I’ve often mocked science fiction stories set centuries in the future, yet with stable tech not much more advanced than our own, especially when they have big successful subgroups who resist innovation. I’ve also mocked stories (and actual plans) wherein some small group purposely cuts itself off from the larger world, and then expects to beat that larger world in a fair fight. (Like Captain Nemo or Bond villains.) Don’t they know that tech has consistently accelerated for at least a million years, is changing fast now, and is expected to change even faster soon? Or that it has long been the whole world that is powerful together, not small isolated parts?
“ I fear that the sort of thoughtful dispassionate analysis that I am good at is quite inadequate to this problem.”
I love that. Do I have your permission to use it for my epitaph?
"I now see that the joke is on me." Kudos being willing to admit your error.
I wonder how a sharp increase in the amount of disorder, conflict and war would affect things? My sense is that war has a positive effect on both birth rates and innovation. Of course war waged with modern weapons, particularly nukes, as a negative effect on a whole host of other things which might very well swamp any of the previously mentioned benefits.
Tracking Ukraine's demographic trends could be instructive.
Isn't the other choice just to work hard on AI so we are replaced by silicon descendants?
This is a fairly convincing foretelling given what we know about existing dynamics, but I think what may be more convincing is that futurists are generally wrong because they cannot foretell future disruptions that shift dynamics on a dime. There will likely be some externality that shifts everything we know today to be true on its head.
Expecting unexpected externalities is the most predictable fortelling.
I've been reading your prior columns, but I still don't understand why innovation would grind to a halt when birthrare plummets. The world had plenty of innovation in the prior 2 centuries when population was lower. Also: why would the world be so terrible if innovation was reduced?
No slow process can destroy our civilization. There are two many power centers, and different groups try different things until a solution diffuses itself. The same for climate change. We will overcome any trend: overpopulation, peak oil, ecological multicrisis...
On the other hand solar storms, super volcanos, nuclear war can really change the course of future towards permanent disaster.
My advice to longtermists is: ignore trends, hedge tails. But you know what? As much as yourself I do not expect much action there either...
The idea that society will be dominated by the high-fertility subcultures is reductionist and assumes that the part of society one is born into is nearly perfectly correlated with the part of society one affiliates with as an adult, which is not the case. Conservative religious groups have higher fertility, but many people raised in those environments convert to more secular or liberal worldviews as adults. Parts of society that don't have high fertility compete with high-fertility parts by being more alluring. Equilibrium can continue indefinitely.
I get most of the population de-growth arguments, and apologies if already covered, but I haven't seen the argument to counter the problem of what the consequences of future never-ending population growth are? Not from a meeting-our-needs with food/resources POV, but from a "80 or 800 billion people in rabbit hutches living a Disneyworld-esque life" POV? Aside: John Brunner wrote a bit about this (from a very 70's perspective).
The Catholic prohibition on abortion was something that attempted to stem this tide. The Church was looking at demographic decline and codified the prohibition in its laws and spread the message by embedding it in its sermons, literature, education, and culture.
The future, whatever it looks like, belongs to those who show up.
Man, what are you talking about? There are already 8 billion people, and we don’t have enough food, energy, water or jobs for even a third of them. Why would we want more? So that rich people can have even more choice for their servants?
Robin, does your `default view' framing imply that you believe AGI is not coming for at least 40 years, and possibly hundreds?
Or do you simply mean that the `default' view is to be insulated from gameboard-flipping AI timelines?
It's strange how I read this and other related articles and think, "Ayn Rand may have gotten the prescriptions wrong in Atlas Shrugged, but her diagnosis seems spot on." I see more and more arguments and evidence toward the notion that people who have anything of value to contribute to society should pool their efforts with like minded individuals and GTFO of public life. I don't like this conclusion, but it seems like the natural result of a variety of terrible phenomena happening throughout society.
Perhaps small, insular groups of certain types of people can create and maintain human civilization as the rest of the world spins apart, but I'm not sure it's possible, let alone ethical or desirable.
You should read Arnold Toynbee. His civilizational cycles are out of fashion now, but he sees history as cycles of rise and fall, with a new religious consciousness spawned from each period of decay. Like Christianity out of declining Rome, but other parallels throughout history, including in Hinduism and Buddhism.
You should be more optimistic, your sort of analysis is adequate for solving this problem but ideas take time to diffuse throughout society. Also, if your predictions are correct won't the economic decline and innovation pause be an obvious red flag and spur action? Or do you predict we will just be used to living in that world and not care?
You need to start some sort of cult that has beliefs that you find acceptable, and also supports a high fertility rate. You might read this and think, what, I'm not the sort of person who starts a cult, that's silly. No, no, I think you are that sort of person. Weren't there people making t-shirts with your face on them at some conference recently? It's time to raise your ambitions and realize, instead of *joining* some lame existing cult, you could be *creating* a new and superior one.
capture by metaphor
is declining birth rate an iceberg or rising tide/quicksand/some other appropriate metaphor for a slow process?
if it's a slow enough process there would be pressure to innovate replacements for the missing people