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New challenges as global population will start declining already in the 2060s

January 24, 2021

The new challenge for the 22nd century, which will override almost all the perceived challenges and existential threats of today, will be population decline. How our intricately connected and interdependent world for food production, manufacturing, financial services, health services, education and leisure will be able to cope with a declining population, a declining work force and an increasing proportion of population (<20, >70) being non-productive, will be the dominating challenge faced by humanity. The pressure on some resources will clearly decrease. The further development and spread of automation will become an absolute must. The increasing use of “smart” contraptions with some embedded AI and the increasing interconnections between smart devices will be the primary means of compensating for the decline in humans available. Paradoxically, increasing automation and the increasing interconnections between our smart devices will probably lead to a decline in the interdependence of humans on each other. Each individual will be more dependent upon interconnected devices but less dependent upon other humans. Human independence – from other humans – could reach levels not seen since before the industrial revolution, but by choice rather than enforced.

The UN medium forecast based on the continuing decline in world fertility has the world reaching peak population at just over 11 billion just before 2100. But fertility rates are declining faster than the medium forecast.

Global fertility is falling faster than any prediction. It has reached critical levels in Japan and parts of Eastern Europe. Iran is providing incentives for increasing birth rates. In most of the EU countries it is only immigration and its consequence on fertility which is delaying the inevitable decline in fertility rates. The increased fertility rates among immigrant communities declines within a generation to match the “indigenous” rates. The Chinese population is already in decline. The Indian population will peak before 2050 rather than around 2070. Even Nigeria where population was expected to peak after 2100 will now reach its maximum probably by 2090, or even earlier.

New studies (The Lancet, July 14, 2020, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30677-2 ) now put the global population reaching a peak of 9.7 billion by 2064 and declining to 8.8 billion by 2100.

The work force decline has already started in China. In India it will start declining by 2050. It has become blindingly apparent during the corona virus pandemic that it is the work force which is both the “blood” which circulates and keeps our societies alive, and it is the glue which holds our societies together. It is in compensating for these human functions that automation and “smart” devices with some AI will come increasingly into play. A natural consequence is that having smarter devices leads to a fundamental change in the classic centralised- distributed paradigm. More smarts locally leads to more and narrower specialisation centrally.

I see the growing independence of individuals as inevitable with a declining human population together with smarter devices serving us. Smarter diagnostics and basic, automated health care locally is then complemented by fewer, very specialised central hospitals. The catchment area has to increase as the specialisations become narrower. (As is already happening in Scandinavia). Increasing on-line learning (local) is then complemented by specialised learning at the – fewer – centres. (As is already happening in Japan). Manufacturing (including food production and even farming) is increasingly automated.

In the 22nd and 23rd centuries there will not be a shortage of resources (food or water or energy), and there will be no shortage of growth as smart machines take over the boring and the mundane jobs, and there will be no decline in human ingenuity and creativity. But there may be a shortage of human companionship.


Numbers emerge from the concept of identity

December 18, 2020

Numbers are abstract. They do not have any physical existence. That much, at least, is fairly obvious and uncontroversial.

Are numbers even real? The concept of numbers is real but reason flounders when considering the reality of any particular number. All “rational” numbers (positive or negative) are considered “real numbers”. But in this usage, “real” is a label not an adjective. “Rational” and “irrational” are also labels when attached to the word number and are not adjectives describing the abstractions involved. The phrase “imaginary numbers” is not a comment about reality. “Imaginary” is again a label for a particular class of the concept that is numbers. Linguistically we use the words for numbers both as nouns and as adjectives. When used as a noun, meaning is imparted to the word only because of an attached context – implied or explicit. “A ten” has no meaning unless the context tells us it is a “ten of something” or as a “count of some things” or as a “measurement in some units” or a “position on some scale”. As nouns, numbers are not very pliable nouns; they cannot be modified by adjectives. There is a mathematical abstraction for “three” but there is no conceptual, mathematical difference between a “fat three” and a “hungry three”. They are not very good as adjectives either. “Three apples” says nothing about the apple. “60” minutes or “3,600” seconds do not describe the minutes or the seconds.

The number of apples on a tree or the number of atoms in the universe are not dependent upon the observer. But number is dependent upon a brain in which the concept of number has some meaning. All of number theory, and therefore all of mathematics, builds on the concept and the definition of one.  And one depends, existentially, on the concept of identity.

From Croutons in the soup of existence

The properties of one are prescribed by the assumptions (the “grammar”) of the language. One (1,unity), by this “grammar” of mathematics is the first non-zero natural number. It is the integer which follows zero. It precedes the number two by the same “mathematical distance” by which it follows zero. It is the “purest” number. Any number multiplied by one or divided by one remains that number. It is its own factorial. It is its own square or square root; cube or cube root; ad infinitum. One is enabled by existence and identity but thereafter its properties are defined, not discovered. 

The question of identity is a philosophical and a metaphysical quicksand. Identity is the relation everything has to itself and nothing else. But what does that mean? Identity confers uniqueness. (Identical implies sameness but identity requires uniqueness). The concept of one of anything requires that the concept of identity already be in place and emerges from it. It is the uniqueness of identity which enables the concept of a one.

Things exist. A class of similar things can be called apples. Every apple though is unique and has its own identity within that class of things. Now, and only now, can you count the apples. First comes existence, then comes identity along with uniqueness and from that emerges the concept of one. Only then can the concept of numbers appear; where a two is the distance of one away from one, and a three is a distance of one away from two. It is also only then that a negative can be defined as distance away in the other direction. Zero cannot exist without one being first defined. It only appears as a movement of one away from one in the opposite direction to that needed to reach two. Negative numbers were once thought to be unreal. But the concept of negative numbers is just as real as the concept for numbers themselves. The negative sign is merely a commentary about relative direction. Borrowing (+) and lending (-) are just a commentary about direction. 

But identity comes first and numbers are a concept which emerges from identity.


A licence to kill

November 27, 2020

James Bond is not just fantasy.

The French and the US do it. The Russians and the British do it. Iran and the Chinese and the Saudis do it. Iraq and Syria do it.

All nations give their agents a licence to act, in their own self-interest, even if against their own laws, when they are in foreign parts.

The Indians and the Pakistanis and the Afghans probably do it. So do most EU countries even if they would never acknowledge it. As long as nation states last, there is no nation not prepared to defend its nationhood.

In the latest case it is almost certainly Israeli agents who have eliminated a perceived threat.

Iran’s top nuclear scientist, assassinated near Tehran


Happy Diwali

November 13, 2020

14th November 2020

diwali

Histories are always about justifying something in the present

November 8, 2020

Hardly a day goes by where I do not consider the origin of something. On some days I may ponder the origin of hundreds of things. It could be just curiosity or it could be to justify some current action or to decide upon some future action. Sometimes it is the etymology of a word or it could be the origins of an idea. It could be the story of what happened yesterday or something about my father or a thought about the origins of time. I know that when I seek the history of a place or a thing or a person, that what I get is just a story. In every case the story inevitably carries the biases of the story-teller. However, most stories are constrained by “evidence” though the point of the story may well lie in the narrative (inevitably biased) connecting the points of evidence.

The same evidence can generate as many stories as there are story-tellers. Often the narrative between sparse evidence forms the bulk of the story. When the past is being called upon to justify current or future actions, histories are invented and reinvented by playing with the narrative which lies between the evidence. Of course, the narrative cannot contain what is contradicted by the evidence. Human memory is always perception and perception itself is imperfect and varies. I know that the story I tell of some event in my own history changes with time. Thus the “history” I tell of all that lies between the “recorded facts” of my own existence is a variable and is a function of the “now”. It is experience and knowledge of the world and the people around us which provides the credibility for the stories which lie between the evidence. But bias plays its role here as well. A desired story-line is always more credible than one which is not.

A historian looks for the events which, incontrovertibly, took place. The further back events lie in the past the less evidence survives. But histories are never merely a tabulation of events with evidence (though even what constitutes incontrovertible evidence is not without controversy). The more there is evidence the more constrained is the inter-connecting narrative. But historians make their reputations on the stories they tell. Their histories are always a combination of evidenced events and the narrative connecting them. Historian bias is inevitable.

I have been writing a story – hardly a history – about my father’s early life and through the Second World War. For a period covering some 20 years I have documented evidence for about 30 separate events – dates when certain events occurred. The date he graduated, the date he joined up, the date he was promoted or the date he arrived somewhere. The documented events are, like all documented events, just events. If not this set of events then it would have been some other similar set of events. If not these particular dates then some other set of dates. The events are always silent about what his mood was or what he had for breakfast on the day of the event. They provide a fixed frame but the overwhelming bulk of my story is speculation about why and how he went from one event to the next. The story fits my understanding of how he was much later in his life. My story about his motivations and his behaviour are entirely speculation but always fit my central story-line. The documented events are just the bones on which to hang the flesh of my story. My story is not determined by the events. It is determined elsewhere but has to conform to the events.

Go back a little under 1,000 years and consider Genghis Khan. We have documentary evidence about the date he died but even his date of birth is speculation. Current histories vary according to whether the historian desires to describe a hero or a villain. Both can be hung upon the framework provided by the few documented events available. Go back another 1,000 years and even with the large (relatively) amount of evidence available about the Roman Empire, the range of speculation possible can justify the politics of any contemporary viewpoint.

And so it is with all histories. We claim that histories help us to understand the past and that this, in turn, helps us to choose our future actions. I am not so sure. The power of a history lies in the credibility of the narrative connecting the certain events. As with the story about my father, a history is not a narrative determined by the events. The narrative is determined by other imperatives but must conform to the events. I begin to think that we write (and rewrite) our histories, always in the present, and with our present understandings, to justify where we are or the choices we want to make. They are always a justification of something in the present.


100 years after the Spanish flu, virology still has far to go

October 4, 2020

Medical science does wonders. From amazing surgical procedures to an incredible variety of drugs and a fantastic array of tools and equipment, medicine, as it is practiced today, is light years ahead of where it was in 1918 at the time of the Spanish flu. Yet, medical science has not been capable of quickly defeating the current Wuhan virus pandemic. Health care has improved beyond recognition. Compared to 100 years ago, health services can deploy a bewildering variety of drugs and equipment and therapies to treat the infected.

The effects of the current pandemic are most often compared with the effects of the Spanish flu in 1918. The flu virus was identified in 1933 and the first flu vaccine came out in 1942. However, even today the flu vaccine is thought to be effective only in a little over 50% of cases. It is estimated that the Spanish flu, over a period of 3 years killed between 25 and 39 million people and that about 500 million were infected when the global population was only about 1,800 million. Today with a global population of 7, 200 million it is estimated that at least 35 million have been infected and, so far, over 1 million are thought to have died. The pandemic has lasted 6 months and is still ongoing. The virus was identified very quickly – perhaps one month – but only after the data repressed by the Chinese government and the WHO – leaked out.

The hunt for a vaccine is only 6 months old. There are at least 300 groups actively searching for one. Around 30 proposed vaccines have entered some kind of clinical trials. Estimates of when a vaccine could be readily available range from 6 months to 2 years to never. Money is being thrown at vaccine development at unprecedented levels. Certainly some of the groups chasing a vaccine have zero chance of success but cannot resist the temptation of huge amounts of easy money.

But virology is far from a settled science. In fact, there is still debate on whether a virus is living or not. That there are 300 different groups seeking a vaccine is, itself, evidence of 300 different opinions. During the past 6 months a bewildering variety of suggestions have been made for prophylactics, remedies and cures. Every single one has come from a “medical specialist”. The best advice is still “avoid infection” (by social distancing and masks which may or may not work), and hope. There are no preventive drugs and there are no cures (beyond treating symptoms). If and when vaccines are found, they will vary in how effective they are. Estimates of how expensive a vaccine may be range from 30$ to 300$ per dose for either a one-dose or a two-dose vaccine, with immunity available for periods ranging from 3 months to 1 year after vaccination.

Everyday new “experts” are trotted out on TV. But the science is not settled and there are no experts. The simple reality is that compared to 100 years ago, this pandemic has medical science just as stymied as the Spanish flu did – but at a very much higher level of knowledge.


Does the WHO chief add any value?

August 7, 2020

Below its political management the WHO does seem to add some value – though not anything much better than could be achieved without the WHO.

But the role of “WHO chief” adds no value that I can perceive (except perhaps to Chinese geopolitical aims). He (or his Press Corps) seem unable to avoid the obvious or the nonsensical.

 


 

Sol Invictus 2019

December 31, 2018

 


 

Diwali break

November 3, 2018

This year Diwali falls on 7th November.

 


 

Population decline will cause more misery than population increase ever could (or did)

August 6, 2018

Global population will decline from about 2100 onward. That demographic is already written in stone. For some countries the decline has already started.

By 2100 the global population will have reached about 10.5 billion. It is already too late for the subsequent decline to be completely averted, but it is the experience of countries such as those above over the next 5 decades or so which will be key in determining how the challenge is to be met. Declining fertility rate is now a global phenomenon but it is the rate at which population declines locally that will be the determining factor if, and to what extent, societal collapse occurs. The more interconnected and interdependent a society is, the more traumatic a collapse will be.

In well developed societies (and using Japan as an example) the first stress-point will come with the ratio of those in productive work (16 – 70 years) to those in need of societal support (<16 and >70 years). At some point the cost of this support will become prohibitive for the public purse. The support will not end abruptly but will become increasingly a function of the availability of private resources. Even within the last decade I have observed that public health care in Europe is now trying to reduce the number of hip and knee replacements for the elderly. For patients beyond a certain age, public health care now tries to avoid the more expensive procedures (cancer treatment, complex surgery ….. ). A new measure is now coming into play in decision making for public health care – YPPL (Years of Potential Life Lost). Once a patient is over 80, the YPPL is too low to justify the more expensive procedures.

The effects of depopulation would first be felt in rural areas where communities, which once were largely self-sufficient, become under-critical. These effects are already being seen in rural Japan where public transport is reducing, houses, schools and clinics are being abandoned and what little manufacturing industry was present has vanished. Those left in the rural areas are the elderly who have not the wherewithal to move. In central Europe it is the young, and especially young women, who move away from rural areas.

Japan Times:

The effects of a population decrease are already being felt. Cases in which road bridges have been closed to traffic because of a lack of funds for maintenance and a drop in the number of users are increasing. Forests exist whose owners are now unknown. The number of vacant houses are increasing. Some municipalities have passed by-laws under which they will demolish vacant houses that have become dangerously dilapidated.

In the countryside, traffic consists mainly of privately owned vehicles. As the population grays, however, more and more elderly people will be unable to drive, making it difficult for them to buy food and other essentials or to receive medical care. In local communities in mountainous areas in particular it is becoming extremely difficult to maintain a suitable level of social services for residents. It will become necessary for local governments to concentrate essential facilities such as medical institutions and administrative organizations in certain areas and take administrative steps to relocate elderly people who need such services so they can be close to them.

Paradoxically, cities could become inundated with populations moving in from rural areas which have become under-critical. The city services would be over-extended but without the labour force to be able to provide increased services. Misery would increase in both rural areas and in the cities.

The great mitigating hope is the development of AI and robots. However a fully automated society will also need much infrastructure investment and automation will not be able to stop the abandonment of rural areas. Driver-less buses and robot-manned clinics are entirely feasible but these will be solutions that will need a critical mass of population. Services for children and the elderly will be increasingly automated but will necessarily be concentrated in the cities.

I have no doubt that the challenges will be met. I suspect that automation and AI will be of greater value than mass migration. But the transition may take several decades and perhaps even a hundred years. Even though some central European countries are seeing a more rapid population decline, I expect that Japan will lead the way in finding the new solutions. By 2060 the Japanese population will be just two-thirds of what it was in 2010. Forests and farms will have to be automated to a much higher degree. Small, family-run rice production will shift to larger, automated farms. Rural areas will still be productive – but they will be unmanned. Growth will no longer be driven by population growth.

The transition to a much more automated society will come, but with a cost. That cost will be an increase in the misery index. The elderly in rural areas will be the first to experience an increase of misery. Longevity increase will level off and may even reverse. Public health care for the elderly will have to meet cost benefit criteria. Voluntary euthanasia for the elderly will become normal. There will be tax incentives for having children. Any need for an increase in children services will be met by automation rather than by humans. The success of automation will reduce the pool of routine, unskilled jobs available. Unemployment for the less-educated and the less-skilled will increase. The social rift between the unemployable and the more intelligent, skilled or creative could increase.

The increase of misery seems inevitable. But it will not last for ever. Population will probably stabilise but there will be a strong pressure for ensuring the long-term employability of those being born. A much greater degree of genetic screening of fetuses will result. Downs Syndrome and other genetic conditions will be eliminated. Humans may well be on the way to evolving to be more cerebrally capable and less capable physically.

Artificial selection will have arrived.


 


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