Patterns: Global Systems & Human Adaptation

Overview: The top-level context for the next 10-20 years will be characterized by growing environmental challenges across the planet, notably more irregular weather patterns with increasingly severe storms, a rise in temperatures and a reduction of rainfall leading to shifting distributions of agriculture and farming. Regions that are heated but retain humidity will face rising bacterial & viral outbreaks, especially if these regions see further economic declines due to declining food production. These changes will challenge many populations, adding pressure to invest in more climate-controlled (and energy-intensive) infrastructure and/or migrate towards more wet & fertile lands. The great dependence on rainfall and water delivery infrastructure coupled to its widely distributed nature will impact drought-stricken regions considerably, as well as neighboring water-rich regions (eg. Los Angeles and Northern California) that may see growing tensions across resource inequities.

Within this global system the primary drivers remain materials technologies, energy capture & generation, health care (freemium & premium), cleaning & streamlining industrial processes, managing supply chains (particularly with respect to resource/energy overhead, social & environmental impacts), remediating toxic environments, and coping with persistent disruptions to all of these. In communities, trends are moving towards group empowerment through emerging technologies for computation, communication, collaboration, design, and fabrication. This empowerment enables both resilience & resistance, aiding some to design better civic structures & local production capacity, for example, while others design and execute disruptive events and attacks on high-value targets.

Across the species, though in no way homogeneous, lifespans are extending, health care is more reliable, mobile computing is more powerful & ubiquitous, screens and media are proliferating, and more people, objects, plants, and animals are creating digital identities and communicating across the cloud. There is a rapid movement to digitize human information and expose it to massive computational structures, iterating exponentially across literally billions of logical nodes. This movement into the cloud has a huge energetic overhead only recently being considered – not to mention the social and economic impacts rapidly rewriting much of the first world.

Computational systems are evolving to model and predict larger living systems. We now model natural systems, business enterprise, financial variables, and human behavior deriving greater ability to predict future probabilities. All in order for the species to continue its adaptive success while willfully managing our resource requirements & impacts while effectively supporting a global virtualization of human endeavor, expression, and creativity.

In a nutshell, the patterns and processes we’ve relied upon are moving into a time of great flux with all systems facing regular perturbations. Change is the only constant. Survival, as it always ultimately has, depends on flexibility, resilience, collaboration, and adaptation.

Disruptive Civil Technologies
Six Technologies with Potential Impacts on US Interests out to 2025
(National Intelligence Council):

Key trends, “most likely to enhance or degrade US national power out to 2025″
– Biogerontechnology
– Energy Storage Materials
– Biofuels and Bio-Based Chemicals
– Clean Coal Technologies
– Service Robotics
– The Internet of Things.

[The NIC report offers some interesting signals but I personally disagree with their sense of trending towards biofuels. Turning human energy sources (food) into industrial energy sources (biofuel) is exceptionally short-sighted and dangerous and has already incurred a large backlash in common sense. I don’t know enough about so-called “clean coal” to comment… but I’m highly dubious.]

From the IFTF Winter 2009 Overview and Jane McGonigal’s initial Superstructing results.

Top Signals 2009
– Geolocation
– Biometrics & accelerometers
– Handheld augmented reality
– Simulation engines
– Lifecasting platforms
– Social networks for every living thing
– Avatars everywhere
– Virtual worlds based on real worlds

Critical Factors
– Evolvability
– Extreme scale
– Ambient collaboration
– Reverse scarcity
– Adaptive emotions
– Amplified optimism
– Playtests

DRAFT 2009 Climate Action Team Biennial Report to the Governor and Legislature (California Climate Change portal):

All simulations indicate that extremely hot daytime and nighttime temperatures (heat waves) increase in frequency, magnitude, and duration from the historical period. Within a given heat wave, there is an increasing tendency for multiple hot days in succession—i.e., heat waves last longer. Furthermore, the number of days with simultaneously hot daytime temperatures in multiple regions in the state increases markedly; this has important implications for emergency response and satisfying electricity demand in the state.

…In the northern part of California, the tendency for drying fades and even reverses but in Southern California the amount of drying becomes greater, with decreases in some simulations exceeding 15% drier. became significantly wetter by the end of the century.

…The results suggest that climate change will decrease annual crop yields in the long- term, particularly for cotton, unless future climate change is minimized and/or adaptation of management practices and improved cultivars becomes widespread.

…In summary, without changes in operating rules for the water system in California the reliability of water supply will be severely affected. On the other hand, it seems that California could afford the implementation of adaptation measures that could significantly reduce the system’s vulnerability.

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