Friday, 8 February 2013

Rah Simple Scenarios

Scenario planning is a popular way to think about possible futures. In scenario planning, one seeks a modest number of scenarios that are each internally consistent, story-like, describe equilibrium rather than transitory situations, and are archetypal in representing clusters of relevant driving forces. The set of scenarios should cover a wide range of possibilities across key axes of uncertainty and disagreement.


Ask most “hard” science folks about scenario planning and they’ll roll their eyes, seeing it as hopelessly informal and muddled. And yes, one reason for its popularity is probably that insiders can usually make it say whatever they want it to say. Nevertheless, when I try to think hard about the future I am usually drawn to something very much like scenario planning. It does in fact seem a robustly useful tool.


It often seems useful to collect a set of scenarios defined in terms of their reference to a “baseline” scenario. For example, macroeconomic scenarios are often (e.g.) defined in terms of deviation from baseline projections of constant growth, stable market shares, etc.


If one chooses a most probable scenario as a baseline, as in microeconomic projections, then variations on that baseline may conveniently have similar probabilities to one another. However, it seems to me that it is often more useful to instead pick baselines that are simple, i.e., where they and simple variations can be more easily analyzed for their consequences.


For example even if a major war is likely sometime in the next century, one may prefer to use as a baseline a scenario where there are no such wars. This baseline will make it easier to analyze the consequences of particular war scenarios, such as adding a war between India and Pakistan, or between China and Taiwan. Even if a war between India and Pakistan is more likely than not within a century, using the scenario of such a war as a baseline will make it harder to define and describe other scenarios as variations on that baseline.


Of course the scenario where an asteroid destroys all life on Earth is extremely simple, in the sense of making it very easy to forecast socially relevant consequences. So clearly you usually don’t want the simplest possible scenario. You instead want to a mix of reasons for choosing scenario features.


Some features will be chosen because they are central to your forecasting goals, and others will be chosen because they seem far more likely than alternatives. But still other baseline scenario features should be chosen because they make it easier to analyze the consequences of that scenario and of simple variations on it.


In economics, we often use competitive baseline scenarios, i.e., scenarios where supply and demand analysis applies well. We do this not such much because we believe that this is the usual situation, but because such scenarios make great baselines. We can more easily estimate the consequences of variations by seeing them as situations where supply or demand changes. We also consider variations where supply and demand applies less well, but we know it will be harder to calculate the consequences of such scenarios and variations on them.


Yes, it is often a good idea to first look for your keys under the lamppost. You keys are probably not there, but that is a good place to anchor your mental map of the territory, so you can plan your search of the dark.

Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo Seminar Media

This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.


Thursday January 17, 02012 – San Francisco


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In the most isolated place on Earth a tiny society built world-class monuments. Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is 1,000 miles from the nearest Pacific island, 3,000 miles from the nearest continent. It is just six by ten miles in size, with no running streams, terrible soil, occasional droughts, and a relatively barren ocean. Yet there are 900 of the famous statues (moai), weighing up to 75 tons and 40 feet high. Four hundred of them were moved many miles from where they were quarried to massive platforms along the shores.


Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began their archeological work on Easter Island in 2001 expecting to do no more than add details to the standard morality tale of the collapse of the island’s ecology and society—Polynesians discovered Rapa Nui around 400-800AD and soon overpopulated the place (30,000 people on an island the size of San Francisco); competing elites cut down the last trees to move hundreds of enormous statues; after excesses of “moai madness” the elites descend into warfare and cannibalism, and the ecology collapses; Europeans show up in 1722. The obvious lesson is that Easter Island, “the clearest example of a society that destroyed itself“ (Jared Diamond), is a warning of what could happen to Earth unless we learn to live with limits.


A completely different story emerged from Hunt and Lipo’s archaeology. Polynesians first arrived as late as 1200AD. There are no signs of violence—none of the fortifications common on other Pacific islands, no weapons, no traumatized skeletons. The palm trees that originally covered the island succumbed mainly to rats that arrived with the Polynesians and ate all the nuts. The natives burned what remained to enrich the poor soil and then engineered the whole island with small rocks (“lithic mulch”) to grow taro and sweet potatoes. The population stabilized around 4,000 and kept itself in balance with its resources for 500 years until it was totally destroyed in the 18th century by European diseases and enslavement. (It wasn’t Collapse; it was Guns, Germs, and Steel.)


What was up with the statues? How were they moved? Did they have a role in the sustainable balance the islanders achieved? Hunt and Lipo closely studied the statues found along the moai roads from the quarry. They had D-shaped beveled bottoms (unlike the flat bottoms of the platform statues) angled 14 ° forward. The ones on down slopes had fallen on their face; on up slopes they were on their back. The archeologists concluded they must have been moved upright—”walked,” just as Rapa Nuians long had said. No tree logs were required. Standard Polynesian skill with ropes would suffice.


“Nova” and National Geographic insisted on a demonstration, so a 5-ton, 10-foot-high “starter moai” replica was made and shipped to Hawaii. After some fumbling around, 18 unskilled people secured three ropes around the top of the statue—one to each side for rocking the statue, one in the rear to keep it leaning forward without falling. “Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho!” they cry in the video, the statue rocks, dancing lightly forward, and the audience at Cowell Theater erupts with applause. Progress was fast, even hard to stop—100 yards in 40 minutes. A family could move one.


Stone statues to ancestors are common throughout Polynesia, but the enormous, numerous moai of Easter Island are unique in the world. Were they part of the peaceful population control and conservative agriculture regime that helped the society “optimize long-term stability over immediate returns” in a nearly impossible place to live?


During the Q & A, Hunt and Lipo were asked how their new theory of Easter Island history was playing on the island itself. Shame at being the self-destructive dopes of history has been replaced by pride, they said. Moai races are being planned. Polynesians were the space explorers of the Pacific. They completed discovering every island in the huge ocean by the end of the 13th century, colonized the ones they could, and then stopped.


Easter Island is not Earth. It is Mars.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 02013 at 2:03 pm and is filed under Events, Seminars.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Chris Anderson Seminar Tickets

January 28th, 02013 by Austin Brown


Chris Anderson on The Makers Revolution


Chris Anderson’s book THE LONG TAIL chronicled how the Web revolutionized and democratized distribution. His new book MAKERS shows how the same thing is happening to manufacturing, with even wider consequences, and this time the leading revolutionaries are the young of the world. Anderson himself left his job as editor of Wired magazine to join a 22-year-old from Tijuana in running a typical Makers firm, 3D Robotics, which builds do-it-yourself drones.


Web-based collaboration tools and small-batch technology such as cheap 3D printers, 3D scanners, laser cutters, and assembly robots, Anderson points out, are transforming manufacturing. Suddenly, large-scale manufacturers are competing not just with each other on multi-year cycles, they are competing with swarms of tiny competitors who can go from invention to innovation to market dominance in a few weeks. Anybody can play; a great many already are; a great many more are coming.


“Today,” Anderson writes, “there are nearly a thousand ‘makerspaces’— shared production facilities— around the world, and they’re growing at an astounding rate: Shanghai alone is building one hundred of them.”


“Open source,” he adds, “is not just an efficient innovation method— it’s a belief system as powerful as democracy or capitalism for its adherents.”

This entry was posted on Monday, January 28th, 02013 at 12:19 pm and is filed under Long Now Announcements, Seminars.

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Personal experimentation: context specific?

A last way that personal experimentation could be worth it for me, yet not already completely covered by others, is that most of the facts one is likely to learn are quite context-specific. That way, everyone in history might have figured out for themselves what the best time and sugar-content for lunch is, and it would be worthless to me.


This also seems quite plausible. It could either be that people are so varied that there is just no good answer to whether it is better for productivity to eat snacks throughout the day or a few big meals for instance. Or it could be that which value of one parameter is best depends on all the other ones, so if you tend to eat more sugar than me and sleep less and laugh more, exercise might make you less sleepy than I.


The latter possibility bodes poorly for those who would experiment a lot. After you have determined the best quantity and timing of exercise, you might go on to try to optimize your sleep or sugar intake and make the original finding worthless.


This explanation would also seem to explain the observations in the last post: that many people do seem quite keen advise on the details of one’s life, but that the content of such recommendations seem a bit all over the place. Perhaps each person’s discoveries really do work well for them, but just look like a sea of noise to all the other people.

Decelerator Helmet



Our increasingly digital culture seems to be following Moore’s law of exponential acceleration – but sometimes you need to slow things down to understand them a little better.


To that end, German artist Lorenz Potthast has built what he calls a Decelerator Helmet. It is what it sounds like: a helmet that allows you to experience the world in slow motion. It’s an aluminum sphere that fits snugly over your head; your only visual connection to the outside world is a small camera, mounted to its exterior, that transmits live, but slow-motion video to an interior display.


Potthast explains that the helmet is meant to “decouple … personal perception from … natural timing:” it’s an experiment in engaging differently with our fast-paced world. Playing around with the flow of time, the artist suggests, exposes its important role in mediating the relationship between our inner experience and the outside world:



The decelerator gives the user the possibility to reflect about the flow of time in general, and about the relation between sensory perception, environment, and corporality in particular. Also, it dramatically visualize[s] how slowing down can potentially cause a loss of presen[ce].


For more information about this and other projects, visit Potthast’s (German-language) website here.


The Decelerator Helmet – A slow motion for Real Life from Lorenz Potthast on Vimeo.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 27th, 02012 at 6:50 am and is filed under Long Term Art.

Launch of the LDCM: Continuing 40 years of Landsat Data



In 1972, NASA launched its first Landsat satellite into orbit. This February, it will launch its eighth.


The new satellite is part of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, a collaboration between NASA and USGS that will continue adding to 40 years worth of data about the Earth’s surface.


In what is now the longest-running project of collecting satellite imagery of Earth, Landsat data offer an important resource for a variety of endeavors: from cartography to natural disaster management; urban planning to the monitoring of natural resource usage. Moreover, the unprecedented continuity of data offers invaluable insight into the way that Earth has been changing over the past 40 years.


Landsat 8 will be the most advanced of them yet, promising not just the continuation of data collection, but more precise data that will enrich ongoing geological, ecological, and geographical research.


This entry was posted on Monday, January 28th, 02013 at 9:01 am and is filed under Long Term Science, The Big Here.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Analysis Challenge: Can you earn the most Gallery views this month?

One month ago, we launched the Recorded Future Gallery, and we’re delighted that the publicly shared reports have already racked up more than 10,000 views! This fast start is exciting, but we know the surface is only scratched.


So, we’re hosting a contest during February to see which talented analyst using Recorded Future can create the most interesting report! We'll crown a champion the week of March 4.
It’s easy to participate:

During February log in or sign up for freeCreate a report, and publish it to the Gallery.At the end of the month, the author of the most viewed report wins a new iPod 5.

It’s no holds barred for spreading the word, so tweet, link, and promote your work throughout the month to earn more views. For inspiration, there are examples on Analysis Intelligence, and below, you’ll find two featured reports from the Gallery.


While you’re building a killer report for the contest, know that we also have tools specifically designed for power analysts.


Formerly known as Premium, Recorded Future Professional adds the following capabilities to the free Basic toolkit:

Export for visualizations (image, PDF, PPT, HTML) and data (CSV, KML)Private workspace for saving reports and sharing with individualsAdvanced search tools for querying by publication time, source attributes, and language.

Upgrade to Professional from your Recorded Future Basic, or you can purchase a subscription directly.