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October 3rd, 2007
Wicked Complexity and False Certainty
We can't know what future technological disruptions may look like. We do know that extension of smooth trend lines, such as in the Limits to Growth or Population Bomb treatments, is always wrong.
Moreover, differentiating between reoccurring and idiosyncratic phenomenon, the essence of generalization and thus modeling, depends on being able to differentiate between that which is stable, including those dynamics that are predictable and repetitive, and that which is unstable.
This becomes problematic, for economic or environmental modeling, when human social and cultural systems, and their reflexivity and contingency, become important components of the system.
It is here where many physical scientists and environmentalists stumble, for it is precisely the boundary between the stable and unstable, the recurrent and the stochastic, which shifts as science is extended from physical to social, cultural, and (human) historical systems.
This is even more the case as explosive and accelerating technological evolution across foundational technology systems - nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, information and communication technologies, and cognitive science - makes even that which we could previously assume to be stable contingent over much shorter time frames.
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