Award-winning mathematician and complexity scientist Casti (Mood Matters: From Rising Skirt Lengths to the Collapse of World Powers, 2010, etc.) lays out a series of worst-case scenarios—peak oil, pandemics, global economic collapse, bio- or nanotechnology run amok, nuclear accidents, terrorism, etc.—for the continued advancement of civilization.
With just the right circumstances, argues the author, any of these can expand into an extreme event—X-event, for short—for which we will not be prepared and which will have dire consequences for our way of life. Casti sets aside such natural disasters as asteroid collisions, over which we have little control to begin with, to focus on the sorts of impending disasters similar to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the financial crash of 2008—events that could have been avoided or at least mitigated with proper preventive measures. Most often, the catalyst for an X-event is the conflict between systems of different complexity levels. The 2008 economic crisis, for example, resulted from a disconnect between the increasing complexity of financial instruments and the government’s ability to regulate these instruments. Here, Casti makes an odd error, especially for an author whose recent work focuses on chaos theory in economics. He claims that the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which limited the ability of banks to speculate, was partly to blame for the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, most economists blame the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall provisions prohibiting FDIC member banks from engaging in speculation. It’s an unfortunate error, especially because the author’s introduction, which succinctly summarizes chaos theory, and his conclusion, which gives reason to hope despite all the dire predictions in the preceding pages, are well worth reading and seriously considering.
Despite some flaws, Casti provides thought-provoking speculation on the future of civilization.