November 27th, 2008


Malthusian Musings: Linear vs. Exponential Deathmatch

"The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world."
                - Thomas Robert Malthus

Wikipedia relates that:
The English political economist and demographer Thomas Robert Malthus FRS (13 February 1766 – 23 December 1834) analyzed population growth and noted the potential for populations to increase rapidly, often faster than the food supply available to them. Commentators may refer to such a runaway scenario, as outlined in Malthus's treatise An Essay on the Principle of Population, as a "Malthusian catastrophe"...

To give a mathematical perspective to his observations, Malthus proposed the idea that population, if unchecked, increases at a geometric rate (i.e. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), whereas the food-supply grows at an arithmetic rate (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.).

It's been suggested to me that much of the economic mismanagement, and even some opposition to population control measures that some people hold to be misguided in those they disagree with, stem from a fundamental lack of understanding of Malthusian theory. I find this a little oversimplistic, but I could be wrong. What's your take?


Data Sciences Summer Institute: Multimodal Information Access and Synthesis (DSSI-MIAS)

The Multimodal Information Access and Synthesis Center (MIAS) is concerned with researching technologies for extracting and tracking interesting events and entities from multimodal information sources. A further goal is to support intelligence analysis by facilitating the formulation and evaluation of hypotheses regarding these events and entities. Research directions include:

  • Developing fundamental theories, computational models, algorithms, and tools for information access and synthesis

  • Enabling intelligence analysts to access a variety of data formats, transforming raw data into useful and understandable information

  • Integrating these technologies with existing resources

Another mission of the MIAS Center is to develop diverse human resources for the scientific research, educational, and governmental workforce communities through education and outreach. This goal is exemplified by the Data Science Summer Institute which develops lecture materials, tutorials, and research projects for information sciences.

The dssi_mias program is hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Computer Science.