1973 computer program: The world will end in 2040


It must have seemed farther back at the time. The world peaked, we are told, in 1940, when Europe was engulfed in World War II. At least, that’s the End of All Things script featured in an 11-minute video from Australia in 1973:

In 1973, at the height of the “population bomb” panic, a computer program called World1 offered some predictions for the future. He predicted a grim picture of humanity based on current trajectories. By plotting categories such as population, pollution and the use of natural resources, World1 calculated that by 2040 human civilization would collapse – a century after the best year to have lived on the planet: 1940 .

Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “Civilization peaked in 1940 and will collapse by 2040: predictions based on 1973 data” at Infinite time

Viewers may find the attitudes towards experts and computers shown in the video both strange and disturbing. For this reason, the video is a useful reminder of the limits of both.

Software analyst Jonathan Bartlett said Mind Matters News,

The problem with all of the “models in the world,” as the video puts it, is that they ignore two vitally important factors. First, models can only go so far in terms of the scale of analysis to attempt. You can always add layers, and it’s never obvious that a completely invisible layer at one scale becomes vitally important at another. Predicting higher-order effects from lower scales is often impossible, and it is seldom clear when one can be ruled out for another.

Second, the video ignores the fact that human behavior changes depending on circumstances, sometimes in radically unpredictable ways. I could predict that we will reach peak oil (or be extremely wealthy) if I extrapolate various trends. However, as oil becomes scarce, people are finding new ways to get or without it. As people get richer, they are less interested in the pursuit of wealth and therefore become poorer. However, both of these scenarios assume that humanity will take a moral and optimistic stance. If humans become decadent and pessimistic, they might just start wars and end up feeding on the leftovers.

So, interestingly, what the future looks like might depend as much on the music we listen to, the books we read, and the movies we watch when we’re young as it does on the resources available.

Note that the solution they offer to our problems is internationalization. The problem with internationalizing everything is that people have no one to turn to. We are governed by a number of international laws, but when was the last time you voted in an international election? How to effect change when international policies are not working well? Who are you calling on?

The importance of nationalism lies in the fact that there are well-known and generally accepted procedures for dealing with the grievances of the ruling class. These international clubs are generally impervious to the appeals (and common sense) of ordinary people and tend to promote the signaling of virtue among the upper class rather than actual virtue or solutions to problems.

Fortunately for apocalypse connoisseurs, in the meantime, other ends of the world have taken the limelight, including


In 1982, UN official Mostafa Tolba, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, warned:

“At the turn of the century, an environmental catastrophe will witness a devastation as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust.”

Maxime Lott, “10 times the ‘experts’ predicted that the world would end now” at Fox News

The other nine are pretty scary too. A lot of them have made good films.

See also: Is there a risk of a planetary explosion of artificial intelligence? Or are our issues with AI the usual boring stuff we’d rather avoid?


Walter Bradley Center scholar finds long-standing flaw in aspect of elementary calculus


Gordon K. Morehouse