values different from ours and might try to destroy us. We need to push back on these mistakes. But why are people making them? I see seven common reasons…

Mistaken extrapolations, limited imagination, and other common mistakes that distract us from thinking more productively about the future: Rodney Brooks on “The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions.”

* Roy Amara, co-founder of The Institute for the Future

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As we sharpen our analyses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1995 that The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chronicled the World Wide Web in its A Day in the Life of Cyberspace project.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Media Lab had invited submissions for the days leading up to October 10, 1995, on a variety of issues related to technology and the Internet, including privacy, expression, age, wealth, faith, body, place, languages, and the environment.  Then on October 10, a team at MIT collected, edited, and published the contributions to “create a mosaic of life at the dawn of the digital revolution that is transforming our planet.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 10, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”*…

 

Further to Wednesday’s almanac entry on America’s first independent municipal sewer system

Sometime in mid to late January, researchers from MIT plan to gather around a manhole on Portland Street in East Cambridge, dressed in plastic disposable biohazard coats and gloves. Each hour over the next 24, working in teams of two over four-hour shifts, they’ll sink a tube into the muck and pump one to two liters of sewage water into a plastic container. The container will be put into a cooler and taken to the nearby lab at MIT run by Eric Alm, a computational microbiologist. Alm’s lab will analyze all 24 of these sludgy samples to see what viruses and bacteria they hold; meanwhile, a vial of each sample will be sent to another lab to be analyzed for biomarkers (molecular or cellular flags for things like diseases and drugs, legal and illegal ).

These researchers—who include architects, computational biologists, designers, electrical and mechanical engineers, geneticists, and microbiologists—will be testing an idea that’s attracting interest around the world: namely, that sewage can tell us important things about the people who excrete it. Already, research has shown that sewage can reveal illicit drug usage, the presence of influenza, the poliovirus and other pathogens, and the state of community health. So far, however, none of this has been tested in our local waste systems, other than some proof-of-concept sampling done in Boston. That has led to this first formal effort by scientists and public health officials to get a sewage snapshot of the people of Cambridge…

Get to the bottom at “What does Cambridge sewage say about residents? MIT plans to find out.”

* Mel Brooks

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As we hold our noses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1594 that Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus was first performed (by Sussex’s Men at The Rose).  Titus‘s premiere is the first performance of a Shakespeare play of which there is precise record (though confident deduction dates other plays’ performances earlier); it was recorded in Philip Henslowe‘s diary.  It is also the only Shakespeare play for which a contemporary illustration survives, the work of a drawing master named Henry Peacham.

The Peacham drawing (c.1595)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

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