New vs. Business-as-Usual Future

I think a good measure of human civilization's size is world GDP. Carl Shulman has already linked to Hanson. If we look at Brad DeLong's trend of GDP produced by humanity, the future must be "new" in that this can't continue super-exponential growth another few centuries. It seems physically impossible for humans to double their economy say every month. What happens when this trend stops? I don't know, but maybe

  1. A third, even faster optimization process starts after the first two of biological evolution and human coordination
  2. This fails to clea
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New vs. Business-as-Usual Future

by katydee 1 min read5th Nov 201342 comments


What, in a broad sense, does the future look like? We don't know, and while many have historically made predictions, the track record for such predictions is less than impressive. I have noted that there appear to be two main types of view about the future-- the "new future" and the "business-as-usual future." In order to simplify this discussion, let's restrict it only to the coming century-- the period between 2013 and 2113.

The "new future" is, generally speaking, the idea that the coming century is going to be very different from the present; the "business-as-usual future" is, generally speaking, the idea that the coming century is going to be very similar to the present.

Here are some characteristics of the new future:

  • Some large-scale event occurs that alters human experience forever-- an intelligence explosion leading to a technological singularity, existential risks leading to human suppression or extinction, global climate change on a massive scale, etc.
  • Society changes a lot, and in fundamental ways that are difficult to understand. Daily life is vastly altered.
  • If future history even exists after the dramatic change, it views the coming century as being a critical moment where everything became vastly different, on par with or exceeding the significance of the development of agriculture.

Here are some characteristics of the business-as-usual future:

  • The intelligence explosion doesn't happen. AI continues to advance in much the same way that it has for the last several decades. More human-capable tasks become automated, but in slow and predictable ways. Intelligence amplification doesn't happen or doesn't yield generally useful results.
  • The world doesn't end. Global warming ends up being just another doomsday scare. Perhaps a lot of people die in the Third World, but the rest of the world adapts and keeps going much like it has for the last ever. Yellowstone doesn't explode. No asteroids hit the earth. There isn't a nuclear war.
  • Society doesn't change very much except in superficial ways. Daily life is more or less the same.
  • Wars might happen. Nations might collapse. But wars have been happening and nations have been collapsing for thousands of years. By and large, the coming century is viewed by future history as not particularly unlike those that came before.

Reference class forecasting seems to indicate that the business-as-usual future is quite likely. But as we know, this is far from a textbook case of reference class forecasting, and applying such techniques may not be helpful. What, then, is a good method of establishing what you think the future will look like?