June 12, 2012
The modern industrialized world is a complex system on a scale never before witnessed in the history of humankind. Technologically dependent, globally interconnected, it offers seemingly limitless conveniences, choices, and opportunities. Yet the same modern civilization may be as unstable as a house of cards, fear complexity scientists like John Casti. All it would take to “downsize” our way of life – to send us crashing back to the nineteenth century – is a nudge from what Casti calls an “X-event,” an unpredictable occurrence with extreme, even dire, consequences. When an X-event strikes – and scientists believe it will – finance, communication, defense, and travel will stop dead in their tracks. The flow of food, electricity, medicine, and clean water will be disrupted for months, if not years. What will you do?
A renowned systems theorist, Casti shows how our world has become impossibly complicated, relying on ever more advanced technology that is developing at an exponential rate. Yet it is a fact of mathematical life that higher and higher levels of complexity lead to systems that are increasingly fragile and susceptible to sudden, spectacular collapse. Fascinating and chilling, X-Events provides a provocative tour of the catastrophic outlier scenarios that could quickly send us crashing back to the preindustrial age: global financial “black swans”; a worldwide crash of the Internet that would halt all communication; the end of oil; nuclear winter; “nanoplagues”; robot uprisings; electromagnetic pulses; pandemic viruses; and more. You won’t ever look at the world the same way again.
American complexity scientist and systems theorist John Casti, Ph.D., is cofounder of The X-Center, a Vienna-based research institute focusing on human-caused extreme events and how to anticipate them. Previously, he was a senior research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, where he headed an initiative on extreme events and human society. He worked for many years at the Santa Fe Institute and the RAND Corporation, and has also served on the faculties of Princeton University, the University of Arizona, and New York University. A former editor of the journal Complexity, Casti has published nearly twenty volumes of academic and popular science and received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Southern California. He lives in Vienna, Austria.