I first heard a rumor of that something like this that was done in the 1960′s by General Electric. The rumor goes that in it’s test market the housewives were having spontaneous orgasms while using it. So they pulled the plug.
At the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, consumer electronics maker Sanyo demonstrated their vision for the future by showcasing a series of appliances they thought would populate the home of tomorrow. Included was the Ultrasonic Bath, a pod-like human washing machine that cleans, massages and dries the user in a fully automated 15-minute process.
Using a ladder, the bather climbs in through an opening on top of the machine, which stands about 2 meters (6 ft) tall. Once the desired water temperature is set and the main switch is activated, the pre-rinse cycle starts, spraying the user with jets of hot water for 5 minutes.
Next, the chamber fills up with hot water for a 3-minute massage bath. High-pressure jets create a powerful whirlpool, and scores of knobby, golf ball-sized “massage balls” suspended in the water pelt the body, delivering a vigorous massage intended to stimulate blood circulation. An ultrasonic wave generator creates a ticklish cloud of tiny air bubbles that lift dirt from the skin.
The bath is then followed by a 2-minute hot rinse cycle. Finally, a 5-minute dry cycle blasts the user with warm air, while a flood of infrared and ultraviolet light destroys any lingering germs.
Developed as a concept model, the Ultrasonic Bath never made it into our homes. Several years ago, however, Sanyo unveiled the $50,000 HIRB (”Human In Roll-lo Bathing”) system, a compact version designed for use in elderly homes.
Although the article does not explain precisely why the weakest of three species in a cyclical hierarchy, it is an interesting read nevertheless. It compares the process to the rock, paper, scissors game where each species has at least one advantage over the other.
LMU researchers have now simulated the progression of a cyclic competition of three species. It means that each participant is superior to one other species, but will be beaten by a third interaction partner. “In this kind of cyclical concurrence, the weakest species proves the winner almost without exception,” reports Professor Erwin Frey, who headed the study. “The two stronger species, on the other hand, die out, as experiments with bacteria have already shown. Our results are not only a big surprise, they are important to our understanding of evolution of ecosystems and the development of new strategies for the protection of species.”
“Such cyclical interaction is also familiarly termed “rock-paper-scissors” interaction. This is where the rock blunts the scissors, which cut the paper, which in turn wraps around the rock. Together, these non-hierarchical relationships form a cyclical motion. “The game can help describe the diversity of species,” explains Frey. “The background is a branch of mathematics called game theory, and in this case evolutionary game theory. It helps analyze systems that involve multiple actors whose interactions are similar to those in parlor games.”
“This “law of the weakest” even held true when the difference between the competing species was slight. “This result was just as unexpected for us,” reports Frey. “But it shows once more that chance plays a big part in the dynamics of an ecosystem. Incidentally, in experiments that were conducted a couple of years ago on bacterial colonies, in order to study cyclical competition, there was one clear result: The weakest of the three species emerged victorious from the competition.
Our own solar system and Milky Way galaxy are home to billions more planets than currently believed, greatly increasing the prospects of finding at least primitive forms of life out there.
Astronomers described new evidence here yesterday suggesting that anywhere between 20 and 60 per cent of all the sun-like stars in our local galaxy are good bets for forming so-called rocky planets, like Earth and Mars.
University of Arizona researcher Michael Meyer, who led the study, said he personally believes that more powerful telescopes will eventually reveal that every sun-like star “will have a rocky planet around it and the diversity of conditions on them will be huge.”
Between 5 and 10 per cent of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy are considered sun-like, depending on the strictness of the definition. That would still mean a minimum of 4 billion stars with rocky planets using the lowest percentages.
Its’ refreshing to finally see empirical evidence catch up with what I long thought was a natural by-product of stellar formation. When a star forms inside a stellar remnant of a previous supernova its gravity accretes the matter inside it’s influence. Over time, this orbital debris gravitates towards heavier bodies, forming larger and larger chunks with their own increasing amount of gravitational attraction. Over time all the smaller debris falls into the remaining larger bodies, forming moons and if enough, rocky planets.
Depending on the amount of stellar debris, the amount of stars that form planets will vary in amount and size, but as this study suggests, it’s between 20 to 60 percent of them. If planets are this common, then the number and frequency of planets within a stars habitable zone increase tremendously.
The next question is how often does life form if conditions are right? So far, the evidence seems to indicate that this is a relatively common occurrence too, as the basic building blocks of life are already existent in the stellar environment.
If you haven’t already experienced it, you should try twitter out for a few days. Follow everyone you think is interesting, and get connected. Or if you’re in a hurry, check out Twitterfall, and you can watch the ENTIRE conversation in real time. It is important you understand what twitter is before reading any further.
For the moment the twitter population is small, but soon it’s going to take off big, and watching it live will mean seeing hundreds of thousands of tweets per second! For the moment, it’s not entirely accurate to call it a conversation, as most tweets are one-way, and there is not yet a clients capable of threading or filtering your tweets. Also you only see the tweets of people you follow, and your tweets are only seen by those who follow you.
Now fast-forward a few years. Add in sophisticated clients capable of semantic web 3.0 filtering and threading. This convergence adds an entirely new layer of communication, functionality and possibility. So much so, that when it first occurred to me, after watching Twitterfall, my head exploded. I think Nova’s did too, when I pointed it out to him. He should know as he is leading the development of a web 3.0 service called Twine. Nova Spivack does an outstanding job of describing this convergence in his Twitter + Twine post.
So in a few years everyone’s twitter client will have the ability to sort/search through the entire twitter flood in real time bringing you threads of conversations happening right NOW on what most interests you. You in turn can respond to those tweets and everyone who wants to can in turn respond to you. If the client is smart enough, it will filter and display all of this real-time streaming conversation with very colorful and soothing visualizations to maximize your relevant connections at any given time. This is really difficult to imagine, precisely because nothing like it has ever been possible before. It would like be like mingling at a very large cocktail party, but in this case you just happen to be listening and in tuning into in to any conversation that interests you at just the right time, with the option of jumping in. In turn you could start a new conversation, and in less than a minute you have dozens of responses all coming in at light speed. Except this time the cocktail party is the whole planet! Or at least everyone tweeting at that moment. That’s what makes twitter + semantic intelligence different, is it becomes a real-time global conversation – a global mind running at light speed. Thousands, and soon millions of conversations all happening simultaneously – all of them co-mingling with each other via real-time semantic filtering, threading, cross-connecting. Each person being a node, or neuron in the global brain. The future is coming awfully fast, and twitter is making that possible. Given sufficient visualization and semantic intelligence you could surf and trace the history of all of these conversations going back to the very beginning of twitter’s existence.
In the 1980′s the fax machine made snailmail almost obsolete. Faxing was faster.
In the 1990′s email made faxing almost obsolete. Email was faster.
In the 2000′s social media rose to challenge email’s dominance. The blogosphere became the center of focus.Blogging about something was often a faster way to get attention (to oneself, or to the topic) than emailing people. And you could more easily reach a larger audience.
In the 2010′s it looks like Twitter (and other real-time messaging systems) may become more important than email and even blogging. Twitter is simply faster. And you can reach more people in less time, more interactively, in Twitter than via email.Twitter may overcome the asynchronous nature of the Web. Even search may go “real-time.
This is revolutionary enough that it may just undermine Google’s current dominance (See Mining the Thought Stream). As more people will want to do real-time searches, rather than sifting though Google’s archive of already documented past information. They are really two different things. The web won’t become irrelevant, but the real action will be the conversations happening right NOW. You can do twitter searches right now, including an advanced search based on things like attitude.
But when you add semantic intelligence running automatically in the background, your conversation flows and is updated in real-time to connect with those most interested in hearing and responding to it, and on it goes forever. In other words the conversations begin taking on lives of their own. With very well designed clients and intuitive graphical interfaces you could get an entirely new way to communicate than humans have ever had before. It’s not just way faster, it’s also more paradigm busting and disruptive than any previous communication technology that came before it.
That’s the new upper estimate of the number of stars in our galaxy, according to the report in Science News.. Scientist Mark Reid and a team of astronomers at of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, used the Very Long Baseline Array to look at star-forming regions across the galaxy. What they observed is that these stellar nurseries are moving in an elliptical orbit, rather than a circular one, and moving more than 100,000 miles per hour faster than previously believed. This extra velocity can only be explained by much larger overall galactic mass, which Reid estimates is at least 50% larger than previous estimates of galactic size. These estimates pegged the Milky Way’s stellar population at around 400 billion stars, but now that figure has been revised upward to between 1.8 and 3 trillion!
It’s here that I like to wax mathematical with my own (rough) estimate of Drakes Equation.
Lets assume 3 trillion suns is the more accurate figure. Based on the growing evidence of an abundance of habitable planets, as evidence by the ever widening range of exoplanets being discovered, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that there is at least one rocky, Earth-like planet for every 10 G-type stars (ones like our sun) By earth-like I mean that it is rocky and not gaseous, and it’s size is somewhere between 4000 and 16000 miles in diameter (the Earth is 8000 miles). However scientist are beginning to believe that both K and F type stars are also long lived enough that planets at an appropriate distance could also be habitable. In this case habitable is defined as having the right conditions for liquid water. Also, scientists now believeit is possible for habitable planets to form around binary star systems as well. Finally there is what is called a habitable zone around the galaxy, which is in my opinion too conservative, and is not supported by the majority of scientists. If we put this all together, G-type, plus a smaller number of K and M type stars gives us about 8% of the total stars capable of supporting habitable planets. If we cut out most (but not all) of the multiple star systems, and eliminate all the stars closer than 20,000 light-years to the galactic core (just to be conservative), we’re left with about 4% of the stars in our galaxy that our friendly to life-supporting planets should they exist. And if 1 out of 10 of those stars actually have an earth-like planet, with 3 trillion total stars, leaves us with about 12 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy capable of supporting liquid water and in turn carbon-based life as we know it. And I believe this to be a conservative estimate, but we’d really know until the Kepler data comes in.
At this point Drake’s Equation become very murky, as our understanding of the formation and likelihood of life forming, given the right conditions, is almost unknown. What we do know is that many of the major chemical precursors for life have already been identified in space, including water, alcohol, ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and acetic acid, which gives vinegar its piquant flavor.
Either way what these numbers tell us, is that there could be upwards of 12 billion stars with habitable planets around them. That or these planets could be terraformed to support life by a life-bearing space civilization. The ideas of billions of living worlds in our very own galaxy is a prospect worthy of investigation, which is why the search for earth-like planets has become the most important objective of space science both at NASA and abroad.
To get a scifi perspective, Star Trek talks of thousands of inhabited worlds, Star Wars of millions, and our very own Milky Way could be home to billions.
The 2009 quest for Edge is “What will change everything?”. There are lots of great ideas, many of them transhumanist in flavor, including indefinite lifespans and superintelligence. Below are some of my favorites:
The evolution of the biosphere, the economy, our human culture and perhaps aspects of the abiotic world, stand partially free of physical law and are not entailed by fundamental physics. The universe is open.Many physicists now doubt the adequacy of reductionism, including Philip Anderson, and Robert Laughlin. Laughlin argues for laws of organization that need not derive from the fundamental laws of physics.
I’ll give one example – autocatalytic sets. The central point about the autocatalytic set theory is that it is a mathematical theory, not reducible to the laws of physics, even if any specific instantiation of it requires actual physical “stuff”. It is a law of organization that may play a role in the origin of life. But then it is not true that the unfolding of the universe is entirely describable by natural law. This contradicts our views since Descartes, Galileo and Newton. The unfolding of the universe seems to be partially lawless. In its place is a radically creative becoming.
The Renaissance of Global Education:
First, a technology-driven globalization is forcing us to see, to recognize and to fear the enormous knowledge gaps between different parts of the world and between segments of society within our countries. It is a major threat to everything that the world has achieved in the last 100 years, including democracy itself. Today’s world, its economy, industry, environment, agriculture, energy, health, food, military power, communications, you name it, are all driven by knowledge. The only way to fight poverty, hunger, diseases, natural catastrophes, terrorism, war, and all other evil, is the creation and dissemination of knowledge, i.e. research and education. The time is with cheap and ubiquitous communication technology to make all the worlds knowledge available to everyone.
As someone whose spent any years teaching young people, I found Chris Anderson‘s words inspiring.
Take this simple thought experiment. Pick your favorite scientist, mathematician or cultural hero. Now imagine that instead of being born when and where they were, they had instead been born with the same in-built-but-unlocked abilities in a typical poverty-stricken village in, say, Ethiopia of 1980. Would they have made the contribution they made? Of course not. They would never have received the education and encouragement it took to achieve what they did. Conversely, an unknown but vast number of those grinding out a living today have the potential to be world-changers… if only we could find a way of unlocking that potential.
Two ingredients might be enough to do that. Knowledge and inspiration. If you learn of ideas that could transform your life, and you feel the inspiration necessary to act on that knowledge, there’s a real chance your life will indeed be transformed. Five years ago, an amazing teacher or professor with the ability to truly catalyze the lives of his or her students could realistically hope to impact maybe 100 people each year. Today that same teacher can have their words spread on video to millions of eager students.
The realization that today’s best teachers can become global celebrities is going to boost the caliber of those who teach. For the first time in many years it’s possible to imagine ambitious, brilliant 18-year-olds putting ‘teacher’ at the top of their career choice list. Indeed the very definition of “great teacher” will expand, as numerous others outside the profession with the ability to communicate important ideas find a new incentive to make that talent available to the world.
Achieving A Type I Civilization
A lot my thinking, especially recently, has centered around how we can become a Type 1 Civilization. Doing so means we have grown up and matured out of our technological adolescence. We’ve achieved global peace and prosperity, created a total regenerative and environmentally sustainable economy, and abundant clean energy. It means we have learned to live in peace with ourselves and our fragile planet, and our ready to move off-world and begin colonizing the galaxy. (See my post Healing the Planet, on some ways we might achieve this).
This January, 2009, in particular, finds us at a crisis tipping point both economically and environmentally. If ever we needed to look to the past to save our future it is now. In particular, we need to do two things: (1) stop the implosion of the economy and enable markets to function once again both freely and fairly, and (2) make the transition from nonrenewable fossil fuels as the primary source of our energy to renewable energy sources that will allow us to flourish into the future. Failure to make these transformations will doom us to the endless tribal political machinations and economic conflicts that have plagued civilization for millennia. We need to make the transition to Civilization 1.0.
Let me explain. In a 1964 article on searching for extraterrestrial civilizations, the Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev suggested using radio telescopes to detect energy signals from other solar systems in which there might be civilizations of three levels of advancement: Type 1 can harness all of the energy of its home planet; Type 2 can harvest all of the power of its sun; and Type 3 can master the energy from its entire galaxy.
We are close. Looking from this past toward the future, we can see that the forces at work that could prevent us from reaching Civilization 1.0 are primarily political and economic, not technological. The resistance by non democratic states to turning power over to the people is considerable, especially in theocracies whose leaders would prefer we all revert to Type 0.4 chiefdoms. The opposition toward a global economy is substantial, even in the industrialized West, where economic tribalism still dominates the thinking of most people. The game-changing scientific idea is the combination of energy and economics — the development of renewable energy sources made cheap and available to everyone everywhere on the planet by allowing anyone to trade in these game-changing technologies with anyone else. That will change everything.
The Transhuman Cambrian Explosion
I think the metaphors most futurists use limit the imagination of what’s possible. Talk of “machines” or “robots” or “artificial intelligence” simply doesn’t do the post-human universejustice. I do like Andy Clark‘a crack at it:
But what really matters is the way we are, as a result of this tidal wave of self- re-engineering opportunity, just starting to know ourselves: not as firmly bounded biological organisms but as delightfully reconfigurable nodes in a flux of information, communication, and action. As we learn to celebrate our own potential, we will embrace ever-more-dramatic variations in bodily form and in our effective cognitive profiles. The humans of the next century will be vastly more heterogeneous, more varied along physical and cognitive dimensions, than those of the past as we deliberately engineer a new Cambrian explosion of body and mind.
A Never-Ending Childhood Through Re-establishing Brain Plasticity in Adults
Several laboratories have already discovered ways to manipulate the brain in ways to make mature neurons as plastic as during early development. Such studies have been done using genetically engineered mice with either a deletion or an over-expression of specific genes known to control plasticity during normal development. Moreover, drug treatments have now been found to mimic the changes observed in these mutant mice.
In essence this means that the high degree of brain plasticity normally evident only during early development can now be made to occur throughout the life span. Imagine being able to restore the plasticity of neurons in the language centers of your brain, enabling you to learn any and all languages effortlessly and at a rapid pace. This technology could provide a powerful means to combat loss of neuronal connections, including those resulting from brain injury as well as various disease states.
I am optimistic that these treatments will be forthcoming in my lifetime. Indeed a research group in Finland is about to begin the first clinical study to assess the ability of drug treatments to restore plasticity to the visual system of adult humans.
The Great Deflation of 2008 has shown the utter dependence of human society on the possibility of well-functioning government to assure some baseline stability in human welfare and capacity to plan for the future. On the other hand, a gradual rise in volunteerism and cooperation, online and offline, is leading to a reassessment of what motivates people, and how governments, markets, and social dynamics interoperate. I expect the binary State/Market conception of the way we organize our large systems to give way to a more fluid set of systems, with greater integration of the social and commercial; as well as of the state and the social. So much of life, in so many of our societies, was structured around either market mechanisms or state bureaucracies. The emergence of new systems of social interaction will affect what we do, and where we turn for things we want to do, have, and experience.
I was just released from the hospital yesterday after having my gallbladder removed. This followed several months of debilitating pain that was difficult to diagnose. I will write about this in more detail later, but today, the first day of 2009, I wanted to pass along some good ideas to kick start 2009.
First I’d like to quote extensively from Alex Steffan over at Worldchanging.
Entrenched interests use despair, confusion and apathy to prevent change. They encourage modes of thinking which lead us to believe that problems are insolvable, that nothing we do can matter, that the issue is too complex to present even the opportunity for change. It is a long-standing political art to sow the seeds of mistrust between those you would rule over: as Machiavelli said, tyrants do not care if they are hated, so long as those under them do not love one another. Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but, in reality, cynicism in average people is the attitude exactly most likely to conform to the desires of the powerful – cynicism is obedience.
Optimism, by contrast, especially optimism which is neither foolish nor silent, can be revolutionary. Where no one believes in a better future, despair is a logical choice, and people in despair almost never change anything. Where no one believes a better solution is possible, those benefiting from the continuation of a problem are safe. Where no one believes in the possibility of action, apathy becomes an insurmountable obstacle to reform. But introduce intelligent reasons for believing that action is possible, that better solutions are available, and that a better future can be built, and you unleash the power of people to act out of their highest principles. Shared belief in a better future is the strongest glue there is: it creates the opportunity for us to love one another, and love is an explosive force in politics. Great movements for social change always begin with statements of great optimism.
Courtesy of fear-mongering=money Hollywood, we have the following largely false precepts:
1) The Apocalypse is coming. There is a tendency to believe that big, catastrophic and singular events are going to come and destroy everything: that the Bird Flu or whatever is going to suddenly happen and immediately life will be hell. (The funniest example of this is climate change in The Day After Tomorrow, where sea level rise is so sudden that water rushes down the streets of New York in great rolling waves.)
2) The Apocalypse is forever. In disaster movies and such, people seem to lack the ability to regroup and rebuild.
3) The Apocalypse is everywhere. In the movies, collapse makes the whole world a wasteland. Everything crashes and burns; everyone dies; knowledge and law are driven entirely from the planet, or at very least confined to some very distant semi-mythical outpost paradise for which the survivors year
But reality is quite different from this. In reality, even the worst large-scale disasters come in variable speeds; in even the worst disasters, effects are uneven, with some places devastated and others left only mildly scathed; and in almost all disasters, rebuilding begins almost immediately (even the Black Death killing a third to half of the population didn’t put much of dent in Europe’s evolution — indeed some argue it accelerated trade and innovation).
In reality, in a disaster those with the largest stable group and the highest degree of cooperation come out on top, and, in fact, it is often those places which are best governed and most socially coherent that assist other places in the rebuilding… and those hard-hit places are generally quite receptive to good ideas for putting the pieces back together.
Because the intelligent response to looming crisis is a mix of all-out efforts toward prevention and widespread societal preparation. It’s foresight, planning and cooperation, good investments and strong public service capacities. The smart move, when you’re worried about the end of the world end, is to change it.
Alex then makes some insightful comments in his post Lazy Dystopia’s, which echoes much of what I’ve been saying for years:
Why is the dystopian future always literally dark? Why is it always raining or overcast? Why is the architecture always a mix of hyper-modernism, brutalism and squatter slum? Why is the politics always so transparently totalitarian, so fascist-plus-rebels? Why is it so retro and abstract?
Why doesn’t the dystopian vision ever include sunshine and children playing in its ruins? Why does it not include the constant, untiring efforts of most people to do what they can with what they have to improve their situations? Why are most people in the dystopian future always powerless to change anything? I could go on, but you get the point.
The world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve read about active corneal overlays for augmented reality and Russian chatbots good enough to pass simple Turing tests (and immediately being used for sex chat.) Where we live is getting strange. But this doesn’t mean it’s a dystopia, or that we’ll be bowing to evil corporate overlords whose only mission statement is to rape the planet, or that we’ll have mind control installed against our will, or that we’ll all die because of climate change or slowing economic growth or whatever the cause du jour is. So why can’t we be strange–and happy?
As I commented to Alex Steffan today:
I believe the current and extended dark spell got it’s start in the early Rea years of 1981-82, with movies like Blade Runner and Mad Max, and was further exacerbated by the works of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling who cemented us into Legacy Futures (courtesy Jamais Cascio) of dystopian cyberpunk and steampunk dead ends. This dystopian way of thinking became so pervasive, that even Star Trek started it’s irreversible decline toward bleak dystopianism with the advent of Deep Space Nine shortly after Roddenberry died.
The fault lies with a few other people as well, including Ridley Scott, Alan Moore, William Gibson, Katsuhiro Otomo, and Masamune Shirow. Scott brought us “Blade Runner,” and pioneered a vision of the future that used postmodern pastiche not as a clever device (as in Nouvelle Vogue films like “Week-end”), but as a worldbuilding tool. In the same year “Blade Runner” was released, Moore published “V for Vendetta,” and followed it up with “Watchmen” four years later. Both stories feature totalitarian regimes infecting previously-democratic societies and exacerbating systemic poverty and oppression. The result is a bricolage aesthetic of mingled opulence and detritus. But you could say the same about Gibson’s novels from the same decade, as well as Otomo’s and Shirow’s manga — “Blade Runner,” “V for Vendetta,” and the “Akira” manga all came out in the same year, and since then, anyone dealing with dystopian futures has struggled with the glorious burden of that heritage.
Alex made a point of talking to Syd Mead, the designer who did much of the worldbuilding for the movie Bladerunner.
I asked him this very question: what would it take to make a movie of Bladerunner’s imaginative power, set in a positive future? He paused for a second and said he thought it’d be very difficult, that catharsis is so important to people, and people are so terrified of the future, that you’d need some completely new vision of what the future will look like to even set the scene for a new narrative… and that is obviously no mean feat.
Most science fiction sucks, as Norman Spinrad said, precisely because it’s too lazy to imagine let alone devise workable solutions to how these futures can either be diverted or ameliorated should we find ourselves in them. This pessimistic malaise that afflicts so many otherwise intelligent thinkers continues to motivate me today to keep writing, inspiring and working towards better solutions. As Spinrad says,
‘What’s wrong with science fiction is part of the same damn crisis, and I’m not kidding. What’s wrong with science fiction ultimately is an aspect of what’s wrong with conglomerate corporate capitalism, the publishing part, because in terms of how many good books are being written every year, there’s nothing wrong. The last ten years, there are 20 or 30 good-to-great novels every year, and you really can’t complain. The problem is, they’re buried in an avalanche of cynical commercial crap. That’s a dysfunction of the publishing industry, and it affects what writers write.
”There’s another thing wrong with science fiction, and I think it comes from the culture too. How much science fiction is being published now that’s set in worlds that are better than ours? Not that have bigger shopping malls or faster space ships, but where the characters are morally superior, where the society works better, is more just? Not many. It becomes difficult to do it, and that’s a feedback relationship with what’s happening in the culture, with science fiction being the minor note. People don’t credit it anymore! Not just better gizmos and more virtual reality gear, but better societies. People don’t believe the future will be a better place. And that is very scary.
“‘Providing hope is something science fiction should be doing. It sounds arrogant to say it, but if we don’t do it, who the hell will? One of the social functions of science fiction is to be visionary, and when science fiction isn’t being visionary, it hurts the culture’s visionary sense. And when the culture isn’t receptive, neither is science fiction. It’s a downward spiral.’
Alex concludes and says, “We may be at the turning point, however, if other readers are feeling the same sense of saturation that you are.”
I think we are. During the Depression, people didn’t go to the movies to see more downers, they went to see the grand musicals and spectacles to uplift and inspire them. If recent box office failures like the dreadfully bad remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still are any indicator, Hollywood better get their asses in gear and start making bright, green, optimistic, and convincing stories of the future if they to continue getting movie goers.
I think we are long overdo for a radical change in narrative. We have a new president on the way, and problems that can be solved now if we are willing to work our asses off to make them a reality.
Sometime in the next 10-15 years, personal computers could be running up to a million times faster than they are today. Until recently the computer industry had no clear idea on how such speeds would be possible, as silicon is rapidly hitting the limits for use in microprocessors.
The first of these limits was reached in 2004 when chip manufacturers were unable to get chips running faster than 4Ghz without melting them.
To get more performance out of new chips, manufacturers have taken advantage of shrinking die sizes to squeeze more processing cores into the same space a single core took before. With multiple cores, tasks can be shared between cores, allowing more computation to be done per clock cycle.
The current king of chip design is the Core i7 from Intel which runs on a 45nm process and has four cores. Speeds of 100Glops (100 billion calculations per second) are possible running at full capacity. Next year, Intel plans on moving their chip design to the 32nm process, allowing for doubling of transistor density and 8 cores on a chip. The next two die sizes are 22nm and16nm. However when you get to 16nm, quantum tunneling begins interfering with a chips capacity to perform. It is now widely acknowledged that 16nm represents the end of silicon for use in computers. With graphene, die sizes can be reduced to 0.5nm, resulting in several trillion transistors per chip.
Carbon in a Post-Silicon World
Ever since the discovery of carbon nanotubes, companies have recognized the huge potential carbon can play in future computers. Carbon as a computing material has two main advantages. First, it does not suffer from the heat limitation that silicon does, allowing chips to run at terahertz frequencies. This represents more than a 1000 fold increase in raw computing speed. Second, carbon transistors operate better the smaller you make them. Ray Kurzweil, in his book In The Age of Spiritual Machines, talks about carbon nanotubes being used to create very dense 3d computational structures running millions of times faster than today’s computers.
The challenge with carbon nanotubes to researchers is they still don’t know how to mass produce them with consistent size and accurate placement necessary to build microprocessors. In 2006, Georgia Tech Professor Walt de Heer developed a proof-of-principle transistor constructed of graphene. Graphene is the same material as nanotubes, just flattened out like an atomic version of chicken wire, instead of wrapped up into a tube. The basic physics of graphene remain the same – and in some ways its electronic properties actually improve – in pieces smaller than a single nanometer. Graphene transistors start showing advantages and good performance at sizes below 10 nanometers – the miniaturization limit at which the Silicon technology is predicted to fail.
This equates into raw increases in speed of over 1000, and density increases of more than 8000 over the 45nm process we have today. This works out to dozens of teraflops per core, and between four and eight thousand cores on a single chip! Assuming software developers could utilize even a fraction of that capacity, speeds far in excess of a petaflop (quadrillion instructions per second) would be possible in every day computing devices.
When asked about their potential in 2006, Professor Walt de Heer said it would take at least a couple of decades before seeing graphene’s potential. However just two weeks ago, IBM announced the creation of a 50nm graphene transistor running at 26Ghz. For comparison sake, the best transistor in commercial use today is 45nm and running at a paltry 3.6Ghz. Given this breakthrough there is no reason to believe graphene processors won’t be available to take over from silicon as it runs out of steam.
The Roaring 2020′s: Ubiquitous Petaflop computing.
It’s hard to imagine how the world will look like with cheap and pervasive petaflop computing. The degree of advancement made possible by petaflop computing is far greater than anything we’ve seen in the last 50 years. At the very least, computers will become invisible and blend seamlessly with our environments. Our interaction with them will be completely intuitive and natural. They will anticipate our needs and adjust themselves towards maximizing an intuitive and seamless connection. They will be able to respond to touch, gesture, voice and emotional states as if they were our best friend. It will represent the beginning of intimate symbiotic computing. Computer graphics will be as good as reality, allowing a seamless blend of digital and analog worlds. Fully realistic virtual worlds generated on the fly will allow immersion in vast and endlessly novel virtual realities.
Although I believe artificial intelligence will continue to be overrated in human reasoning abilities, the creation of believable agents will have many of the characteristics of a human personality, with near human level reasoning in games, and as digital “servants” that augment our own intelligence and interaction with the vast amount of information that would overwhelm us today. In other words, we won’t suffer from information overload, but interact seamlessly with it in a much more fun and natural way than we do today.
By the 2020′s scientists will probably figure out how to finally use carbon nanotubes to make 3d computer cores with speeds in the exaflop range (a quintillion operations per second). By then we’ll probably see the beginnings of true human-computer symbiotic intelligence far exceeding our own.
Solutions to all the world’s problems are all around us. Every day there are thousands of new solutions presenting themselves to solve every pressing problem facing the planet and humanity.
It was Bucky Fuller who made this observation back in the 1960’s, that given sufficient willingness we have everything we need now to house, clothe and feed every human being on the planet ten times over, and at a standard of living equal to a billionaire. What is required, Bucky Fuller said, is a Design Science Revolution. Updating this for modern time, what we really need is a Green Design Science Revolution.
Lets start with the picture [to the right]. The so-called Lilypad Project is perhaps the most fantastical of these green wonders and certainly the farthest from being built but is too amazing a concept not to mention. The idea is to create a series of floating self-sufficient ocean-going eco-city islands. Each one would be able to house 50,000 residents and would support a great deal of biodiversity. Collecting pools located in their centers would gather and filter water for use on board.
These would be places for adventurers and refugees alike as water levels rise around the world and threaten many, particularly island, habitats. As fears of global warming induced population displacement are steadily realized, the allure of waterborne aquatecture becomes more and more enticing.
Designed by Alexander Asadov, this incredible floating Aerohotel (pictured above) features a lighter-than-air aesthetic that sits serenely atop an elegant system of supports. Conceived as an elevated aquatic structure replete with hanging gardens, the space-age floating island preserves the entire extent of the ecosystem beneath it, contrasting with man-made islands that disrupt their immediate environment with tons of gravel fill.
The beauty of most of these solutions is they not only solve their intended design problem, they also solve many of the other problems of the world as well. Whether it’s poverty, pollution, political tyranny, climate change, disease, or environmental degradation, they are all related to each other via a complex web of life in a materially closed system at the bottom of a gravity well. Solve one piece of the puzzle, and the rest of the puzzle gets a little bit easier to solve as well.
Although I’m still a bit jaded with the American political process, I’m more hopeful than ever before. The reasons are many, but most especially the “can do” attitude that is sweeping the nation since Obama’s victory. It’s a shift in consciousness. I’m seeing solutions, rather than intractable problems. I’m seeing that we can do anything if we’re willing enough. And I’m not the only one feeling it, millions around the world are.
Thanks to 8 long years of disastrous policy and rampant corruption, people have seen just how much bold faced lies and crap they can take. People are fed up with the constant bullshit, and they are not going to take it anymore. When pundits and other so-called “experts” say we can’t do this, or we can’t do that, people are crying foul! I’ve heard it on the radio, and seen it on the streets. People know now that we can do anything if we set our mind to it.
I heard a recent radio interview with some so-called electric car supporter saying it will takes us decades to convert even 25% of our car fleet to electric and plug-in hybrids, except this time he was out smarted, and out WILLED by everyone else on the panel, including the callers, who said their is no reason we can’t convert to 100% renewable and electric vehicles in half the time – if we are willing.
Better Place, a company that aims to build a worldwide electric car charging infrastructure, has announced an agreement with the state of California to build a $1 billion network in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company is looking at rapid charge technology, and the possibility of swappable batteries. The entire US fleet of vehicles could be powered by renewable energy.
A recent study done by Mark Z. Jacobson at Stanford University says that wind, water and sun beat biofuels, nuclear and coal for clean energy.
Wind was by far the most promising, Jacobson said, owing to a better-than 99 percent reduction in carbon and air pollution emissions; the consumption of less than 3 square kilometers of land for the turbine footprints to run the entire U.S. vehicle fleet (given the fleet is composed of battery-electric vehicles);l the savings of about 15,000 lives per year from premature air-pollution-related deaths from vehicle exhaust in the United States; and virtually no water consumption.
“There is a lot of talk among politicians that we need a massive jobs program to pull the economy out of the current recession,” Jacobson said. “Well, putting people to work building wind turbines, solar plants, geothermal plants, electric vehicles and transmission lines would not only create jobs but would also reduce costs due to health care, crop damage and climate damage from current vehicle and electric power pollution, as well as provide the world with a truly unlimited supply of clean power.”
Jacobson’s research is particularly timely in light of the growing push to develop biofuels, which he calculated to be the worst of the available alternatives. In their effort to obtain a federal bailout, the Big Three Detroit automakers are increasingly touting their efforts and programs in the biofuels realm, and federal research dollars have been supporting a growing number of biofuel-research efforts.
“That is exactly the wrong place to be spending our money. Biofuels are the most damaging choice we could make in our efforts to move away from using fossil fuels,” Jacobson said. “We should be spending to promote energy technologies that cause significant reductions in carbon emissions and air-pollution mortality, not technologies that have either marginal benefits or no benefits at all”.
The three best alternatives that Jacobson is mentioning are each seeing revolutionary advancements. The Maglev wind turbine is designed to generate up to 1GW of power.
Magnetic levitation is an extremely efficient system for wind energy. Here’s how it works: the vertically oriented blades of the wind turbine are suspended in the air above the base of the machine, replacing the need for ball bearings. The turbine uses “full-permanent” magnets, not electromagnets — therefore, it does not require electricity to run. The full-permanent magnet system employs neodymium (”rare earth”) magnets and there is no energy loss through friction. This also helps reduce maintenance costs and increases the lifespan of the generator. Maglev wind turbines have several advantages over conventional wind turbines. For instance, they’re able to use winds with starting speeds as low as 1.5 meters per second (m/s). Also, they could operate in winds exceeding 40 m/s. Currently, the largest conventional wind turbines in the world produce only five megawatts of power. However, one large maglev wind turbine could generate one gigawatt of clean power, enough to supply energy to 750,000 homes. It would also increase generation capacity by 20% over conventional wind turbines and decrease operational costs by 50%. If that isn’t enough, the maglev wind turbines will be operational for about 500 years. A few hundred of these could power the entire American car fleet.
Beyond centralized solutions, there are plentiful cheap individual ones as well. Accessible individual wind power is getting cheaper all the time, such as Helix Wind residential wind turbine.
On the Solar front we have Nanosolar’s printed solar cell. They are already creating and selling massive sheets of solar cells for less than $1.00 per watt. Their current manufacturing output now exceeds all other solar manufacturers in the world combined! They are claiming prices of less than 30 cents/watt are achievable once manufacturing goes mainstream. To put this in perspective, the current price for coal is $2.10 per watt. Solar and wind are becoming cheaper all the time, and are no competitively cheaper than the more dirty alternatives. There is no excuse anymore to use the dirtier alternatives, other than providing corporate welfare to obsolete industries (coal, oil, nuclear, etc.). The only downside to sources like the sun and wind, is they are not continuously available.
Enter Deep Geothermal. Currently, geothermal plants exist near fault lines and other areas where hot temperatures are closer to the surface. For example just south of Reno, Nevada there is a geothermal plant that powers the entire city, or equivalent to 220,000 homes. This tiny plant and all of its facilities takes up less than 8 acres of land. This plant works because it’s sitting on top of a geothermal basin, where hot temperatures are right under the surface. So location is everything with current geothermal implementations. Deep geothermal technologies change this because they are able to dig deep enough, that location doesn’t matter anymore. With deep geothermal power water is pumped down to the hot rock, heated, and then brought back to the surface to turn turbines for electricity. Dig deep enough and boiling hot temperatures are available everywhere. You could set up a geothermal plant anywhere power is needed. Nevada is also home to Solar One, the third largest solar concentration plant in the world, producing 64MW of power on less than 400 acres. Combine Nevada’s abundance of sun, wind (especially in Northern Nevada) and resident surface geothermal could power most of the United States, turning Nevada into one of the 10 biggest economies in the world.
Cars meanwhile could be converted over to running mostly or entirely by electricity. About 90% of the population drives their cars less than 100 miles a day. So the limited range of current battery technology would take care of 90% of automobile energy consumption. The other 10% could be a combination of electric and plant-based fuels with 100 - 300 miles per gallon possible.Rather than these plants taking place of food crops, they could be saltwater based and be grown in currently non-arable areas. The use of saltwater crops for food and fuel could expand the world’s arable land by 50%! That’s over 50 million square miles of previously uncultivated territory in the world’s coastal deserts, inland salty soils, and over-salinized agricultural land (For more information on salt-water agriculture see Food vs Fuel). The water for these salty plants could come directly from the ocean. Meanwhile a portion of this seawater could be desalinized, bringing fresh water to the very arid regions that need it. An added benefit of all these saltwater plants along with renewable energy could cut global greenhouse gases back to pre-industrial levels
As I mentioned in Regreening the Earth, the European Union has proposed building out a massive renewable energy works that would tie together very-large scale solar facilities in Northern Africa, offshore wind powered turbines in the North Sea to form a large universal energy grid. The Africans would also get a cut of this cheap energy, since most of the solar plants would be in the Northern Sahara. As part of this plan, large scale desalination plants would line the African coastline to bring much needed water to areas of Africa that have been suffering from devastating droughts and desertification. This massive increase in fresh water to Africa would alleviate many of Africa’s problems with hunger, disease, and poverty. The potential for re-greening Africa is very compelling, and could be a model for re-greening much of the rest of the world. Comprehensive solutions like this EU proposal is precisely what the world needs to making the world a better place and bringing us all into a prosperous and robust 21st century future. .
However, climate change is but one part of our current environmental crisis. The other is the wholesale destruction of fragile ecosystems taking place around the world. Locations like Indonesia and the Amazon are seeing the most diverse plant and animal kingdoms give way under chain saws and bulldozers. These vital ecosystems, having evolved over millions of years, are bring destroyed for short-term economic gain.
The problem of resource depletion is big, and it will require an equally big solution What we need is a wholesale transition to a world-wide regenerative economy – based on value, rather than debt. ( A regenerative economy is one that recycles and regenerates everything it uses and creates back into the economic fold to be used again and again. This eliminates both the need for chewing up the planet or creating toxic landfills.
Below is an artist depiction of San Franciscos powered by geothermal energy “mushrooms” and algae-harvesting towers produce hydrogen, which is stored and distributed via a series of carbon nanotube walls. Fog catchers capture moisture from the atmosphere to distill fresh water.
A network of above ground and underground systems “fulfill infrastructural needs for the movement of people, water, hover-cars, and energy throughout the city”. Taking cues from nature, a giant super system resembling seaweed and chantrelle mushroom will hold together this network to collect water, power and distribute it across the city.
The biggest challenge in creating a regenerative economy is converting waste back into useful materials. This includes all of our waste such as water, petroleum based plastics, and precious metals. One solution to having abundant clean water will be the widespread adoption of cheapnanofilters, which have already proven effective in treating waste water. Biodegradable and recyclable plastics exist, and only require infusions of capital investment to become cheap enough to compete head on with traditional plastics. Saltwater agriculture + plant based plastics = win-win regeneration. Add in the growing potential of nanotechnology and microbe-based reclamation tools, and we could clean up and eliminate ALL of the toxic materials we’ve ever created, while simultaneously restoring damaged ecosystems. Human civilization finally becomes a deeply organic and fully integrated part of the biosphere.
All of this effort toward creating a sustainable and regenerative economy would simultaneously solve many, if not most of the world problems. It would create hundreds of millions of new jobs. It would allow developing and third-world nations the opportunity to leap-frog entirely the polluting and wasteful industrializing phase right into a clean, green, regenerative economy. This would result in a radical reduction of world-wide poverty and hunger, while bringing them the benefits the best of the 21st Century has to offer.
So this brings me to two other pressing problems – population growth and political tyranny. As I mentioned previously, all the worlds problems are interrelated. The rapid rise in pollution, industrial waste, and environmental destruction can be directly linked to population growth. Population growth in turn means more competition over dwindling resources, which means more wars, genocides, and politically oppressive regimes run by brutal dictators and junta’s, supported by first-world industrialists. BUT, if the means to health, wealth and economic prosperity can be had without further resource depletion, then the incentive for war is significantly reduced. The same goes for political oppression and culturally based genocide wars, which are the result of desperate, ignorant people caught in the web of poverty, disease and lack of education. Economic prosperity and education go hand-in-hand. If developing nations are able to access the world’s knowledge through the internet, this opens them up to the rest of the world. Freedom is a tantalizing thing, and once people have it they will do everything they can to keep it and expand it. I found out just yesterday, Saudi Arabia now has it’s own all-girl rock band called Accolade. Their hit song Pinocchio is getting massive airplay throughout the middle east. They still can’t perform live, and must wear their black shawls while in public, but the influence of downloadable music and iPods is having a cultural influence on the young in oppressive regimes.
When people are well off economically several things happen – they are less likely to commit crimes, less likely to commit acts of terrorism, and less likely to have children, and less likely to put up with assaults on their freedom. The net population growth in the First World is zero. All population growth is happening in Second and Third World countries and their immigration into First World countries. Improve the economic conditions of the world’s poor, and population growth stops.
All this will take is willingness to make it happen. Most people don’t even know their are solutions, or think it is way more difficult than it seams. So it’s about educating and inspiring as many people as possible. This is why I’m cautiously optimistic that if a minimum threshold of people wake up and adopt a can-do attitude we can in fact make it happen.
Wow, it seems like every month or two, the ever increasing speed of computer processing is making possible entirely new ways of interacting with computers. I mentioned Photosynth, which allows all the worlds photos to be seamlessly tied together to form a virtual 3D visual of the world. Then there is multi-touch, which will utterly change the way we interact with computers in the coming decade. Below is a demo of a new intuitive 3D sketch program that will let anyone create 3D sketches easier than working with clay.