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1973 Computer Program: The World Will End in 2040

Jonathan Bartlett offers some thoughts on a frantic, bizarre - but instructive - computer-driven prediction

It must have seemed a longer way off at the time. The world peaked, we are told, in 1940, while Europe was engulfed in World War II. At least, that’s the End of All Things scenario presented in an 11-minute video dating from Australia in 1973:

In 1973, near the height of the ‘population bomb’ panic, a computing programme called World1 offered up some predictions for the future. It anticipated a grim picture for humanity based on current trajectories. Tracing categories such as population, pollution and natural-resource usage, World1 calculated that, by 2040, human civilisation would collapse – a century after the best year to have been alive on the planet: 1940.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “Civilisation peaked in 1940 and will collapse by 2040: the data-based predictions of 1973” at Aeon

Viewers may find the attitudes to experts and to computers shown in the video both quaint and disturbing. For that reason, the video is a helpful reminder of the limits of both.

Software analyst Jonathan Bartlett told Mind Matters News,

The problem with all “models of the world,” as the video puts it, is that they ignore two vitally important factors. First, models can only go so deep in terms of the scale of analysis to attempt. You can always add layers—and it is never clear when a layer that is completely unseen at one scale becomes vitally important at another. Predicting higher-order effects from lower scales is often impossible, and it is rarely clear when one can be discarded for another.

Second, the video ignores the fact that human behavior changes in response to circumstance, sometimes in radically unpredictable ways. I might predict that we will hit peak oil (or be extremely wealthy) if I extrapolate various trends. However, as oil becomes scarce, people discover new ways to obtain it or do without it. As people become wealthier, they become less interested in the pursuit of wealth and therefore become poorer. Both of those scenarios, however, assume that humanity will adopt a moral and optimistic stance. If humans become decadent and pessimistic, they might just start wars and end up feeding off the scraps.

So, interestingly, what the future looks like might be as much a function of the music we listen to, the books we read, and the movies we watch when we are young as of the resources that are available.

Note that the solution they propose to our problems is internationalization. The problem with internationalizing everything is that people have no one to appeal to. We are governed by a number of international laws, but when was the last time you voted in an international election? How do you effect change when international policies are not working out correctly? Who do you appeal to?

The importance of nationalism is that there are well-known and generally-accepted procedures for addressing grievances with the ruling class. These international clubs are generally impervious to the appeals (and common sense) of ordinary people and tend to promote virtue-signaling among the wealthy class over actual virtue or solutions to problems.

Fortunately for connoisseurs of doomsdays, in the meantime, other Ends of the World have hogged the spotlight, including


In 1982, U.N. official Mostafa Tolba, executive director of the UN Environment Program, warned:

“By the turn of the century, an environmental catastrophe will witness devastation as complete, as irreversible, as any nuclear holocaust.”

Maxim Lott, “10 times ‘experts’ predicted the world would end by now” at Fox News

The other nine are pretty frightening too. Many of them made good films.

See also: Are we risking a planetary AI intelligence explosion? Or are our problems with AI the usual boring stuff we prefer to avoid?


Walter Bradley Center fellow discovers a longstanding flaw in an aspect of elementary calculus

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1973 Computer Program: The World Will End in 2040