Preventing the collapse of civilization

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

I stumbled upon this talk by Jonathan Blow on YouTube and I must share it. Civilizations flourish thanks to the technologies they invent. Yet those same technological achievements get lost because the same civilizations that created them fail or at least they fail to propagate them to the future. We open ourselves to those same vulnerabilities over and over again.

Today, our global civilization feels at the brink of collapse. Wars in many places, one even including a nuclear super-power, global trade and supply chains disrupted because of war and political restrictions due to COVID mandates, and an upcoming debt crisis due to misallocation of arbitrary generated funds in response to COVID. Jonathan Blow was not aware of these facts in his 2019 talk. He wasn’t predicting the civilization’s failure but the failure to propagate our knowledge. How our civilization might structurally collapse because of bad software. Software is the foundational technology of our era, and it isn’t a robust technology.

Software is buggy all the time, we blame economics for it. The market doesn’t pay for quality and we have gotten used to bad software. Yet a more frightening though is that we have never seen quality, robust software. We don’t know if that is even possible with our current skill set.

Software is eating the world, yet despite our reliance on it, it is not advancing. We don’t expect it to be robust nor safe, and software developers productivity keeps dropping. We need ever larger teams and manufacture less. Software is not a productivity booster anymore, we are adding too much complication. Nowadays we must keep track of many things in our minds to work with software, despite its main goal to automate and free our minds for other tasks. We burden our main work with trivial stuff trying to get around the software we use.

The more complication we introduce the less likely we are to survive a disaster or institutional decay. Communicating knowledge gets harder and loss is inevitable. We need to simplify the systems so that people can keep up with the knowledge and improve upon it.

Humanity has lost a lot of knowledge, what makes you thing our computer technology is likely to survive when most people are consumers of it and the custodians of it work nowadays in high levels of abstraction and virtualization. Removing complexity might be the right short-term strategy, because we constantly suffer from the huge fragile systems.

I leave you with the video:

Dr. Óscar Nájera
Dr. Óscar Nájera
Software distiller & Recovering Physicists

As scientist I studied the very small quantum world. As a hacker I distill code, because software is eating the world, and less code means less errors, less problems, more world.