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How vunerable is our high-tech civilisation to black swans?

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 16 April 2010



How vunerable is our high-tech civilisation to black swans?
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 118
Posted DateFriday 16 April 2010 09:46 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen
Linkshttp://www.kn.com.au/networks/2010/04/now-this-could-be-a-bl ... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_eruption_of_Eyjafjallajöku ... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis_of_2007–2010 ... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory ... 
http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2010/04/the-collapse-of-complex ... 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Tainter ... 
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/04/2012storms ... 
PeopleClay Shirky , Nassim Nicholas Taleb , Joseph Tainter 

Ever since the recent global financial crisis, my reading of the Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and my attention drawn to the book The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter by Clay Shirkys recent article The Collapse of Complex Business Models. I have realised that our civilisation is incredibly fragile and we are living on a knife's edge. So much could happen to destroy the global economy overnight and put us back in to the dark ages.

Only last week I was pondering what would happen if all global flights were suspended for some reason for several months. What would be the impact on the global economy? Would we cope? Or would it be disastrous? Just how fragile is our high-tech civilisation? I pondered what might cause this? Maybe a solar storm wiping out all GPS and communication satellites (and our electricity grids) or a major volcanic eruption grounding flights across a large part of the globe.

And then what happened only days later - the Icelandic volcanic eruption. I still cant believe the coincidence in my thinking. I really hope our governments have thought these sorts of scenarios through and have contingency plans.

But the long term solution is to recognise our vulnerability and build more adaptable, less interdependent systems. What would happen if air flights were grounded for months or maybe even shipping? What would happen if we lost all power for as little as 2 weeks? What would happen if all our communication and GPS satellites were wiped out overnight? Could our civilisation survive? My best guess at the moment is no!

Earl Mardle has some thoughts on this also Now THIS could be a Black Swan.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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