Risky business

While researching for a paper I am writing about socioeconomic resilience (yes, it is a buzzword) I spotted an interesting article in Slate online magazine (there are many.) The author states that uncertainty is the biggest security challenge facing the US since (or because of) the 9/11 attacks. Which got me to thinking—has randomness, the phenomenon underlying uncertainty, increased recently? I’m pretty certain (!) the answer is no, so in what sense has uncertainty increased? (By the way, for me, semantically, risk is simply the downside of uncertainty: all those bad things that happen, rather than the good things, when we think about what could happen.) Uncertainty could have increased due to an increase in the number of people, and events, happening in the world, or the complexity of the interactions between those people and events. We did just recently break the 7 billion people barrier (see blog entry below,) so that’s a lot of people, and events! And increased complexity means that we know less about more things, or a lot about fewer things, so more things fall into the category of “I don’t know about that,” or “there’s not enough information about that for me to decide.” So I’ll concede that uncertainty may have increased without any change in the underlying randomness of events, which makes me feel somewhat better. Because unlike randomness, which is surely beyond the influence of humans, greater uncertainty can be reduced by more information, more thought, and more understanding.