Friday, January 17th, 2014

Population Growth

I was recently rereading an old collection of Isaac Asimov’s essays from 1969. In it he was talking about population growth and how the rate of the population doubling was increasing. At the time the population was 3500 million and only 47 years earlier it had been only half that. The previous doubling had taken over 60 years and the doubling periods prior to that were much larger. In the essay Asimov pointed out that not only was the population continuing to increase exponentially but the rate at which it was doing so was increasing. He mentioned a number of population limits all of which would be reached in 500 to 6000 years if something wasn’t done about population growth (the lower figure being that for people to replace all animal life on Earth and the higher one for people to replace every atom in the universe). Looking back at this prediction from 45 years later there are now over 7000 million people and so the latest population doubling has taken about 43 years compared to the 47 years the previous doubling toom. So the population now is four times what it was 90 years ago. At least the speed at which the doubling of the population is increasing is starting to decrease. At the current rate at which the population is increasing I will be in my early 90s when the population reaches 14000 million.

This also reminded me of a Larry Niven short story in which Beowulf Schaeffer visits Earth for the first time and has his wallet stolen. The thief returns the wallet telling him that there is no law against pickpocketing because such a law could not be enforced and he should get an Earth style wallet that has a position in it for the stamp to pay the postage to return the wallet. While the population growth could lead to the levels that Niven uses in that story, he hasn’t taken into account technology changes. Long before the time that story is set there will no longer be any cash. Even wallets will no longer exist as they and their content will have been replaced by a single electronic device. There will be no point in stealing the device as it will be biometrically encoded so that only the owner can use it and it will have built in GPS making it easy to locate. A compination of the biometric ans GPS would also mean that it could automatically notify police if it were ever separated from its owner while away from home. We should have this technology long before the population even reaches 8000 million as we are very close to having it now with all the features currently being added to mobile phones.

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