Friday, November 27, 2015

The Ten Plagues of Egypt and our world at the transition between the Electromechanical and the Cyberinformational Era on our planet

by Franco Oboni
Franco Oboni

(Riskope, Vancouver B.C. Canada; email:

In a prior post we discussed large scale water contamination and related it to a planetary plague, unless we do not decide to "rewrite" the future. We imagined how, unless we take robust decisions, in a distant future archaeologists will likely find books or some records relating events that are occurring under our eyes, namely wide-spread water contamination, which could be considered like the first Plague of Egypt.

We decided to play that game and look for hints of the other nine plagues "here and now":
  • Possibly compounded by climate change and ocean acidification, overfishing frogs and fishes will die, or be depleted to extinction, developing a similar scenario to the second Plague of Egypt. Batrachia and entire species of fishes are actually already "disappearing" from our ecosystem today.
  • Killer bees, dengue mosquitoes, tiger mosquitoes are on the raise and animals like polar bears and other species are migrating to escape from territories were the food chain is disrupted. The third and Fourth Plagues — biting insects and wild animals depicted such a scenario is also already occurring today to some worrisome level.
  • Foot disease, Swine influenza, avian flu have occurred in the last decade. Plagues 5 and 6 — livestock disease and boils cover this scenario quite well: where will we go from here?
  • We are seeing a number of strong volcano eruptions, maybe not stronger than in the past, but certainly driving a lot of attention because of their impact on human activities including of course commercial aviation. Plague 7 — fiery hail, volcanic eruption, resulting in showers of rock and fire are not so far fetched: it would be enough to have a number of simultaneous eruptions around the world: IcelandItaly with Mt. Etna, or Vesuvius; Japan with Sakurajima; Kamchakta; South East Asia with Taal Volcano, Philippines and Mt. Merapi, Indonesia; Ulawun, Papua New Guinea; Andean or Cascadian Mountains volcano such as Popocatépetl, Mexico and the Galeras, Columbia to lock the world into no travel mode with immense consequences; or with Yellowstone Caldera, United States of America and Mt. Nyiragongo, Democratic Republic of Congo or the Mauna Loa, Hawaii.
  • Reportedly there has been a locust invasion in Crimea during summer. The conflict in the Middle East has already driven a very large sand storm in the area, covering several countries. Desertification is progressing. As a matter of fact some news headlines were: "Near-Biblical scenes are emerging from the Astrakhan region in southern Russia, which has been invaded by giant swarms of locusts. Local authorities have scrambled vehicles and aircraft to combat the infestation." Plague 8 — locusts, check again.
  • Let's not forget that Plague 9 — darkness, could be the result of a large volcano eruption, a mega sand storm, air pollution/smoke (China, SE Asia) or a nuclear accident of the largest magnitude. Similar occurrences have been seen on our planet since history is recorded (not such a long time, after all). Or simply a lack of electricity, which could be generated either by a event similar of the solar storm of 1859, also known as the Carrington event or a cyberattack or, as we experienced in Vancouver this year, strong wind, etc.
  • Finally, Plague 10 — death of the firstborn… well let's see what happens, but the CDC warnings related to aviarian flu, MERS, SARS, plague in the US, Ebola in West Africa could well be reinterpreted in the distant future as one event causing the death of scores of people, re-interpreted, lumped-up, for more vivid impression as "first child and first born animals".
Of course, we have not yet discussed climate change, the fact that we are over 7 billions and counting, the fact that information are spread at light speed on our planet today and despite that, or may be because of that, we are numbed to catastrophic news like the 11 million  of people displaced by wars in the Middle East.

Isn't it interesting that we are seeing the "Ten Plagues of Egypt, the return" movie playing in all theaters near our houses, without understanding the difference between the pre-show commercials and the actual plot, yet we feel the need to develop theories about Black Swans and other esoteric concepts?

Now, let's imagine how we could "rewrite" the future book so that world-events will actually not go through history as plagues. On one hand the solutions seems at our reach. Since physicist like Maupertuis (least-action principle) gave us the first expression of the concept of optimization, or the creation of systems maximizing efficiency or functionality, then all we need to do is optimize our decisions and mitigate our burgeoning plagues! The problem however is that those views can only make action stationary, an idea that is present also in Cournot (Theory of Oligopoly, 1838), Von Neumann & Oskar Morgenstern (The theory of Games and Economic Behavior), then John Nash (Non-cooperative games, 1950) equilibrium. Stationarity, perfection of information, rational behavior of all stake-holders, can chess-mate all of the above, despite the numerous attempts to refine those solutions.

Chaos theory and "modern applied mathematics" like those promoted by Ivar Ekeland (BTW he advised Jurassic Park by Crichton and Spielberg and in particular Jeff Goldblum impersonating a chaos mathematician) and Alfio Quarteroni certainly constitute great research fields, full of promises and capable of giving us formidable tools to rewrite the world-future history.

At our level (we mean personal, corporate, many governements), however, we can only see implementing well designed and thought-out multi-risk assessments, where:
  • biases and censoring are fought as worst enemies,
  • consequences are considered, as they are, multi-dimensional,
  • corporate responsibility and business ethics are maintained at the highest standards,
  • scenarios are built thinking to the unthinkable.
Ethics demands we stop designing "to pass compliance tests", but instead to work toward long term sustainability, durability so that we will not be among the authors of that future "Ten Plagues" book.