Smart systems adapt to the environment, they evolve and therefore survive longer
Prof. Mihail Konstantinov
10 February, 2017Unforced error is a very popular term in the world of tennis and a key statistic when it comes to measuring the performance of two opponents at the end of a match. As can be expected, more often than not, the defeated side is the one with more unforced errors. Let us offer a definition - an unforced error is one made by a player without having been put under pressure by their opponent such as a service fault. But if you really think about it, there is no such thing as an unforced error. Every action, every error in our case, is caused by something or someone. In other words, errors are forced and often unavoidable. This is not that terrible when the wider system we are a part of is smart. The term may refer to a lot of things, but for the purposes of this analysis it describes a smart system as one that responds with negative feedback. The negative feedback counters detrimental influences and eliminates the effects stemming from individual element’s mistakes. Smart systems adapt to the environment, they evolve and therefore survive longer. And even if they stop existing, they leave a valuable legacy - a language, laws, scientific breakthrough or art. The Roman state with its 2000-year-old history is an example of a smart system. It is to Rome that we owe most European languages, law and the principles of democracy and state system. We have Greece to thank for mathematics, art and some of the abovementioned principles. England, at the very least, is the source of the language that is spoken by 3 billion people today. The attentive reader must have deduced that we are talking about all kinds of patchy English. Patchy or no, the English language is a testament to the potential of a country with a relatively small population (in 1600 England’s population was 4 million, and in 1900 - only 30 million) to have an impact on humanity’s distant future. English will be dominant as long as it remains the language of computers. Europe and the Christian civilisation are responsible for the European Union, arguably the single greatest creation of social engineering in human history. There are different ways to measure the bloc’s age but let us say that it is 59 years, counting back to 1957. Another great, if failed, product of social engineering, was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which lasted for 69 whole years - from 1922 to 1991. But no matter how we quantify the success of major social and political projects, the undeniable truth remains that we have not seen a big war since the end of WWII in 1945. At the same time, not a year has gone by since 1945 without an armed conflict somewhere in the world. The US, for example, has been involved in at least 23 wars and armed conflicts, some of them still ongoing, in that period, including the 9-year-long war in Vietnam and the 16-year-long one in Afghanistan. The USSR was less active on that front (for lack of resources rather than desire). However, the two superpowers respected each other, mainly because of their established capacity for mutual destruction. Then, things steadily deteriorated in the 21st century after a series of forced errors by the big three - the US, Russia and China. The club of states with wrong messages and actions is completed by Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and, to some degree, India. In this situation NATO has been acting more as a smaller ally to its largest member, the US. Unfortunately, the chaos in the Middle East today was created by the nuclear superpowers. The situation there is a free-for-all and completely unpredictable. Add to that the terrorist attacks on Europe, the escalation of the war in Ukraine, the brewing crisis in Belarus, the water crisis between India and Pakistan and the instability in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the picture is painted in rather bleak tones. Against this background, the jarring, if not exactly shocking, emergence of Donald Trump as the new leader of the world threw the elites completely off balance, mostly the US but also the European. There is no concrete information on the Chinese communist leadership but it must be rather angry too at this point. The earthquake, whose epicentre is in the US, has been generating shockwaves around the world for 10 days now. It seems that Trump is espousing the old Bulgarian rule that in order for things to start getting better you must first hit rock bottom. The question is how resilient is the world’s security system and how much of deterioration it can absorb. Paradoxically, things are not that bad on that score. The war conflict between the US and Russia that seemed imminent until recently and all its potential repercussions are looking increasingly less of an impending doom. I would not be surprised if the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand is set back by one notch at the next check, or at least half. Because right now we are ominously close to the midnight hour, with two and a half minutes left until doomsday (the symbolic destruction of mankind). Created in 1947, the clock is set every year by a group of scientists who publish a special report. Setting the clock’s hands depends not only on nuclear tension but also on factors such as climate change, development of artificial intelligence and so on. Initially, the clock was set at seven minutes to doomsday, but by 1953 it had already moved to two minutes to midnight!Taking into account the Middle East and Ukrainian crises, the clock was showing 11.57 p.m. in 2015 and it remained the same the following year. Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2017 scientists are saying that we have only two and a half minutes to the end. This evokes memories of the insane 1953 when nuclear test explosions were being triggered across the globe. Today it seems that the world’s fate is in the hands of the two politicians holding the most powerful nuclear codes. What are we seeing after the dramatic 2016 and in the early days of the even more dramatic 2017? You can call President Donald Trump whatever you like but his pledge that the US will pull back from most major war conflicts and concentrate on its daunting domestic problems may bring some measure of normalisation to international relations. Alternatively, a series of forced errors may push the Doomsday Clock’s hands to midnight, our last hour.