I was talking with a friend on Skype and marveling at the world having videophones after all this time. (Anybody remember 2001 A Space Oddysey back in 1967?) That conversation got into talking about how COOL it is to live in these times. And then it got into how things might change in the future.
If any of this is too off the wall or too nauseating for the tree huggers out there, tough luck! I am going to talk about it anyway. :-)
My friend is more than 40 years younger than I am, and he just got married, and is going to see as many changes in his time as I’ve seen in mine. It is AMAZING how much technology brings into our lives over a span of 70 or 80 years. It used to be 60. Hell, it used to be 49! In 1900 the average life expectancy in the USA was all of 49 years. Now – as of about 10 years ago – it is 79 years. So in about 100 years the life expectancy went up 30 years. 30 in 100. WOW! !
So right there we have one way technology has improved life – it has made it longer. It is laughable when I tell this to people, because t really IS an improvement. But would you like to know what the most common reaction I get from people? “Well, extra years don’t mean anything if you are sick.” They just don’t get it.
What don’t they get? That 100 years ago at age 19 people only had 30 years more to live. That NOW we are FORTY NINE when we have 30 years to live – at somewhat the same health level. REALLY. So, at the age when people used to die off – on average – we all still have 30 years to live. So when someone tells you that 50 is the new 30, they are kind of right – but not right ENOUGH. The average person at 49 now is not looking at spending the next 30 years as a medical invalid. They are looking at about 20 more years of good living.
And the trend hasn’t stopped. In 1800, according to the official data compiled into Hans Rosling’s charts and his presentations, NOT ONE country in the world had a life expectancy over THIRTY FIVE! By the year 1900 that had been exceeded by right around 50% by the developed countries – the high-tech countries of Northern Europe and the USA. And in the next 100 years it went up 60 percent and more. And that technology didn’t respect borders. The tech spread around the world until now only Sub-Saharan Africa and Afghanistan have live expectancy below 55 years. Even the most POOR countries in the world have people living longer than ANY peoples lived 200 years ago.
But life expectancy isn’t the direction my conversation tonight went in. It went into things we normally think of as tech. Medicine IS certainly tech, and it is certainly the reason for longer life expectancy. But tech tech is gizmos, and we talked about gizmos.
I asked him how much his smart phone has improved his life. He said a LOT. There is so much access to information, so much ability to DO things. He has a GPS in his smart phone, of course. THAT came out of the military and satellites. The ability of spy satellites to read (soon to be extinct) newspapers over our shoulders is also the same tech that gives us the ability to not get lost. For ships at sea to ply their routes without sextants and reading the stars. For us to find the nearest pharmacy or the nearest movie or the nearest gas station, without lugging around 5-pound phone books or unfolding maps while we drive.
The camera in that smart phone is based on CCD technology that was initially developed for telescopes, to improve the ability to study the stars. Someone along the way asked why we didn’t use that same technology for consumer cameras. That was the day film cameras became the buggy whips of the late 20th century – extinct as dodo birds in all but fact.
Every technology is doomed to extinction, from the day it is invented.
Of course, that will some day include the internal combustion engine and the automobile as we know it. Gasoline-powered Cars are being assailed on every front, really. From electric cars and hybrids to Amazon drones to thorium LFTR reactors, your granddad’s automobile is living on borrowed time. The drone technology is going to be a sea change in transportation of goods. It won’t stop at Amazon. Why not Peapod grocery deliveries via drones? With the technology out there, any delivery service will be interested in it. UPS, FedEx especially. If Amazon goes to drones it will be a BIG chunk of business lost for both of those companies, and they would do well to see the handwriting on the wall and jump into the drone delivery industry with all four feet – before someone else takes another big chunk out of their hides. Peapod in particular may develop a system of delivering groceries to apartment window ledges. And that might open up a new industry of window ledge containers, coolers, or refrigerators. And UPS and FedEx could also delivery in that manner. It could change apartment building architecture a bit as well. And residential homes may add the same. We may go back to something like the old milkmen, delivering through milk doors.
Drones are also small now. As the industry expands, expect larger and larger drones. We may be approaching a time when drones are filling the skies. WE may not travel via drones, but perhaps our supplies all will. And who is to say that once drones prove themselves in deliveries that drones won’t begin to be an increasing way of getting humans around, too? They DO have collision avoidance programs in them, so the potential is there to safely take us anywhere – little and big drones all over our skies, ala sci-fi movies…
But won’t it be energy prohibitive? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I have a couple of blog posts here and here about Thorium LFTR reactors. Thorium is the most exciting development in the industry since someone found out that the waste product gsaoline was the perfect fuel for those newfangled automobiles.
I pointed out to Zack, my friend, that they’ve already determined how they can use the waste heat from LFTRs to power water de-salination plants – essentially getting fresh water from the ocean at no operating cost. When that happens all the deserts of the world that are near oceans can be turned to agriculture. Huge wasted areas of the planet can become productive. Or if no one wants the agriculture, we can simply feed the water into those regions and “green” them – turn them into forests or jungle. This would also be a viable step toward developing agriculture for extra-terrestrial environments, similar to the movie “Silent Running.”
Then I told Zack of my LFTR-ION means of rocket propulsion. In this we just need to land on an outgoing comet to ride it out to the Asteroid Belt, using the power from an on-board LFTR to power an Ion Drive. We would use the Ion Drive to steer the comet wherever we want (within reason). We could steer it up or down or right or left. This could be done remotely or with humans. The comet would be traveling at about 25-30 km/sec, and we could use that velocity for FREE – just hitching a ride, while being able to steer it to a large extent. Returning to Earth would be a matter of finding an inbound comet – or steering an asteroid inward.
Matt Ridley has an optimist’s mind. Similar to the thinkers of 100 years ago, he sees progress as a good thing. He looks at CO2 in the atmosphere going up, and he points out how the world now has MORE green vegetation than before. CO2 is, after all, the same thing for plants as oxygen is for animals, so as CO2 goes up plants SHOULD grow better. And they do. Their vegetable mass per plant is greater. He also points out that the Green Revolution has brought us to a point where we grow more food now than 50 years ago – on 2/3 less land. We are returning land to its native state – meaning more forests, more prairies, more GREEN. With more plants, that means also more oxygen being released into the atmosphere. Does it balance out in our favor, in the planet’s favor? To some extent, yes. Don’t ONLY listen to the tree huggers, because if the planet is getting greener, then their goals are being achieved – but good news doesn’t sell their message. So they only tell bad news.
Is any or all of this implausible? That is the thing about what is ahead of us – most of what we will do is completely over the horizon right now. Five years ago much of the new technology of today was not even on the horizon. LED light bulbs didn’t exist then. Graphene – the miracle material of the future – was only discovered in 2004, so we are just now coming on its tenth birthday. LFTRs – no one knew that the way to build them was buried in Oak Ridge archives. Drone deliveries? A totally new idea. It is one that might have been thought of at any point in the last 20 years. Now is its time. Will it pan out? IMHO, probably.
Ten years ago, to try to predict today’s tech developments was impossible. If we can’t project ten years into the future, saying NO to any ideas about the future is a fool’s errand. The possibles exist, but which ones? And how do we put that together with what is NOT on the horizon?
So, all projections might be true. Who knows? This post is just my guesses put into black and white in cyberspace. SOME of it will definitely be true.
LFTRs WILL BE the energy source of the future, on into the next ten or twenty or fifty centuries – until something better comes along. The de-salination plants will follow.
It appears that drones WILL be delivering packages – but will it be restricted to only packages? Will we be delivered to our jobs via flying drones?
Some things about individual drones: They can more or less fly a straight line to their destinations (barring regulations creating drone highways, which is a distinct possibility). But for the near future, drones are free to go on a bee-line – allowing for diversions to avoid collisions. Bee-lines mean less fuel consumption because they are taking the shortest distance, and miles equals money. As more and more freight goes airborne, ground roadways might get unclogged of semi trucks, at least to some degree. THAT is not a bad thing at all. Drones may turn out to be the most energy-efficient means of moving good ever invented. And if goods go that way it is only a matter of time before people are. After all, the vast rain systems of the 1850-1970 period were initially built for moving freight and raw materials. Human travel on those lines was secondary. Similarly the earlier canals around the world (some of which still exist) were built for freight and raw materials, not for vacationing barge tourists. Drones are merely the latest development in industrial transportation. Each step was driven by two motives – efficiency and lower costs. This stage is no different.
But in terms of better – is it all better? That is actually a silly question. Better is a subjective gauge. Ribbed bras are better for some women, not needed by others. Trains are better than semis for moving vast quantities of goods, but are not feasible in many cases. Interstate highways are better for some kinds of travel, not so good for others. The reality is that if something is more functional or cheaper for a large enough segment of society, it will happen. For that group it is better. Others have to live with that – the reality of the needs of some other segment.
“More needs being met” might be the real measuring stick of “better”, of progress. Of “better living”. Green advocates argue that everything connected with technology and industry is NOT better. One need only to see how many modern technological things the greens use to get their messages out, to chase down whale hunters, to fly to conferences, to drive r bus to their advocacy offices, etc,., to know that there is a reasonable level of hypocrisy in their real lives versus what they claim we all “should do.” While it is not wise to ignore them altogether, mostly we all ignore them, while patting ourselves on our backs about believing that their agenda is a good one. But in reality, we all DO ignore their agendas in our daily, practical lives. Green advocates ask us to go back to 1790, before the Industrial Revolution, and to all work on farms. But A: That can’t work in a world of 7 billion people. And B: If we tried to all do that 5 or 6 billion of us would have to die off so that the remaining 1-2 billion could be fed. And C: Those times are never coming again – barring a comet out of the blue taking us back to the Stone Age – and then it would be a long time before we’d have agriculture again.
So, I choose to look at the positive side and to try to foresee the improvements in life ahead of us.
After all, we now live so much longer, so we have more time to deal with life. Do we choose to flagellate ourselves, or do we choose to embrace the changes? There are far too many people in the world who are rooting for mankind to fail, to die of, to go extinct. IMHO they are all insane humanity haters. Note the recent movies and documentaries about “After Humans” and such. There IS no “after humans.” Humans have gone through ice ages, and through world wars, and we are doing better than ever. We are resilient, ingenious, adaptable, flexible, and we aren’t going anywhere – until it is time for some of us to head to Mars and the stars.
From about 150 up to about 60 years ago we were screwing up, royally. Eventually sufficient numbers of people pointed out the errors of our ways, regarding the air and the water, and that some animals were going extinct. For those warnings the rest of humankind owes that group of people a debt of gratitude. But we’ve learned enough that we have not caused a direct extinction since the passenger pigeon and some predators and rodents that the world will never miss. We’ve learned how to USE our industrial technologies to keep from screwing up the air and water, and we’ve done a good job eliminating air pollution. Yes, the Chinese are behind the times, but give them a break – they’ve only been industrialists for a very short time. They are learning FROM the rest of us, and will before long be right up with the rest of us on keeping the air clean. And by air, I mean air and water.
For those who are not old enough to know how clean our air is now, they only need to ask an old person about what polluted air was like. There are not so many who remember anymore. That is a sign of progress, in itself. We re-invented clean air! I know a fair deal about cleaning the air; I’ve worked about 1/3 of my now completed career on projects to clean air coming out of factories. I was here when the air sucked, and I am here now, and I can assure you, the reader, that we have MUCH cleaner air than before 1970. And by air, I mean air and water.
So we are better stewards of the Earth than we were when I was in school. That alone tells me we have bought ourselves a lot of time to remain on the planet. We have earned our stewardship, and I think we intend to stay at it for a very long time to come. And if we aren’t good enough at it now, we are adaptable enough to improve our efforts.
Nope, we aren’t going anywhere. In fact, we are going to continue making the world a more habitable place for us, our pets, and animals and plants. And when we are good enough at it, then we will be ready to take our efforts out and beyond…