Current Work


The Crisis of Complexity and Hopes for the World of 2050

All of my current work focuses on concerns about the “crisis of complexity” and limits of human cognitive capacity. That is: there’s a dangerous mismatch between the capacity of the mind and the complexity of the world. This is particularly critical for government leaders and policy makers: Rising levels of technological and social complexity make it almost impossible for governments to develop and implement policies that can effectively address the challenges of the Anthropocene.

I realize, of course, that my focus on complexity is not a standard way of seeing the challenges of the Anthropocene. It may seem far more natural to focus directly on the problems themselves — on climate change, environmental degradation, and problems associated with the rise of AI. I have immense respect for all ongoing efforts directed towards solving these problems. Yet I take a somewhat different path, since I do not think it will be possible to solve these problems unless/until we find some better way to deal with this mismatch between the capacity of the human mind and the complexity of the world.

It took some time for me to reach this conclusion and to see why it was necessary to try addressing these underlying cognitive challenges. At the time I resigned my tenured faculty position at MIT, I had only some vague concerns — some unsettled feeling — about the power and limits of human thought. Yet, as I developed my new models of thought, I started to understand how my concerns about thought were connected with the most critical challenges of the modern world.

I began to realize that there is a common thread of “complexity” that binds together myriad challenges of the modern world – risks to our ecosystems, risks to the stability of our financial and political systems, risks that will arise with the widespread introduction of new forms of artificial intelligence.

It became clear that all these different challenges stem from a single root problem: Society’s challenges are so complex that the cognitive capacity of the human mind is easily overwhelmed in the search for solutions, and governments thus have trouble developing and implementing any effective policy plans. 

During the interval from August 2017 through June 2023, I was lucky enough to work with some fabulous colleagues at Humanity 2050, the nonprofit institute I had founded after teaching a course at Caltech on “The World in 2050.” Unfortunately, we could not get funding at a level needed to run the organization effectively, but I’m pressing ahead with this work as an independent scholar/investigator (and I still benefit – on a daily basis – from the advice of many wise colleagues and friends). 

I thus had developed (working with colleagues at Humanity 2050) a set of new tools to help the mind work amidst this level of complexity. I’ve described these tools in white papers on a new algorithm for thought and the use of special focus teams, and a recent blog post on “multi-cycle thought.”

Over the years, I have had several drafts of a book on “Human Thought and the Human Future.” However, my own ideas have advanced enough – after this work at Humanity 2050 – that:

1) I’m revising the manuscript so as to present a simpler, more direct summary of our new ideas;

2) I’m exploring how rapid developments in AI actually exacerbate the crisis of complexity now facing humanity; and

3) I’m now reaching out to other groups, seeing how we might work together to deal with the crisis of complexity and thus improve the prospects for a flourishing human future.



As I have focused on these concerns about human thought, AI, and the human future, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the advice and support of many friends and colleagues. I’ll have a more complete list of acknowledgments in the book, but – as I press to finish this manuscript  – I want to highlight the amazing figures and illustrations created by Megan Acio and the fabulous editorial help from Elizabeth Savage. 

I also am immensely grateful for help from:

John Gulliver

Eric Pabo

Ken Patterson

Patrick Scannell

Gurpreet Singh

Matt Thomson

Jeff Ubois

THANKS! — I could not possibly do this without all your amazing help and advice!