Fifty Years Ago, An MIT Program Predicted The Apocalyptic Way The World Will End... This Century!
Fifty Years Ago, An MIT Program Predicted The Apocalyptic Way The World Will End... This Century!
Fifty Years Ago, An MIT Program Predicted The Apocalyptic Way The World Will End... This Century!
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Fifty Years Ago, An MIT Program Predicted The Apocalyptic Way The World Will End... This Century!

By Rob Mitchell
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Fifty years ago, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a computer model that predicted the collapse of civilisation in the next century. This apocalyptic vision of the world is unfortunately today looking less and less like fiction.

Since 1945 a sinister countdown has been in the back of the collective mind of the world, that of the countdown towards the Apocalypse. Calculated every year since the end of the Second World War, this symbolic countdown continues to approach the fateful hour of midnight, which will supposedly ring in the annihilation of humanity.

As alarming and unrealistic as it may seem, a warning about the possible end of the world might not ultimately be useless. A computer model developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) predicted the collapse of our civilisation long ago. What is the estimated date of the apocalypse? Any day in the coming decades…

This project to predict the end of the world had its origins in the early 1970s, and it resurfaced recently following the release of archival footage from the Australian public television network ABC.

An innovative concept

Nearly fifty years ago, the man whom many see as the father of systems dynamics, Jay Wright Forrester, developed a computer model called WORLD1. This state-of-the-art for the time simulation algorithm was implemented on what was then the most powerful computer in Australia.

‘What it is doing for the first time in the history of humanity on this planet is looking at the world as a single system, and showing that the Earth can not support the current rate of growth of the population nor industry for more than a few decades,’ explained the commentator for the archival images.

Improved by four of Jay Wright Forrester's students, this modelling program became WORLD3. This third version was developed under the supervision of the Club of Rome, a think tank made up of economists, scientists, industrialists and decision-makers from around 50 countries. Since 1968, they have been studying the major problems facing humanity.

A shocking report

The results found through WORLD3 led to the publication in 1972 of a famous report, the Meadows Report, named after two of its co-authors; the document was entitled ‘The Limits to Growth.’

The model developed by MIT researchers took into account five parameters that could affect the survival of humanity, that of population increase, agricultural production, resource depletion, industrial production and pollution generated. American scientists had come to the alarming conclusion that, if nothing changes, civilisation could be destroyed in the decades to come.

This announcement of an impending apocalypse was quite unwelcome at the time. ‘The limits to growth, from our point of view, is an empty and erroneous work,’ claimed The New York Times at the time. An opinion which, fifty years later, seems very severe, since the model’s forecasts continue to be confirmed year after year. Today more than ever, the countdown could be launched.


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