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Futurology: Gantt Chart

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Gantt chart, a popular type of bar chart, showing the interrelationships of how projects, schedules, and other time-related systems progress over time (see more on Gantt chart at Wikipedia), can be considered as a method of analyzing of future.

Gantt chart as model of dependent events

Gantt chart represents a model of time development consisted of events connected with dependency relations. The dependency is strict - an event can happen (be performed) if and only of the events it depends on happened. The events have durations so the model allows us to estimate when these events could happen and what to be done to make it happen.

Gantt chart as a model of

  • future — Suppose we have some future which should be analysed. If the future can be broken on events and those events are strictly dependent then we can construct the Gantt Chart for the future and make some predictions about when and what happens. If we are talking about social and technological development of the human civilization the events are mostly deeds of groups or individuals. To distinguish them from natural events like rain, hurricane of ice age we call it Artifacts.
  • or past — the causality chains in past are exactly the same as we have in future, so to analyse them we could use the same methods. We should find the proper set of Artifacts, define their dependencies, and construct the dependency chart. It is an important thing because of we can test and improve our methods on much more wide set of factual data.

How to Analyse

Suppose we want to make a statement about possibility some artifact in the future. To utilize Gantt chart method we have to define dependency of that artifact upon other artifacts, which could be smaller, simpler, more predictable or even exist. Repeating this step for depending artifacts we could produce history for the estimated artifact in the form of the dependency tree. Having the dependency tree (Gantt chart) for that artifact we now can make more elaborate statements about future.

Restrictions and Enhancements

The Gantt Chart model of causality is based on strict causality - an event can happen (be performed) if and only of the events it depends on happened. This is very typical for engineering or other project activity but for sometimes (research, for example) it could be different - an event can be caused by several different causes, or not exactly caused but the probability (related to time unit) of the event can depend of presence, extend or age of another Artifacts. Having this enhanced dependency we can construct an enhanced Gantt Chart.

Another issue with Gantt charts is that they assume each technology will take a fixed amount of time, regardless of the order in which technologies are developed. This ignores technological acceleration. Using a non-linear time scale may get around this problem, but it assumes all technologies are on the same acceleration curve (which may be an oversimplification).

Practical use

One use for it is proposed by Nick Bostrom - differential technological development, in which we would seek to influence the sequence in which technologies developed. On this approach, we would strive to retard the development of harmful technologies and their applications, while accelerating the development of beneficial technologies, especially those that offer protection against the harmful ones.

Inspiration

  • Civilization tech tree is a great example of simple, but insightful and well thought-out technology tree.
  • Alpha Centauri (more), another game by Microprose had a futuristic tech tree (Brian Reynolds: "With Alpha Centauri, we decided to do a futuristic game, but apply our strength in history to make a kind of realistic "future history" rather than just a space opera.").
  • Connections is an old documentary series by BBC that explored the causality in technological progress and connections between different inventions. (Can be found on P2P networks, [1])
  • Knowledge Web is a project by Burke (author of Connections) to create a huge connected graph of technological developments

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