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World building 301: some projections

Right now, over at the venerable discussion board known as the WELL, Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky and having their regular annual State of the World pow-wow, this time for 2012.

I always find these fascinating, because Chairman Bruce is the pre-eminent thought leader of modern near-future SF.

He's been one jump ahead of the pack ever since the early 1980s (when I avidly subscribed to his pseudonymous crit zine Cheap Truth, the house self-criticism session of the early cyberpunks), then the mid-1980s when he basically invented the New Space Opera and moved on before anyone else had time to notice, and then the early 90s when he got the implications of the internet and climate catastrophe in Heavy Weather ... seriously, if I'm ever at a loss to know what the big near-term global issues are, I look for his footsteps and follow them. (It's no accident that a few years ago he seemed to lose interest in dying media and high-tech environmentalism and went after industrial design and 3D printers.)

Anyway.

I'm going to use some of his mojo as a jumping off point for asking: what is the world going to look like in 2032? And in 2092?

It's an important question. I expect to be around in 2032, albeit somewhat more creaky (I'll be 68) — the state of the world in 2032 is a matter of personal interest. By 2092 ... well, if I'm still alive in 2092 there will have been medical breakthroughs, because I'd be 128 years old, and that exceeds the current boundary with which human life expectancy converges (which is roughly 121-122). My grandfather died a couple of months short of his 70th birthday; my father is still going strong at 87: a straight line extrapolation would peg me at making it past 104, although I don't think I'm as healthy as dad. So it's a matter of rather more theoretical interest to me, but nevertheless worth worrying about just in case the next 20-80 years bring us some massive breakthroughs in life prolongation.

What do I predict for 2032?

Climate: the current remaining question marks over climate change will have been answered, and the answers won't be anything pleasant. Climate change denialism will probably be about as respectable as Lysenkoism is today — an intellectually corrupt pseudo-science emerging at the behest of a bankrupt ideology. Chunks of the world will be suffering heat stress with damaging effects on agriculture (notably Australia, where imported European-style agricultural practices are really not compatible with the local rainfall patterns and soil, but also chunks of North America, Africa, and the Mediterranean basin: China's rice basket will also take a battering). The main impact will be felt by poor communities (with inadequate shelter from increasingly violent storms) and coastal communities (Bangladesh will take a hammering).

Energy: oil will still be available and planes will still be burning it. Prior to Fukushima I was predicting a big renaissance in nuclear power. Now ... I'm still predicting it, but I think it'll take an extra 10-20 years and people are going to be a lot more cautious. Chernobyl could be written off as Soviet mis-management, but Fukushima, while a lot better managed and less damaging, is in some ways more alarming because it underscores the need to design nuclear plant to be fail-safe even in the face of a once-per-thousand-years event. Which drives the cost of nuclear right up from an already high baseline.

Solar is getting cheaper rapidly, and is now actually rolling out in significant quantities, but runs into the "how do you store it?" problem. What I think we may see is solar plant that, rather than producing electricity, is designed to produce electrons and use them immediately to electrolytically split water, liberating hydrogen, which can then be converted into something more storable ... like methane (using atmospheric CO2 as a carbon source).

Coal is going to get deeply unfashionable. It'll still be with us in 2032, but with expensive scrubbers and carbon capture plant and, more likely, subterranean gasification. Which is still fossil fuel, but is less obvious to the naked eye from the spoil heaps.

Fusion will be 30 years away. But by that, I mean commercial fusion reactors. There will be a prototype under construction, with a turbine hall that will deliver base load to someone's grid (probably France's), when it's running. Which won't be most of the time, because it'll be a prototype and a hangar queen. And they'll still need 30 years of research into the effects of neutron embrittlement on construction materials before they're ready to start building them on production lines.

Transport: The rich might have supersonic bizjets, but they'll be expensive toys rather than mass transport. For the rest of us, there'll be high speed rail in dense areas (India, China, Europe, the eastern and western seaboards of North America), subsonic jets for crossing the blank spaces, and automobiles.

However. By 2032 I expect the developed world to have installed infrastructure for automated driving in many environments, and for many new cars to be largely (if not completely) automated. Even cheaper cars today can be bought with self-parking capability; Volvo are selling cars that automatically brake or take action to avoid pedestrians. This is a Moore's Law related tech, and by 2032 I expect collision avoidance systems to be mandatory on all post-2022 cars, and some self-driving. Cars will probably mostly be plug-in hybrids (battery for use around town, with a generator to take over for longer trips). And in dense urban centres (which is where most people outside the USA will be living) they'll be somewhat less popular. The 20th century was the century of the automobile, just as the 19th century was the century of the train.

Population: China's one child generation will be hitting retirement. China will, by 2032, be a primarily urban society with demographics like Japan circa the 1980s/1990s (villages where nobody is aged under 65; big cities: falling birth rates). India will be going in the same direction. The USA and EU are anyone's guess; the EU has seen a variety of local baby booms in the past decade which suggest the demographic transition may not result in a population crash but in oscillation around a couple of stable attractors. Been here before. The new insight I'd like to add is that, barring plagues like a pandemic form of H5N1 Bird flu or TDR-TB (which is worse than ferret-assisted plague flu), the global population will be a lot older, on average, than it is today.

If we play our cards right, that means the population won't be as physically able to carry out manual labour or farming activities (or to fight in mass armies) but will be better-educated and more experienced, albeit maybe less cognitively flexible. It'll also be overwhelmingly urban. Our species passed the 50% living in cities marker a few years ago, and the trend towards urbanization continues (as the countervailing trend towards farming being conducted on a larger scale by organizations also works to drive young rural people off the land).

Politics: It's fairly obvious that there's an ongoing global political crisis of legitimacy, and it's happening everywhere. In China, post-Tiananmen Square, the CPC is clinging on because it can deliver prosperity. In the Middle East, every government seems to have a crisis of legitimacy to a greater or lesser extent. In Europe, the crisis over the Euro needs to be considered in light of the democratic deficit in EU procedures, with one eye on Hungary's descent into one-party rule and, further east, to Russia where the aftershocks of 1991 continue to reverberate. The USA is not immune; while it has a solid democratic foundation, the mechanisms to enforce a police state are in place and a descent into plutocratic oligarchy is well advanced. About the only promising signs are that democratic forms are becoming the norm everywhere, even in areas formerly thought of as safe havens for tyranny, and that rapidly changing communications technologies combine to simultaneously inform and energize those people who are inclined to be informed and energized, and to narcotize those who aren't.

Space: Is a red herring in the short term. China will have a space station and maybe a flag on the moon. The USA will continue to send out increasingly sophisticated robot probes and might still be operating a space station. They might even have planted a flag on the moon (again) and have plans to go to Mars. (On the down side: a major political or fiscal crisis might be enough to do unto NASA what the collapse of the USSR did to the Soviet space infrastructure.) There will probably be continued commercial development in low earth orbit, including an orbiting hotel (for the plutocrats to play bunga-bunga games). And Elon Musk might still be in business and going balls-out for Mars. But by 2032 I don't expect there to be any major breakthroughs.

Food: Fish is probably going to cost more than beef products because we're on course to comprehensively fuck over the largest commercial fisheries, allowing opportunist species to replace the ecosystems we're strip-mining. Oceans are likely to be dominated by squid (edible) and jellyfish (not edible). There might still be freshwater fisheries with food species fed on processed jellyfish.

Cultured mammalian tissue is likely to be available. It'll be of about the same consistency as Quorn and will lack mouth appeal, but some folks will take to it (folks who like meat too much to go vegetarian today, but who have ethical qualms about eating animals and a big enough disposable income to pay).

There'll be widespread work in progress on genetically engineering plants to photosynthesize efficiently (or at all) at higher temperatures.

There will have been one or more famines or crop crashes and food price spikes caused by second-order effects of early and ill-advised GM crop roll-outs — see for example, Roundup-ready weeds (but I'm thinking it'll take something much more serious to get our attention).

Optionally, if we don't sort out the global plutocracy problem there will be famines and food price spikes caused by investors speculating on food price futures. (This has already happened; I'm predicting more of it unless we impose tougher controls on global food futures trading).

Electronics: Moore's Law will have played out by 2032; we'll have circuitry where the feature resolution is on the order of one or two atoms. Can't make it smaller. Can stack it vertically. A 2032 smartphone (and literally everyone will have a smartphone, or its successor) will compare in power to a 2012 iPhone 4S or Galaxy Nexus as one of those compares to a 1992 computer — a Macintosh Quadra 840 or a 486DX PC running Windows 3.1. The distinction between RAM and static storage (SSDs) will have faded to a gradation of access speed dominated by caching, displays will consume very little energy and have pixel pitch so fine that the human eye can barely see them, battery life will exceed one day in ordinary use, and gigabit wireless connection speeds will be the norm outside the home or office (at home/in office it'll tend towards the bandwidth constraint imposed by the atmosphere, i.e. 1-2 tb/sec shared between the devices in any given opaque-walled room or cubicle).

Poverty-stricken tribesmen in Papua New Guinea will get their introduction to modern technology via something that makes a 2012 smartphone look like a Motorola DynaTAC.

The internet: Will still be dominated by English speakers, but they'll have an Indian accent. Everybody will be on the net. Commercial television as we know it will have been sucked into video-over-IP. Ditto commercial radio. Telephones? They're the handset you use for Voice-over-IP. (Phone numbers as we know them will be obsolete.) Half of Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia, Sony and IBM will no longer exist (if I knew which half I'd be planning my investments right now) and the list of the top ten net-related corporations will be radically different. We'll probably have poor simultaneous voice translation (driven by statistical analysis) and somewhat better offline translation of text. Many governments will censor the internet, or try to, because it will have become critical infrastructure. Newspapers as we know them today will either not exist, or no longer print ink on paper. Publishers of all media (as we know them today) will either not exist or barely be recognizable. Internet access will be recognized as a basic human right, notwithstanding draconian copyright enforcement legislation that demands infringers be cut off. Yes, this is a contradiction. As someone or other said, "information wants to be free: information also wants to be expensive".

Medicine: HIV will be curable — either through better anti retroviral drugs or through gene therapy (note that this is a first step towards developing a prosthetic immune system). Cancer ... we'll know a lot more about it. Many types of cancer will be manageable, albeit as a major nuisance illness subject to recurrent outbreaks and requiring unpleasant medicines to treat it (like HIV today). Some will remain rapidly fatal. No single silver bullet will banish all forms of cancer. Diseases of ageing (notably dementia) will get a lot of research money. Diseases of affluence, ditto. Research into antibiotics, at a dismal low in 2012, will have returned, either via the public sector or by hugely inflated incentives to the private sector. There will have been epidemics; TDR-TB is a real incentive to get back in the saddle on antibiotic research. Anti-viral drugs will be in better shape, with broad spectrum antivirals available (hopefully only under medical supervision, unlike the 1950-2010 global antibiotic fiasco).

Let's look further ahead. What about 2092?

I agree with Bruce Sterling: it's going to be a world of old people living in big cities who are afraid of the sky.

The climate will be well and truly fucked because we're not able to take preventative action far enough in advance to avoid the worst effects. Large chunks of the earth will have heat emergencies every year that render them uninhabitable by human beings without powered refrigeration. These chunks include some of the most densely populated areas (notably India and China). On the other hand, they coincide with maximum insolation, so the solar power to run the aircon will hopefully be available.

20-40% of mammalian species, 20-60% of reptiles, 40-80% of amphibia, and maybe 50% or more of insects will be extinct. (If it's hot enough to kill unprotected humans, the rest of the biosphere isn't going to fare well, and those regions that suffer the heat crises are the ones that harbour most biodiversity).

There will be 5-10 billion people. The low end represents a scenario where there is no breakthrough in life extension, no prolonged birth rate rebound from the demographic transition, and plagues or wars. The high end is merely the absence of one or more of those (unwanted) constraints. Between 50% and 80% of them will be city-dwellers, and their average age will be rising. Instead of a population pyramid, our age distribution will resemble a beehive (vertical sides, then a rounded top as folks nearing maximum life expectancy die off rapidly). Average age will be rising towards 50, from as low as 16 in some countries at the start of the century.

The age distribution shift in turn may be a predictor (in the absence of cognitive enhancement drugs or technologies) for a socially conservative, risk-averse global society. Note that this is socially conservative by mid-21st century standards, not by 2012 EU or US standards; what that means is hard to predict, but it'll be socially conservative against a background where the demographic transition lies far in the past and family planning (female education/emancipation plus access to contraception and abortion) is normal.

Politics I have no idea about, but it's not unreasonable to expect a gerontocracy dominated by the elderly, with a small, poor, disenfranchised youth sector.

The USA will not have been the dominant planetary superpower for at least fifty years. The EU won't have replaced it. China will be over the peak and probably a long way down the down-slope. The future belongs to someone else. Maybe Brazil or India?

Energy: trying to burn coal may just annoy the neighbours so much that they sue you. And if you refuse to turn up in court, they'll send drones to bomb your power stations and mine heads.

Fusion will be available in commercial form, if anyone needs a centralized monolithic plant that isn't viable below 5Gw thermal output, requires a grid to distribute the current, is inflexible, and leaves you with a thousand tonne core of high level waste. (But hey, no nasty plutonium!) My bet is that fusion plants won't be competitive with fission but may catch on for political reasons in places that need lots of energy (e.g. centralized industrial zones).

Solar will be ubiquitous; cells as cheap as wallpaper will ooze carbon-neutral diesel oil, or come with built-in storage batteries.

Orbital solar power won't be used for ground-based applications, unless there has been extensive mining and fabrication of components in orbit from asteroidal resources. I'm not betting on it by 2092, but I'm not betting against it either.

Transport:

Airliners ... will still be subsonic, for the most part. There may be sub-orbital shuttles for the rich, but the security issues are horrendous (anything capable of sending a 1%-er from London to Sydney in 40 minutes is functionally indistinguishable from an ICBM).

Automobiles drive themselves all the time. If you want to drive, you go to a track event. (Or you work on a farm or in an off-road situation.) You do not endanger third parties by driving manually in built-up areas. If you live in a city you don't own a car, but rent one or are part of a time-share coop for when you need one. Unless you're rich enough that circa 2012 you own a car and can pay a chauffeur.

Self-driving cars probably obviate the need for high speed rail in places like Asia east of the Urals or the US midwest: just get on a highway and tell the car to go as fast as it can within your fuel budget. For longer distances, tell it to take you to the airport.

Sea: much cargo will travel by sailing ship. Smart robot sailing ships that, thanks to weather satellites, never run into really bad storms and always know where the wind is blowing.

Land: low-speed rail (under 100km/h) predominates for cargo, and in the US, a lot of current long-haul trucking will move back onto rail. Rail will tend to electrify, for efficiency reasons, rather than relying on diesel.

But I expect there to be less cargo movement overall. Information flow can be used to find locally substitutable goods, and with energy costs remaining higher than during the 20th century there'll be a strong incentive to use them in preference to shipping stuff in from thousands of kilometres away.

Medical:

I think in 80 years' time we'll have cracked genomics, proteomics, and the whole epigenetic can of worms that the human genome project ran into five to ten years ago. I expect cancers to be a recurrent problem for an elderly civilization, but a manageable one. We should have a very good idea of how to arrest or reverse the ageing processes, although it may be difficult or impossible to apply some of these ideas to people now living. (Or then again, we might have a cheap, efficient pill that resets everyone's body clock to age 18. Whackiness on an unprecedented scale will then ensue, and not necessarily in a good way.) We should be able to grow organs and limbs to order, cure diabetes as a side-effect, and know enough about gut functioning to control muscle/fat distribution medically.

If you make it to 2092 and you're in need of medical treatment, it should be a good time to be alive (as long as the Plutocrats haven't totally gutted the social provision of healthcare). However ...

The human invasion of all ecosystems currently extant on Earth will have concluded. This means that the attack surface we expose to zoonoses will be maximized; anything that exists and can infect and eat us will do so. One or more plagues as lethal as SARS will get loose and kill between 1M and 1B people.

Incidentally, epidemics don't give a shit about whether your neighbour hasn't paid their health insurance fees or whether you believe in vaccination. By the end of the 21st century, government provided public health and epidemic suppression is going to be one of those things that is taken for granted, like having a standing military force: it's defence procurement against invading unicellular aliens.

There may also be human engineered plagues, because the necessary know-how to bolt together something really unpleasant will be as widespread as the know-how to build a primitive A-bomb is today, only without the need for unobtanium to fuel it. I'd normally poo-poo the idea of bioterrorism, and it seems particularly unlikely to come from governments or political non-state actors (like, oh, Al Qaida), but apocalyptic nutters like Aum Shinrikyo can't be ruled out.

Food:

Not many changes, except synthetic meat indistinguishable from the real thing (Kobe beef steak made from vat-grown Kobe beef muscle tissue!) will be available and is probably cheaper than the real thing. Not to mention not requiring the land surface and secondary energy inputs of animal husbandry. There's time for social accommodation to make the foodie scene get truly weird. Expect Charles Stross gammon steaks to be served at SF conventions.

Other:

We will have working molecular nanotechnology. This may be a wet squib equivalent to very-very-efficient-biotechnology, but it might go as far as Eric Drexler's wilder projections circa Engines of Creation. In which case, most other bets are off (and Elon Musk will get that retirement villa on Mars).

We will have completed experimental particle physics, insofar as it can be experimentally conducted in a gravity well on a planet only 40,000Km in circumference. To probe higher energies we'll either need new breakthroughs in accelerator technology or a particle accelerator bigger than the Earth's circumference. Maybe do-able in space.

There may be unforeseen side-effects, such as widespread deployment of technologies based on quantum physics (such as programmable matter or actual teleportation of macroscopic objects). There may be widespread deployment of quantum computers or quantum entanglement as a high bandwidth transmission channel for classical data.

We should have computing systems powerful enough to manage a synapse-level simulation of a human brain in real time and then some. We'll also have had time to map out the human neural connectome, even allowing for it to be harder than is currently apparent. Either we have the ability to simulate a human mind, or it's impractical (either for ethical reasons (what happens when you switch it off?) or because the quantum woo-woo pedlars like Roger Penrose are correct, or because synapses are a distraction and the real mechanics happen at a molecular scale).

Aside from neural connectome stuff and quantum weirdness, computing, networking, and software will be about as interesting as railroad train design: a mature field in which breakthroughs are still possible but which the general public ignores, except when it's time to buy a ticket. It's certainly not where geeks go to work on cool new shit.

One interesting effect is that computing will be cheap—if a process can be sped up by adding microprocessors to it, it will be. Expect farms where every single plant has a solar-powered computer tagged to it, monitoring it for stress caused by pathogens and parasites and need for nutrients. Expect sofas with springs that remember your personal preference for firm or soft support and adapt to whoever's sitting in them. Expect more intelligence in your environment than you can possibly imagine a need for.

A tale is told of two computer scientists back in the 1970s, discussing the new microprocessors. "They're going to be cheap! A dollar each!" One of them explained. "But who needs computers that cheap? What are they going to do, use them as doorknobs?" Asked his friend. Ten years later, the computer scientist was checking into a hotel room and suddenly looked at the card-key in his hand and realized, yes, there was a computer in every doorknob.

Imagine a very smart networked computer attached to every genetically engineered maize plant in a field in a poor rural backwater of Uganda. And that they discuss how fast they're growing via wifi and agree a nutrient plan to optimize growth, including restricting water to one particular plant that's shadowing a couple of others. The farmer, aged 80, harvests them via a quadrotor drone from the comfort of his air-conditioned farmhouse. (The quadrotor is powered by methanol fermented from their discarded husks.) When he needs to sell them, he hires a self-driving cargo truck to come and pick them up. And maybe hitches a ride to the clinic in town in the unoccupied cab. to get his anti-cancer booster shots updated Implausible? Partly because in the long term, things change more than we expect. But mostly because he's one of the 20% who don't live in cities.

But. The elephant in the living room that I've ignored in this discussion is the effect of all these changes on the psychology of the people living through them. And so I'm going to try to find time to talk about the psychological effects of the 21st century later this week.

567 Comments

1:

Glad I read that, very thought-provoking.

2:

"The USA will not have been the dominant planetary superpower for at least fifty years. The EU won't have replaced it. China will be over the peak and probably a long way down the down-slope. The future belongs to someone else. Maybe Brazil or India?"

Or, heaven help us, a situation of multiple great powers, none of them able to kowtow the rest?
Even in the 20th century, post a-bomb we moved to a situation where it was possible to destroy an enemy, but nearly impossible to conquer one...the last argument of kings left you with no real victory.
Even now, it took the world's most expensive military and a horrendous expenditure of resources to mostly conquer a third-rate power and a backwoods theocracy. Without military force as a tool for empire-building, what does a squabble between great powers mid-to-late 21st century look like?
Would European squabbles of the 18th century be a reliable guide with economic struggles and smallish proxy wars?

3:

>food price spikes caused by investors speculating on food price futures

How many times will this dangerous canard rise from the grave after being disproven by actual events? If you look at the crops that don't have futures markets (Onions in the US for strange historical reasons; Japanese rice) their prices are way more volatile than crops in which a futures market provides price signals as to which crops are worth opting into.

4:

I should point out (in reference to the OP) that Australia is already suffering environmental stresses due to the conflict between imported European-style agricultural practices and the local biosphere, soil structures, and weather patterns. We've been dealing with them since at least the late 1970s, when the first signs of salination in the surface water table began to show up (I can remember seeing features about salt poisoning of the Western Australian and South Australian wheat growing areas when I was in primary school - so between 1977 and 1983). So our agricultural processes and practices are already being altered to deal with conditions as they exist, rather than conditions as we'd like them to be. It helps, I think, that we had the first signs of climate change starting over here in the late 1970s as well (around 1977, approximately - rainfall patterns in the south-western corner of the country changed, for all kinds of complex reasons, and that resulted in the rainfall which our south-west relies on drying up over the years).

Where we are at present is interesting: on the one hand, we have a lot of political and economic capital tied up in the notion of denying any human link to climate change (because if we have to admit to the possibility of anthropogenesis, that means we have to admit we might be Doing Something Wrong, and thus change things which are making people money), particularly on the conservative end of Australian politics. On the other hand, there isn't the possibility of denying that climatic conditions are altering, because we're actually seeing the sharp end of these changes, and have been for the past thirty years or so. So climate change denial here in Australia isn't so much denying that the climate is altering, or that the climate has been altering for the past however long - instead it's aimed at denying any link between these changes and any human activity.

My guesses for closer to home: first up, the notion of a pipeline between Lake Argyle in the far north of Western Australia and the various reservoirs and aquifers of the Perth metropolitan region will become more and more politically attractive. If it ever gets built, I hope they name it after Ernie Bridge, the bloke who first proposed the idea back in the mid-1980s. I suspect by 2032, something along these lines will have certainly been started, if not actually completed.

I suspect a lot of further infrastructure spending will be going into storm-proofing various ports and offshore gas platforms. By 2032, we can expect to see the current iron ore "boom" tapering off again (most mines have approximately a 20 year lifespan at best) while the various mining companies go looking for their next most accessible reserves. Australia will probably, by this point, be facing a recession, and each of the main political parties (possibly still the Australian Labour Party/Liberal Party of Australia dualism) will be blaming the other for the basic economic realities of the situation. So no real change there!

5:

> and gigabit wireless connection speeds will be the norm outside the home or office

You'll be able to run up a 1000 euro data roaming bill in just 5 seconds! (My home operator quadrupled roaming prices outside the EU sometime last year; the "huge slice of a minuscule pie" thinking in that sector of telcos doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast. State control needs supported by moral panics over monster-of-the-week-lurking-on-the-internets are likely going to make buying prepaids as a foreigner harder. Incumbent operators will have little reason to fight limitations, since it's yet a small market, and they benefit more from super-expensive roaming plus gubmint procurement, which requires cozy relationships with the client.)

6:

Regarding superpowers, I agree the US won't be ascendant any longer. What I'm not sure of, is whether anyone will replace it. A unipolar or bipolar world has been something of an anomaly of the 20th century. The 19th century and earlier saw a multipolar world with several Great Powers. At various times Britain, France, Russia, Turkey, Austria, Spain, China were all powerful enough that no one was dominant. I think we'll probably return to that. The US, EU (whatever it becomes), China, India and maybe someone else could all be roughly equal with their own particular strengths.

The US, for example, is likely to have a dominant navy long after it is the sole superpower. China may end up with the best air force -- they have massive manufacturing capability and air power will be increasingly tied to electronic technology and production.

Of course, the way drone technology develops could have an impact on relative military power too. A relatively small but wealthy country could field a large and powerful drone military more effective than larger neighbors with large populations. Or, drones might prove to be too vulnerable to hacking and abandoned by militaries in the 2020s.

7:

Given the above, I wonder what employment will look like in those 2 timelines (or timezones I suppose)? What will people do in this more automated location?

Also, how will enterainment be looking? I expecte given an 'all ways on' world, books, music, film and TV as we know them will have merged somewhat.

8:

Would European squabbles of the 18th century be a reliable guide with economic struggles and smallish proxy wars?

No, because the great European squabble of the 18th century was actually World War 0.1, and its repercussions are with us today -- see also the existence of the French Republic and the United States. The rise and fall of empires (one maritime trading empire -- the Dutch -- fell, one huge continental system -- the French -- rose, had a huge crisis, and then rose again) doesn't fit the pattern.

9:

Re: drones / hacking... I'm sure I read a recent series (or the first book and didn't read the rest) where this was the reason that fully automated ships (space in this context) were not developed.

I expect the physical and the virtual to become closer linked. If plants are discussing their nutrient needs via computer, a major hack could be signficiant in food production for example. For a post 2012 and pre 2032 example, see smart grids.

Military strength if not dominance will continue for the US for some time. Their edge isn't a single field, but having so many advantages in such a range of areas. Whether it is drones, 'strategic assets' i.e. satelites or just having the funding to start cyber defense forces now, they will take some time (if ever) to be caught.

Of course.... Whilst OGH has references politics above, there is an assumption that countries will be roughly as they are today. I know the EU isn't currently looking too good as a case study, but do we really think that there will be 200+ different states in the world by 2092? Given the spread of instant communication and automation of products, what would really be the point?

(The last paragraph was my way of saying a route which the IS might lose it's militaty advantage)

10:

Two things for 2032 I think you are to pessimistic about.
Moore's Law, in its generalized form will not half within 20 years. Think printed graphene sheets measuring in the square metres as being a realistic endpoint.
Second, I think one of the alternative fusions schemes will pan out within the next 10 years. The thing they all have in common is that they are better suited to reactors than Tokamaks.

11:

Also, why no mention of that vast game changer, superhuman AGI by 2092? It *might* even happen by 2032

12:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE:

This is not a climate change thread.

Postings alleging that anthropogenic climate change is/is not taking place will be unpublished.

The Mgmt.

13:

Because if that happens there is no sodding point making predictions. OK?

14:

I think you're way too optimistic about the state of wireless Internet, at least US wise and if the plutocracy isn't addressed.

There's no way for a new competitor to enter the market here short of buying an old competitor. And the established players don't have any interest in offering substantially higher speeds (just slightly incremental speeds to barely keep up with the competition) and none of whom have any interest in selling bandwidth for less than a days wages (at the new post collapse wages my generation can expect to see for the next 20 years) *per device* every month. If anything, I expect mobile Internet to get even *more* expensive as already oversold networks come under pressure from denser urban environments, intentionally limiting the amount of people who are actually willing to buy the service.

If the plutocracy issues are addressed this can change, either through local governments making their own municipal networks (something already illegal in some states thanks to lobbying from established players) or from the cell oligopoly finally being broken up. I suspect the opposite to happen however, and by 2032 we will finally be getting around to breaking up Ma Bell (again).

*OTHER* countries will see spectacular data plans, just like other countries have spectacular health-care (at least in comparison to here), but the US lagging behind in major technology will be dismissed in favor of the 'free market'.

15:

True, but you might have pointed that out in the article.
And as an aside, do you think AGI will be arriving before 2092?

16:

Strongly superhuman AGI is an "unknown unknown". We hypothesize its existence, but really, we have no evidence to support it.

I do discuss AGI in this article, implicitly -- by mentioning software emulation of a human cortex which, certain caveats aside (I mentioned a couple) should give us something like a tetraplegic with their head in a bottle. Subject to huge ethical misgivings, of course.

(Compulsory further reading: "The Life Cycle of Software Objects" by Ted Chiang, which won the Hugo for best novella last year.)

17:

I suspect that any kind of straight extrapolation on climate based on higher temps is wrong, possible very wrong. Climate is a discontinuous system which means you cant just look at the extra energy in the system and extrapolate higher temps. What we may see is something like temps not much higher than today but severe ocean acidification. Or something else. Things are going to change, mostly bad things, but what is hard to say.

Being a discontinuous system also means we have no idea what will happen when we remove extra carbon from the system. Start with climate A, add 1 million tons of carbon and get climate B. Remove 1 million tons of carbon and you do not return to climate A. You get a new climate C. At some point we are going to try the Big Intervention as we try to undo 100 years of carbon in a decade or so. It will not go well.

18:

How about the role of supranational actors here, rather than nation states taking the entire spotlight? The WTO, IMF, credit rating agencies, news media, ICANN, search engines, etc or their successors might wind up having some highly significant clout.

19:

Well, if Human computation does not lie in QM or even in low level biochemistry we might be getting the head in a bottle as early as 2020.
As for Ted Chaing, my favorite is "Understand". Probably the best description of superhuman intelligence I have read.

20:

One model of a world government circa 2092...
NOT the top down integrated nation state model, but a collection of global agencies like the WHO or IMF

22:

I agree with you/Bruce totally about 2032, with one exception. If there is a major world power in 2032 it will not be equatorial due to global warming. You might note that Bruce's book "Islands in the Net" suggests the rise of South Africa as a world power.

I'll add one very specific prediction to your's/Bruce's:

I think the US will start a major oil war sometime in the next ten years (or someone else will start it and the US will ramp it up to a regional/world war.) The current candidate for this war starting is Iran anytime in the next few years. Obama might start it if he needs to look tough for election time, or if the US economy crashes prior to the election, (or the Israelis could start it anytime after January 8th, 2012.)

If the US elects any of the weirder conservatives this year, expect a war with Iran sometime in 2013. I suspect, but don't officially predict, that the US will lose this war, at least in the strategic sense, and that this war will mark the end of US ascendancy.

As to stock picks... IBM will survive. They continue to make major investments in research and development and this has been part of their culture for almost a century. (My family once owned an IBM typewriter.)* MS will still be around, but they won't make operating systems - they'll be the major gaming company, and might still make some office systems, but their programs will run on top of someone else's codebase. (Sony is currently self-destructing and if they survive to 2032 they will be Unisys.) I've no predictions for the rest of the lot. (Google could be killed by a simple automated system that allows any website to run an automated auction for ad space.)

* My father was a major proponent of office automation back in the early sixties. He made the hiring of his secretary conditional upon her giving up her manual typewriter and switching to a brand-new IBM Selectric. He also helped secure the purchase of a 3k computer, programmed by plugging wires, for the psych department at UC Riverside.

23:

Superhuman general intelligence in twenty years is actually very hard to define. g while workable as an intelligence standard for humans is probably not a workable standard for non-human entities with different motivations and sensory systems.

For example, a wolf is probably a lot more competent in it's natural habitat than it's ability to perform on human intelligence tests would indicate. Discussing AGI is very premature. I would argue it is better to discuss machine learning of particular types and for particular purposes, for example would better segmentation of scenes by computer vision algorithms cause the proliferation of battlefield robots?

Because it seems somewhat biomorphic I'm personally interested in the idea of applying some kind of self-regulation to data centers. Not as sexy as superintelligent policy making robots but maybe more likely.

24:

One thought that springs to mind in terms of politics, especially in a multipolar 2032 and beyond, is how antiquated our view of the world based on discrete units delineated by borders will be seen as. How different will global politics be when there are several powers, but not organised into neat blocs, but all operating as part of an enmeshed whole?

What's the point of going to war - well, aside from justifying all those defence jobs and the military budget - when you're going to be destroying assets 'your' companies have paid for? Why not just economically dominate an area, and then you can cream off what you need. There's no need to get an arbitrary line on a map moved, especially when it means you'll be responsible for dealing with all the malcontents there, not the existing government.

The other way of looking at that is how far the elite - corporations and individuals - will create a system that pays no heed to the nation states (except as useful idiots in some cases) and whether they create a wholly separate system, or attempt to subvert the existing one for their own needs.

25:

Great topics, food for thought!

“The human invasion of all ecosystems currently extant on Earth will have concluded.”

– This might be the motivation to start developing underwater cities. Floating cities might be too dangerous given probable increasingly powerful storm systems. Underwater cities would also spur R&D for future space exploration and colonization.


“... Either we have the ability to simulate a human mind, or it's impractical (either for ethical reasons (what happens when you switch it off?).”

-- It’s pretty well established that humans go crazy within at most a week in sensory deprivation environments. However SF about AI and uplifted human brains never address this. I don’t know of any recent research (or SF) in this area, but this phenomenon seems like a major qual barrier -- not just a matter of more raw computing power.
The aging population – if they play their cards right – could become ‘protected’ walking medical factories as they would be the only ones with proven effective antibodies against supposedly eradicated diseases.


Food supply/culture

-- As U.S./Western economic-political dominance wains, so will its cultural dominance. This means a decline in Western aesthetics including human beauty (tall, muscular and meat-fed/overfed)as physical attractiveness is redefined as being small and wiry -- and a lot cheaper to feed.


Aging population/housing

-- Will suicide become acceptable? Will the housing bubble burst once the oldsters start dying off and leaving their paid-off homes to their grand-kids thus causing mortgage financiers/brokers to go broke?

Gene therapy

-- Will your government medical insurance insist that your kids' cord blood stem cells be banked against future need? (Theirs or yours)

26:

Quote: "It's certainly not where geeks go to work on cool new shit."

Where will the geeks go? What will the hot/interesting technologies be?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on that for 2017, 2022, and 2027 too.

27:

Re those old people living in big cities who are afraid of the sky, this year is the 40th anniversary of "Limits to Growth" and the New Scientist has a retrospective this week. Pretty much every run of the associated world model predicts exponential growth, overshoot and a big crash. Finding the exact set of controls to avoid this and to get some kind of steady state appears to be extremely hard and very unlikely. All the signs point to the big crash happening possibly before your 2032 date and definitely before your 2092 date. If the resource depletion doesn't get you, then the pollution will.

It seems that paradoxical optimism or at least dark euphoria maybe the best we can hope for. But then that's been my state of mind since I first read LtG back in the early 70s. Still waiting for the axe to fall. Is the boiled frog dead yet?

One aspect that particularly interests me. What if travel and especially intercontinental travel becomes extremely expensive comparable to the 18th century while global communication is extremely cheap. Do societies turn in on themselves as a result? Does the USA (or Brazil) become more inward looking or less?

28:

When you discuss psychological effects, I hope you don't ignore the biggest elephant in the room, which is religion. I’m baffled that your scenarios speak almost entirely of technological developments and make no mention of such minor issues as global holy wars and apocalyptic religious terrorism. Do you not follow the news?

Secondly, in 2032 and especially 2092, what will Joe average being doing in the way of work that a robot won’t be able to do more efficiently?

29:

Wars will be fought for the same reasons they have always been fought - because someone wants something they cannot get in a more cost effective manner.
With respect to Iran and a possible war, whether the USA "loses" will depend on the Russians and whether they will supply Iran with more Sunburn missiles. If they do, then the Straits of Hormuz can be kept closed indefinitely and the world will suffer a 20% drop in available oil. Who benefits? Well, Russia, for one.

30:

Well, let's just limit the discussion to superhumanly creative machines. By 2032 I would expect a major slice of patents to be generated by such machines.

31:

One related point: do you not see that the demographic trends among the most modern, "progressive" societies are leading not only to cities full of old people, but to a world dominated by fecund religious and generally reactionary populations, most of whom will be rather hostile to this future you have laid out.

The blind spots of the techno-futurist are truly stunning to behold...

32:

Wow, a lot to digest. Thanks! I'm sure my bright comments will pop up over the next few days. Anyway, off the top of my head.

--The 21st Century's Great War will be Space War 1. And most of us are still thinking in terms of 20th Century wars.

It's not that there will be humans fighting in space, it's that our drone fleets depend on satellite links, and that all the great powers are working to develop drone fleets and anti-satellite weapons (driving past a huge building that says "SPAWAR" on it really does drive this home). In the next war, we might get the Kessler Syndrome breaking out as the result of a few catastrophic space battles, trashing our telecommunications and making it impossible to launch new satellites for years. After that, the combatants will settle in to a long grind of hacking attacks on their opponents' infrastructures (via undersea cables perhaps) and guerrilla DIY warfare all over the world. Think of Iraq and Afghanistan as the 21st equivalent of trench warfare, just as trenches first showed up in the Boer War long before they hit Europe. I have no idea what new weapons and war doctrine will come out of this mess, but hopefully it won't be terminators.

Plagues: A nasty wheat rust is already spreading through Pakistan, and we haven't figured out how to counter it yet. We're overdue for some catastrophic crop failures, and I'd rather have them now, while we still have cheap international transport and a hope of moving food where it's needed.

Energy: The algal biofuels people are doing something interesting: they're working with (classified) high-temperature, saltwater algae species. Their goal is to put biodiesel plants out in deserts, where the irrigation water is growing too salty for crop irrigation. We might see a biofuels boom in places (like western Australia, the San Joaquin Valley, even Iraq) where agriculture is currently failing. We may also see biodiesel plants on desert coasts around the world.

Solar is getting interesting, because farmers are starting to see solar panels as a reasonable crop. They're also looking at using solar panels as shades, so that they can grow different crops. While superficially, growing silicon on good farmland seems the height of stupidity (environmentalists would rather put solar on wasted lands), in the current economic/political/industrial ag climate, solar on farms makes sense.

As for solar energy storage, I'm waiting for someone to figure out how to move a shipping contained full of lithium batteries around as a way to move power where it's needed. Perhaps electric cars will catch on as solar storage devices? There's also some evidence of a water utility building two reservoirs in series, so that they can pump water uphill during the day and run the turbines at night. Reservoirs may come to serve as really big solar storage.

Oh yeah, and according to Nelder's analysis in Slate.com, estimates of natural gas reserves are likely grossly inflated (as in a 10 year natural gas reserve masquerading as a 100 year reserve). We may see a really big energy crisis before 2032.

Otherwise, I expect the weather to get more unpredictable, and any place without a massive reservoir and aqueduct system is in trouble or is going to be in trouble soon. Places with such systems in place will sit smug for a few decades, until the systems fail and they crash *hard.* Cynical, but that's what has happened to the Maya, the Khmer, and repeatedly in the Andes. It seems to be a human tendency not to repair infrastructure until it's almost too late. Sooner or later this "strategy" fails.

Great time to grow old, isn't it?

33:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE:

To the spammer calling themselves "bensamuels": repeatedly posting your SEO comment will simply annoy the moderators as they repeatedly delete it.

34:

ie the desire to have fewer children might be bred out of the population?

35:

By 2092 there might be 2000+ states...

It depends on whether the trend for regionalism or supranationalism wins out. And also on how you define a state. We could end up with large supranational confederations made up of hundreds of tiny autonomous regions.

36:

I understand we've got a lot more experience growing one type of mammalian flesh in culture the piscine flesh, but if we fish ourselves out and develop a reasonable vat flesh system, why won't it branch out to piscine forms as well as ovine, bovine, porcine etc?

37:

You make a good point about the future of companies. They can change a lot over the decades, becoming something completely different than what they started as. Apple may end up as a massive holding company (They may have over $70 billion in investments via their subsidiary, Braeburn Capital).

Note that Amazon seems to be making the transition from a retail company to a major IT company.

38:

Regarding a US-Iran war, that's not a war that's going to break the US. Iran is a nation with a large coast, and the US has the largest and best navy in the world. On top of that, US allies are nearby, and Iran is pretty isolated from friends. Their army, while large, is poorly equipped and trained, and they have no air force or navy worth mentioning in the context of a war with the US.

39:

As for nuclear, oil and solar, you might want to take a look at Thorium power, a source of electricity that stands to be far more efficient, cheaper and cleaner than Uranium-powered nuclear reactors. A lot of people are talking about that as being one of the big promises of power in the future.

40:

Re majority of old people. I wonder if there might be some overlap between the next “psychological” issue and todays technological.

What impact will a majority of old people have on technological progress? Well pruned old mind have their strong advantages and strengths, but they are less capable of paradigm shifting ideas, that takes technology through quantum leaps.

This is not only a question of individual minds being more set, if you have a whole society dominated by old minds they will entrench this mindset into all its members. Evolution of old ideas will be encouraged while radical will receive little attention. You might get a society trapped in a conservative feedback loop.

Perhaps the solution lies in drugs to increase neuroplasticity. In the future we will all be old people living in big cities chewing Ritalin.

41:

TL;DR HA!

I ran out of steam reading the essay once the number of unsupported statements overwhelmed my suspension of disbelief. Since discussion of most of the essay has been ruled out of bounds, these are the only two comments I can make.

- If there are no practical longevity treatments developed in the next 20 years, everyone born before 2030 will be dead by 2100.

- In either case, short-life/long-life, World Population will be below two billion by 2100.

We are in the midst of a population bubble, and the crash will happen with this Millennial Generation.

42:

Iran doesn't have to defeat the US Navy to "win" the war. They have to block the Straits of Hormuz, which can be done by sinking a couple tankers in the right place. Keep in mind that they can sink their own tankers!

If Iran successfully does serious damage to the Saudi or Iraqi oil infrastructure and/or sinks 5-10 us ships (or even one single aircraft carrier) they get massive extra points. Iran won't be attacking our fleet. They will be attacking our economy, and Iran's chances of successfully attacking our economy are fairly good.

43:

Iran is half the size of western Europe and has the same population as Germany.

While conceding that a fight between the USA and the Iranian armed forces (including the Revolutionary Guard) would be somewhat one-sided, invading and occupying Iran would make invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously look like a walk in the park.

(Especially as it's a country with a much stronger sense of national identity than either of those two failed states -- it's the freaking Persian Empire! -- and it already runs its foreign policy on a [entirely justifiable] grievance against the USA and the UK from the 1950s and earlier. In fact, I suspect the reason there hasn't been a counter-revolution in Iran during the noughties was because of the US action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing breeds support for a government like an actual verifiable threat from an external imperial power ...)

44:

Great, another mindjob for a Sunday evening...

"Information wants to be free"-quote via Stewart Brand

45:

Thorium cycle reactors have been chewed over here already. TL;DR: they're not a magic panacea for weapons proliferation (you can make nukes using U-233 and Thorium reactors breed the stuff).

46:

RE: Climate change and meat production. I notice that you mentioned some steps to manage the climate such as being as carbon neutral as possible but I also notice you haven't mentioned any attempts to undo the damage.

I don't mean large scale geoengineering (which I doubt will ever succeed for politics rather than anything else) but simple things like reforestation of vast swathes of the continents? IIRC artificial meat production uses about 5% of the energy of conventional methods and has the advantage of operating under the vertical-farm-in-a-city-centre paradigm. Combined with a far higher percentage of people living in cities where eco-friendly policies would probably be drilled into all aspects of life I would envision various efforts like reforestation, planting of vegetation that thrives in desert conditions and the cloning of extinct species back to life to be high on the global agenda.

47:

The world is changing so fast even predicting twenty years out is a stretch. Could someone in 1992 predict smart phones and wireless internet without being laughed at?

The only thing I'm willing to commit to is that in about fifteen years the United States will be an old sick dog heading rapidly down the other side of the bell curve that charts the rise and fall of empires, and that in the long run it will be a good thing for the average American citizen.

Where I see the biggest, and most interesting, change is in our understanding of the human brain. Scientists have only recently gotten the tech that lets them get a really good look at how the brain functions. Fifteen years ago we only just learned about ADHD, and now scientists can stick a person with symptoms in a machine that lets them see where their brains are underdeveloped. It's still expensive, and diagnosis is still made on symptoms, but they can do it.

There's also a lot of political, economic, and social pressure to cure things like ADHD, Taurette's, Ausperger's, and especially Alzheimer's and autism. We've already got drugs that address some of the symptoms, and given the rapid pace of progress in this field and biotech I expect that in twenty to thirty years we'll be able to unscrew the top of someone's head and change them.

Just think about the massive repercussions of that one change. No crude chimp-whacking-at-a-car-engine-with-a-wrench re-uptake inhibitors to fix depression. Just schedule an operation with your neurologist and tell him you want to be more cheerful and positive.

And if it costs a lot of money and resources will only the wealthy be able to afford sanity?

48:

What would they gain through doing this? Iran would effectively block their ability to export their own oil too. This would probably cause major economic problems at home, and a potential new revolution.

I can truly see no reason for neither the US or Iran to start a war now. For Obama it would be to shoot himself in the foot, with the economy perhaps starting to limper towards a recovery, then to start a war and oil crisis just before an election? Lets hope there will be some saber ratling, but then it quietly die away.

Unless of cause the Israeli will trigger it…that would be bad…

49:

If Iran is not attacked they are going to be a nuclear armed state fairly soon. Then Saudi Arabia will feel the need for its own nukes and Egypt certainly will not be left out either. Which means any future Arab-Israeli war is going to be interesting.

50:

I seem to remember from history lessons that the Greek have had prior success in handling the Persian Empire. With the current economic problems in Greece, perhaps they could rent them to handle Iran?

51:

Iran's grievances date back to 1950? Probably 1850. They weren't treated too well in the Great Game.

The interesting thing is that, on an individual level, many Persians and Americans get along just fine, just as I'm sure many Brits and Persians do. Yes, some of them call themselves Persian, to separate themselves from both Iran and US perceptions of Iranians.

The interesting question will be what happens when the oil starts running out in Saudi Arabia. When we don't have oil money backing Wahhabist-flavor Islam, nor supporting a big army, things are going to get... interesting over there.

Oh well, I still like Shiraz wine (originally from Iran).

52:

We are surviving today with North Korea, Pakistan, Israel and an evangelic-apocalyptical US having nukes. I do not see that Iran and Egypt would worsen this situation a lot. Perhaps it will even stabilise the situation somewhat.

53:

Agree pretty much with the 2032 prediction.

By 2092 there will have been a major human die off and the population of the planet with be within the 1-3 billion range. Most of the 3rd world and a good chunk of the 1st world will not survive.

The primary focus of the human race will be on reversing/dealing with climate change and energy depletion. A long planetary emergence will have been declared.

However the technological tools the human race will have at it's disposal will be up the the challenge.

The dominant political system will no longer be the large, autonomous nation state. Most likely scenario is some kind of loose one world government with a high degree of strong local authority, kind of like a planetary EU, only efficient division of powers. That seems to be the most optimal configuration for dealing with large planetary emergencies.

54:

What about schools and education? By 2032 there will be AI tutors that deliver personalized instruction by tracking progress through dynamic curriculum, identifying gaps in knowledge and suggesting relevant learning activities. AI awarded credentials will be catching up to institutional degrees while the institutions themselves will be struggling to redefine their roles. Almost all live teaching will now happen in online virtual environments. Societal pressures will heavily emphasize science and engineering, but humanities and arts will also begin to flourish. Access to learning is increasing rapidly and lifelong becoming ubiquitous.

By 2092 schools will be completely unrecognizable. Children gather for play and fun and creation. They will become productive, contributing members of society by the time they become teenagers. Universities will have dissolved into research facilities on the one hand and communal living co-ops on the other, forming the model for mini political entities consisting of people with common values living together in a physical space with shared security, energy, food production, etc... but mostly defined by their sports teams.

But, as this is a topic I'm highly interested in, what do you all think will happen to school and education in the near to mid future?

(btw, re:33, no spam or seo intended! didn't see the post appear, tried another login-- sorry for any inconvenience)

55:

Charlie

One minor nit pick, the odds of having East Coast High Speed Rail in the USA in a twenty year time frame are effectively nil unless they are much larger changes in the US than you posit else where. Briefly, the permit issues and eminent domain/land acquisition issues alone make it unlikely, unless there was a sudden huge enthusiasm for HSR both politically and within the populace at large. Additionally the states involved are fairly broke already and face hundreds of billions of dollars in spending to replace existing failing infrastructure.
Otherwise nice piece, I spent a large chunk of last year realising how brilliant Sterling had been in thinking about the future.
Regards
Rex

56:

It might be the most efficient, but politics and efficiency don't always mix well.

57:

Food

Fish is probably going to cost more than beef products

Already is in the US. Primarily because grain fed beef is inexpensive (often cheaper than chicken). farmed Tilapia, which used to be very inexpensive during its introduction is now in high single digits $/lb. Only grass fed beef or high end beef cuts are more expensive. But also note that in CA, you can buy a share in a grass fed animal which is butchered and divided up amongst the owners. This reduces the cost of local, grass fed, beef considerably. Water shortages in CA in response to AGW and urban population growth may curb beef production, however.

Oceans are likely to be dominated by squid (edible) and jellyfish (not edible).

Jellyfish is quite edible. It is used in Asian cooking and is making an entrance in some high end US restaurants.

Note that cooking insects is just starting to make some early introduction in high end NY restaurants.

58:

If that's what you think the future holds for education, I think you're an optimist.

What's happening first in the USA and UK -- I can't speak for the rest of the EU -- is a huge bubble triggered by the commercialisation of higher ed combined with a credentialist culture (resumes are useless because previous employers can't give honest opinions of a worker's performance, and at the same time people change jobs frequently). This is going to be followed by a horrendous crash. By the time frame 2032 I expect the existing university system to be largely bankrupt, both in financial terms and in credibility, and university admissions to be down 75% from peak (leaving an entire generation with a level of debt equivalent to homebuyers in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but without the real estate assets).

Beyond that, I don't know -- but I think AI tutors are a far stretch (and anyway, folks have been predicting that one since the 1960s and it hasn't happened yet).

59:

With regards to multiple states having nuclear weapons, this leads to an interesting parallel with gun control laws.

Most normal people in most normal circumstances, with appropriate training, are probably fine with handguns. However, under stressful circumstances, or under the influence of drugs (legal or otherwise), there has to be a greater chance of mishap, with unintended consequences. When those consequences affect thousands or millions or people, I would prefer to to to avoid them.

Whilst I don't see how this particular genie can be rebottled, I would prefer that we don't follow the MAD approach of the 40's onwards to world peace, especially not with the differing cultural importance on live etc.

One question / point, in an acttept to get this slight more on topic... given the increasing globalisation of peoples data and therefore culture, is there an expectation that by '32 or '92 there will be a 'monoculture' or almost one. Ignoring the likes of today's North Korea, there are still multiple mainstream cultures. With the expected increase in data sharing, will these generally merge and a more universal culture emerge?

60:

"What impact will a majority of old people have on technological progress? Well pruned old mind have their strong advantages and strengths, but they are less capable of paradigm shifting ideas, that takes technology through quantum leaps."

I think it's more a 'matter of use it or lose it' than aging: old brains that were never trained/required to continually think about different things will continue to think the same old things. We're going through so many 'paradigm shifts' these days that there's no longer any such thing as a 'paradigm shift'. (Same old news, different headline.)

61:

In relation to universal culture. Cultural differences do not appear because of cultural isolation or lack of communication. We have plenty of historic record of different cul-tures that have developed in close populations where the members are in close com-munication with each other. Culture and ethnicity are social constructs. We all need to feel superior to others, to do this we must be different, and we communicate this through creating through creating cultural marks of distinctions.

Cultures will however get less location based.

62:

Old minds are just as smart as new ones, perhaps smarter. But they are smarter in other ways. Less strength, more efficiency. For good and bad, there are better trained.

63:

Another thought about the long term.

In previous millennia, societies often got trashed by so-called mega-Nino climate changes. The pattern was that big civilizations with extended communications networks and aqueducts failed, populations underwent extended migrations (or just disappeared) and small, well-defended town/settlements appeared and prospered. This pattern is most marked in the Andes, but I think (and please correct me) that similar patterns occur around the world.

If climate change bites down hard, I suspect the same pattern will repeat itself. Unfortunately, we may simply see a lot of old people (including me and Charlie) die when we can't move on or survive.

64:

There will be 5-10 billion people.

That might be too sanguine. I don't expect any unexpected population crashes in the developed world, because agriculture can adapt to climate change (heat and water) by cutting back meat production to favor more consumption of plants. Small scale vertical farming might also be possible too.

But in large parts of the world, these options are not available. We may see a return of vast famines and potential population shifts to the developed world.

In a stressed world, it may not be possible to provide much food aid to alleviate these famines.

65:

How about the future of religion?

I know this isn't a favorite topic here, so I'm simply going to kick out some trends and ideas:

In the 20th Century, California gave birth to two religions/religious movements: Christian evangelism (Aimee Semple McPherson) and Scientology, of which I think the Christian evangelicals are probably the bigger force right now. Looking at them, I feel like a Roman, looking at the spread of Christianity and asking, "what the heck was going on over in the province of Judea that stirred up this lot?"

What are we going to see in the future?
--We'll have a Mormon president in the US, although possibly not in 2012 or named Romney.

--The next big sect of Christianity will come out of Africa. This sounds weird, until you realize how many ministers/priests/missionaries are coming out of there already, just in the mainstream sects. My dear old mom goes to a very mainstream church in Los Angeles where the new minister is from South Africa. Go figure. Anyway, I think the big ferment in Christianity is going on among Africans right now, and something new will come out of it.

--We may see North America and Europe become the centers of Buddhism. Certainly it's expanding there faster than anywhere else, among people of all ethnic backgrounds.

--We may see a North American version of Islam appear. Possibly the US will become a center for Sufis, as they get persecuted everywhere from Pakistan to Indonesia. As with Buddhism, we may expect some American Muslims to become a distinctive group.

--South Korea will be important. Hunh? The thing is, South Korean media is immensely popular throughout Asia, and it's even becoming increasingly popular in the US. It also has: active churches (primarily Presbyterian and Catholic), a native form of Buddhism, a resurgent native religion (I'm not even going to try to explain Korean shamanism, except that they intensely dislike comparisons with Shinto), and apparently some Taoist-style hermits still lurking in the mountains. In other words, it sounds just like California in the 20th Century. We've already seen Sun Myung Moon gain a worldwide following, and who knows who will come out of the peninsula next?

66:

One thing you don't appear to have touched on is changes to employment and the workplace.

I'd imagine that by 2032, and definitely by 2092, things like call centres and repetitive back-office work will have been almost entirely automated away (as it is right now, certainly with big companies, back office work tends to be quite regimented, and it's really not too difficult to foresee automating it entirely). Nations that right now have cheap enough labour supplies that it's worth the hassle of offshoring the work to are likely to see their labour costs rise as their economies grow and demand from domestic industries increase, and while it may be practical to move to another, cheaper nation in the short to medium term, these tasks are mostly simple enough that it won't be too long before they can be automated entirely. There will still likely be some of these jobs around in 2032, since there will be occasions that require human intervention when something falls outside the norm, such as complaints (it's not inconceivable that complaint handling might be automated to some extent, such as having an automated call agent take the details of a complaint and arrange a call back from a human agent, but entirely automating complaints isn't likely to go down well, even if they are fairly generic complaints), but the vast majority is likely to be automated.

For job roles that involve interacting with customers face-to-face, I think there's rather less scope for automation without fundamentally changing the way business is carried out. Automated checkouts are probably going to become more popular, but it's very hard to imagine that an entirely automated supermarket is a likely prospect. Certainly the delivery truck could be entirely automated, and it's easy to picture entirely automated forklifts loading it up with pre-packed pallets of goods identified by RFIDs, then unloading it in the same way at the other end. I could maybe see the need to stack shelves being done away with too, although this is harder to imagine - a trolley-like shelf-stacker robot sounds a little fanciful to me.

Higher up the hierarchy, I can imagine that by 2032 specialised departments staffed by professionals, such as legal departments, will be beginning to feel the effects of increasing automation as well. While I don't foresee their being entirely automated away anytime soon, I would expect to see them being assisted by some kind of expert systems that can do the more routine work (for instance, checking someone's will to ensure it's valid and regurgitating only those points relevant to the matter at hand), or provide relevant legal information on demand (which isn't really much more than a Google search is capable of now), leaving people responsible for making final decisions. This would mean that these kinds of specialised departments would likely be very much smaller, and in some companies might even result in them doing away with these dedicated specialist departments entirely in favour of hiring outside consultants as and when they're needed.

Not really a great prospect for the jobseeker of 2032 really, is it? Ultimately it's hard to say what new career options might spring up in the meantime, but I doubt that there will be as many available positions in future as there are now. However, I think I can safely say that one area of employment that will definitely be booming by 2032 is care of the elderly, since by then the baby-boomers will be reaching the point where significant numbers of them will require care.

I know that you mentioned more investment into dementia by 2032, and I agree with this - it's likely to be a lot more visible in society as a whole, and more people are likely to have first-hand experience of dealing with someone suffering from it. I'd hope that this would result in opposition to legalised euthanasia collapsing and people actively making arrangements beforehand for when they deteriorated past a certain point.

Care of the elderly, in particular those suffering from dementia, is of course ruinously expensive and labour-intensive, and it's hard to imagine it being possible to automate much of that work away. And, having personal experience of a relative with dementia, I think it takes the patience of a saint to do it for a living. If people who are less well-suited to the job find themselves taking it because it's all they can get - well, I think we could expect to see a lot more cases of elderly people in care being mistreated. This kind of work also doesn't really lend itself to being offshored easily in order to cut costs - you can't very well pack an entire old people's home off to India to save money because neither the residents nor their families are likely to take too kindly to being moved against their will, and that kind of upheaval has been known to be deadly.

67:

Very interesting post, Charlie. Thanks for giving us a chance to deal with all the issues of the near future at once, and talk about how they fit together. Some detailed comments:

2032
Energy: There's an outside (5%?) chance of a breakthrough in fusion involving tauon or anti-matter catalysis or something equally exotic, but it won't be commercial by the '30s. It might, however, reduce the lead time from then to 10 or 15 years instead of 30, and might mean that fusion becomes a medium-to-large plant technology instead of a completely centralized large plant solution. Aneutronic fusion plants with 5-10 MW capacity would have a much larger impact on energy economy than Tokamak or inertial confinement would.

I expect to see graphene batteries with storage densities higher than lithium ion and peak currents that allow them to be used in large-scale load-leveling applications in this timeframe. It will probably take 20 years for a nation the size of the US or the EU (which, if it survives, is probably going to have to start sharing national infrastructures across much of Europe) to convert its grid to using storage in 80% or more of its electrical systems. And if that nation has already gone through most of a conversion to some previous technology, it will be delayed even longer because the politicians are not going to be willing to spend more money until the first conversion is quite obsolete (and way past paid for).

Transport:

dense urban centres (which is where most people outside the USA will be living)

This trend is already well-advanced in the US, it's just that there's so much land outside the urban areas to be emptied here. There already is a major problem of population loss in small towns in the Midwest and the Inter-Mountain regions, as the reasons for staying become fewer and fewer, and more and more young people leave as soon as they've finished their secondary education.

Population:

If we play our cards right, that means the population won't be as physically able to carry out manual labour or farming activities (or to fight in mass armies) but will be better-educated and more experienced, albeit maybe less cognitively flexible.

I think we've entered a period of obligate automation. Physically-intensive work has already been partially automated away, and that process will be essentially done by the '30s. Routine white-collar and support jobs for creative and knowledge-intensive work are starting to go, and that trend will be nearing climax by then. The socio-political structures of the developed nations are going to be forced to change to deal with that. Ideally a Guaranteed Basic Income along with universal health care would be instituted everywhere; based on what's happening in the US right now I expect some variations on that, and some of those variations may be <cough> somewhat conservative. Expect some major political upheaval over these issues.

Electronics: Between now and 2032 there is time for at least 2 more swings of the pendulum between fat and thin local clients, between putting most of the intelligence of an "application" in the personal computer/smart phone/intelligent clothing and the cloud. We've already been through several swings, but the drivers in the past have been largely technological and economic. The next few swings may well be driven more by issues of security, privacy, and reliability. The current mad rush into the cloud is likely to result in a few highly-publicized incidents of infrastructure failure, data loss, and/or damage due to malicious attack. Depending on how bad the outcome of those incidents is, there may be long-term effects on the most successful technology, and major effects on the balance between individual rights of privacy and ownership and government/corporate control.

The Internet: The internet has become in a sense the human race's sensory and nervous system. By 2032, with many kinds of effectors on the net it will be well on the way to be our muscular system as well. The way drones have been deployed is a harbinger of what's to come in this respect: machines (including semi-autonomous robots) will be controlled over the net by operators whose location is determined by economics and convenience, not by where the machines have to work. And a great deal of the work being done by those machines will be vulnerable to surveillance and to sabotage by hackers. We're already starting to see security analysts exposing vulnerabilities in medical devices operating over the net.

2092

Other:

To probe higher energies we'll either need new breakthroughs in accelerator technology or a particle accelerator bigger than the Earth's circumference.

Already underway. The next generation (or the one afterwards) of accelerators will probably use laser-pulse technology in linear accelerators a few meters long. The only thing that will keep them from being really "desk-top" machines is that they need a primary accelerator to get the particles (typically electrons) up to a few Mev before the laser can do its job. There's a lot of room to grow this technology before running out of space to build them.

Whether or not AGI is possible or practical, I expect a proliferation of very powerful purpose-built expert systems. They'd have been in use in medical diagnosis for the last 10 or 15 years it if hadn't been for resistance on the part of the medical establishment. With that proliferation we can expect to see an erosion of oversight and understanding of large parts of the economical and technological infrastructure of the world; whenever expert systems are installed people have a tendency to take their output as gospel, without worrying about the possibility of a complete failure of relevance of the results to the real world. Self-explanatory systems will help a little bit here, but not enough to prevent some really hairy failures, perhaps involving mass human casualties.

68:

Load leveling might be solved by individual households response to brownouts, coupled with domestic PV feeding into the grid.

69:

You missed virtual realities. These will probably be even more important than you indicated in Halting State.

One of the ways that they will be important is in transmitting jobs (via telefactors...currently often called robots) to remote locations, but I suspect that they will be even more important in pacifying the populace. Real restrictions are less important when all you need to do is pull on your headset to be radically free. (See Niven's Dream Park series for one way this could work.)

And I think that as the population becomes denser, and the communication faster, we MUST expect increasing restrictions in actual activities. I don't like it at all, but I doubt there is an alternative.

OTOH, if the very wealthy get virtual reality systems that are "realer than real", will they stop paying attention to what's happening in physical reality? Could be.

I do expect increasing automation of society. Whether you want to think of this as AI or not is pretty much optional. It sure won't be human style thinking, but when it scales up it might be just as effective. Data mining systems could evolve into advice giving systems could evolve into executive assistants to the executive assistant could evolve into executive assistants could slowly replace all the actual duties of the executive. Yes, you *could* still override them, but it would be likely to cause the board (who all depend on their own executive assistants) to fire you, so you won't.

Eventually I expect one of the classic approaches to AI to be successful, but by the time it is it may well not matter.

Then there's the evolutionary arms race between spammers and spam filters. I can't really see where that could lead, as it doesn't seem to have any leverage for physical manipulation, but evolutionary arms races often lead to unexpected results.

OTOH, there is a simple way to keep an automated ship from being hacked. Don't connect it to the network. Then they can't hack it until they physically capture it. But it needs to be intelligent enough to manage without remote control, and you sacrifice the ability to change orders while it's en-route.

Seriously, though, I expect the most significant effect (baring wars, economic collapse, famines, etc.) to be virtual reality IN SOME FORM OR OTHER. There are lots of different approaches, and the details depend on which approach is taken. The one I consider most plausible is the AV helmet, early forms of which currently exist. (Including a see-through head-mounted display. I'm wondering how long until someone gets into an accident while driving while wearing one.) Even cell phones have already gotten into the act. There's a game called, I think, Ghosts where you run around while looking into your cell phone chasing a ghost. The camera on the front of the cell phone shows you where you're running, with a ghost superimposed on the image. The current version tried to get my brother-in-law to run out into the street. And that's *NOW*.

70:

Thanks for the prognostications and forecast. It would appear that life on earth will be or is a 'diminishing returns' type of situation. In light of this, I wonder if a terraforming project on Mars or some near distant moon would not be a worthwhile enterprise, considering that so many factors might contribute to a major depopulation scenario (visions of a 'bladerunner' environment type of future on terra).

Cheers, Pierre.

71:

Solid linear extrapolations of where we are now.

A few random thoughts:

1. Global warming is an amplifier, a force multiplier. Take it away, and our other problems don't go away with it. China's croplands would still be degrading and its aquifers would still be quickly depleting. India's rivers would still be turning into toxic sludge. Indonesia's and Malaysia's rainforests would still be being turned into toilet paper. And the rest of the sorry litany would still be there. The final results of land degradation, ecosystem destruction and resource depletion are delayed a few years, that's all.

It's a powerful amplifier, though. Warming increases the probability of crop-failure-inducing drought more than proportionately. That raise the chances of simultaneous crop failure in several of the major food-growing regions. Consider the consequences of a 25% grain crop failure, such as the Russian 2010 event, occurring in Europe, North America, and China at the same time. And then again the next year.

2. Africa the unmentioned. Compare the population projections by region and the drought projections by region. Nearly all the action is in Africa - one billion more people by 2050, widespread and severe dryness through most of the continent. Prediction: the rest of the world will wring their hands and then turn their backs on the neverending African catastrophe. It won't be talked about.

3. Water. Obtaining usable water is going to get a lot more energy-intensive, which means food is going to get more expensive. It might turn out to be possible to suppress photorespiration in crop plants - and keep everything else working - but it might not, too.

4. Work. Matthew @ 66 and Brucecohenpdx @ 67 have both talked about this a bit. One consequence of automation in the professions might be a return to "pay to work" traditions. We're already seeing this with the "unpaid intern" phenomenon. Capitalists such as Charlie's Ugandan farmer will be OK. Everyone else, probably not so much.

Social mobility could decline greatly. The book-reading set in 2092 may feel closer to Jane Austen's world than ours.

72:

On the general topic, I'll cite the famous Thomson's Rule: History decorrelates on a timescale of about a dozen years. Step back a dozen years at a time from now and see how predictable the future at the end of a 12-year interval was from the beginning of it. Take it back at least a couple of hundred years.

On the specifics, I'll bring up a topic from another recent thread:

What are the jobs for everyone going to be/ How to get a paycheck/ How to put bread on the table?

"Everyone" is to be understood as everyone who needs a job to stay more or less alive. Of course, this presumes an socioeconomic model in which "jobs" are performed in return for money to be spent on food and such.

Maybe that model will continue to be true, maybe not. I dinna ken.

73:

> Of course, the way drone technology develops could have an impact on relative military power too. A relatively small but wealthy country could field a large and powerful drone military more effective than larger neighbors with large populations. Or, drones might prove to be too vulnerable to hacking and abandoned by militaries in the 2020s.

I don't expect drone hacking to be a serious issue, any more than other forms of hacking are existential threats to military techs. Will it be annoying and embarrassing and the source of tech leaks to competing nations? Yes. Will it end the use of drone warfare or stop fleets from ruling airspace? No.

I know this because we *already* have a previous analogy for 'physical remote automated military technology of colossal game-changing value which can be electronically attacked over decades by equally sophisticated adversaries'.

The analogy? *Spy satellites*. They are remotely located, completely automated and controlled by computers over electronic links, can be attacked by anyone in the world (like the Soviet Union), and are insanely valuable so a nation which *could* hack a spy satellite *will*.

Yet, satellite hacks are rare and so far as I know, confined to commercial satellites and snooping on the downlinks. Spy satellites are still up there and still a key part of the US arsenal and the arsenal of anyone who can afford to build and launch them.

Why is this? From reading the declassified Keyhole summaries and more recent materials on the KH spy satellites, it's because the US spy satellites are an example of what happens when you take thousands of the best engineers to live, dedicate their lives to something, and tell them 'cost is no object and you are working in defense of the Motherland'. What do you get, scores of billions of dollars later? Some *really secure satellite technology*.

The same exact thing can be done with drones. Are you worried about their OS being hackable? Their radio protocols? Then 'simply' write the OS as a formal proof (akin to seL4) and write formal proofs for the cryptographic libraries (the NSA and other government agencies already do this when it's important enough, see Galois Inc). Is formal software expensive to develop? Yes. Would drone software cost billions to develop to unhackable satellite levels? Probably. Would this be worth it to secure vast American drone air-fleets to rule the skies for the next generation or two? Absolutely.

74:

re: suppressing photorespiration in plants. Ummm, right. The problem is partially rubisco (the most common protein on Earth), which is Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase. It's that oxygenase part that needs to be suppressed through to make photorespiration go away.

In other words, you need to totally rebuild photosynthesis into something better. My reactions are either a) good luck with that (rubisco's an ancient enzyme) and b) if you succeed with this, for life's sake don't let the damn thing out of the lab, because the phrase "crabgrass from hell" will apply to it.

Besides, it's more of a problem for C3 plants. C4 plants (corn, sorghum, and yes, crabgrass) aren't so affected by it. We're going to see more C4 plants and fewer C3 plants. Engineering C4 plants to produce things like useable tubers for food, wood, and similar products is a goal that's possibly easier than making photorespiration go away.

75:

Re: beef and fish.

I would suspect that a few areas of the world are ecologically fairly well-suited for cattle ranching, but not likely to be used for anything else- inland grassy areas of the US, Argentina, etc- difficult to irrigate for high-intensity agriculture, but reasonably productive to drive cattle on. If you happen to own a chunk of that land, you'll probably be tempted to keep raising cows on it since it's the most productive use you can find.
Either that, or the demand for milk, butter, and cheese stays high, and we wind up with a use for old dairy cattle.

As for fish, the wild ones might go...shame about cod...but several species are already farmed- salmon and tilapia pop to mind as the large ones. Catfish as well if you're fond of that, and oysters if you count them as "fish".
We already selectively breed and farm almost all of our meat and veg; I presume fish will be next.

76:

The optimism about drone hacking would be great, except for:

a) the keylogger virus that already showed up in the Reaper and Predator wings (Link) this October, and

b)Iran capturing a RQ-170 spy drone this fall (Link)

Besides, as I noted up in #32, if we get into a war between great powers, probably the opening salvo will be massed attacks on the satellites and other communications infrastructure that let drones fly. Given the size of a building called "SPAWAR" that I drive by occasionally, I strongly suspect that all major militaries are preparing for this type of warfare.

Unfortunately, I think the result will ultimately be like WWI, where the combination of noughty-level tactics and radically new technology (coupled with a screwed up global battlefield as a result of the battle for the high frontier) will make for a long, grinding war. If the "echelons above reality" prove as incompetent as they did in WWI, we could see a massive body count, flash-battles worse than the urban warfare of Iraq and Afghanistan, aided by hackers messing with the internets to confuse and immobilize their enemies' communications, infrastructure, and finances.

77:

Heck. I've been thinking about this all day and you beat me to it! OP looks very plausible to me.

3 things:

Yes, we can extend likely human lifespans to 110-130 years. Whether many will benefit from it is a political problem, not a medical one. Beyond that? I think we can but can't describe how.

Nanotech? It will be based on bacteria, not tiny cogwheels.

Cities will be 1-2 million sized and very high density and there will be a fuck of a lot of them. There won't be many really big megacities, and most of them will be the same ones we have now. Arcologies don't work cos of heat problems. None of them will be seriously over 30 million people other than the hugest urban area ever linking Hong Kong to Canton which may well have more inhabitants than the USA. Maybe some subarctic ones.

78:

Well, success does depend on the goals of the US. Probably more akin to Iraq than Afghanistan. Population, wise, most of it is in the western 1/3rd of the country. It's also a multi-ethnic country, I suspect the Kurds at least would do their own thing. Might be something similar in Baluchestan, Khuzestan, and Azerbaijan.

As for disrupting the flow of oil, it would have some big economic consequences, true. But from a political perspective that would be a good thing for the Republicans in the US. Domestic oil profits would soar and the political opposition to domestic production would evaporate over night. All the complaints about offshore drilling, fracking, etc. would be swept aside.

And prices aside, it wouldn't really disrupt US oil imports. Most of our oil comes from outside the Persian Gulf. Our biggest suppliers are Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Russia.

79:

Concerning farming of fish. Farming of salmon consumes more wild fish, than it pro-duces. Even though this has improved significantly the last years due to increase mix-ture of soy beans and other vegetarian sources in the salmon feed

80:

Regarding education, I could see the middle class in the English-speaking world of the 2020s/2030s making common use of tutors in India. Possibly other countries too, if language isn't a barrier.

For political/cultural reasons India can't copy China, but they will have an educated and skilled English-speaking population as a valuable asset. There's no reason telework and telepresence technologies used by businesses can't be adapted to education. They're already being pioneered in various higher education settings in the US. In the 2020s I could see them becoming common for lower levels of education.

For a modest sum, children in the US and UK could get individual tutoring from a college graduate in India. Having had tutoring myself, I can say that it is a vast improvement on the lecture style used in US classrooms.

Another possibility is a dovetailing of that with the trend toward homsechooling in the US. Rather than teach their children themselves, parents could use the India tutors to educate their children, using the homeschooling framework to have it officially recognized.

81:
What are the jobs for everyone going to be/ How to get a paycheck/ How to put bread on the table?

I think automation will improve so that more and more people will be unable to get a job that hasn't been replaced by cheaper robot labour. Probably it'll come to a head some time between 2032 and 2092, and the result will depend heavily on the politics of the time. With a strong welfare state, we might be able transition to a leisure society without major disaster, but I'm not terribly optimistic about that. More likely, for the first time in history the 1% won't actually need the 99%, and things will get very ugly very fast.

82:

It does not matter where your oil comes from. If oil goes to 200$ a barrel it will have impact on your fuel prices, and your econmy in general.

83:

oil will still be available and planes will still be burning it

Even after the previous discussions on this one; you are still wildly overly optimistic, IMHO.

Virtually all credible predictions of oil production put the oil peak within short term planning horizons (either future or past). We know what's been found, we know where we've looked. Basically oil production is going to decline, EROEI with it, and prices will rise.

That's more certain that the economists' models that we base current political decisions on.

However, we're still kidding ourselves, hence nothing gets done till all the excuses for why there is less oil this year than last are played out - by that point we are well into the downslope, things are accelerating, and exportland means exporters play I'm-alright-jack and available oil falls even faster.

Time taken to make changes to the basic structure of society - scaling reduced uses - takes time. Fusion reactors take even more. Frankly, it isn't going to work. With the current rate of growth of China, the US dependency on trucks, etc. at least some regions of the world have to collapse - quite possibly most.

What's the point on extrapolating your predictions on the basis of something that shows every sign of not being true?

Take a look through your bold titles above, every one of them gets derailed by a general resource led collapse.

84:

By 2932 we will be the old people, the generation which came out of schools at the start of the microprocessor revolution. We in particular grabbed that newness. A lot of out contemporaries didn't. And we'll be pursued by the people who have always used computers. I learned to use a slide rule in the Sixth Form, and a programmable calculator the year after.

And the way the economy is going at the moment, we'll probably have had two decades of being told that we can't afford to retire, and two decades of being told we're too old to be worth re-training.

Can the plutocratic oligarchy survive a population bulge that remembers real socialism, and the pre-Thatcher years, and sees no hope in a continuation of false political choices?

Oh, and we're the pre-Google generation. We use it, but we were taught how to use books. We don't depend solely on the internet.

And we're the generation who know people who were there, whether "there" was Normandy, Malaya, Vietnam, or the Golan Heights. Not in the UK or the USA, but in many countries we were conscript soldiers when war was still thought likely.

We night by then be small-c conservatives, but what will we want to conserve? An oligarchy that treats everyone else like shit, or an obsolete idea that we remember working?

85:

I don't have any figures, but wouldn' there be a second order effect, i.e. the people who currenctly buy that gulf oil not being able to and therefore buying up the oil the use is currently getting.

I don't know how much was true, but I recall a 10-15USD rise in oil when Libya shut down it's production in 2011. The rise in costs from the loss of the BP platform 'deep water horizon' was a lot more.

I guess what I'm saying is that for oil there seems to be a lot of movement in costs for a relativelly small change in output. A change removing the gulf oil production isn't small.

What does this mean for 2032? There were discussions about energy security in the UK some time ago. The situation in eastern europe when Russia cut off one of it's pipelines seemed to focus minds for a while, but not for too long. I would hope that it will both increase investment in real long term solutions (fusion or otherwise) but also in smaller scale ones such as improved efficiency and local production. By 2032, I would expect an EU wide 'house building directive' setting minimum efficient standards for buildings massively higher than those existing today.

86:

> What's the point of going to war -
> well, aside from justifying all those
> defence jobs and the military budget
> - when you're going to be destroying
> assets 'your' companies have paid
> for?

Countries traditionally went to war for loot and/or ransom. Conquest and incorporation was less common than conquest and subjugation; you could squeeze more revenue from subjugation.

A war was good for the treasury, a good way to get rid of excess nobles, peasants, and potential troublemakers, and a strike against "them" - whoever they were at the moment - was always a fine way to help unite the populace behind the current monarch or government.

Though you might view war through the filter of logic, your attacker might simply need to have had a leader tell him God said you needed to be killed.

87:

Ian, +1 for this. There are several comments here that try to look at one aspect of the modern world in isolation and extrapolate how that one area might play out. Food, energy, population and so on. Arguably, some of the original post does the same thing. However, all these things are interconnected which is why economics attempts to build complex models to predict possible outcomes and try different sets of starting conditions and drivers to investigate where the trigger points are. This is what makes the Limits to Growth World3 model scary within this time scale. Virtually every run ends up showing the same basic pattern; Exponential growth, overshoot, crash. It seems that lags in the system, finite resources in several major areas and the effects of pollution make this almost completely inevitable. And technological fixes simply make the overshoot taller and the crash bigger. Now perhaps World3 is a bad model but it's holding up pretty well so far and nobody has come up with a better one.

Time for some paradoxical optimism and to give thanks for being born in a northern temperate 1st world country on the edge of a major land mass.

88:

> With the expected increase in data
> sharing, will these generally merge
> and a more universal culture emerge?

Probably not, depending on your definition of culture. Even the small American town I live in has several distinct cultures with minimal social overlap. For labels, you could call them Native Southern, Redneck Southern, Liberal, Mexican Immigrant, Korean Immigrant, hip-hop, gangbanger, and Damnyankee.

The Koreans are a strong ethnic group here, stuck in the Old South. Mostly spouses and descendants of airmen from the local air base, still maintaining a separate cultural identity. There are several Korean Baptist churches within a few miles of my house, and hangul signs here and there about town.

89:

Charlie, All your predictions look like practical common sense ones to me. And that is precisely why I don't believe in the worlds (2032 and 2092) you've portrayed. It never works out that way, thank goodness, or otherwise we'd all be leading dull boring lives knowing what to expect around the corner (time-wise).

90:

At least 3 nations (US, Russia, China) currently have the capability of physically destroying satellites in LEO. I think the US and Russia can kill birds in GEO as well. In addition, the Keyhole telescopes are vulnerable to being blinded by lasers (the Russians have actually tried this on other satellites), and the GPS system can be jammed (this will be harder when there are 3 of them deployed: the US system, Europe's Galileo, and the Chinese system that's started to go up).

Sats in LEO are especially vulnerable, even to jury-rigged weapons. There are a number of commercial boosters capable of putting 100 kg of ball bearings and 1 kg of propellant explosive into a counter orbit. The resultant shrapnel-storm traveling at 16 kps relative, properly aimed, would destroy anything smaller than the ISS, no matter how well armored.

As for how secure Keyhole or some other government-built software may be, I'm skeptical. Very few large software projects attain all their objectives. And I know of many military software projects, using the latest tools (Ada was supposed to be the final answer for secure and reliable software development; how's that working for you F-35?) that proved to be not as secure or as reliable as their developers claimed them to be.

91:

I wonder if climate stress won't be a good thing geopolitically for Australia, at least in the short term. There've been a lot of predictions that as China becomes a superpower and the US starts to recede, that China would start putting pressure on Australia to allow mass immigration and/or purchase of land in the north. If you can't grow crops there because of heat stress, then maybe China will look elsewhere.

92:

Sales! -- The only 'job' that's still consistently better performed by humans than machines and where being able to go off-script is a plus.

93:

Charles Stross gammon steaks in 2092? But I'm hungry now!

94:
Expect Charles Stross gammon steaks to be served at SF conventions.
Gives a whole new meaning to the title "Guest of Honor".
95:

Ain't it always the case: the future just isn't what it used to be? Nevertheless, insightful wool-gathering is always fun and interesting. Thanks, Charlie.

It's been noted that Australia is already suffering the effects of European agricultural techniques. Interestingly, the principles of permaculture were also developed here.

it's going to be a world of old people living in big cities who are afraid of the sky.

Reminds me of a piece I wrote in a more morose moment on NASA budget management.

"And it came to pass that the world changed, and the minds of men grew strange and wayward.
No more did they look into the evening heavens, and wonder at the star studded vastness.
Instead they came to shun the night, and grew fearful of the darkness between."

96:

Bruce Sterling seems to have an uncanny knack for picking out the right trends to extrapolate from. The sort of currents in human affairs that are easy to spot and maddeningly obvious in hindsight . . . but somehow no one but Bruce actually twigged to their real implications and significance. Along with the already mentioned Heavy Weather I'd nominate Holy Fire for exploring a plausible future gerontocracy set shortly after a near-fatal Time of Troubles that most people avoid talking about, and Distraction for it's surprisingly liveable dystopia, where the cutting edge science is now focused on human cognition. Good stuff and strongly recommended to those who've somehow skipped over them. And check out the publishing dates.

Having said that, what Charlie is talking about here seems to have been written by someone whose name is not Bruce Sterling. That would be Barnes' Kaleidoscope Century. A book that despite having as its subject the events of extremely unpleasant time and narrated by an unsympathetic if not outright repellent character is nonetheless oddly engaging. It's also the first time I came across the term 'thrashing' to describe a complex system nudged far enough away from it's stable attractor to wander the rim of the bowl and abruptly flip into a dynamically unstable state.

97:

I'll second your opinion as absolutely spot on.

98:

Would it be unreasonable to speculate that failing public and social institutions will lead to an increased emphasis on family and reliance on extended family ties? Anecdotally - in the US at least - there seems to be something a tradition of rootlessness for people my age and older. But if it turns out that the chance for a better job or a better life is no longer there no matter how many thousands of miles away from your original spawning grounds you're willing to move, well, why move?

And - forgive me, but it needs to be said: As Robert Frost mercilessly noted, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,They have to take you in." I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of that before we see less.

99:

Food is sure to change, along with agriculture.

Today, agriculture is still based on 19th century equipment (combined in combine harvesters, but still the same stuff), only fit to produce food in monoculture and fundamentally incapable of tending towards single plants.

You can't use current machinery to have several different crops on one field at the same time, which used to be a standard technique so long as people were growing food by hand. Just think about the trinity of the American natives - maize, squash and beans intermingled on one field. This changed with the introduction of the plough, that allowed cultivating large areas with less work, but also at reduced quality.

Better sensors and computing will make it possible to *gasp* pick apples from trees, or tomatoes - all the Mexicans will be unemployed! Farmers will probably work their way from monoculture to mixed oligocultures, both of different cultivars and species, slowly improving technique to maximize yields under the new agricultural regime. It's hopefully going to be more like large-scale gardening than current agriculture.

As for energy, I blogged about solar and intermittent sources of energy extensively in December. In summery, it is possible, but inefficient. (Typical round-trip efficiencies for chemical storage are about 33%, not counting energy for compressing/liquification. Others are mostly not feasible at this sort of scale.) The land-use even of fairly efficient solar is quite tremendous, especially if you want to run a major part of the energy budget on it.

And finally, I for one hope to see a push towards re-wilding the planet. The currently fashionable delusions about "green energy" and "renewable" materials are already taking a huge toll on nature. What people call "forest" is often much more akin to a lumber plantation and natural products like cotton have already managed to dry out the Aral sea, not to mention contaminated all land thus used with large amounts of pesticides. (The stuff is not going to be eaten, so who cares?)

Using *more* energy to use the energetically more expensive recycling processes is a lot more reasonable and a lot better for nature - even if this energy came exclusively from Canadian tar sands. (And it really need not do that.)

100:

Just to add a detail: as a chemist who has given it some serious thought, I think the best approach to storing hydrogen is to make anhydrous ammonia (NH3).

Ammonia is made on an industrial scale by combining hydrogen gas and nitrogen (70% of earth's atmosphere, cheap and harmless) at high temperatures and pressures. It's a gas at standard temperature and pressure, but condenses at about 10x atmospheric pressure at room temperature. Small leaks are easily detected by the human nose; large leaks tend to be somewhat self-limiting as evaporation rapidly cools the liquid. Combustion products are water and gaseous nitrogen, although harmful nitrogen oxides may be formed under certain extreme and unlikely conditions. It's not as convenient as gasoline, but it beats comparably-powerful metal hydride systems handily in mass and volume.

There are communities developing ammonia-powered devices on the web, if you care to look.

101:
Virtually all credible predictions of oil production put the oil peak within short term planning horizons (either future or past). We know what's been found, we know where we've looked. Basically oil production is going to decline, EROEI with it, and prices will rise.

What about Antarctica? Spare me any discourses on international law or binding treaties. Does anyone seriously believe that the Big Boys would honor any such agreements one millisecond past the point it was no longer expedient for them to do so? Speaking of which:

Time taken to make changes to the basic structure of society - scaling reduced uses - takes time. Fusion reactors take even more. Frankly, it isn't going to work. With the current rate of growth of China, the US dependency on trucks, etc. at least some regions of the world have to collapse - quite possibly most.

Well, here's the thing: we already have practical nuclear energy and we already know it's up to the job of supplying gobs of baseline power for a long, long time to come. The only reason it's being opposed now is that the citizenry is still rich enough and fat enough to resist it's wide-spread deployment. Do you really think they're going to give up their air-conditioners, their cars, their geegaws and doodads which require energy-intensive processes for their manufacture? Call me cynical, but when push comes to shove, I suspect people will find laudable, even noble reasons for acting contrary their principled opposition and doing the expedient thing instead.

You know, sorta like how so many of those god-botherers are implacably and high-mindedly opposed to abortion until their daughters or sisters or wives happen to need one.

102:

I think once the writing is on the wall we'll have to just ignore the NIMBYs and build nuke plants everywhere. Thorium seems like a nicely abundant source, once we get over the scruples, and apparently the rare earths needed for say, wind turbines, are mined in the same places. Which is why currently we only get them from China, who can (at this point) ignore the NIMBYs and seems to be leading the construction of thorium plants. We'll all eventually follow their lead.

But, just winding down and returning to barbarism (forever!) when we run out of petrol? I'd kill to avoid that.

103:

Alternative: the demographic transition reverses.

By 2092, mass birth control is four to eight generations old in the West. Those populations that have resisted it successfully will, over time, tend to outbreed the populations that restrict themselves to only 2-3 kids.

Think of it this way: Alice and Bob have 2 kids. Charlie and Dana have 10 kids. Wars, famines, and plagues kill one of A+B's kids and 7 of C+Ds (the latter having less parental investment per child). Future generations resemble C+D more than A+B.

Of course, this may mean that the future belongs to oddball religions and the woefully unprepared. Still, evolution favors individuals who have children; sanity is a much lower priority.

104:

Well, Above Top Secret gives an estimate of "perhaps" 50 billion gallons of oil on its continental shelf. Whether this is true or not doesn't seem to be a matter of public record.

Given that it's in one of the worst oceans on the planet, and we can expect the seas to get worse as antarctic glaciers start melting...I don't know. Coolantarctica suggests that it would cost $100/barrel to extract antarctic oil in 2008. This may be less viable than oil shale as petroleum source, both in monetary and energy return on investment. At least while there's still ice on Antarctica.

One idea I was idly playing with was whether the US military will drive alternate energy development in a big way. Right now, they're going green because oil is too expensive in terms of soldiers' lives.

It will be fascinating if casualty rates become the major accounting medium for energy, rather than pocket costs. I don't rate this as a high probability, but weirder things have happened. Having the country dragged to sustainability as a spin-off and side-effect of having an imperial-style military is the kind of irony I appreciate.

105:

Scent: remember, as a practical matter, that oil becomes viscous at low temperatures. It is much more difficult to pump oil in Antarctica than in Arabia.

106:

Rare lapse from you, heteromeles: the higher echelons running WW1 were not incompetent.

107:

Okay, I'll buy that. I took the "Lions led by donkeys" complaint as fact. Here's a detailed rebuttal.

I'm still support the original idea: if we get into satellite warfare as a way of attacking net-centric militaries, we are going to be in a similar regime where the old techniques don't work, the new techniques have to be figured out the hard way, and all the combatants pile up a big body count figuring out what that better way is. This is analogous to what happened during WWI.

The thing that's really bothersome about this type of war is that the battlefield is most likely to be everyone's biggest cities, and many of the attacks are going to be on infrastructure. Cities can do a lot of fancy things, but they aren't currently very resilient to power, water, food, and data failures. Such a war might be less cataclysmic than nuclear war, but it could get bad, especially for civilians.

108:

How will the timezone differential be handled? One party will have to shift their wake/sleep period pattern to allow "face to face" communication.

109:

On the theme of "the future is already here, it's just distributed unevenly, I'd suggest that, in the future, more things will be handmade. Just as Apple products are now in China (Link to Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory).

110:

More likely, for the first time in history the 1% won't actually need the 99%,

Not going to happen. Businesses have to sell to consumers ultimately. If 99% of the country has no money, who are they going to sell to to make money? People in other countries where this economic state does not apply?

111:

Cities can do a lot of fancy things, but they aren't currently very resilient to power, water, food, and data failures. Such a war might be less cataclysmic than nuclear war, but it could get bad, especially for civilians.

I concur. The further down the technological road we go, the more it could look like "The Machine Stops".

City populations are going to be very vulnerable to supply shortages from a host of fronts, including deliberate hacking of the electronic infrastructure.

112:

That doorknob story sounds like a horse in the Bill Buxton speech stable, to me. I think I heard it at the GRAND conference in Vancouver last year.

With that said, I'm really looking forward to the discussion about the psychological impacts of all these changes.

113:

I wonder what city you have in mind when you write that. LA, NY or Sao Paolo, Mumbai, Shenzen. I suspect that most cities round the world are much more resilient to supply shortages than those in the developed west.

114:

"Virtually all credible predictions of oil production put the oil peak within short term planning horizons (either future or past). We know what's been found, we know where we've looked. Basically oil production is going to decline, EROEI with it, and prices will rise."

...to an average of $100 for extended periods (which it has already), making oil shale and oil sands viable sources for production. Actually, the cutoff point is something like $60/barrel for oil sands production, but the impetus for going into full scale production was when prices moved near $100 and didn't drop too far.

With oil shale/sands now economically viable, the peak oil predictions of the last few years went into the circular file. When you read "peak oil" doomsayers, add the words "at current prices" to the end of every prediction they make.

The history of oil production has gone, price-wise, from "use a bucket to pick it up from a puddle" to "dig holes to get the seepage" to "drill deeper holes to get to the reservoirs" to "drill even deeper holes" to "drill holes in the middle of nowhere" to "drill holes in the ocean floor" - and now back to "use a bucket, but you have to extract the oil from the stuff you dug up, so use BIG buckets." Each of those methods involved price plateaus, and people saying "we've reached peak production."

Current honest predictions, allowing for use of oil shale and oil sands? We're not hitting anything like peak oil consumption for another 30-40 years, at least.

115:

I agree with a lot of the 2032 assessment, but the elephant in the room is 3D printing. Commercial printers are currently running at better than 28 micron and the tech is subject to Moore's law. So all thing being equal means that the 2032 model is printing in the single digit nan range, at high speed using a seriously wide range of composites. If that's true it changes everything.

Every kitchen has a disintegrator/matter-configurator (3D printer) pair. Last night's dishes and scraps go in the disintegrator and clean plates come out of the MC when required. In fact all household waste goes into the disintegrator to replenish its feed stock. Eventually (probably not until 2052), the MC becomes capable of printing the food too. NB pairing the disntegrator and the MC means that energy consumption is essentially a net zero aside from any inefficiencies.

Side point: small scale reliable, affordable, non-toxic energy storage via Zinc air batteries is already in the lab, expect commercial versions within 5 years. $4000 for 25kWh of storage (1 day's worth of household usage), which means a payback of 4 years in Aus using off peak power vs spot power. So distributed generation and distributed storage are economically persuasive at a household level without much/any mandate by government.

Consequences: The need to transport energy and matter becomes greatly reduced. The digital economy pushes into material objects. Patterns gain in value, but some people still fight to make them free. DRM will go nova by 2032.

116:

"Even now, it took the world's most expensive military and a horrendous expenditure of resources to mostly conquer a third-rate power and a backwoods theocracy."

No, it really didn't. It took a tiny portion of that expensive military to help local troops take over a small country like that - while using deliberately low levels of force and extremely restrictive rules of engagement.

As it is, 130,000 ISAF troops are now in a country of about 29 million. About five percent of active and reserve armed US forces are there (about 100,000). of that 130,000, about half are just there to train Afghan soldiers, and a lot of the rest are Army Corps of Engineers, who are, well, building things.

Considering the length of the Afghan war, and the amount of press coverage of it, it's not as big a war as you'd think.

A lot of the "horrendous expenditure of resources" there has been doing awful things like building hospitals and roads and schools. Yeah, what a shameful waste.

If the US (or the other modern militaries) were to really make an all-out effort to "conquer" a country like Afghanistan, it wouldn't take long - and a lot more people would die, very quickly. A modern US combined-arms unit would go through any Third Wold army like a blowtorch through butter, if they used the same sort of rules everyone on the planet used 70 years ago. Pretty much every sane person knows they won't, though.

117:

"Every kitchen has a disintegrator/matter-configurator (3D printer) pair. Last night's dishes and scraps go in the disintegrator and clean plates come out of the MC when required."

Naah - dirty plates go into the recycler, and come out clean to the molecular level - why destroy and rebuild something useful like a plate every day, when you can just program the recycler to ignore certain materials? Destroying and rebuilding an item is a waste of power and resources. If you're tired of the plates and want new ones, just push the override button and make the old ones go away.

...along with annoying relatives, if you're that sort of person.

"Hey, that's a nice suit."

"Yeah, I got it from my mother-in-law."

118:

I have no experience living in Mumbai or Shenzen, so you may be right if you have experience of those cities. Most of us have experienced short term service disruptions in EU/US cities. Despite the trends, it makes suburban living feel much more resilient.

119:

Nice extrapolation. But I wonder what 'black swan' events will come along to derail the picture and leave you with only a handful of accurate predictions.

It could be that the predictions only miss an element of direction like that of a 1992 forecast leaving out the Internet. But I suspect the ones you're missing are much bigger than that. We have enough holes in physics starting with the ones labeled "Dark Matter/Energy" to make me wonder if we are exhibiting a mindset similar to that of a 19th century 'Classical Physicist' confident all that's left is moping up the fine details and explaining a few oddities. We could be on the cusp of a revolution in physics of the level that quantum physics was to classical.

If there are no revolutions in left in physics as we answer those unknowns, then I think your future extrapolation is probably correct, excluding any variations in the directional elements (e.g. next big tech focus or degree of an elements importance).

The Kardashev scale always seemed to me to be a simplistic extrapolation of obvious energy sources and scale. A projection that is very similar in a sense to you trying to forecast the future. So a billion year old civilization has only managed galaxy scale power output? The implicit assumption is that our current physics knowledge adequately defines the boundary of available resources. If that is true then there is no 'black swan' level physics out there for us, just an interminable slog of refining the obvious..

Now if Voyager 1 were to whack into a 'containment sphere' projection screen.. instant 'black swan' :p

Though I would much prefer us discovering new physics to define a new path versus breaking containment..

120:

Hm. From what very little I know about Mumbai or Shenzen, I'm not sure they'd weather massive disruptions any better than, say, Los Angeles. Just because a lot of people are living in slums, it doesn't follow that they can quickly find ways to recycle water, grow food, and so forth.

Los Angeles is a good example, not because of the lazy habits of angelenos (and many are already prepped for the Big Earthquake), but because there are a small handful of routes in and out (it's surrounded by mountains and deserts), most water comes in through a couple of aqueducts, most power comes in through a few lines, and there's only one functioning dump. Blow up a few freeways, screw up the aqueduct, and blow the electrical grid, and chaos will quickly ensue. A place like Chicago is more open, and even if it's paralyzed, many people can walk or drive away.

Still, I agree that the last few generations of Americans and Europeans are among the least handy and most helpless people ever to grace the Earth. Our ignorance makes us far more vulnerable than our ancestors were, a few generations back. I'm not sure that the current generation in Chinese or Indians are any better though.

121:

"Businesses have to sell to consumers ultimately. If 99% of the country has no money, who are they going to sell to to make money? "

Other automated corporations.
Or, crudely, to robots.
It is certainly possible to run a vast economy with no Human consumers

122:

Actually, $100 a barrel is a good price.
It's cheap enough not to hurt the economy too badly, and expensive enough to make lots of other technologies cost effective, from shale oil to algal biofuel to solar.

123:

When I re-read your prediction I start to wonder. In your view: Is technological change an unstoppable linear process that drives social, psychological and political change? Or is it social change and etc. that drives technological change.

I get a feeling that you under estimate the amount of social change that can happen over a period of 20 years. Although I can see that these processes are harder to predict, and to include in a clear story line. Case in point China, I view the political / economic system of China as quite brittle. How would it affect your prediction, if the Chinese Housing/ Investment bubble burst, resulting in social unrest and a stop in infrastructural investments?

124:

How about a blog talk on guaranteed Basic income. If I remember right, Dick Nixon was talking about one. Maybe that's what made a few far right Californians dig up and fund Ronnie. In any case Andrew Carnegie said there would be too little work to go around and so did Marx. Some kind of guaranteed income was studied hard back in the 70's and it looked better then than having hopelessly unemployed people out of work. That was not the American way, then. Thanks to the Rich and their R/W we now know it's their own doing and nothing that may raise taxes should be done. Nobody notes the dead in the winter, as they should.
After the big on, the first places with water are more than one gas tank from LA,just a thought.

125:

Agreed. Charles had me completely enthralled until I hit 'THIS': "Expect Charles Stross gammon steaks to be served at SF conventions."

So we are talking meat cultures cloned from Charlies thighs as I do not expect he will have a set of rear legs.

http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/art/news-edible-human-body-parts


Fritz

126:

"Optionally, if we don't sort out the global plutocracy problem there will be famines and food price spikes caused by investors speculating on food price futures. (This has already happened; "

Do you have a reference for this?

127:

jk @ 52
The real problem with Iran, and associated issues is religious millenarianism.
The saner heads (and yes, they do exist) in Iran would really like NOT to have a war, whilst keeping the US as a realistic bogeyman, so they can keep their fractious population under control
Just like the USSA, in fact.
But, both in Iran & the USSA there are religious nutters who want a war, because it will bring on the rapture/13th imam etc.

Other posters have mentioned the role of religion in completely fucking over any prospects for real advancement.
People have mentioned brain reasearch - yes well, the religious are still stuck in a mind/brain dualistic set-up are they not?
And you should see the wriggling and outright deliberate lying you encounter if you propose: "No god is detectable" - and they are therefore 150% irrelevant, even if they do exist .....

And, of course, most religions are AGAINST population-limitation, because it limits the number of their brainwashed slaves. Um.
See also another comment further down this piece.

unholyguy @ 53
A planetary EU
Arrrgh!
The EU has already failed. A brilliant idea has been badly subverted by the unelected corrupt bureacrats of the EU Commission.
A lot of people, myself included, have changed sides over recent years, because of EU commission's unwarranted, corrupt, stinking, money-wasting interference and waste.
I can give a classic exemplar, if you want evidence - meanwhile TL:DR ....

heteromeles @ 65
THAT is what scares me!

sov @ 101
Well one 1st-world nation already relies on nuclear power for it basline load, and no-one seems to mind.
So why is everyone else going completely potty on the subject?
Yes, I know "Chrnobyl" .. "fukushima"
Well, bollocks to that

heteromeles@ 104
Almost as wierd as why, in spite of big oil and the Kochs ... most guvmints are realising that GW is a problem (and I can't understand the US dragging its feet - you'll see why) ... because a warmer world is more violent weather-wise.
And the big Insurance Companies have noticed, and their premiums are going up.
And they employ some really smart statisticians.
Riddle me that conundrum, then?

cirby @ 116
Agree - see also my comments above.
( Warning: Godwin-violation coming up )
However, what bothers me, also regarding OTHER comments ... the Taliban, and most of the islamicists tick every single box for "nazi".
So why are we bothering talking to these murderous bastards?
We should be demanding Unconditional Surrendur.
But no, it's their "religious beliefs" which hare "sacred" or some such rubbish - just like Hick Sanatorium, in fact.

AI generally
...
A coming together of several strands ...
small simple automated, almost mechanical "toys" usually being built by hobbyists at present
+
simple "automated" housebot machines
+
"small" industrial applications and processes
+
parallel (actually cross-interlinked) small processors in homePC applications ...
Sooner or later the conjucntion will produce some form of strong AI
What it will look like/behave as is totally unpredicatble.


Power & water/sewage supplies
Better here, I think, though we are still vulnerable.
Provided power can be restored (even for part of the day) within 24/48 hours, your fridge &/or freezer contents will survive.
Can I put in a word, again, for Alllotments?

Physics
Yes, well - I've been on about this one before, haven't I?
QM/relativity/renormalisation
Higgs Boson
GU_Theory
Something has got to give, and I would guess well before 2032
What it will be I haven't got the faintest idea.
But it will be a big game-changer.

128:

@101 & @102 : Nukes

Oil is a portable energy source issue. Reactors need the whole battery technology and transmission lines to work in that role - and to scale at a rate faster than the oil disappears from the importable number.

And reactors have at least a ten year timeline before you get anything.

So if you assume an oil decline rate of at least 2% and probably more like 8% - and that compounds for years before you can do much about it - what do you do to fill the gap, and how big can you scale if China decides not to sell you those rare earths?

Needed to start building out those nukes ten years ago, minimum, if it were to be much of a player.

129:

cirby

Scale, scaling rate and maximum size, compared with the size and decline rate of conventional oil.

The biggest (easiest) and most successful oil sands exploitation has taken a decade to reach ~3Mbpd in Canada.

At a decline rate of 4% (and the base decline rate of mature old fields is 6%) you lose 3Mbpd every year. And that's at great environmental cost.

Peaking is a rate problem.

Sands and Shales aren't likely to be contributing more than 10Mpbd before 2030, if you went all out. And forget the shales 'oils' that republicans tend to talk about; they are kerogen and are a dead duck at the moment.

130:

Dirk,

$100 is actually thought to be above the price where you eventually get a recession, so its not sustainable. Even if it were, its not going to stay there when demand hits the wall again.

Spikes will come regularly enough, and high enough, to collapse economies and demand back to the level of supply.

And nobody has the free cash to do anything really novel and BIG enough....

131:

Ian, I said oil will be available; I didn't say "fossil fuel".

Oil is a really useful energy transport medium; it's much more energy-dense than any battery we've found, and works without a physical connection (unlike electricity).

There are two types of oil, for this purpose: fossil oil (pumped out of the ground or cracked from coal or synthesized from natural gas via Fischer-Tropsch -- doesn't matter, it's the source that counts), and carbon-neutral oil (100% synthetic, reformed from atmospheric CO2 and water driven by electricity from non-fossil sources).

Currently we manufacture and consume virtually none of the latter although we know in principle how to make it. When the price of the former begins to rise, however, due to depletion of the easily-accessible sources, I forsee a big switch-over.

Reason for the switch-over: despite all the hype, hydrogen is a bitch to transport and store, and we'd have to replace our entire oil-handling infrastructure to make use of it. Far easier to use hydrogen to synthesize oil at the site of production.

132:

Would it be unreasonable to speculate that failing public and social institutions will lead to an increased emphasis on family and reliance on extended family ties?

That may not work, post-demographic transition.

My family seems to have been ahead of the curve; they underwent the switch-over to 2-3 kids per generation in the 1920s. (Upper middle class assimilated Jewish families tended to make the shift earlier in the UK: my parents were both one of two children, but my grandparents' came from much, much larger families.)

I can testify from personal experience that when you grow up with grandparents who are all dead by the time you're 12 and only two cousins and two aunts/uncles, you don't have extended family ties to fall back on. (The score currently is one surviving cousin, two parents, two siblings, two nephews, and that is it.)

Moreover, there's a side-effect of the demographic transition that isn't obvious; not only is there a shift to much smaller numbers of children, but women give birth when much older. Which means, generations stop being a 15-25 year span and become a 30-45 year span. The reason I only ever knew one of my grandparents wasn't because they died particularly young for their time, but because after 1920, on both sides of my family, the average generation span was 30-35 years.

As the demographic transition is 1-2 generations back for most of us in the developed world, and is current for those in China and India, this has interesting implications for the future: folks from small families need things like state-funded nursing homes for the elderly in a way that may not be obvious to those who think in terms of large extended families.

133:

Charlie,

Suggest you look at how long Fischer-Tropsch and/or coal-to-liquids takes to scale, and how many plants you need. Oh, and the extra power stations to power those plants.

It will keep the military supplied, but the commuters? Whenever I see it on the graphs, its that thin, almost invisible sliver...

134:

Excellent article!

To take a wild stab at the psychology of the late 21st century:

With an intelligent environment, cheap travel (physical or electronic), and a job market that requires constant movement as projects close and open, urban society might converge on shaministic nomads. I live in a world of spirits that must be propitiated, prospering with the help of my ideological cohort of friends (rather than my genetic tribe of relatives).

135:

Point of note: Foxconn (the big assembler of Apple products) announced last year a phased investment in four million industrial robots. They're betting big on downsizing their hand-assembly workforce by 70% or more over the next decade.

I suspect the reason Apple gizmos are hand-assembled is that Apple's growth -- high double digits to triple digits per annum, like a start-up, except from a multi-billion dollar launchpad -- is itself disruptive of manufacturing processes, scaling up too damn fast for the designers of automated lines to easily keep up with, and changing too frequently (new iPhones or iPads every 12 months, with different physical designs). But the pay-off for figuring out how to automate mass production with the flexibility to change products every six months will be huge. And Apple gizmos are expensive enough to be worth centralizing production -- iPods and iPhones are worth more than their weight in silver, and iPads aren't that much cheaper, so shipping (as a percentage of production costs) is trivial.

136:

I presume you mean Iraq and Afghanistan?

If so, then in the case of Iraq, "won" means "deposed the head of state and destroyed the standing army". Can you really claim that there's been a success in "imposing a new government"?

In the case of Afghanistan, I don't think that anyone except the Afghans has actually won a war there since the 1850s!

137:

Businesses have to sell to consumers ultimately. If 99% of the country has no money, who are they going to sell to to make money?

Disaster capitalism and the prison-industrial complex show two possible ways to do so.

1. Find some punk country, throw them up against the wall, smash their infrastructure, then invite your cronies in to rebuild everything you broke at the victim's expense. (See Serbia, Iraq. Doesn't work so well if the victims are low tech and have nothing you want: Afghanistan.)

2. A typical non-educated working American male can earn maybe $24-30K per year and will spend it on food and accommodation. A typical non-educated American male in prison generates maybe $60K and more than one prison officer job (if the prison is well staffed), not to mention useful stuff like manacles, cattle prods, and prison construction. As long as your government can borrow the money (against future generations' notional tax payments) this is how you generate more turnover from the working class.

Both of these are highly dysfunctional and unpleasant ways to increase profits over those offered by consumer capitalism ... and both of them are in use by the USA today.

There may be other, worse, alternatives ....

138:

Still, I agree that the last few generations of Americans and Europeans are among the least handy and most helpless people ever to grace the Earth. Our ignorance makes us far more vulnerable than our ancestors were, a few generations back.

Yes. But that's because we're highly specialized. Previous generations and other countries don't have engineering academics teaching people the theory of how to build comsats or design multi-media presentations, to take a couple of random examples of "un-handy and helpless if dropped on a 19th century farmstead" specialities. Nor do they have people who make those things as part of their economic system.

Whatever Heinlein might have opined, our civilization would be non-viable if a huge number of us didn't specialize like insects. And we all reap the benefits.

140:

paws4thot @ 136
This "no-one wins in Afghanistan" trope is as false as the "All Brit generals in WWI were idiots" idea.
We won the second (just) and third Afghan wars.
What's wanted is a re-run of #III where after a punishment expedition, a "friendly" (read non-agressive to us) HoS was emplaced, and he & his sucessors kept the place reasonably quiet.
It CAN be done.

Charlie @ 137
Disagree about Serbia
Milosevic & his cronies were really nasty pieces of work, and - they started it
( Note: I'm NOT excusing the behaviour of some Croat & other local war-lords who came out of the woodwork!)

Ah; prison populations (Charlie, do you really think it is that deliberate, and it is planned for - if so that is a real dystopia, right here, right now)...
I've remebered who it is who has attracted a lot of both support and vilification ... Joe Arpaio
Does the US' future look like a lot more of him?
If so, nasty.

141:

And reactors have at least a ten year timeline before you get anything.

Not true.

Go back to the 1960s. Bradwell nuclear power station, a first generation British Magnox plant, began construction in December 1957 and was feeding the grid by 1962. And that was a peacetime project.

Once you get a reactor design debugged -- Bradwell was the fourth Magnox site -- and given a favourable planning regime you can bang them out on a production line if necessary.

While I wouldn't advocate building Magnox reactors (an early 1950s design originally optimized for plutonium production for the British nuclear weapons program), it shouldn't be impossible to come up with a standardized fourth generation plant design and build them fast in event of a national- or super-national level emergency. As in: take an existing design, tweak it for standardization, then start punching them out, going from ground-breaking to grid in under three years, given a military/wartime budget and level of focus.

142:

What people are willing to accept under peace-time conditions is very different to what they are willing to accept if they feel truly threatened(see Tyneham et al.)

143:
if China decides not to sell you those rare earths?

I'm no expert but the way this fellow explains it, rare earths aren't just available from China, it's simply that it's tricky to mine them without mining thorium also, since they're found in the same veins. So it's more of a legislation problem than one of availability.

144:

"And nobody has the free cash to do anything really novel and BIG enough...."

The EU/USA has just printed and spent several trillion bailing out the banks. How far would a trillion go if it was into nuclear reactors, PV or oil synthesis?

145:

Yep, Charlie, problem is by the time you can punch out these things in quick time - once you are on a war footing, then you are already on the obvious downslope (otherwise you wouldn't have the war footing).

At that point the wheels are coming off.

It's not just the reactors you need, it's the vehicles, the batteries, the change over in the system. Who's going to buy those vehicles, who's going to pay? Against a backdrop of decline rates seen at the commuter of 10% pa (there are magnifying effects) and the knock on effects. A report I saw recently said our JIT world starts to see significant damage after 1 week of disruption.

While it's possible to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (the last time this came up I sketched out one possible way to get ahead of the collapse), you have to consider the shape of the political will, the intelligence, that we have. Do you think they'll be ordering crash nuke building programmes; or wars to get 'our oil'?

If you are honest in playing the scenario forward, you have to say that our acceptance and reaction to it is always likely to lag the necessary at the time. That's the empirical evidence to date.

It's not a technology problem, it's a comprehension problem, an understanding of feedback and scale.

146:

And with the threats and opportunities that we have, what got them to spend trillions - where did that money go?

147:

Small nit: will smartphones, aka handheld computers, need to have so much local computing power by 2032? Mobile broadband is a bit of a joke right now but I'd hope that by 2032 it will be a solved problem, enabling thin clients which will last a lot longer than one day between charges.

148:

If a lot of money can be put in circulation at the low end, say, by "overpaid" production or construction work, that problem takes care of itself when a consumer with buying power sees the new wheeled toys are EVs and hybrids. As far as where the trillions went, I suspect "The golf buddies". Any further speculation would put me at risk of sounding like the late Sam Kinnison.

149:

It's possible to build a small reactor in a few years but most (I'd say all) modern power reactors planned or under construction are structurally a lot more massive than the older Magnox designs because they produce a lot more heat energy and electricity.

The Tokai Magnox reactor built in Japan in the 1960s produced 165MWe whereas the modern EPR1000 design being built in China, France and Finland produces ten times as much electricity. Despite that the Chinese are on schedule to finish their EPR1000 construction in just over 4 years whereas the Western EPR1000 projects are badly delayed for various reasons.

150:

Local processing verses centralised. The loop will continue I expect. Which end of the scale we will have by 2032 I don't know. I do agree that 1x day seems very low. Given processor, screen and connection power improvements (i.e. reducions) I expect a current generation battery to be well over this level.

151:

The honest answer is, we're all guessing for 20 years in the future.

However some people will always work on sensitive material. I'm not talking spies and top secret, but the plans for next month's new project launch or a massive mailing list that you have to send an email to or similar. Some, and I would hazard most, people and businesses will prefer to keep some of that locally rather than in the cloud and work on it locally for all kinds of reasons.

There's also a dual problem with mobile broadband. One is technical. We'll probably (but not necessarily) fix that in the right timeframe. The other is business-political. Unless we change the way we access the internet in terms of paying per GB kind of access, it will continue to make sense to some set of accountants (and users) to pay upfront, have a fat client, and essentially not pay for mobile access charges. If I can access my broadband at home, my network at work, and work on a fat client in-between then for many jobs I'm sorted. Add a small amount of roaming data access to pick up emails or similar - much less than letting you work via the cloud - and you will find it's a better deal under current pricing regimes.

As an iPad (original) user, I bought an iPad with 3G. I'm waiting to see what the announcements for new iPads this year look like, but I will probably upgrade to an iPad3 early this year if the prognostications are good. Experience has shown me that I never used the 3G access, so I'll save that money there. On the very small number of occasions I might have liked truly mobile internet, I just waited until I was near a wi-fi network I could access. That may not be typical, but the charges for mobile access on an ad hoc basis are extreme and as MiFi dongle users are finding and complaining about bitterly, their contracts are punitive if they exceed very low download limits. One person I know who claims solely legitimate business use exceeded his monthly download limit in less than 12 hours! That side of things has to change as well and the telcos won't like it.

152:

The risk isn't "Wars because people want something that someone else owns" - that's vaguely rational behaviour at the diplomatic / international level, but you're not thinking like a sociopath (still less a paranoid one).

IMHO the risk comes from irrational internal behaviour - increased tensions because it fits someone's domestic political agenda, namely "I want wealth and power, and if I have to pick a scapegoat and hang out with violent bigots, I don't care". See Milosevic, who pushed nationalism as a way of getting voted into and keeping power, but he's not alone; Iran, North Korea, and Syria all seem to have similar issues.

Before anyone sighs pityingly about "those poor foreigners", we might argue that the Blair/Brown schism in the 97-onwards Labour government followed similar lines on a far smaller scale; self-destructive behaviour caused by vanity and hunger for power. UK politicians are just as vulnerable, it's just that the extremists haven't managed to find their "vaguely electable bigot".

heteromeles@76, @107:
Unfortunately, I think the result will ultimately be like WWI, where the combination of noughty-level tactics and radically new technology (coupled with a screwed up global battlefield as a result of the battle for the high frontier) will make for a long, grinding war

...Except that WWI was short by comparison - consider that it was over in four years. Iraq saw nine years of US involvement, Afghanistan is nine and counting.


The thing that's really bothersome about this type of war is that the battlefield is most likely to be everyone's biggest cities, and many of the attacks are going to be on infrastructure. Cities can do a lot of fancy things, but they aren't currently very resilient to power, water, food, and data failures. Such a war might be less cataclysmic than nuclear war, but it could get bad, especially for civilians.

I'm less worried about non-traditional wars causing mass deaths among general populations. Think about it from the other direction - the attacker is either a weaker nation-state (that will be watching the rubble bounce in the Presidential Palace about 24 hours after the first credible proof of involvement; see Libya in the 1980s after getting caught killing US soldiers in Germany) or a non-state actor (that by definition has limited resources and skills; see Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan getting visits from TLAM).

The French have even made their threats personal; after Bosnian Serbs killed two French peackeepers, Radovan Karadic's unoccupied house in Pale allegedly received a delivery of a single laser-guided 1000kg bomb.

Look at the Provisional IRA's example - it attempted to take on the City of London, caused billions in damage, killed thousands through direct overt military action, and still failed. Trying to knock out a power station or a Tesco Warehouse may cause short-term chaos, but it won't defeat a nation; there are lots of less-efficient reversionary modes for sheltering and feeding people, and it's rather difficult to mount covert operations within an aware and very annoyed population.

153:

Not wanting to open an entire and ugly can of worms, but I don't think that the Provisional IRA is a good example of failure -- they stopped (most of them), but they were not stopped, and nor did they stop because their strategy was "failing".

(BTW, I am in no way supporting or endorsing the actions of a terrorist organisation that killed, maimed and tortured more than one person that I know indirectly.)

154:

In the face of the looming resource problem with added spice of high population and climate change, it seems obvious that the only way to get a lot of things done that benefit everyone will be to have an economy with a large planned sector or a great deal more intereference. Not just subsidising food, but making sure everyone has access to basic necessities.

155:

The idea that it takes decades to build a few reactors is true now, but it will not be true when the lights start to go out. When that happens you can forget about permits, planning enquiries, environmental impact statements, health and safety issues and bureaucracy. As for "green" protesters, it will be a quick roundup and jail, the alternative being them hung from the trees they are trying to save on the reactor sites. I would not be surprised if some kind of emergency contingency laws are already in place.

156:

"And with the threats and opportunities that we have, what got them to spend trillions - where did that money go?"

An interesting question. Just about every major nation except China and Germany is in debt. To whom is all this money owed? And would it make more sense just to cancel the debts?

157:

It'll depend on which country you are talking about. Here in the UK anti-terrorist laws have already been used against environmentalists, and the police are/ were more interested in infiltrating them than actual real terrorists, despite the total lack of any evidence that they are a danger.
Moreover, the real failure has been the politician's fault, here in the UK. If it is possible to make the public see that, I don't see any sort of anti-green backlash taking place. Each government keeps kicking the decisions further down the road.

158:

Much or most national debt is owed to the citizens of the nation in question; around 80% of the US government's debt is actually owed to financial institutions and citizens of the USA itself.

A US debt default would thus hurt the USA far more than it would hurt China (and it would hurt China quite badly).

159:

> Just about every major nation except China and Germany
> is in debt. To whom is all this money owed?

Mostly, via banks and other finance companies, to rich individuals. Mostly living in the same countries in which the debt is owed (though a few nations, for example UK and the Netherlands, have a lot of citizens who make money from foreign invenstments - i.s. debt owed by foreigners.)

Some of it to governments. Notably Chinese government.

Some of it to large industrial companies with lots of cash who don't want to invest in their own business. They often hold some of their reserves in government bonds (called "gilts" in UK)

Some of it to investment funds in general, including the ones that pay pensions. Notice how governments all over the rich world have been closing down pay-as-you-go pension schemes (often based on final salary) and replacing them with supposedly funded ones? That's them trying to offload the dodgy debt onto the workers.

> And would it make more sense just to cancel the debts?

Yes. For the rest of us. Not for the banks, large investors, landowners, pension fund managers, and governments of course.

160:

> Cities can do a lot of fancy things, but they aren't
> currently very resilient to power, water, food,
> and data failures.

Disagree. Cities are *very* resilient to such things, because they have to be. Because the people who live in them need those services to live. So they will work to restore them when they are damages. Cities aren't very *resistant* to damage. They are easy to hurt. But they are, literally, resilient to it - they resile, they bounce back, either by fixing what was broken, or finding some workaround.

Genuinely rural areas (of which there aren't that many in Britain.) are tough in a different way. If they have to their inhabitants can take themselves off-grid and live in isolation, growing their own food, making do and mending. The real risky places aren't the cities, nor the rural areas, but those that are neither one nor the other. The vast tracts of middle-class exurbiua and outer suburbia in Europe and North America that often looks superficially rural but isn't, that is in fact utterly dependent on the urban economy.

Cities can repair and reproduce themselves because the people who live there know how to do it because they have done it already. We know we can rebuild London or New York or Edinburgh or Mumbai or Sao Paolo if we have to because we already built them once. In fact they are continually being rebuilt (what us Brits call "Painting the Forth Bridge")

Two examples:

The Beirut phone system carried on working, more or less, for the first fifteen years of the Lebanese Civil War. Even when there were active military front lines dividing the city. Why? Because when it failed they fixed it because it was useful to them.

What we did to Hamburg in 1943. The level of destruction was astonishing. Perhaps worse than from one attack on any other large city in history (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki). But the city was largely functioning again economically within six months (and entirely rebuilt within ten or fifteen years). And that wasn't so much because of disaster relief from the rest of Germany (they were shipping much of their men, money, and materials off to the Eastern Front to be trashed by the Russians). It was because at least a large minority of the workers of Hamburg knew what to do, and those who didn't were drafted in to help (there wasn't much call for waiters or hairdressers in the weeks after the bombing) and most of them willingliy co-operated because they had to because a big city like that can't support life without working water supplies and paved streets and rooves oin the buildings


[Aside - war is such a huge waste. What might the prosperity of Europe have been like had we avoided the Great War of 1914 to whenever?]

161:

Well, I guess "we" will have to inflate our way out of it. Or at least, govts and banks will. Everyone else will get squeezed by massive interest hikes. Only the poor are rich enough to bail out the 1%

162:

Still, I agree that the last few generations of Americans and Europeans are among the least handy and most helpless people ever to grace the Earth.

That's why my son and I are building a boat together, and why he helps with all household repairs. I don't want to raise someone who can't survive bad times.

163:

Do you think they'll be ordering crash nuke building programmes; or wars to get 'our oil'?

Exactly.

164:

If I can be forgiven for being a little more meta than (seemingly) everyone posting on the content itself...

It is, in and of itself, fascinating and wonderful food for thought; but I think what we have here is (forgive me if I missed a similar comment)Charlie working through some background for one or (many?) more upcoming stories/novels.

It is kind of like watching those "Making of..." documentaries on TV shows and movies but before the TV show or movie is written and produced.

I look forward to upcoming stories where I may recognize the crop that these seeds sprang from.

165:

Dave the proc @ 153
WRONG
The IRA defeated themseleves - after Omagh ....
And, they were losing, by "Western" standards, too many of their hit-men.

guthrie @ 157
It isn't helped by the terminal stupidity of the politicians, either.
Consider
a]Wind turbines smashed in gales (you what?)
b]Wind turbine operators being PAID to keep them switched OFF and not generating (You what?)
c]Like the US a skewed regime, where the big boys of juice-generation get a good deal, but a domestic supplier, from sokar or wind or ater gets shafted (That's down to corporate greed and lobbying, of course)
d]Refusal to go nuclear because of tehcnologically illiterate idiots (and I don't men the politician this time)
e] Point-blank non-interest in small, distributed watermill-turbine elec. production - ideal for small baseloads
f] relatively miniscule amounts of money spent on real research in these fields

166:

I appreciate you have a been in your bonnet, Greg, re. wind turbines, but having one fail in high winds isn't exactly a major problem. Now having them all fail because of a design and manufacturing fault, that would be a bigger issue.
Why, it is almost as if nuclear stations don't have problems as well. I know for a fact Torness has just in this century had trouble with jellyfish in the filters, was down for a couple of months because of broken coolant fans and a lightning strike caused it to shut down because of problems getting rid of the electricity, IIRC. (Although I can't recall how long it was down for, days or weeks)

The really stupid thing is solar subsidies - there simply isn't enough sunlight across most of the UK to justify photovoltaic solar at all.
And as for micro-hydro, a Scottish study estimated we could get several hundred megawatts out of that and run of river schemes. There are also a fair number of small companies who will do you a micro-hydro scheme. Obviously things need to be sorted so that grants are available for such things, but I kind of thought they already were.

Just to add to the fun, what on earth do you think mroe research into microhydro would produce? I hardly imagine there can be an improvement in engineering knowledge re. how to build the system, and the turbine design has I reckon been mature for what, 40 or 50 years? You can probably squeeze a smidgen more out of some fancy modern modelling and manufacturing capabilities, but then trying to make a turbine which can cope with variable water and the presence of organics/ silt is going to be difficult.

167:

Re: Food apocalypse

"The petfood market is expanding at a steady rate worldwide and is considered one of the fastest-growing food industry segments, according to “Pet Foods: A Global Strategic Business Report,” a report from Global Industry Analysts Inc."

Surprisingly, no one has mentioned whether Western society will change its attitudes towards pets over the next few decades. Dogs and cats are relatively expensive to feed because they're carnivores, yet even little old ladies with hardly enough income to feed themselves strive to keep their pets well-fed and comfortable.

This could be a good market niche to test less costly to produce Stross-vat meats.

168:

#140 Part 1
3rd Afghan War Result Treaty of Rawalpindi
[1] Strategic and political victory for Afghanistan resulting in Afghan independence with full sovereignty in foreign affairs.
[2] Tactical victory and strategic British gains with the reaffirmation of the Durand Line.

So basically the Afghans agreed to stop invading british India in exchange for their independance. This is a win for Britain exactly how?

169:

Another simple little issue will be road maintenance. Costs of which are higher now due to increased oil price, and will remain high because of oil shortages. I note that a lot of american counties have been cutting road maintenance because od budget constraints. As for the UK, maybe less so because of our density of population justifying decent maintenance programs.

And tires - how do we make them without oil?
Basically I foresee many fewer vehicles on the road in 10 or 20 years time, if the more unpleasant estimates end up correct.
Oh, and lorries - they damage roads far more than cars, it's something like squared because of their size, not a linear relationship. Because of the increase in transport of stuff in a JIT system and increased consumption of stuff, the roads are taking a battering. What happens if we reduce stuff consumption and what is left is made more by robots.
That then leads us back to the lack of work problem, so we might have longer lasting roads and a reasonable maintenance bill but more people out of work who can't afford to travel...

170:

It is certainly possible to run a vast economy with no Human consumers

I disagree. Although Pohl's "The Midas Plague" has robots be used as consumers, this is tongue in cheek. Robots are a proxy for destroying the manufactured output.
So why manufacture anything unless it fulfills a real need in a buyer?

If the economy progressively extracts the income from the consumer (and redirects it elsewhere), then the economy will contract. We see this with the -ve correlation of the Gini index and economic growth:

ref:
Castelló and Doménech, Human Capital Inequality and Economic Growth: Some New Evidence, May 2000


171:

Steve, you'll have to wait about three years :)

172:

So basically the Afghans agreed to stop invading british India in exchange for their independance. This is a win for Britain exactly how?

It's a huge win of epic proportions compared to the first Afghan war.

173:

"I appreciate you have a been in your bonnet, Greg, re. wind turbines, but having one fail in high winds isn't exactly a major problem. Now having them all fail because of a design and manufacturing fault, that would be a bigger issue."

It's being ignored by a lot of the press, but quite a few of the current-generation windmill designs have been failing in inclement weather. The operators have found out that maintaining big spinning things outdoors is expensive, and they tried to minimize that by cutting back on manpower. Which is why you have things like that Scottish windmill that caught on fire after the brakes failed to apply during a big wind storm.

For every "famous" failure like a blade shattering or a complete collapse, there are dozens of "feather the blades and lock it down until we can replace the whole structure." It's even more obvious in wind farms that have been running for a while - if you look at the 20+ year old wind farms out in southern California, there are places where more than half of the windmills are not working or are in visibly bad repair. And no, the technology hasn't improved that much over the last two decades - aside from the generator itself, the designs are pretty much the same.

Smaller windmills (under 20 meters) are even worse. They tend to be even more lightly built, and people often buy them and assume they're not going to need regular inspection or maintenance (and initial installs tend to be rather amateurish) - which is why so many of them fail about a year after being installed. You know, like the one that was installed at that Scottish school, and fell over (into the playground) about a month after being built...

174:

If 99% of the country is either a prison guard or a prisoner, how exactly is the government going to borrow money from a [non-existent] future tax base?

This is effectively a slave economy, with command and control style production. We know that is neither sustainable nor efficient compared to other economic models.

I view this as a symptom of a dysfunctional economy and wonder what this will lead to over the next century.

175:

"size" meaning axle loading rather than physical bulk. Also I've a vague feeling (based on a magazine article I saw about 20 years ago) that the damage formula uses the 4th power rather than the square (as you might have expected) of the axle loading.

176:

I did read that wind turbines under about 3m diameter for installation on your house/ urban areas were pretty pointless because of the size to actual power you get from the wind ratio. Plus the more variable winds in urban areas. Hence the school in Fife with a couple (I think I've been past it) was onto a loser in the first place. (although if it is the place I think it is there's less urban stuff around it)
And actually having it fall over is a maintenance issue, the same as having your coolant propellor blades failing because of neutron embrittlement or suchlike.

177:

Well yes, but I'd not claim it as a win for Britain in any but the most limitted terms.

178:

"It's a huge win of epic proportions compared to the first Afghan war."

For most of the Afghan people, the current war is a huge step above the last time they were invaded. When the Soviets hit them in the 1980s, they lost over a million lives. Total civilian casualties in the current war are about 30,000 (about 70,000 if you include Taliban insurgents as "civilians").

The live birth rate has been going up during the current war (which has happened before in other places), but the surprise is that the overall death rate has gone down during the last ten years - and overall life expectancy has gone up. They're experiencing the return of the diaspora, too - a lot of the Soviet-era expats have come back.

Yes, things are so horrible in Afghanistan that people are living longer lives and people are coming home from other countries.

179:

I think you're confusing time scales. Give me 100-200 trained soldiers, and I can take down the west coast of the US, simply by blowing up aqueducts, freeway overpasses, and power lines. That will cut off energy, water, and food for millions of people. This has been true since the eighties or before (and I'm depending on an old analysis by G. Gordon Liddy, plus my training for an emergency response team)

This is also the same thing (on a more regional scale) that a big earthquake will do. It's already been well-studied, and it's one reason why every year, they try to get us to prep for the earthquake.

I agree with you that cities can adapt on a slightly longer time-scale, although cities vary in their ability to adapt. Comparing how Los Angeles and San Francisco dealt with earthquake damage in the 80s and 90s is instructive. It took a decade for SF to do what LA did in about a year.

The problem is the short, sharp shock of the initial attack. The west coast cities can survive being cut off for maybe three days, but after that, you've got to provide food, water, and/or energy for millions of people. There are few local sources they can draw on. Logistically, that's a huge problem.

Right now, it would take bombs to cause this type of damage, but as we computerize our infrastructure, we make it more vulnerable to hacking. For example, if I hacked into an oil tanker on autopilot (using Charlie's prediction) and steered it to crash under an overpass, the resulting fire could weaken the underpass to the point where it would have to be substantially rebuilt before it could handle traffic again. This may sound farfetched, but a burning oil tanker did take out an overpass a few weeks ago, totally by accident. Pull a bunch of these hacks simultaneously, especially in LA, and you can induce total gridlock.

180:

It's a win if there are no cranky Afghans shooting at you!

The supply of cranky Afghans with guns seems to outstrip the demand even today; if one simply keeps them at home bickering amongst themselves, everyone else wins. So for the British and Indians that was a win.

181:

Hey, the thing with the hackers would make a good film, wouldn't it?

Hang on, it's been done already...

Meanwhile, most politicians ideas of energy security involve invading other countries for their oil.

We are lucky as to how lacking in imagination most terrorists are, because there's lots of ways to cause carnage and massive economic loss but they don't do them because either they don't know how (being just normal people without wider knowledge) or lack the capabilities i.e. it is just 3 of them and none of them know how to sail.
However I am uncomfortable discussing this sort of thing online for all sorts of reasons.

182:

This is effectively a slave economy, with command and control style production. We know that is neither sustainable nor efficient compared to other economic models.

Yes. I'm not advocating it, you know! I think it's a horrible system, both morally and in utilitarian terms: evil and inefficient.

However, there are interest groups who would stand to make a great deal of money from such a system. And in the USA today, money is political speech, according to the supreme court: they can buy all the representation they need.

183:

Aren't we forgetting the Marshall Plan when talking about rebuilding Germany after WWII? What would have happened without it?

Do you have any memory of what city infrastructure was like mid C20th? It was rather different from today. Even with my rose tinted spectacles on, I wouldn't want to live in 1950's London again. But I will say car traffic was light then, nice if you had a car. :)

184:

It was a win for Britain just like Vietnam was a victory for the United States: it all depends whose imperial narrative you buy into.

185:

The Marshall Plan wasn't about rebuilding Germany; it was about getting money circulating in western Europe (and thereby rebooting international trade) after the immediate post-war economic crisis was over. Reconstruction was a side-effect, but the Marshall Plan isn't what most people think it was. (Some useful background reading: "Postwar" by Tony Judt.)

186:

How about fleets of glider sailplane drones for transportation?

With solar cells on the wings and a little help engine (lightweight) freight should be moved as cheap and energy efficient as automatic sailing ships.

That should solve a lot of the road building costs.

(Ideally, the drones would be big enough to transport a container, but that would hardly be realistic. Maybe a small package of a few hundred kilos?)

Since the speed would be low and weather would imply some breaks (automated airports between cities for storms and staying overnight), this is hardly a good solution for passenger traffic.

The society energy problem should be solved in less than 20 years. Either by lots of nuclear power plants being commissioned (or a dark horse like General Fusion) and/or by electricity solar cells getting cheaper. (Solar will probably never work well in e.g. Scandinavia.)

Without a bad lack of energy minimised energy transport might not be critical.

187:

...as we computerize our infrastructure, we make it more vulnerable to hacking. For example, if I hacked into an oil tanker on autopilot (using Charlie's prediction) and steered it to crash under an overpass, the resulting fire could weaken the underpass to the point where it would have to be substantially rebuilt before it could handle traffic again. This may sound farfetched...

I don't think it is farfetched at all. Once you remove smart humans from the loop, it becomes quite easy to do malicious damage. Hacking the auto pilot is one way. Another might be simply dropping nasty objects in the tanker's path. Dropping objects in the path of chains of robot controlled cars is one nightmare I have.

As Scotty once said "the more they overtech[?] the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."

188:

Small nit: will smartphones, aka handheld computers, need to have so much local computing power by 2032? Mobile broadband is a bit of a joke right now but I'd hope that by 2032 it will be a solved problem, enabling thin clients which will last a lot longer than one day between charges.

And a nit with your nit: as much as we're trying to make everything including your toaster run high-speed wireless these days, it's really not that useful when everyone in a densely populated area is trying to do it at once. The soundbite answer is that there's limited bandwidth. We're actually doing some very clever things to squeeze every little bit of data into the signals, but in the end there's only so much electromagnetic spectrum, much of it is unsuitable for various reasons, and some of what could carry computer data is already full of other signals. On the other hand, cables have some advantages: your end-user pipe is all yours, they don't interfere with the next cable over, and if the system is getting full you can run more wires.

So my guess is that in 20 years we'll have much improved infrastructure for a scheme not wholly unlike what we've got today: short-range wireless to local hubs that plug into data cables, comparatively low speed long-range wireless when you really need it (rural areas, wilderness, on boats, etc), and high-speed hard connections for stationary computers such as your desktop machine at home.

Hopefully your phone will switch seamlessly and automagically between modes and services to keep you connected without needlessly inflating your phone bill, but that's a design issue not a technical challenge.

189:

What might the prosperity of Europe have been like had we avoided the Great War of 1914 to whenever?

If not actually rich enough and with enough spare population to defend the various colonial possessions, at least rich and populous enough to give it a really good try. The 20th century might have been the story of the British Empire, French and Germans warring against the rest of the world.

190:

I seriously doubt it. The road use comes in getting stuff from the container port to the distribution depot, then from the distibution depot to the local store.
And you'll replace that with flying machines that can lift a ton or three? And how many thousands would you need for even a small part of the USA, even assuming consumption decreases?
I seriously doubt it is a good solution for anything except delivery of small valuable stuff over long distances such as medicines. So maybe in Australia.

Regarding energy in Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden anyway have plenty of it from hydro. Finland is building a new nuclear reactor but having problems. Denmark has a lot of wind but I understand still needs some backup from Germany or suchlike. I don't know any details so will stop there.

191:

Greg, as I said in my previous post (and now against my better judgement) I don't want to get into this debate, but it really irks me when some "shouts" at me in caps like some errant school boy, and then gets their facts muddled.

The Provisional IRA did not carry out the horrific attack on Omagh, the vast majority of the Provos had already stopped their terrorist campaign (not their criminal activities I hasten to add). The Real IRA murdered 33 people in Omagh (and yes, I will insist on counting the unborn twins, unlike the official death toll), an extreme splinter group that remains active to this day, including involvement in the murder of a policeman and two soldiers in the last couple of years.

I'm also not sure about your comment regarding "loosing hit men"; but their grass roots support had dwindled significantly from the heights of the 70s and 80s (a much bigger factor in their decision to cease active terrorism, I suspect).

192:

Re: hacking an oil tanker.

It's not like you couldn't do that now- just hijack the thing. Dump the driver's body in the back of the cab and keep on truckin'.

Of course, with the hack you could hijack _all_ of the trucks at once...

193:

True. But US truckers are often big guys and able to defend themselves from hijackers. Computerized hijacking would be physically easier and safer. I could see kids tormenting such systems until a human operator was put in the loop. If rigs are controlled as RPVs for off highway travel, again there is the possibility of gaining control of the vehicle.

In a world of increasing camera surveillance, it makes a lot of sense to attempt disruptive/criminal acts via anonymous computers.

Think "Rule 34" type events on a vast scale that would overwhelm any law enforcement or security effort.

194:

According to this exile article (Can you tell I like the site?), the London bombings were actually a great strategic victory. It's hard not to agree, considering what Martin McGuinness is doing today, and what is in his CV (Current deputy prime minister, former provisional IRA leader)

195:

I think you're confusing time scales. Give me 100-200 trained soldiers, and I can take down the west coast of the US, simply by blowing up aqueducts, freeway overpasses, and power lines. That will cut off energy, water, and food for millions of people. This has been true since the eighties or before (and I'm depending on an old analysis by G. Gordon Liddy, plus my training for an emergency response team)

The problem isn't doing it; it's "doing it without getting caught". Remember that you have the full weight of the state (police as well as armed forces; civil service; intelligence services) devoted to finding who and what - and the standard of proof doesn't need to be sufficient for a criminal conviction. If any one of your 100-200 trained soldiers gets detected infiltrating, carrying or employing explosives/weapons, or exfiltrating; then any "small nation-state attempting asymmetric warfare" will get a very sharp lesson in symmetric response - which defeats the whole purpose of the action.

How does it get 200 men into another country? How much explosive do you need to equip them? How do you distribute truckloads of demolition equipment around the Eastern US? How much HE is required in order to deny a freeway bridge for a week? It's quite "Die Hard 3", but logistics is everything...

As for non-state actors, the past decade has seen a lot of very well resourced, very intelligent, very determined, and rather evil individuals attempting to cause mass damage to Western states. Correspondingly, there have been greater resources devoted to countering such threats. Apart from 9/11, the terrorists have been comparatively unsuccessful - although you could argue that the attack on Spain changed Spanish foreign policy.

Getting back on thread, I suspect that national security will be "more of the same" - infrequent terrorist spectaculars, mainstream terrorists discovering that you can achieve more by talking, more politicians with terrorist backgrounds (see: Begin, Mugabe, Adams), more splinter groups that regard any peace as a sellout, and varying levels of domestic security response.

196:

Universities will have dissolved into research facilities on the one hand and communal living co-ops on the other, forming the model for mini political entities consisting of people with common values living together in a physical space with shared security, energy, food production, etc... but mostly defined by their sports teams.
========
This comment gets my vote for the best yet. Reading the Purdue student newspaper gives the distinct impression that ONLY sports happens here.

197:

...It's hard not to agree, considering what Martin McGuinness is doing today, and what is in his CV...

Except that the IRA achieved exactly none of its strategic aims, after thirty years of trying.

- Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom, and will remain so until it decides otherwise using democratic means.
- The Irish Republic still regards Sinn Fein as a dangerous bunch at best; look at the votes for McGuinness in the Irish Presidential elections.
- The leaders of the Official and Provisional IRA have denounced violence, and bought into democracy.
- Both the Official and Provisional IRA have disarmed, and put (the vast majority of) their weapons "beyond use". The remaining factions (Continuity and Real IRA) are a pale shadow of PIRA.

PS That site is somewhat inaccurate. The LVF, Shankhill Butchers, et al were a nasty bunch of drug-dealing criminal psychopaths; not a countergang formed by the Security Forces. Until the 1990s, the biggest gun battle in Northern Ireland had been between the British Army and the UVF...

198:

cirby @ 166
I didn't realise that water-turbine mini-generation was going well - we never hear of it.
See later post suggesting that wind-turbines are not as good as you claim ... erm.

paws4thot @ 168
We got them to leave us alone - the war was started (IIRC) by the Afghans invading what is now Pakistan, and generally stirring things up.
They were persuaded to do otherwisw - which was what we wanted

Transporting heavy loads:
For anything over 20/50 miles RAIL or canal.
100tonne wagons are common, 25 t per axle, up to 30 wagons per train, even in the UK.
Light-van distribution thereafter.

Dave @ 191
Corrections noted - thanks.

Nestor
Don't do that again, or I shall get personal.
I really don't like anyone who deliberately plants bombs against civilian targets, in time of peace, and I don't care why their lying excuses are.
And the article is wrong, anyway - whether deliberately so, or not I don't know.
And ... the IRA were forced to the table - because both sides in both the N & S of Ireland had had enough of their shit.

199:

Slightly off topic, but I just realized how the Germans will win WWIII.

See, the Germans control a large part of the luxury car market (BMW, Audi, Rolls Royce through BMW, Mercedes, etc) and a good part of the lorry industry (Mercedes).

When autopilots become standard features in luxury cars and lorries, the Germans ship them all with back doors built in, so they could hack them at will

Then, when they're ready to strike, they hack into their luxury cars and take control. Everyone in a car, from King Charles the Plant Talker in his bespoke Bentley on down to that mouth-breathing middle manager in his new Beamer, all of them would be hostages and potential suicide bombs. Heck, with electronic windows and door locks, they probably couldn't even get out of their cars. It would bring the UK to its knees.

Since even Jaguar and Land Rover are now foreign-owned (by India), it's not like the UK has the capability of securing its own car infrastructure.

Just think: if the old Axis powers reunited in this nefarious plot, they could gridlock every city in the world.

Good thing no one's planning to make cars self-driving. Or are they....

200:

As instigator of this digression, and before the moderators step in, I'm going to suggest that we drop the NI analysis -- I do have a response to what else was said here, but in the interests of getting back on topic I'm not posting it.

201:

Greg @198: Sorry for the slightly waspish post. Thanks or the acknowledgement.

202:

This is where solar paint can come in handy.

Roads are a necessary evil but don't really contribute positively to economies apart from being part of the distribution infrastructure.

Solar painted road surfaces - despite solar paint's still very low comparative efficiency - would essentially be able to have roads pay for themselves. Even gridlocked highways could be net energy producers.

204:

So US luxury car makers, like GM's Cadillac division should have not so subtle advertising that includes "Our cars are not controllable by the Germans (or Japanese)".

Now if I could just believe they wouldn't allow OnStar to spy on me...

205:

Speaking of which. How long before ALL consumer [electronic] devices, not just computers, will be able to double as bugs, accessible by the "the authorities" and hackers?

206:

Yes, that's true. Since the US government owned GM and Chrysler for a while, I'm *quite certain* (evil grin) that they had some spooks working on chip design. Just to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen, of course. Good thing the US government are the good guys, isn't it?

207:

"there will be famines and food price spikes caused by investors speculating on food price futures. (This has already happened; I'm predicting more of it unless we impose tougher controls on global food futures trading)."

Charlie, you ought to back this up or retract it. The evidence we have is that futures trading reduces price volatility, not increases it. What can cause price spikes is physical hoarding, but that's impractical on a global scale (it is an argument against the local food movement, though).

Tim Worstall gives a real-world example.

208:

Hopefully your phone will switch seamlessly and automagically between modes and services to keep you connected without needlessly inflating your phone bill, but that's a design issue not a technical challenge.

No, that's a marketing issue, which is why it hasn't been solved already.

209:

Regarding microhydro, if the mods and Charlie will allow me a paragraph or two:

I am not an expert and all that. But I have in my library a book called "Small scale water power" by Dermot McGuigan, first published 1978, which explains and discusses the use of micro-hydro, and turbines such as water wheels (Made of wood or fibreglass), the Pelton impulse wheel, the Turgo impulse wheel, the Cross flow turbine and the Francis turbine. Also other things like dams, fish passes, silt traps etc.

Now it was published from one of those small presses you never hear about, but it is a simple enough book and subject that I really think the only barrier to wider spread microhydro is simply a lack of knowledge.
Online I can even find a company called Energy Systems and Design, who claim to have been doing microhydro since 1980. And a number of other companies offering similar services.
Actually proving that it is a mature technology is a bit out of my reach, but it gives every appearance of being so to me.

I also make no claims to wind turbines being the absolute bee's Knee's. But I do say they are a useful addition to the energy mix. Furthermore, what we want to avoid is being bounced into a hasty nuclear program where the politicians say
"Oops, we need to do a crash program, so we'll do it by shovelling lots of subsidies into the giant maw of the companies which have been consuming massive subsidies for years and years already. Can I have my seat on the board now please?"

210:

I tend to agree with you on this. Indeed, Krugman said much the same during the oil price spike (although I think he was missing where the oil was being stored).

However, these financial firms are getting tricky. GS has been rigging the metals markets by buying the storage facilities and controlling inventory releases. So yes storage is the key factor, but the "free market" is being very much manipulated by adding a lot of artificial friction to the movement of metals.

It wouldn't wouldn't surprise me if they started thinking about this with non-perishable foods, like wheat and corn.

Now to be truly evil, you manufacture a lot of bogus lawsuits against farmers/granaries to prevent their crops from being sold as they have "illegal" DNA in them. This creates artificial shortages (and eventual gluts if not destroyed?) that benefits the speculator. Throw in a company like ADM, and you have some serious potential mayhem. So use of IP to manipulate the food markets.

211:

Since I’m one who enjoys looking at the world “through a glass darkly,” here are just two of the many possible unpleasant future scenarios:

A cabal of .1 percenter Malthusians (see Ted Turner) unleashes an engineered super-virus designed to dramatically reduce the global population and reverse the devastating environmental impact of 7+ billion largely unemployable rapacious apes. Their “final solution” is wildly successful; after the smoke clears, the conspirators and their descendents live happily ever after in a depopulated world as the one percent lords of automated, solar-powered agricultural/industrial fiefdoms.

In desperate need of resources and farmland for their huge populations, new Asian and Middle Eastern powers re-colonize Africa and seize huge tracts of territory. This 21st century colonialism dispenses with crude 19th century methods, using robots and targeted viruses to depopulate the most desirable areas in preparation for colonization by their people. Resource wars between the new empires and the remnants of the Western powers turn Africa into a battleground unlike anything seen before in history.

In general, I expect the 21st century to be characterized by Malthusian catastrophes and Darwinian struggles, *biological* as opposed to *ideological* struggles, as human population overshoot combines with technological prowess to produce horrors compared to which those of the 20th century were just a little preview. And of course I haven’t even mentioned the other evolutionary struggle which could be much worse, the war to stop the “rise of the machines” and the total obsolescence of humanity.

212:

Religion is hard to predict because the fate of any church or religious organization is linked to very chaotic dynamics involving economics, politics, social change, and even foreign policy. Consider the case of Cao Dai, a syncretist religion founded in Vietnam in the 1920's. By the 1950's it was the fastest growing religion in the world, such that Fred Pohl wrote an SF novel (Slave Ship) then about a world war between the western democracies and a Cao Dai militant church that had conquered all of Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. And yet back in the real world, because they backed the wrong horse in the Vietnam War and were outlawed by the revolutionary government after the fall of Saigon, by the 1990's when they were again legalized, the church had lost all momentum and in fact shrunk to less than 110 of its peak size.

But some of the trends of the existing large religions will probably hold. Africa and South America are the new loci of growth for the Roman church and for some evangelical Protestant churches because Western Europe has become increasingly secular (and even hostile to organized religion, largely as the result of overreaching on the part of the Roman church in the aftermath of the abuse and other scandals). Countries whose legal and political structures were heavily influenced by a church 2 or 3 generations ago like Ireland, Spain, Italy, and France have become secular in fact if not in name. So the churches are looking elsewhere for their zealots.

Eastern Europe, in contrast, has gone through a renaissance of religion with the removal of the outright repression after the fall of the Soviet Union. I think this is a rebound effect that will swing back over the next generation or so. By 2032 organized religion in the former Soviet bloc will be fighting against a secularization similar to that of Western Europe a generation ago, especially if the current wave of corrupt and authoritarian governments allies with the churches leaving both in the crosshairs of reform movements.

Islam is nowhere near as monolithic as many Westerners seem to believe, but I expect it be even less so as the Saudi oil starts to run out and the flow of money and enabling covert support to the Wahabi militants decreases. If the current ferment in North Africa and Arabia in fact leads to more democratic societies, we will probably see more Islamist societies in the region, but they won't be as militant as the Islamist activists may want. On the other hand, Islam in Asia, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia, will probably become more militant.

The political situation in the Middle East is of course strongly affected by religion and by religious bigotry. In the long term, assuming that there are no nuclear wars there before 2032 (e.g, ., between Iran and Israel, or Iran and the predominantly Sunni Arab states), I expect a bipolar geopolitical situation between Iran and some coalition of Arab states, with Israel as an irritant for both sides. Somewhere between now and then one of the superpowers, either the US or China, may give (or cause to have given) nuclear weapons technology to Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Egypt, in an attempt to create a deterrent against Iran.

213:

Now to be truly evil, you manufacture a lot of bogus lawsuits against farmers/granaries to prevent their crops from being sold as they have "illegal" DNA in them.

I'm surprised not to have yet heard of lawsuits against clumsy genetic engineering firms from farmers who have had manipulated DNA sneak into their crops. A class action suit of organic farmers against Monsanto seems to be the obvious undropped shoe, yet it hasn't gone thud yet.

214:

It may be the conspiracy theorist in me coming out, but I would not be surprised to find out that the Bio Fuel from Corn subsidy imposed by the US Congress a few years ago that so drastically warped the animal feed market was a deliberate attempt by some eminence grise in the futures market to cause a shortage and make a lot of money.

215:

I had, but I expected that Monsanto would use its financial muscle and political connections to tip the scales in its favor. Maybe a good class action lawsuit win will change the dynamic.

Either way, a knowledgeable speculator could make killing.

Hmm, perhaps not a bad plot for John Grisham.

216:

A cabal of .1 percenter Malthusians (see Ted Turner) unleashes an engineered super-virus designed to dramatically reduce the global population and reverse the devastating environmental impact of 7+ billion largely unemployable rapacious apes.

I see you've read Rainbow Six; the interesting parts would really be the aftermath, when the survivors came after the instigators. For example, consider all the unoccupied automatic factories that could be turning out garage-kit cruise missiles, if only there were some motivated person on site with a grudge and no oversight...

...using robots and targeted viruses to depopulate the most desirable areas...

Again, very interesting. Did you know most of humanity's genetic variation is still in Africa? As opposed to, for example, Asia - which has a much more limited genetic variation and lots of densely populated cities. An exchange of biological weapons would be best viewed from a distance, preferably the moon.

217:

Except that the IRA achieved exactly none of its strategic aims, after thirty years of trying.

That's not really true, if you look at it from a human rights point of view. Leaving aside the maximalist demands that the political movement used to stake out its territory -- nobody goes into negotiations asking for only what they actually want, they ask for the moon on a stick and negotiate down -- the real sore point was the violent initially-state-supported suppression of a civil rights movement in NI. (Because the machinery of the state in NI had been co-opted by the rival sectarian group, who then used it to stonewall any move towards Catholic emancipation.)

By the early 1990s, the overt exclusion of Catholics from the social and political life of NI was effectively over. Compare the demographic make-up of the PSNI with the (now disbanded) RUC if you want a graphic example: the cop that the Real IRA murdered a couple of years ago was Catholic.

218:

Somewhere between now and then one of the superpowers, either the US or China, may give (or cause to have given) nuclear weapons technology to Saudi Arabia, Syria, or Egypt, in an attempt to create a deterrent against Iran.

Why bother, when there's Pakistan? Sunni, increasingly militant, developed their own nukes.

219:

I think we're all agreed that, short of a world-wide apocalypse, genetic engineering is going to be a powerful, mature technology by 2092. It occurs to me that this could lead to attempts to either breed back or to create by gene manipulation, many of the species that will go extinct in this century. Of course this will be done selectively, with choice of species to be resuscitated often based on the whims or prejudices of politicians and managers rather than careful ecological analysis. There's a real potential for ecological mistakes on the order of the introduction of rabbits to Australia, the accidental spread of zebra mussels to the North American Great Lakes, or the release of Japanese Beetles in American forests.

I can see a few such accidents resulting in the formation of an international police organization dedicated to preventing such attempts at species restoration. Reminds me of the fear of pink and green goo among the robots of Saturn's Children.

220:

Since politicians are not bound by insider trading laws, you might want to start there. Did congress people on the right committees for the ethanol production laws get rather large campaign contributions from the usual suspects in the [investment] banking industry?

I tend to think not, because I think the push was coming from the farm lobby (it would raise corn prices for farmers) and from the VCs who wanted to fund biofuel facilities, e.g. Kleiner Perkins. The VCs made a huge mistake on that one (so far). I personally think algal biofuels are a far better 2nd generation biofuels bet, with Venter's company making some good progress.

There are all sorts of ways of manipulating the food market through 2nd order effects. What about buying up/controlling water rights for farmland? Rising food futures prices pay for the water rights? In CA, if you could control the army corps of engineers, you could control the canal irrigation water for the central valley and hence the crop production. Right now the Chinese demand for pecans has driven up the price 3x (?) in 12 months. What about creating excess demand for such products and profiting from the inevitable price rise? There are forward contracts for pecans, but no futures yet. Will the CFTC create one soon? You could easily control the market through storage or owning shelling companies.

221:

Apropos nothing, I read "Rainbow Six" and found it hysterically (if unintentionally) funny. I think I can be fairly sure that Tom Clancy doesn't (or didn't) know any environmental or animal rights activists when he wrote it ...

222:

Just to add another point about future agriculture:

Germany has turned from a grain exporter to grain importer (giggle translated, but readable), due to excessive production of biofuels.

I think it is not unreasonable to predict that by 2032 biofuels will be outlawed internationally (except for those derived from sewage and other waste) and environmentalists face some very uncomfortable questions regarding their wilful ignorance of the global famine caused by this practice. In 2010, the worst Russian drought in a century caused a loss of 10mio tons of wheat, supposedly causing a global shortage. In the same year, 140mio tons of maize were burned as ethanol in the USA alone, about 100mio tons of wheat could have been raised on the same acreage of land ...

According to the FAO, some 100-200 million people more go hungry since 2007-8 than a decade ago, before the bio-craze went out of bounds. The annual mortality rate of malnourished people that can be attributed to their lack of nutrition is about 2%. Millions have died already. It is a veritable food-holocaust.

(The term "Holocaust" - complete burning - has never been more appropriate, the 1940ies genocide notwithstanding. The number of victims is unfortunately already comparable in magnitude. Given the current enthusiasm over the practice, the great leap forward could easily be equalled within this decade!)

223:

San Francisco took longer to respond to Loma Prieta than LA did to Northridge because San Francisco took the opportunity to rearchitect a good deal of the arterial traffic flow of the city, rather than rebuilding in-place with better seismic engineering. (Add to that the fact that doing anything to the Bay Bridge is a logistical nightmare.)

But the city didn't even stop attracting new occupants, much less actually shrink or have it's economy even slow it's growth.

224:
Why bother, when there's Pakistan? Sunni, increasingly militant, developed their own nukes.

Pakistan is preoccupied with India. That could change over time, but if we're talking about powers from outside the region trying to set up a deterrent for Iran, I don't think any of the likely players would be willing to trust Pakistan for the job. Certainly the US won't, given the worsening relationship between the US and Pakistan. It will be interesting to see how Russia's interest in maintaining power in the region plays out versus China's interest in oil from Iran.

225:

Dave @ 201-2
As I've said before the successive slow train-wreck that was Irish politics 1882 (ish) ... 1923 reflects well on no-one.
What a disaster!

Robot Apocalypse @ 211
"Water Wars" in other words ??

Charlie @ 217
the cop that the Real IRA murdered a couple of years ago was Catholic.
Precisely! "He was a traitor to both causes" in their warped eyes.
For another, not quite so bad example of this see the case of the only N Irishman to get a VC in WWII, or the appalling treatment handed out to S Irish who fought the Nazis, by De Valera .

226:

Charlie,

On epidemics, I agree in general but not entirely in specifics. I'm much more optimistic about TB than you: the drug development pipeline for TB is currently better than it has ever been before, with new compounds in clinical trials that have different mechanisms than any existing ones. I think TB will remain curable for most cases and treatable to dramatically reduce contagion in most of the rest, at least if we have the money and public health institutions to provide treatment.

On a bacterial level I'm most worried about the potential return of the pneumococcus, the "captain of the men of death". Strep. pneumoniae is aggressive, easily transmissible, and used to be uniformly susceptible to penicillin, but not any more. It's susceptible to lots of antibiotics in vitro, but there's not much that's sufficiently rapidly bactericidal to stop it in vivo (and while the new variants are called "pencillin-resistant", the resistance is like MRSA, extending to beta-lactams in general).

227:

" I think I can be fairly sure that Tom Clancy doesn't (or didn't) know any environmental or animal rights activists when he wrote it..."

Yeah, the ones in Clancy's books aren't anywhere NEAR as crazy as most of the Earth Firsters or ALF folks I've run into.

That includes some actual Voluntary Human Extinction Movement people - and a couple of those seriously think VHEMT should lose the "V".

Yes, there really are people out there who are that freaking insane. Just be thankful that the really dedicated ones are so anti-technology that they can't do any real damage. Yet.

228:

Iran's grievances go back to Alexander the Great and the destruction of Persepolis.

229:

there really are people out there who are that freaking insane. Just be thankful that the really dedicated ones are so anti-technology that they can't do any real damage.

That was my point. Anyone who's devoted to those ideologies to the extent he described would be incapable of taking the action he ascribed to them, much less being willing to go in that direction (diametrically opposite to everything they believed in for 30 years). It's sort of like expecting Jewish nationalists in 1918 Germany to deliberately found the Nazi party and invent the Holocaust with the long-term goal of fuelling support for Israel. No. Just, no. Any such who were willing to take up arms tended to go to Palestine and join Jabotinsky.

There's a peculiar failure mode ideologues sometimes fall into, of assuming that their enemies are so brilliant, ferocious and dedicated that they will in fact sneakily infiltrate the ranks of their hated enemies and work from within with efficiency and elan over a period of decades. It tends to result in witch hunts, but it's virtually never true (in the absence of an actual state actor with the resources and willingness to train and support moles).

230:

"Oh, and lorries - they damage roads far more than cars, it's something like squared because of their size, not a linear relationship."

Actually it's a fourth power relationship based upon axle load. Roughly, one lorry does the same amount of damage as a 100,000 cars.

(source: Civil Engineer/Bridge designer of my aquaintance).

231:

For the people who don't get the joke at the centre of that weird thread topic shift, take a gander at this clip from the Deadliest Warrior AKA That Tasteless Terrorist Five-Aside Show:

http://youtu.be/sGJWiGOTZmY

No I don't know why they're fighting it out in a car park, maybe both sides were just going off for a bit of gay terrorist dogging.

ANYWAY, the problem the notion that autopiloted planes have with no human being in the loop is that you'd presumably have some sort of equivalent of air traffic control, and the automated transport systems would all be designed to have as few external inputs as possible (for the most part automated transports will just need an input at the start of the journeys when they are sent out to pick stuff up to tell them what to pick up and where to then take it) - you don't need the damn things to be constantly wi-fi connected* except in emergencies, and then you'd have the transports just do an automatic safe parking/landing procedure and cry for help from a ground crew.

Though the one situation you might need some sort of constant and remotely hackable communication from the transports is if instead of large planes with lots of cargo containers and trucks, just have flocks of self organising Helios-esque solar powered (or remote beam charged+battery combos for more northerly climbs) who swoop in in groups and pick up the regular intermodal contains using some equivalent of the Fulton Surface-to-Air Recovery System.

Which would be pretty amazing thing to watch, down by the docks in the future.

* There is the attack vector whereby you feed them Spoof GPS signals, though I'm pretty sure that's either not possible or not reproducible easily over multiple targets

232:

Thanks, that sounds right.


On the wiping everyone out side of things, wasn't that a side story in a Bruce Sterling novel, that a billionaired was genetically engineering himself, relatives and some others to be proof against all human diseases whilst planning on later releasing a plague to kill everyone else?

233:

Not Bruce Sterling; Greg Egan.

234:

Ah, thanks, I was getting confused. I must have read that maybe 10 years ago?

235:

Most of the entirely legitimate aims of NICRA in the late 60s have come to pass; but equal rights were achieved in other countries without thirty-year terrorist campaigns. Note that NICRA was not an IRA front, it was a genuine civil-rights organisation.

While I agree with your point about the start points for negotiation, Irish Republican politics have often been run by absolutists rather than negotiators. Consider the Irish Civil War of the 1920s; or the readiness of the INLA and Provisional IRA to murder each other. The Continuity and Real IRA are most insistent that they were splitting because the aims of PIRA had not been achieved.

Claiming that PIRA had human rights as a strategic aim rather collapses when you consider their treatment of "antisocial elements within the community" - joyriders being kneecapped / breeze blocked, etc. They piggybacked onto NICRA (or more correctly, onto the growing anger in response to the behaviour of the B Specials) in the same way that you can see with any political organisation desperate to gain support; the SWP tries it, the EDL tries it.

236:

I don't want you to get the idea that I support the [pcr]IRA; they're murderous ass-holes.

But it would be a mistake to pretend that their mass support wasn't based on a very real sense of grievance held by an entire ethnic community.

237:

Hate to rain on your optimism, and I know Wired isn't always the most reliable source but... Totally drug resistant TB in India.

238:

Does it matter? A piece of electronics most people carry on their person most waking hours of the day, and have within several feet of them most non-waking hours, is already pretty much the ultimate bug, with camera, microphone, GPS and cellular data access. heheh

239:

Bruce Cohen writes:

The current mad rush into the cloud is likely to result in a few highly-publicized incidents of infrastructure failure, data loss, and/or damage due to malicious attack. Depending on how bad the outcome of those incidents is, there may be long-term effects on the most successful technology

It's already happened in a very significant way, and the phone industry sashayed aside into largely solidly distributed models as a result. It's sinking out of public consciousness already, however.

240:

Don't worry, I understand - and rather agree with your point about mass support. If you want to see me grind my teeth, make me watch an Orange March. That's why the key part of defeating the IRA was to improve the lot of the RC community, and to remove their legitimacy. It's also why the IRA attacked anyone making steps towards a more legitimate state; targetting Cathloic policemen and soldiers, attacking Catholic workers who took on Government contracts.

There were all sorts of efforts (e.g. supporting the DeLorean production facility, guaranteeing insurance payouts against terrorist damage) to create jobs across the community, because once you have a credible equality policy - in this case including taking power away from Stormont, and governing directly from Westminster - you can start to cut down the number of angry and aggrieved people in the population.

By 2032, I can still see some angry young people fed propaganda at their parents knees; hopefully we'll see increased use of social media making it harder to demonise "those who are somehow different", and harder to intimidate, discriminate, or attack without publicity. I can hope, after all...

241:

The winning endgame for someone with a large, powerful enemy (One known to have a long memory) for a neighbour probably requires said enemy to think it has won.

Don't do that again, or I shall get personal.

I beg your pardon?

Posting a link to an article doesn't mean I susbscribe 100% to all it's arguments, and Dolan is entertainingly anti-british, and his war nerd persona affects a certain amoral style to the conflicts he reviews.

Sorry if this is a personal issue for you, I guess!

242:
I don't want you to get the idea that I support the [pcr]IRA; they're murderous ass-holes.

Also, this.

Of course.

243:

Jay writes:

Just to add a detail: as a chemist who has given it some serious thought, I think the best approach to storing hydrogen is to make anhydrous ammonia (NH3).

Too toxic.

In case you think this is overcomeable... The bulk of serious professionals rule out *methanol* - which we can make from any random cellulose fiber now in bulk cheaply - due to its toxicity. Absent its toxicity it's almost the absolute technical winner as a biofuel for everything but airplane fuel, since it doesn't involve any dipping into human-consumable calories to make it, in fact can use waste products thereof.

Ammonia is produced in bulk and used in bulk now, primarily as industrial fertilizer. Out in the country, away from large quantities of people, enclosed parking lots, and garages, etc. It's not used as a refrigerant much anymore due to the number of release / poisoning accidents it had in enclosed spaces before. Even with the CFC refrigerants ban, it has not come back as a refrigerant. It won't make it back as a fuel for the same reason.

244:

Actually, if you watch Food, Inc., you'll see a farmer being sued by Monsanto, not because he's using RoundUp Ready soy beans (he's one of the very few in his state who do not), but because he owns a soybean sorter.

This gizmo used to be common on soybean farms, and the farmers used it to sort out which of their beans would be used to plant the field the next year. This old farmer still uses his, and plants his soy the old fashioned way.

According to Monsanto, ownership of a sorter is tantamount to piracy, because some of their patented genes *might* have accidentally be introduced into his field as pollen. Therefore he's a gene pirate, and therefore he should be sued.

Gotta love Monsanto's logic. You've also got to love the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas used to work for Monsanto, so if this case gets appealed to the Supreme Court, you can guess which way he might vote (unless he recuses himself, which is something he didn't do in Bush V. Gore if I recall rightly...).

245:

There's a lot of the usual Tom Clancy unintentional humour in that book. Stuff never works in the field like it does in the manufacturer's catalogue.

I can believe in the book's idea of a super-effective special forces operation because those guys really work hard at being like that, but the real guys expect things to go wrong.

246:

I think this kind of stuff calls for a new genre: techno-fantasy.

247:

You mean, sort of like how South Korea attempted to lease most of Madagascar, which lead to the ouster of the Madagascar government that tried to make that deal?

China and South Korea are making colonial inroads in Africa right now. The part where it gets interesting is that more Africans are wired in, and some few of them appear to have heard of the Arab Spring and similar movements. Rather more probably have heard of Wangari Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in Kenya (she helped bring down Moi through a tree-planting program, of all things).

My personal guess is that Chinese colonialism in Africa will be more like France's experience in Indochina (or Japan's experience in South Korea), and less like England's experience in Australia. What I hope is that China (and South Korea's) experience will follow the British Empire's 20th Century experience in India, repeated over and over and over again.

248:

"Actually it's a fourth power relationship based upon axle load. Roughly, one lorry does the same amount of damage as a 100,000 cars.

(source: Civil Engineer/Bridge designer of my aquaintance)."

The US General Accounting Office did a study that showed about 9,600 times the wear - but only for fully-loaded trucks (80,000 pounds on five axles). Trucks that are below the max weight do much, much less damage to highways. Dropping from 16,000 pounds per axle to only 10,000 pounds (a fairly typical load) drops the damage a lot.

On the other hand, overweight trucks do a truly disproportionate amount of damage to roads, and they supposedly account for about 15% of truck traffic on highways. The US could save an incredible amount of wear and tear on roads by merely enforcing highway weight limits - in some areas, literally cutting maintenance costs in half.

Of course, a lot of that damage could also be prevented by engineering more highways to better standards - a slightly thicker road base and a heavier surface increases the load limits dramatically. Want to make roads last an extra 50 years? Just make them three inches thicker, and use harder concrete.

249:

"releasing a plague to kill everyone else?"

Swapping out phlebotinum, that's the plot to Moonraker, the 1979 James Bond film.

250:

Your 80,000 pounds works out at about 36 metric tonnes. Here in Europe we seem to be standardising on trucks around the 40 or 44 tonne mark. Of course they won't always be full, but simple economics dictate that they will be nearly full for half the journey at least.
I suspect that our roads are on average better built than yours.

Re. Africa, I thought from what i've read that Chinese colonialism was more of the "Nice farm, here's money to grow lots of crops and ship them to us" sort. Which is great until the locals starve and raid the export farm. Or you can't afford to import the food in the first place.

Just another thought re. food - we may well see more attempts at using human sewage as fertiliser. Whether through separate toilets for solids and waste, more differentiating between simple home sewage and stuff with industrial bits in it. Actually I vaguely recall we discussed that here a while back, but cannot recall the conclusion.

251:

What about the impact of a surge in prizes (similar to the X or Millenium prize) replacing the patent system, especially wrt to the delivery of low cost drugs to the developing world.

It might be a little hard to get off the ground due to vested interests, but if the WHO or other supra-national body were to offer up (multi billion dollar) prizes to the first company to produce a patent free / low cost medical solution to some of the killer diseases, then you'd have a targeted capital driven health solutions framework.

cirby @ 117
There's no waste of power/resources with a disintegrator/MC pair. All chemical reactions are time /energy symmetric, efficiently so at that level of resolution. And one reason you may want to destroy the crockery at the end of a meal is to conserve space. How small does your kitchen need to be if its only storing food? How large can you kitchen afford to be when you're sharing your city with 20M other people?

252:

"There's no waste of power/resources with a disintegrator/MC pair. All chemical reactions are time /energy symmetric, efficiently so at that level of resolution."

Are you sure about that? I've never seen that claim backed up by much more than handwaving in some nanobabble scenarios in books, and never with a real justification. You're bordering on "free energy" theories with that one, I'd think.

The storage issue isn't one. Even if you have a tiny kitchen, the amount of space needed for a set of dishes is pretty miniscule. People like to own things, too - and "my dishes" are a pretty primal part of that feeling.

253:

It's interesting to consider how the Anabaptist 'plain sects' may fare in the coming decades. The Amish population has doubled every twenty years or so over the last century, and if this trend continues, there will be a little over half a million of them living in North America by 2032, with the majority still living in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio, but perhaps most of the lower 48 states having some Amish presence. If self-driving cars are on the roads by this time, they will hopefully have flexible enough programming to let them deal with a car-sized buggy that travels at less than ten mph.

Solar power has become quite popular among some of the more progressive Amish groups over the last few years, since one or two panels serve their modest energy needs, mostly charging 12-volt batteries, and this may have spread to even fairly conservative groups by 2032, especially if hydrocarbon fuels become more expensive.

Surprisingly, the Amish may not be an exception to Charlie's prediction that 'everyone' will be on the net. However, most may still not own computers, instead using fax machines to receive and send email. This technology has been developed within the last five or so years, originally to allow elderly people without computers to receive emails from younger relatives, and has been adopted for business purposes by some Amish and Mennonites.

Speaking of Mennonites, it is possible that by 2032, the advent of technologies such as self-driving cars may be in the progress of causing church schisms between modernists and traditionalists, just as the car itself did in the early 20th Century.

254:

I think the biggest danger now is people who are stuck without hope of a job. Andrew Carnegie and Karl Marx both saw loss of jobs as trouble. For instance the scorned 30's German Republics were doing better than most of the rest of the world till the American depression kicked the jobs down. Then came Hitler. Marx believed a basic income would be needed. As I remember, President Nixon was talking about it. There were a lot of hard studies about it in the 70's. Back then it was believed that lots of people out of work was not only a bad thing but dangerously Un-American. After years of R/W propaganda we now know that not having taxes is more American. It looks like the top think they can control the next Hitler as they believed in Germany. Jobs would kick start the rest of the economy and make other thing possible. The top .0001% will do anything they can to put the money in their banks.

255:

Iran's grievances go back to Alexander the Great and the destruction of Persepolis.

Well, I suppose... but that's like saying, "Egypt's grievances against Iran go back to Cambyses II".

256:

"You're bordering on "free energy" theories with that one, I'd think".

Not at all. All chemistry reactions are time/energy symmetric. That's high school chem. If the disintegration is an exothermic reaction then you store the generated energy in your battery until you you need to consume it regenerating your dishes the next day. Just like you'll store the reagents.

I think storage is an issue and will become more so. Its not just one set of plates. Conceivably everything in your kitchen (or house) could be generated on the fly. We have a large kitchen and more than 80% of it is dedicated to holding all kinds of food prep and display containers and apparatus.

I like *things* too, but I don't need to surrounded by 100% of them 100% of the time. 3D printers bring the digital realm to matter.

I have 14sqm of library self space double stacked with books. I can't fit any more in my house. I don't plan on buying any more dead trees and I intend on reclaiming that space by donating the books to local libraries. I also don't plan on buying any more CDs, I don't have the wall space for them. I'm happy to have all that content purchased, stored and served up digitally. By 2032 I expect that digital decision will apply to a lot of objects we currently store around the house.

257:

Speaking of Mennonites, it is possible that by 2032, the advent of technologies such as self-driving cars may be in the progress of causing church schisms between modernists and traditionalists, just as the car itself did in the early 20th Century.

Now there's something! Posit a once-per-century disruptive technology, cars for the 20th and computers for the 21st. I'd like to read the story about the Amish facing the early 22nd century's challenge. Space migration? Upload immortality? Nanotechnological fruit and grain manufacture? Genetically engineered chimps as manual farm labor? The nature of the gadget is less important than how people deal with the social upheaval.

258:

Actually, if you watch Food, Inc., you'll see a farmer being sued by Monsanto, not because he's using RoundUp Ready soy beans (he's one of the very few in his state who do not), but because he owns a soybean sorter.

Yes, Monsanto is known for throwing lawyers proactively at people who are not paying them enough money. Such as the fellow in your example who's not doing business with them at all! The lack of a sound case is only a minor issue if you have enough money to subsidize some lawyer-hours and keep people busy throwing paper at each other. (Winning the case would be nice but is quite optional.)

Most US states have laws against such antics, but that just starts up another cycle on the lawyer-go-round. Monsanto has shown a willingness to pour money into its legal department and ignore the churning within.

259:

"In the case of Afghanistan, I don't think that anyone except the Afghans has actually won a war there since the 1850s!"

Or longer, perhaps? After Alexander the Great, were there other outsiders who won wars there?

260:

I've started to think that guaranteed income might actually be something of an advantage to the rich/conservative- because it establishes the limits of burdens of the poor. Just cut your predictable, regular check, and then go off and do wild fun things with the rest of your dough. Buy 'em off, and call it a day.

261:

Not at all. All chemistry reactions are time/energy symmetric. That's high school chem. If the disintegration is an exothermic reaction then you store the generated energy in your battery until you you need to consume it regenerating your dishes the next day. Just like you'll store the reagents.

Most energy from thermodynamically favorable chemical reactions is released as heat, and heat can do a limited amount of useful work. Suppose you crack a polystyrene cup into styrene monomer, then try to recover energy when the styrene monomer polymerizes during the next regeneration cycle. You can't let the polymerization process get too hot, because polystyrene starts to soften/weaken around 100 C. With only a ~80 degree temperature delta between your hot source and cold sink, the theoretical maximum energy recovery from a household fabber is paltry. Real efficiency will be worse.

262:

Yes. Just in the last thousand years, and the people this non-specialist can call to mind, we have Ghengis, Timur, and Babur (his Mughal successors split our Afghanistan with the Shah Safavi's heirs). But none of those empires wanted to completely transform Afghan society from without while simultaneously making it an independent state; they were usually satisfied with raping everything female, killing everything male, stealing everything portable, and then settling down to collect taxes from the stunned survivors.

263:

Actually, they already do this in California and elsewhere.

#1: They use reclaimed sewage water on landscaping. It's the so-called "purple pipe" you see in some cities (look for purple fixtures along highways). It's alkaline (and not potable) and the problem with using it is that it requires a separate purple pipe plumbing system to get the reclaimed water out to landscaping. Whether it makes sense to do this or to make more potable water is one of those really good policy questions that needs to be decided case by case.

#2: For years, Los Angeles and Orange Counties has spread their "Class A biosolids" (sterilized sewage sludge)in Kern County, on fields that grew alfalfa and other crops for cattle feed. So hundreds of tons of sewage does go on farmland every year.

Kern County citizens voted to ban the practice in 2006, and LA county sued in 2011 to overturn the ban (which would have started last year). Kern does have a justifiable concern about groundwater contamination, odors, flies, and similar issues, while Los Angeles has the justifiable concern about where all that crap could go otherwise (it can't be dumped legally in the ocean, for example). The case may go to court soon, although a judge already said that LA was likely to win if they tried the case.

I suspect there are similar stories for major cities throughout the developed world (for example, Madison's failed "Outhouse Springs. Why settle for #2?" bottled water franchise). If you're interested, you can probably get involved in the oversight committees in your city, since not many people have the interest to develop the expertise to deal with this all this crap.

264:

I'm not at all convinced that a US carrier group can survive a swarm attack by 200 70ft torpedo/missile boats, to be honest. I hope there is a Marine helicopter carrier nearby, because they will need a bunch of attack helicopters to deal with swarm attacks. Losing a carrier would be a complete disaster in political and military terms.

I really don't understand the sabre rattling over Iran - it's a medium sized, backwards nation in the arse end of the world which poses no significant threat to the US, yet all the Republican candidates are lining up to start a war, as the last two land wars went so goddamn well. Just leave them alone FFS

265:

How will the timezone differential be handled? One party will have to shift their wake/sleep period pattern to allow "face to face" communication.

The same way it is now. They learn to live on a reversed day night cycle. Just like all the call center and online chat support people do now. Until they can find a better job. And just like in the movie "Out Source" as wages go up the call centers move somewhere else where English speakers are available and cheaper. By the time we get to 2032 India may not be so cheap for such operations.

A friend who hires programmers world wide "likes" that wages in India are 1/3 of what they are in the US. But they are never as productive due to a whole host of factors, both social and technical, and he keeps reminding his bosses that if they do too much of this hiring wages will go up and there aren't many alternatives.

266:

You might be right about the carrier group. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Challenge_2002 for details.

267:

Still, I agree that the last few generations of Americans and Europeans are among the least handy and most helpless people ever to grace the Earth. Our ignorance makes us far more vulnerable than our ancestors were, a few generations back.

Yes. Definitely. I'm 57 and could take apart the engine in my car when 16. It allowed me to buy a cheaper car and maintain it for less than otherwise. My dad also taught me plumbing, carpentry, electrical wiring, and a lot of other practical skills. And now I'm an outlier. At least amongst those who haven't come here from Mexico in the last 20 years. And not this is not jingoistic. We have so many Mexicans who've moved here to do the labor intensive work we have a Mexican consulate a couple of miles from my house to handle all the needs of those living around here.

268:

Gosh. Just noticed that force red was commanded by General Riper. Which I suppose explains everything...

269:

"I hope there is a Marine helicopter carrier nearby, because they will need a bunch of attack helicopters to deal with swarm attacks."

Or guns. You know, like two Phalanx CIWS. Or a couple of 5" guns that fire 20 rounds a minute each. Or a couple of 25mm Bushmaster guns, plus some good old .50 cal machine guns. That's the regular armament of just one Ticonderoga class cruiser.

Frigates have about half that many guns (although most still have 2x Phalanx systems). Things get even more interesting when you notice that the guided missile cruisers and destroyers use the RIM-66 Standard missile - which can also target smaller ships and boats (even the destroyers carry up to 96 of these each).

Then, of course, the carrier itself (the Stennis) has three Phalanx systems plus two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers. Apparently, they've also deployed some extra .50 cal machine guns on the Stennis, too.

Oddly enough, the four guided missile destroyers deployed with the Stennis Carrier Strike Group all have the newer version of the AN/SPY-1D radar, which allows them to target smaller surface targets. Between them, the destroyers carry almost 400 RIM-66 missiles in vertical launch systems. Gee, it's like the US Navy was PLANNING on dealing with a swarm of small targets, all at once...

You should note that of that "200" small boats Iran is supposed to have, the vast majority are in the Boston Whaler size category, and are not suited at all for engagements at sea. Even fairly mild conditions will keep them inshore. Additionally, most of the counts of Iranian surface forces include pre-Iraq War boats - most of which were sunk and not replaced. You only get 200+ if you add in things like Zodiac boats, which really aren't that fast, especially when loaded down and in open ocean.

270:

Want to make roads last an extra 50 years? Just make them three inches thicker, and use harder concrete.

But no one appropriating the money would be running for re-election then. :)

271:

> draconian copyright enforcement legislation that demands infringers be cut off

Unlikely. By 2032 the inherent contradictions of trying to enforce copyright on the internet will be obvious to everyone, and there will be many voters who've grown up with the idea of downloading whatever you want.

272:

By 2032 the inherent contradictions of trying to enforce copyright on the internet will be obvious to everyone, and there will be many voters who've grown up with the idea of downloading whatever you want.


It seems at least as likely that those in a position to choose will keep doubling down on failure until society collapses or the end of time, whichever comes first. If I cut off my nose to spite my face, someone who wants look even tougher needs to cut off his head to spite his torso. See also: War on Drugs.

273:

Yup.

This -- and the Iran nonsense -- highlights a failure mode of democratic systems. A rough consensus on the agenda that needs to be tackled emerges, and then politicians from rival parties get locked into an arms race over who can address the items on that agenda most effectively.

The trouble is, if the agenda itself is badly selected, no politician can admit that in public without courting attack for being "soft on [X]". It takes a cross-party agreement and mass media agreement to call off the hunt.

Iran is important because ... it had oil that was important to the Royal Navy in 1914-18, because it was an excellent oiling base between the British Empire in India (and east Africa) and the [French/British owned] Mediterranean. The USA inherited the British obsession with Iran in the 1940s. In the grand scheme of things today, Iran should be no more of an irritant than Venezuela (which is to say: two-bit oil state that thumbs its nose at the USA, but nobody's proposing to invade Venezuela), but then there was the 1979 mess (which from the Iranian point of view was payback for the 1953 Mossadegh coup engineered by the CIA). Oliver North then proceeded to poison the well by making any hint of actual communication with the Iranian regime stink of treason, and now nobody can progress up the greasy ladder in the State Department without being overtly Tough On Iran.

The War on [some] Drugs proceeds similarly. There's a huge amount of money locked up in fighting it, and lots of people (from prison guards' unions through to police and security agencies) sucking off the teat of the WoD, so any attempt to lighten up on it runs into a concerted propaganda campaign by Harry Anslinger's heirs -- and HA himself was trying to provide job security for his boys in the wake of Prohibition being cancelled.

Sometimes a government on the edge of one of these shibboleths manages to pull back from the brink. It tends to happen during periods of general reform, and in countries that didn't invent the idiocy in the first place: I'm thinking of Portugal on drugs as a prime example. But it's rare, and progressive coalition governments seem to be better at it (more room to manoeuvre and build a cross-party consensus to cancel the arms race).

274:

Most trucking is short-range from railhead to customer doorstep, not truly long-haul except in very odd circumstances -- Charlie will be familiar with the 18-wheeler lorries from Holland that parks across the road from his flat in Edinburgh twice a week delivering fresh flowers to the florist shop there.

Most large trucks are carrying bulky but light materials, such as that flower transporter -- it is a 5-axle vehicle but its fully-loaded weight will be less than 25 tonnes since its cargo is not dense.

The other big truck market is multi-drop curtainsiders which run in a loop picking up and dropping pallets and boxed cargos to multiple customers over a route determined daily. They too rarely run to maximum axle loads even though their trailer's maximum cargo volume of 100 m3 is visibly capacious.

The lorries which breach the weight limits are typically moving earth, stone, agricultural products such as grain or root vegetables etc., high-density materials not on pallets or separately packaged like boxes of cornflakes.

275:

What's really interesting to me is how the "big list o' societal problems" is framed- either it's expressed as a list of good stuff that's desired, or a list of "bad" stuff to be eliminated.

"I want myself, my loved ones, my home and property to be safe" produces different results from "I want criminals thrown in jail to rot or otherwise punished" despite overtly claiming to achieve the same end.

276:

Never mind the whole 'punishment vs society safety' debate.

277:

Bringing to mind that Nietzsche quote: "Beware those in whom the urge to punish is strong."

278:

#184 - In this case, I buy into neither of the claims of the external powers.

#240 Sentance 1 - Will it help any if I point out that King Billy's main backer was the Pope?

#various ref axle loadings and road damage - I don't know the equation, but the 4th power figure refers peak axle loading. Even at relatively low gross vehicle weights, eg 16t on 2 axles, you'll still have a 10t loading on the drive axle, and European trucks are all designed to have higher loadings (typically several t higher) on the drive axle(s) than on steering or "support" axles.

279:

No, transparent to the user DRM is quietly winning the battle, steam, itunes, kindle library, etc allow flexibility, convenience and reliability. Indy artists will survive on the thin gruel of freemium and run to the arms of the mega corporations and their resources once they manage a little notoriety.

280:

The real worry for the US are the Russian Sunburn missiles. Anti-shipping, sea skimming, *supersonic* with terminal evasion to deal with things like Phalanx in the last few seconds before impact. I doubt whether any carrier could survive a dozen of those launched at it simultaneously. Range of 100 miles.
Width of the Straits of Hormuz at its narrowest is around 30 miles.

281:

Which takes us straight to a drone war - how far offshore can a drone carrier sit, launch 50 or a hundred surveillance and attack drones, and then pick off the sunburn launch sites one by one?
Which will then lead to the use of camouflaged hardened bunkers, then we get more of an intelligence and satellite war and so on.

Of course all this is a bit expensive and requires some thought. Certainly more than the bomb Iran people are doing.

282:

@278: No, it doesn't help. Because that leads us down the dangerous and erroneous path of making the problems in NI/Ireland sound like they're all about Protestants vs Catholics -- I doubt that there is anyone at all clued in about the NI Troubles and bigger picture of Irish history that doesn't know particular nugget. It always appears big and controversial when one first discovers it, but if you dig into the background politics it just becomes part of bigger political machinations of the time.

@240: Sadly got to disagree about the use of social media, and in a wider sense the internet as a whole, as an enabler of better understanding and tolerance of different cultures. If you're already open minded and inquisitive you can use social media and the internet to broaden your horizons and understanding in ways that were difficult if not impossible for previous generations; however, if you're being taught to be close minded, insular and suspicious of "the other" in the real world, access to the internet simply allows you to find people who support your view more easily, and forever avoid those who disagree. Just look at how many forums on the internet are echo chambers of a particular mindset and flame-war waste-lands, compared to how many have a genuinely diverse readership and contributors who are willing to engage in civil discussion of topics that they may well wildly disagree on.

On the Iran thing: From what I know (and admittedly, that ain't a whole helluva lot) Iran has been rightly screwed over in the past, may well have some legitimate grievances, and should not occupy the position in geo-politics that it currently does. But on the flip side: It does seem to be pursuing a nuclear weapons program, has stated that it wants to wipe Isreal from the face of the Earth (and they've never been ones for the good ol' "proportionate response", and they've got nukes already), and is ruled by people who genuinely seem to believe that if they sacrifice the entire country in a holy war (or every living person on Earth, for that matter) then not only is it OK, it's practically required of them. I don't think that at this point Iran can be safely ignored, but neither can I imagine what the right (morally or practically) course of action with them is.

283:

"...how far offshore can a drone carrier sit, launch 50 or a hundred surveillance and attack drones, and then pick off the sunburn launch sites one by one? "

That won't work.
The Sunburn missiles are mobile.
You would have to destroy every truck in Iran. And that would still leave camouflaged units dug in somewhere within (say) 50 miles of the coast.
The real question is whether the Russians will supply Iran with more. If the US/Israel attacks Iran I think the answer will be "yes". As the price of oil skyrockets Russia will make a vast amount of money.

284:

Sunburn/Moskit like most missiles in its class is truck-portable, it doesn't need dedicated launch sites which can be targetted before the carrier group goes into the Gulf. Same with Silkworm, Exocet etc. although they are not as capable as Sunburn which can carry a 300kT tacnuke. Spoofing surveillance with dummy launchers etc. is another factor to consider with the possibility of flak traps added to the confusion (i.e. a dummy launcher complex with concealed AA systems sited around it waiting for an attack).

Even a dozen subsonic Silkworms would be bad news for a carrier group but it would take a certain amount of coordination to provide a time-on-target barrage of such missiles and that's difficult to organise and train for.

285:

Greg T, as I understand it, the 'appalling treatment' meted out to those from Eire who fought the Nazis was confined to those who'd _deserted from the Irish armed forces_ to do so. I'm in favour of them getting pensions and compensation, since they were doing the right thing, but states having a go at deserters who enslist in another country's army (especially when State A just won its independence from State B) are not uniquely evil. The UK, for example, fought a war with the USA about it.

286:

Depends what you mean by "appalling treatment". Until recently, the very idea that someone in the family had gone to fight in WWII was considered shameful and barely spoken of in Ireland. Wearing a poppy in certain places in Northern Ireland will still result in, shall we say, unpleasantness.

287:

But on the flip side: It does seem to be pursuing a nuclear weapons program, has stated that it wants to wipe Isreal from the face of the Earth (and they've never been ones for the good ol' "proportionate response", and they've got nukes already), and is ruled by people who genuinely seem to believe that if they sacrifice the entire country in a holy war (or every living person on Earth, for that matter) then not only is it OK, it's practically required of them.

Er, no.

Once you get past the propaganda, what Iran is clearly doing is pursuing a nuclear electricity program -- because they know the oil wells are going to run dry sooner rather than later. They've actually been declaring everything to the IAEA as required under the terms of the NPT, to which they are a signatory. And everything then gets reported with added booga-booga. For example, a disclosure that they are evaluating 44-odd sites for suitability for building a fuel enrichment plant (to produce enriched uranium for reactor fuel -- making HEU for bombs requires a buttload more centrifuge capacity) is reported in the US news media as "Iran building 44 nuclear weapons sites!!!11!!ELEVENTY-PANIC!!!".

The "wiping Israel off the face of the earth thing" is harder to evaluate. You've got to filter out actual state policy from political comments intended for internal consumption; Iran observes some democratic forms, just like the USA, and it's not reasonable to ascribe more weight to such pronouncements than we apply to, say, Rick Perry or Rick Santorum declaring that Iran needs to be bombed into the stone age in the run-up to an election. Not to mention that the frequent "death to X" rhetoric coming out of Iran is to some extent a translation error: in Farsi it's equivalent to the English construct "down with X". How much weight should we therefore attach to it?

Finally, there's no obvious evidence to support your last assertion except that the formative event of the current Iranian Islamic Republic was Iran's equivalent of World War One, in which they were attacked by Saddam Hussein. Who they finally repelled, at a cost of a huge number of lives. Their blood-drenched patriotic zeal is no more exceptional than the obsession the United States has with its own civil war, or the UK's fetish for 1939-45 (the formative myth of the post-imperial British state).

Afterthought: nothing in this rant should be seen as expressing sympathy for the Islamic regime in Iran, which is indeed cruel and blood-drenched, and the political system highly corrupt. But there's a big difference between being cruel and corrupt, and wanting to destroy the world.

288:

Para 1- Ferr ynuff, although ascribing that amount of political/historical knowledge to the average memeber of the "Orange Order" strikes me as a bit of a leap.

289:

Nestor @ 241
You certainly APPEARED (to me) to support the supposed "case" made by some branch of the IRA or other.
If that was NOT the case, then I was wrong.
But it did look that way!

I have never forgotten my first visit to (both parts) of Ireland (1966) - and the culture shock of the religious bigotry and lunacy on both sides - and this was just BEFORE the "recent troubles" you will note.

PS your link @ 242 has gone walkies?

Dave the proc @ 282 has some useful points, though religion is (was) VERY important there.
There has been a huge change, bith N & S since the shooting stopped - helped enormously by the complete implosion of support for that utterly vile organisation, the RC church, in the wake of the child-abuse and Magdalene Laundry etc scandals.
See also separate response below.

@ 258 et al
In this country Monsanto woul be told to eff off in short order. That is "vexatious litigation" and the courts really don't like it.
Also the public press ridicule..
Are big"M" being ridiculed over this in the USA?
And if not, why not?

Dave the proc @ 282
re "Persia" (Iran)
There are obvious faction-fights going on in Iran.
The last thing "we" need to do is give them a "common enemy" (us)
The great majority (I think) don't want any more of this religous extremism shit than we do, and even the religious extremists (from our pov) are split.
The ones to worry about are those whom Dave points out - who want the "13th imam", and claim not to care about casualities - they want the rapture coming of the last prophet ...
The obvious thing to do is to stir up their internal dissentions - the exact opposite of what the idiots in the US are doing.

Chris W @ 285
You forgot, perhaps ...
Eamonn de Valera - a really unpleasant piece of work.
The Nazis BOMBED DUBLIN in (I think) 1941, because they thought Eire was going to declare for the allied side.
EdV did as Adolf had guessed - he grovelled nicely.
When Adolf did himself in, EdV sent a public message of condolence to the Nazi guvmint in its last days.
Nice man.

290:

Thanks for the fascinating predictions Charlie.

I'm not so sure that in vitro cultured meat is ever going to take off in a big way though. At the moment, to get the cells to grow requires lots animal-derived growth factors to be added to the basic culture medium. This currently makes it not a vegetarian option, and also probably places it even higher than cows/chicken/pigs/sheep etc in the dietary food chain. In time it might be possible to synthesise the required growth factors in GM bacteria/yeast but even then, I would have thought that the carbon footprint and cost to produce this at large scale would be similar/more than just rearing animals the natural way.

Unless something unexpected appears, I can only see meat culture being undertaken by "arty-types" who either use their own bodies as the bioreactor and grow a juicy steak as a tumour under their own skin, or extract and store up their own human serum as a source of growth factors to use in culturing meat explants taken from themselves. Neither of which is scalable.

291:

and I agree entirely with Charlie in @ 287
Note the factions and hairsplit divisions, again, please.

292:

Charlie @287: Fair enough, and I did pepper my comments with a number of "seems" for exactly the reason that we are almost certainly not seeing the true/full picture in terms of what Iran says and is reported to the West, and what they really mean (pretty muich like everywhere and everyone else, to be honest), but I still think that the idea of "lets just ignore them and they'll go away" is a little incautious. And just as you don't want to be taken as having any support for the extremely unpleasant Iranian regime, neither do I want to be seen as another "OH MY GOD THEY'RE DEVELOPING NUKES, GET THEM NOW" type (hope that came across in my final sentence!)

Paws4Thot @288: I have learned never to ascribe much knowledge or sense to anyone in NI politics (from the centre to the farthest fringes).

293:

While I'm no fan of theocracies, I admit to mental whiplash on a couple of occasions when some beturbaned disciple of Khomeini starts telling the interviewer that women in the Islamic republic need to be brought up to full equality.

Khomeini's fatwa on transsexuals was another such moment.

Reading (Or watching) Marjane Satrapi's Persepolisalso gives the impression of a nation chafing under a regime not all that dissimilar to the quasi theocratic Spanish or Irish mid 20th century situations.

Also as Charlie just said, the electric generation motive for nuclear generator is valid, but also I personally think that if both your next door neighbours just got invaded by the world's most powerful military, investing in some nuclear weapons is a perfectly rational response.

A few more friendly incidents like the recent USS Kidd's rescue of the kidnapped Iranians couldn't do any harm.

294:

Greg @291 & @289: Agree with your points re Iran. I made mention earlier about getting trapped in generalisations about NI, and I don't want to tread that road myself when looking at someone else's little slice of hell and politics!

As regards NI, "there" is "here" for me, and I can quite understand your culture shock: Imagine it in reverse when you grow up with sectarianism as ingrained and accepted in your culture, security checkpoints, army patrols, police armed to the teeth, bag searches in every shop -- and then you visit London for the first time.

295:

Nope. Still less once you find out that the first RUC officer killed during the Troubles (PC Victor Arbuckle) was killed by rioting Unionists, who were protesting about the Hunt Report - which recommended that the RUC become unarmed and the B-Specials disbanded.

Or that the first bombs of the Troubles were planted by the UVF.

Or that the deployment of the British Army was initially welcomed by the Catholic community... the problem being that their tasking and intelligence were provided by the RUC and Stormont. Fairly soon, inappropriately trained soldiers were behaving in just the right way to drive people into the arms of the extremists...

Dave_the_Proc@240 - I see your point about the ability to find "other, like minded" types; I just hope that the more typical and widespread networks have the opposite effect. We've seen the effect of increased media access on repressive regimes, I'd like to be optimistic about the effect on averagely inquisitive minds (i.e. the passive majority, not the tinfoil-hat-wearing loons who will always find a Stormfront or Moonhoax forum where they can hang out).

296:

One thing to keep in mind when evaluating Iran's nuclear program is that they have a 5 megawatt research reactor which runs on 20 percent enriched uranium, and they have been unable to procure fuel for this reactor. Since the reactor is used to produce radioactive isotopes for medical use, this is a problem for them. Thus the Iranians have been purifying fuel to twenty percent for this reactor.

As to the "Iran is producing nuclear weapons" meme, it's hard to know what's really going on. We're hearing the Israeli Right's worries projected via the American echo chamber, and this communication process does not produce high accuracy. My own evaluation of the situation is that if Iran can block the Strait of Hormuz, or even substantially raise the insurance rates for tankers passing near their shores, they don't need a nuke because they can produce a major economic crisis anytime they wish. I call it the Weapon of Mass Recession.

297:

Iran would be mad *not* to build nuclear weapons.
It seems that possessing WMDs is the only thing that keeps a nation safe from US invasion.

298:

Bombed if you do. Bombed if you don't.

299:

Whilst we are on the subject of Iran - there are some great photos here, [which challenged my own preconceptions of the country]

http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/01/a-view-inside-iran/100219/

I loved the one of the female horse archer rocking fashion sunglasses.

300:

I wish I shared your confidence, but war is messy, and the Gulf isn't that big. Losing a carrier (or even getting it put out of action) would puncture the aura of naval invincibility and far outweigh the military significance of a loss.

Plus I live in San Diego and would rather not see anyone I know shot at, including the CO of the anti-sub helicopter flight on the Stennis.

The wargame linked to above sounds right - I know that you're never allowed to sink a carrier in exercises if you're in the RN and fighting on the red side.

301:

And mine - Aside from the horse archer, there are several other women pictured who'd only rate second looks for their fashion sense rather than any "she's a Muslim, isn't she?" reaction.

NB CHarlie, I'm commenting on their choice of clothing fitting in with "Western women's fashion", nothing more.

302:

On Iran:

Mostly, it's just a way to get the xenophobic mouth breathers worked up so that they think dirty brown people are going to kill them and vote for the person they think will protect them.

That said, America is still highly dependent on Middle East oil, so preventing a nuclear arms race there isn't entirely an unreasonable concern. Even the perception that this is so could cause problems for our economy.

303:

I've worked with several Persians (they preferred that term) over the years, and I've always been puzzled by the American stereotypes of the mad religious zealot on the one side, and the irrreligious Westerner wannabe on the other. If anything, they remind me of some of the American Jews I grew up with: somewhat religious, but more aware of the longevity and vitality of their culture.

And I'm aghast at the CIA's (and many American politician's) denial of the obvious: if you dick around with peoples' goverments for your own selfish ends (see Mossadegh coup, also Iran-Contra affair) you should expect them to be annoyed at you and not to want to play nice with you. That does not equate to "They hate our freedoms."

304:

"The wargame linked to above sounds right - I know that you're never allowed to sink a carrier in exercises if you're in the RN and fighting on the red side."

The famous General Riper did some things in Millennium Challenge 2002 (the exercise where he "sank" the carrier) that were, well... cheating.

Basically, he gamed the rule set of the exercise. To evade the immense electronic warfare and electronic intelligence advantage the US would have, he declared (after his offensive started in complete secrecy) that he had been using couriers instead. Never mind that hand-delivered messages, in the real world, have a tendency to either go to the wrong place, disappear, or take too long - not to mention the assumed "no leaks whatsoever" part. The military uses radio for a reason - couriers suck in real-time situations.

Then there was "the Red side put several hundred missiles in a few dozen square miles, but they were undetectable because they were really clever, and they all worked on the first try" - where the simulated people doing the deployment didn't use any electronic communication, never tested their radar systems to see if they'd work in the new locations, and magically fired them all at the same time, in a perfect time-on-target barrage. Nobody on the planet has this capability, especially the Iranians.

Beyond the "my units have magical powers that don't exist in the real world" part, he also took advantage of real-world restrictions on the exercise - since it was using real planes and ships, he used the real-world restrictions on the use of things like transport planes (those restrictions wouldn't be in place in a similar war), to make sure that equipment resupply would be prevented inside the wargame.

In war game terms, General Riper was a munchkin who was metagaming the exercise - using out-of-system knowledge to help "win." A competent GM would have started out with "okay, you fired all of those missiles off without using any electronics to coordinate ahead of time - half of them were never fired, most of the rest missed because of bad targeting, and the dozen or so that were fired at the same time were shot down by the Aegis systems. Next."

305:

Well it's a good thing the US Navy can count on the Iranians not to "cheat" if the conflict ever gets real. :)

306:

"and magically fired them all at the same time, in a perfect time-on-target barrage. Nobody on the planet has this capability, especially the Iranians."

Coordinating an barrage attack of anti-shipping missiles is not difficult. All it involves is coordinating launch times between a few dozen sites, not all of which have to be working properly.

307:

> You mean, sort of like how South Korea attempted
> to lease most of Madagascar...

A future that comes out like a John Brunner novel might not be so bad in the short run. Right now it looks more like a Ken Macleod novel. Which tend to turn out well for those who manage to survive the first century or two ;-)

308:

Greg @289:

Religious bigotry in Ireland: indeed. I'm Irish (raised Protestant in the Republic) with relatives of both main sects on both sides of the border. It was surreal to listen to hardline Orange relatives up north describe the way they would rather kill than be in my shoes.

When I was heavily involved in politics as a student in the 1980s, it was very apparent that the most practical method of helping the peace process was to legalise contraception, divorce, etc. With both sides becoming more liberal, peace became possible.

As for Ireland's place in WW2, the problem was more nuanced than that. Dublin was bombed by the Nazis (they "accidentally" mistook it for Liverpool) after Irish fire brigades had gone North to help put out the blitz in Belfast. A hint to stay neutral.

In practice Ireland was "neutral on the side of the allies". De Valera had seen Versailles and realised that it wasn't enough for Ireland to be on the winning side - when the major powers went into the map room, Ireland had to be off the table (remember, we were officially a republic, self-declared, for just 2 years when war broke out. Very forgettable).

For the Irish government (De Valera), the essence was to preserve Irish _independence_.
If Ireland had officially joined the allied side (instead of just giving nearly all its manpower to the British Army, etc.) then there would be large airbases in Shannon, etc. to defeat the U-boats. These would immediately have become NATO bases patrolling against Russian subs ... and Irish 'home rule' consigned to the history books to guarantee that their existence was never threatened in a future crisis.

In subtle ways Ireland helped the Allies more than the Axis powers (smuggling crashed allied aircraft home; allowing day passes from POW camps for both Allied & axis aircrew on weekends when no German ships were in port ... but Belfast was 3 hours away by train ... , etc). Behind the scenes we knew which side we needed to win (could anyone really think we would remain independent in Nazi Europe?), but official neutrality was the only realistic policy.

Condolences on the death of Hitler was one of the strange consequences of Censorship, IMO. While British papers were available, a fake "balance" was maintained, and the horrors of the Nazi regime were not apparent until well after the war: as much British propaganda was censored, when news of the holocaust, etc. were published in 1945, it was disbelieved by many in Ireland who had seen "both sides" as fairly equal in the media until then; many believed the pictures of Dachau, Buchenwald, etc were faked by 'the old enemy', ie the British. In this environment of 'equality' DeValera miscalculated.

309:

Sort of a "Kobayashi Maru" scenario? I take it that the General got pretty much what Cadet Kirk got when he pulled that stunt: glares and demerits from the referees and a round of drinks from his peers.

On the other hand, you're right, that trick doesn't work very well in the real world.

310:

"One thing to keep in mind when evaluating Iran's nuclear program is that they have a 5 megawatt research reactor which runs on 20 percent enriched uranium, and they have been unable to procure fuel for this reactor."

Not exactly true. Argentina assisted in converting that research reactor to low-enriched uranium almost two decades ago, and supplied fuel for it. Russia has offered to supply new fuel rods, as long as the reprocessing of the old ones was done by Russia too. Iran refused. The Tehran Nuclear Research Center reactor is at the end of its design life.

The Iranians also have a 40 megawatt heavy water "reearch" reactor under construction, which they've been keeping under wraps - the IAEA hasn't been allowed access, and Iran has been keeping the design secret. A reactor like this will, under normal operation, produce enough plutonium for a bomb about every six months. With some tweaks (like a uranium jacket around the core), it could produce twice that or more.

Other countries (Russia specifically, but France has also volunteered) have offered to supply fuel for power reactors, also with the condition that they'd do the reprocessing at one of their established reprocessing facilities. Iran keeps saying no.

You might note that Iran has several other obvious sites, the Chinese-built research reactors in Isfahan for example.

Then, of course, there's Bushehr. Decades under construction, parts by several different countries, finally finished by Russia - and run by understaffed, badly-trained Iranians. Try not to live downwind of it.

311:

Let's also remember that any nation can withdraw from the non proliferation treaty. If they did that there would be no obligation to allow any outsiders to see anything. All perfectly legal under international law.

312:

"Coordinating an barrage attack of anti-shipping missiles is not difficult. All it involves is coordinating launch times between a few dozen sites, not all of which have to be working properly."

In the wargame case, it's "coordinating launch times between almost a _hundred_ sites, on the fly, over a couple of hundred square miles of territory, when a fleet of ships gets to a specific spot in the ocean, while using no radar and without accurate pre-targeting information." While, of course, maintaining complete radio and communications silence, and relying on couriers to deliver accurate messages within a half hour or so of the initial contact.

It would be extremely difficult for a highly skilled military, and pretty much impossible for Iran.

313:

"Let's also remember that any nation can withdraw from the non proliferation treaty. If they did that there would be no obligation to allow any outsiders to see anything."

...and the other signatories to the treaty would then be obligated to stop working with them. Which means that all support for their "power generation" programs would stop, supplies and hardware sales would be prevented, and a lot of other restrictions would slam into place.

If Iran has an actual peaceful nuclear program, the last thing they would want to do is withdraw from the NPT.

314:

> I've worked with several Persians (they preferred that term)
> over the years, and I've always been puzzled by the
> American stereotypes of the mad religious zealot
> n the one side, and the irrreligious Westerner wannabe
> on the other.

Massive overgeneralisation with some truth in it:

In the 19th century, when the European powers tended to divide the world into Real Countries Like Us on the one hand and "natives" on the other, Iranians were offended, maybe even shocked, to find themselves counted as "natives". They reckoned they were as civilised as we were. And when we rebranded the natives as "Third World" in the 20th century we put them in there with Africans and Asians and all those sorts.

In North America something similar happened to Mexico. To put it crudely, Persians, like Mexicans, thought of themselves as white people. But Western Europe and the USA relegated them to second-class status as darkies.

The Iranian establishment felt pissed off by that. From their point of view they were just as good as the rest of us. The sort of country that has an Empire, not the sort that becomes part of one. And there is still some resentment of Britain and the USA because of that, and all the interference in their government we got up to, and still a feeling that we (or rather our governments) don't take them seriously enough, that we don't treat them as equals.

Same goes rather differently for Turkey. But the Turks got invited to the top table in the 19th century because their empire was too big to ignore. And they got to stay there in the 20th because, unlike the Germans, they beat us in the Great War. We tend not to notice that because they lost their empire; but we invaded them and their army kicked our arses, which is how come it took over there.

315:

Sorry, the relevance of all that is that its one more reason why "Its OK, you don't need your own nuclear technology, we will run it all for you" is unlikely to wash with the Iranian government. It might seem like just another patronising slap in the face. And they got a lot of those from us in the 19th and 20th centuries. T

316:

They preferred the ancient greek word for Farsi over the Farsi word for Farsi?

Wut?

Regarding the Shank of Stross discussion; Note that since the Coalition got rid of the Quango who's job it was to regulate cloning technology (as there's no actual legislative restrictions on most of the major technologies' use in the UK) it'd be fairly easy and entirely legal to use the techniques pioneered in the creation of Dolly the sheep to have them grow human muscle tissue in place of sheep muscle tissue, the genes from which could come from anyone you happen to have scrapings of laying around.

It's an entirely mature technology. It just takes someone with a hundred thousand quid laying around and the will and know how to see it through.

317:

A funny story about the Argentinian nuclear power industry I was told, it was apparently created by a scammer with fake credentials who bamboozled the president (Peron I imagine) to fund his schemes. He later absconded.

However! The edifice he'd set up contained enough real scientists and real qualified personnel that the fiction became reality and Argentina had it's nuclear industry in the end.

318:
It would be extremely difficult for a highly skilled military, and pretty much impossible for Iran.

Oh I dunno, I mean it's not rocket science, is it?

Ah...

A bit more seriously maybe the powers that be in Iran read about the exercise and thought, "Hummmm.... Now there's an idea...".

Which is to say that presumably the strategy would have a greater probability of success if it was planned and practised. Unless of course that's what the USA wanted Iran to think.

So what's General Van Riper's career done lately?!

319:

Armchair general'ing here, I am not sure why the commander of any carrier battle group would let his ships get that close to shore.

The correct place to be if defending the straits is at least a couple hundred miles out in the Gulf Of Oman, if not farther.

You'd have to be mad to sail into the actual gulf in a real shooting war.

320:

@124:
> How about a blog talk on guaranteed
> Basic income.

A staple of Mack Reynolds' SF output.

Interestingly, it was part of Richard Nixon's "Federal 2.0" initiative after his re-election. Among other reasons, his advisors told him it would be cheaper than the Welfare system and the various similar programs.

321:

"It would be extremely difficult for a highly skilled military, and pretty much impossible for Iran."

No, because all they need on the narrowest part of the Straits of Hormuz is a guy with binoculars and a mobile phone. All they need at the launch sites is a go code and the approximate location of the target. It helps if you know where your target *must* be, and they are within visual range.

322:

You ask the average American and they will tell you that Iranians are Arabs.

323:

"The correct place to be if defending the straits is at least a couple hundred miles out in the Gulf Of Oman, if not farther."

True.
But then those Sunburns will close the Straits to *all* shipping.

324:

[Aside - war is such a huge waste. What might the prosperity of Europe have been like had we avoided the Great War of 1914 to whenever?]

The British, German, Russian, and Japanese empires would still be world powers, France would be a power under whatever government it had that week, the USA would be an insular backwater, and the general level of world technology would probably be around late-1930s by our standards.

Practically everything we think of as "modern" is a development of WWII or the Cold War. Some of it would have happened anyway, but without those big piles of government money and cost-plus contracts, it would have taken a lot longer.


"Peace. n. Maintenance of a state of tension short of actual conflict."
- dictionary of the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne

325:

Your carrier can sit back a few hundred clicks out and kill anything that pops a radar or fires a missile or basically looks at you funny. Trick to a carrier is always to outrange the enemy.

Probably better ways to close the straits, mines conventional or rocket artillery, sinking big ships, that kind of thing...

326:

"... the real guys expect things to go wrong."

Not always; after all the politics blows away, the real story of "Blackhawk Down" was that Rangers & Delta did exactly the same helo-in, light-vehicle-out raid four times in a row -- and didn't have Plan B ready when the bad guys were better prepared the fifth time.

327:

> They preferred the ancient greek word for Farsi
> over the Farsi word for Farsi?

> Wut?

Type "Persian vs Farsi" (&v.v.) into Google and stand well back! This is a live debate and gets some people really riled up.

328:

> but perhaps most of the lower 48
> states having some Amish presence.

There are sizeable groups of Mennonites in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, that I know of. They're just not tourist attractions like the Amish in Pennsylvania.

I once worked in a production machine shop in a company that made agricultural leveling lasers. The company claimed they had filed the first patent for a practical application of laser technology. I don't know, but they'd been building lasers for a long time.

Their main product was a simple laser unit that sent a beam across a field; you used the beam while plowing to set the drainage grade of the field. You can buy a nearly-identical product at Harbor Freight for under $100 now, but they cost as much as a small car then.

On night shift one week, I turned around from setting up a CNC lathe to find a whole group of people in black staring at me. The guy in front looked like the Tall Man from "Phantasm." It turned out they were a group of Mennonites who'd bought one of the first lasers in 1964 or so, and it had broken. They'd come up to get it repaired, and were getting a tour of the plant.

At that time even the big agricorps weren't entirely sold on laser grading, but the Mennonites had been using it for 20 years... adjusting the grade by hand, with horse-drawn plows.

It seems they're not against technology as much as they only embrace technology that they feel is appropriate for their lifestyle. I have some understanding of that, as I have chosen not to include television, answering machines, voicemail, text messaging, Facebook, or Tweeter in my life...

329:

That's true, nobody ever gets that lucky. See what happened on 9/11 when a bunch of Saudi fratboys tried to simultaneously hijack several American airliners and, get this! they planned to FLY THEM INTO BUILDINGS AND KILL A BUNCH OF PEOPLE! How the hell did they ever expect to get away with that? It would be like the Imperial Japanes Navy expecting to successfully attack Pearl Harbor, the most heavily defended military facility in the entire mid-Pacific. Three chances, slim, fat and none.

330:

Not necessarily. Other non-NPT countries with active nuclear weapons programmes have received nuclear technology support, ostensibly for peaceful civilian purposes, from Western governments.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S.%E2%80%93India_Civil_Nuclear_Agreement

Basically it's a post-NPT inspection agreement with India allowing IAEA inspections of facilities India claims are non-military nuclear in scope. It gets them Western help with their civilian nuclear power aspirations which have been held back by their lack of supplies of native uranium. Their weapons facilities are outside the inspection regime though and cross-transfer of materials, equipment and expertise will be very difficult to control since the inspection regime is only partial.

331:

"No, because all they need on the narrowest part of the Straits of Hormuz is a guy with binoculars and a mobile phone."

...except that the "mobile phone" part was explicitly not used by Riper. The US has so deeply penetrated mobile phone systems around the world that any use of one is treated (by anyone serious) as "open communication." Even using code across the unsecured line would show a traffic spike that the US would easily notice.

Using couriers (as Riper claimed), it would take at least 15 minutes to get messages to a command center - which would then have to copy the information, hand it out to a huge staff of motorcycle couriers, and dispatch those to the 100 or so launch sites over a few hundred square miles of land. Even assuming incredible efficiency, that's a solid half hour of delay - and those ships would have moved another 10 miles or so by then. Or fifteen miles. Or five. Any of which would totally screw up the targeting of those anti-shipping missiles (they don't have more than a couple of miles of cross-range acquisition - they need a fairly precise heading on launch).

Even if they used magical non-radiating and secure cell phones, you'd have to have a huge message spike from the central command structure (again with no leaks beforehand), and a simultaneous release command to over 100 different launch sites - which would then (to get maximum effect) have to all launch within a very short period of time of a minute or so.

The number of failure modes (someone didn't charge their cell phone, a person at central command misplaces the code books, a doofus observer sends "aircraft carrier" when they saw a supertanker, someone has an idiot moment and fires early, causing everyone else in their area to start firing randomly before the targets are in range) are mind-boggling.

In movies, this is easy. In the real world? No way in hell.

332:

Yes, sometimes it works. And sometimes it results in "Market Garden" or "Operation Shingle" (the Anzio beachhead). Or, for that matter, the Ardennes offensive, or even the Tet offensive (which, despite what the news media said, was a crushing defeat for the Viet Cong; it was the regular North Vietnamese Army which had previously operated only in elite cadres in the south that picked up the fight over the next year and finally won the war). It's usually a lot easier to pull this sort of thing off with small units relying on short or no logistics during the operation.

333:

Using couriers (as Riper claimed), it would take at least 15 minutes to get messages to a command center - which would then have to copy the information, hand it out to a huge staff of motorcycle couriers, and dispatch those to the 100 or so launch sites over a few hundred square miles of land. Even assuming incredible efficiency, that's a solid half hour of delay

There is this technology called the field telephone that you might have heard of. Dates to the first world war, runs over wires (which can be shielded). Run a couple of hundred buried strands prior to a confrontation, with multiple end points, and have spotters plug into whichever line hasn't been detected and zapped: it only has to stay open for a minute to deliver the targeting information. And have guys with pick-up trucks lay down replacement wires on an ad-hoc basis whenever necessary.

Old saying: "when they think you're crude, go technical; when they think you're technical, go crude".

334:

I beg to differ on both the technology level and the USA.
Technology wise, the wars seem to have speeded up the introduction of newer technology. But the scientific and engineering knowledge for it all was already in place. So there's no way that we would have 1930's technology now, much more likely the 70's or 80's at least.
Secondly, the USA would not be a backwater. The total colonisation of the USA was complete in the 19th century, and before WW1 it had already had some imperialistic adventures. There is also the exploitation of abundant natural resources to consider. Basically the USA was the country of the future since the late 19th century, and not having WW1 etc would not change that one little bit. A single language continent wide country just opening up its resources, yet with access to all modern technology and ideally placed for global trade. Compare this with the hassles involved in Britain getting its oil from Iran and Iraq...

335:

Not exactly true. Argentina assisted in converting that research reactor to low-enriched uranium almost two decades ago, and supplied fuel for it.

The original reactor design ran on weapons-grade uranium. The Argentines changed the design so it would run on twenty-percent enriched uranium. Iran is currently running out of fuel for this reactor and of course nobody will sell it to them, so they're making their own.

http://www.isisnucleariran.org/sites/facilities/tehran-research-reactor-trr/

Regarding the Iranian 40MW research reactor, I can see two ways to run the place (if I ran Iran.) One way is to use it for nuclear weapons. The other way is to build a better, safer reactor design and sell it. Option two does a lot more economic damage to the US/Europe than option one, though I don't regard option two as very likely. Of course, option three is "build a standard reactor," which might also be happening.

336:

"That's true, nobody ever gets that lucky. See what happened on 9/11 when a bunch of Saudi fratboys tried to simultaneously hijack several American airliners and, get this! they planned to FLY THEM INTO BUILDINGS AND KILL A BUNCH OF PEOPLE!"

So a very small number of people manage to seize four planes, in a complete surprise attack against civilians, and still managed to fail 25% of the time.

...and in return, the country they attacked turned around and invaded the country with the largest army in that region with a relatively tiny force (1/2 the size of the defending military), against defenses that had been preparing for most of a year... and flattened them in a matter of weeks. While losing less than 200 soldiers in the initial invasion, versus 7,000 or so defenders.

And your theory is - that the US Navy will become unarmed civilians overnight? Or that the Iranian military will magically become much more competent?

337:

> In the wargame case, it's
> "coordinating launch times between
> almost a _hundred_ sites, on the fly,
> over a couple of hundred square miles
> of territory, when a fleet of ships
> gets to a specific spot in the ocean,
> while using no radar and without
> accurate pre-targeting information."
> While, of course, maintaining
> complete radio and communications
> silence,

[apologies for the big quote]

Simple enough problem. You've given that I know where the target is; I'll assume I know where all my launch sites are. And since I have around a hundred sites, I'll assume at least that many missiles. I'll pass on the question of how many hits it would take to sink a carrier.

First, I wouldn't bother with the US GPS system for tracking. I'd use the Russian GLONASS system, or even derive something from the Iridium satellite array. All I have to do is guide my flock close enough to pick up the heat and radar signature of the carrier group, or even a WWII-tech magnetometer.

As far as communications between my launch sites, I don't even need couriers. I can use steganographic means to embed information in radio or television broadcasts or telephone conversations, or shrouded network traffic, or even send my data over power lines.

Once the flock is launched, it only needs to look up to the satellite array(s). Or I could use off-the-shelf inertial guidance bits in one or two of each volley, communicating optically or via spread-spectrum to the others, to save money and maximize payload.

All it takes is that I be able to overrun the carrier group's defenses. They're working at a severe disadvantage in target identification and intercept trajectories, and their interceptors probably cost orders of magnitude more than my cheap missiles. Gunnery would doubtless take out more than antimissile missiles, but again, the number of available turrets, target acquisition time, and other information are all matters of public record.

I'm not talking about the kind of attack it takes a government to mount; like the point I tried to make about taking down UAVs in another thread, this is all off-the-shelf stuff, available to anyone with some money and a bad attitude.

338:

ironically, the space program might be exactly where it is now

339:

"There is this technology called the field telephone that you might have heard of."

Which is also extremely vulnerable to interception, by the highly technical means of "clipping a speaker to the wires." Again, Riper specifically did NOT use this in his scenario. He claimed to use couriers, because he knew that was the only "secret" method that could possibly make it past US intelligence gathering.

Another problem with field telephones is that they tie the units to fixed locations. That "disperse the hundred launchers to a whole lot of places" tactic loses most of its effectiveness when the units have to stay in one spot to wait for orders.

Running out hundreds of miles of new wire (even unburied, much less buried) would be extremely visible to spotters and agents on the ground, and probably even to satellite recon. Something of that scale, in that region, would be like setting up signs saying "look at the end points of the network to find something shady going on!"

340:

Speaking of bioterrorism, after the censorship of the H5N1 paper through US authorities I wondered how likely it is even today.

If said paper hadn't been censored, would it be likely (or at all feasible) for a contemporary terrorist organization to create a pandemic bioweapon?

341:

...except that the "mobile phone" part was explicitly not used by Riper. The US has so deeply penetrated mobile phone systems around the world that any use of one is treated (by anyone serious) as "open communication." Even using code across the unsecured line would show a traffic spike that the US would easily notice.

You seem to be assuming that the spotter's mobile phone is easily distinguished from nearby phones. Iran has over 100 million mobile phone subscriptions. "Traffic spike" from a text message or two, indeed.

342:

"As far as communications between my launch sites, I don't even need couriers. I can use steganographic means to embed information in radio or television broadcasts or telephone conversations, or shrouded network traffic, or even send my data over power lines."

...all of which are vulnerable to spoofing, failure, or tapping. That network would require testing, and the US is very, very good at breaking that sort of thing (and our allies are very good at that, plus HUMINT to get the actual source code). Again, this is why Riper (a high-ranking general with lots of inside knowledge) specifically did not use any electronic means of communication in his plans.

"Once the flock is launched, it only needs to look up to the satellite array(s). Or I could use off-the-shelf inertial guidance bits in one or two of each volley, communicating optically or via spread-spectrum to the others, to save money and maximize payload."

Except that the missiles they're using don't have that capability. Sorry. Maybe in some future scenario, when the Iranians have two-generation-newer hardware (and compact nuclear warheads), you might try, but it can't work that way right now with Iran's actual tech base. They're also certainly not "one shot carrier killers" in the first place - it would take four or five solid hits to even have a chance of sinking a supercarrier, and probably more. After making it through an air defense network that has been specifically designed to shoot down that type of missile.

The Iranians apparently don't have that many Sunburn missiles in the first place - the initial breathless reports of sales from China (or Russia) seem to have been a bit overblown. The Russians aren't even that impressed by their own hardware - new ships in the Russian Navy don't use it any more. The terminal guidance system on the Sunburn is apparently pretty easy to spoof with ECM.

It's easy to come up with a thousand different "but they could do it in this imaginary way," but it's very hard to do it with technology that actually exists in the hands of the Iranian military.

343:

Anyone with access to Radio Shack and a few euros can build a tight-beam laser transceiver out of a laser pointer, a photodiode, and a couple of audio amplifiers. If you have an iPod or similar player lying around you can probably use that. Add a rifle scope or similar small telescope and you have tight-beam transmission over several miles with very little chance of interception, especially if you own the land you're operating on.

For that matter, if you can find terrain features that shield you from observation except in the direction you care about, you could use semaphore flags. And the message you have to transmit isn't complicated; basically you need to send one bit of information: "Now", assuming that targeting has already been done (which is typically the way time-on-target is done).

344:

"You seem to be assuming that the spotter's mobile phone is easily distinguished from nearby phones. Iran has over 100 million mobile phone subscriptions. "Traffic spike" from a text message or two, indeed."

But you're not looking at the SENDING phone - you're looking at the receiving phone system at headquarters, as well as the messages they send out. A sudden burst of text or voice messages from new sources on the coast, all within a few minutes, followed by a big increase of activity? Might as well set up a billboard saying "we're going to fire in five minutes."

345:

Which is also extremely vulnerable to interception, by the highly technical means of "clipping a speaker to the wires."

Two points.

1. There is also this thing called a modem that you can put at either end, in place of a WW1 handset. Then run an encrypted channel down it. For added lulz don't use TCP/IP anywhere in your protocol stack.

2. You've moved the goal posts because you're now presupposing that the area is saturated with enough Special Forces types to locate buried field telephone cables (which they can't be certain are there in the first place, and which could be buried anywhere for a stretch of 30-50 miles up or down the coastline, and which could well be guarded by guys with guns looking for foreign Special Forces types).

346:

"For that matter, if you can find terrain features that shield you from observation except in the direction you care about, you could use semaphore flags. And the message you have to transmit isn't complicated; basically you need to send one bit of information: "Now", assuming that targeting has already been done (which is typically the way time-on-target is done)."

All of which assume two things: first, that you have secure land areas (and we're talking about hundreds of square miles, outside of the built-up areas near the narrow part of the Strait of Hormuz) with no observers, and second, that the targeted area is small (it isn't, even though it looks that way on a world map).

Aside from one short stretch of the Strait that goes near Qushm Island, the rest of the area is well outside missile range for almost all of Iran's land-based missiles. That one island is moderately populated (as are the surrounding mainland areas), and is certainly one of the most-photographed and spied-upon pieces of land on the planet right now.

The problem with simple and one-way commands like "now" is that they have a tendency to become "now oh shit I didn't mean to do that."

347:

You don't where a carrier is. That is kind of the point of a carrier. The move, pretty fast too.

I think the exercise in question probably had as it's ultimate goal either an increase in funding to protect against such threats, or was a message to decision makers about not ordering carrier groups into the Persian Gulf. Or both.

348:

Given the topic of this thread, the question re. Iran and the Persian gulf is actually more like "What sorts of upgrades in military capability will Iran get in the next 20 years?
And "How will current Iraqi politics evolve re. Iran and will Saudi Arabia ever do anything more direct?"

Rather than geeking out over my missile defeats your missile defences, ah but you can't do that *rolls dice for missile accuracy*.

349:

"would it be likely (or at all feasible) for a contemporary terrorist organization to create a pandemic bioweapon?"

All it takes is university level equipment and people.
As for bioterrorism, there is something most people do not know about the dispersal and weaponization of anthrax that makes it *very* easy to do. Far more so than the high grade stuff discovered in the USA after 9/11. In fact, there used to be a movie about it on YouTube, and an old BBC documentary, which has since disappeared.

350:

"There's also some evidence of a water utility building two reservoirs in series, so that they can pump water uphill during the day and run the turbines at night. Reservoirs may come to serve as really big solar storage."

Yes, I've heard of that. Of course, I also saw it with my own eyes, back about the time when people outside of the Middle East were hearing about something called 'OPEC'.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludington_Pumped_Storage_Power_Plant

351:

the desire to have fewer children might be bred out of the population?

I think Dirk Bruere was being sarcastic, but I am amazed how often I see this claim. People seem to assume that desire to have children, or lack of it, is genetically determined. How can anyone seriously think that something so multifaceted (and often changing dramatically during one's lifetime) is genetically determined, is beyond me.

352:

Unless you're truly paranoid and see American spies everywhere - at which point the logistic impact of "lay several hundred kilometers of phone cable" becomes a difficult secret to keep, and a hard thing to defend. Who needs SF when you're worried about defending hundreds of km of line from disaffected Iranians?

What's the bets that after the last time Israelis advanced into Lebanon to discover that Hezbollah were no pushover (well prepared and hidden bunkers with landline communications), that telephone cabling became something of interest to intelligence analysts? Or that laying it is the kind of thing observable by satellite?

PS One of the first actions in DESERT STORM was allegedly a helicopter load of British SF flying into Iraq to dig up a fibre-optic cable that was part of the Iraqi air defence infrastructure...

353:

Strangely, the European Commission has decided "Prizes are a good thing" and is pushing them heavily for "Horizon 2020", the next 7-year European funding programme for research.

There is a certain amount of opposition...

354:

a world dominated by fecund religious and generally reactionary populations, most of whom will be rather hostile to this future you have laid out.

It is true that religious fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim or Jewish) tend to have far more children than religiously indifferent or atheists. Moreover, while atheists rarely convert to fundamentalism, fundamentalists become atheists even less often. Yet the numbers of atheists, agnostics and "apatheists" (love that term!) have been steadily rising for 100 years. By Robot Apocalypcist's logic, they should have died out already!

The answer to this seeming paradox is simple: Fundamentalists very rarely give up God entirely, but it is quite common for children of fundamentalist parents to be less rabid about their religion -- and for their children to become agnostic or atheist. So there is in fact a steady conversion from fundamentalism to atheism -- it just takes several generations.

The Amish are not overruning Pennsylvania for the same reason -- they have at least 50% drop out rate.

I would go so far as to say over long term "fecund religious populations" are the replacement pool for the secular populations. After all, every modern secularist had religious ancestors at some point!

355:

"There's also some evidence of a water utility building two reservoirs in series, so that they can pump water uphill during the day and run the turbines at night. Reservoirs may come to serve as really big solar storage."

Some evidence? If you mean "vast concrete pumping stations in Scotland and Wales some not for from where Charlie lives", yes there is some evidence :-) Pumped storage has been in use for about a century. Of course there is almost no solar input into the pumping, but then it rains a lot in Scotland.

And upthread someone mentioned returning sewage to the water supply as if it was a new breakthrough. We've been doing that for a long time round here - mostly inadvertently and indirectly viat the Thames, but some of it is deliberate now, and pretty clean. It was once estimated that the average water molecule passed through the system 9 times before getting to the sea - its a biut less than that now I think!

The new method is deliberately NOT trying to clean the water back to drinkable standard, but using it to water plants. Again, its been going on for decades (I've been on a tour of a sewage farm that does it) but on a large scale it involves having separate grey-water pipes throughout the city and that is a huge investment. Something of the sort is being installed in Stratford in London right now, on the bqack of the Olympic project.

356:

Depends on the target. A human pandemic weapon is probably fairly difficult. It's also one of those weapons that is extraordinarily difficult to control once you release it. I don't think they've had much luck in creating bioweapons that only target certain human populations, either.

However...

Crop and livestock bioweapons are fairly easy to obtain and work with, the detection network is much cruder, and the treatments are (especially for plants) much cruder than human medicine and public health. Despite the Columbian Exchange, certain populations have different food preferences, too.

While personally, I that think anyone who tries to trigger a famine using disease should be flailed bloody and staked out over a fire ants' nest to die, crop plagues are a potential bioweapon. One obvious target is pigs, since certain populations have strong prejudices about eating pork. If you want to cripple the US, corn (maize) is a good target, although a mutated corn blight would almost certainly spread back to whoever invented it.

357:

Pumped storage only works well in locations with particular geography with low and high reservoirs close together and an abundant supply of water to pump as required. There's a reason the two big pumped-storage facilities in the UK are in Wales and the Scottish Highlands.

Most of the bigger solar operations such as the SEGS in the Mojave desert in California don't have a lot of water to hand and the best wind generating terrain is wide rolling flatlands with no high and low reservoirs. Functional pumped storage is grid-connected so it can level energy supply and demand on the grid but most demand is during the day and solar doesn't contribute during the night when most pumped-storage capacity is "charged", usually by the output of baseload nuclear stations.

358:

One obvious target is pigs, since certain populations have strong prejudices about eating pork

I think you got your brain tangled a little here. If a given population has strong prejudices about eating pork, then they have very few pigs and wiping out those pigs would have little or no effect on the population in question. Your hypothetical bio-aggressor should target what people actually eat, not what they do not eat.

359:

You misunderstand. The scenario is that the bioweapon is developed by the porcophobe group and aimed at the pig population of a porcophile group.

The prospect of blowback for the porcophobes is greatly reduced given their antipathy towards pigs.

Regards
Luke

360:

Re Iran and cooperation with IAEA -

Iran has not signed and has indicated it will not sign the "Additional Protocols" on inspections, including the ones that require full early disclosure of technical and schedule plans for new facilities and modifications, technical consultations and early inspections during construction, etc. Basically, as soon as you start serious planning, you have to disclose the plans.

The Fordow plant that just went online was found by overhead imagery analysis in the mid-oughts, and then after its general existence was outed was re-found in unclassified imagery by ISIS and some other friends of mine. It wasn't disclosed to IAEA until it was publicly outed. By that time the main tunnels and bunkers were all in.

Admittedly, that was still about 3 years before it started spinning, but it's unknown if they intended to disclose it prior to operations starting up.

The Additional Protocol is not a required part of the NPT. But it's been signed by approximately N-1 of the NPT parties. Iran is the only holdout with an an active program.

It is clear to experts that Iran is walking up to the threshold of nuclear weapons capability. Whether they intend to walk across that line is unknown at this time. The other nations at that threshold, including Germany and Japan and Brasil, are AP signatories and are well monitored.

The recent weapons technology and design revalations, including the R265 implosion system, are unambiguous nuclear weapon developments. The "shock nanodiamond" explanation is transparently false. There isn't a market for those in Iran or the Middle East. The R265 system is usable for a mid-technology uranium implosion bomb. It's just small enough for the second generation triconic Iranian IRBM warheads, and would be light enough. It's primitive in some important ways, but a primitive 25-50 kt nuclear fission weapon is still entirely lethal to cities.

They have apparently repeatedly test fired the full implosion system, although it's not clear if they did so with a reflected non-fissile Uranium core (i.e., full bomb mockup). I'm not sure at this point that they would have to, to have a credible functional high-probability-of-success design. The design as-is should have pretty high margins.

They could intend to put that design on the shelf and never enrich beyond 20% unless someone starts attacking them, making their program a 2-4 month to deployable threshold program. The odds are high that they have, or will, test a R265 with a full natural or depleted Uranium core (full-up cold test) and flash X-rays to ensure the implosion is sufficiently symmetrical and efficient. It's very difficult to detect that being done, other than some excess Uranium at the test point (which if it's down a hole, might never be found... It doesn't need to be a big or particularly deep hold). That would give them 99% plus confidence in the design if it's unboosted and significant confidence in boosting if it's good enough flash imagery.

361:

So, does the NPT specifically ban tests of explosive lenses?

362:

Looks like IAEA should check for lenses, but can't yet:

http://icnnd.org/Reference/reports/ent/part-iii-9.html section 9.8...

363:

Dirk writes:

So, does the NPT specifically ban tests of explosive lenses?

In general, no. However, nuclear weapons specific implosion systems are held to violate Article II and III as a general rule.

There are plenty of explosive lens technologies used in both military and civilian applications. Most of them aren't specifically useful for building nuclear bombs. It's distinctive and obvious when one is. There are a few non-nuclear-weapons implosion technologies for industrial use. They are very carefully tuned away from nuclear weapons usable corners of the envelope to make it unambiguous...

A non-weapons state isn't supposed to receive or manufacture or acquire lenses designed to do that. Technology only and specifically usable in them (and the nanodiamond excuse doesn't fly, technically or politically) would generally be held to be a breach of the treaty and safeguards agreement.

Treaty text, for reference:
http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/pdf/NPTEnglish_Text.pdf

364:

Do the Iranians want nukes? Of course they do!

Ever since 1979 the Iranian govt has used the US as all-purpose external menace for rhetorical purposes. Conveniently, said external menace was on the other side of the planet and unlikely to actually do anything.

Fast forward to post 2001, and there are/were a lot of US troops in Iraq on one side of Iran, and a lot of US troops in Afghanistan on the other side. All it would take is one medium-level military nitwit to start a shooting war between Iran and the US. And while the Iranian military are not the pushovers that the Iraqis were, without nukes they'd lose. And the current Iranian government would be overthrown, regardless of post-occupation guerillas.

As for closing the Straights of Hormuz, it's doable. There's even a reasonable chance of sinking a US carrier.

Then what?

For all those people talking about Pearl Harbour and 9/11, remember who won that war and who got shot in hiding by Navy SEALS instead of ruling a new Caliphate.

Russia might back Iran, because they'd make money from it. The US, obviously, won't. Neither will nuclear-armed France and the UK, although the Iranians probably don't care. But cutting off oil to China?

I'd give about 1 in 10 odds of Iran being collectively nuked. 6 in 10 odds of the US navy/air force reducing Iran to rubble, with logistic backing from China, NATO, India, and Japan. 3 in 10 odds that sane elements with Iran apologise profusely and offer the heads of those responsible on pikes as compensation.

365:

Well, given that the IAEA inspectors have people working directly for the CIA I don't see Iran allowing them to wander around checking out every "bang" they hear. Nor should they.

366:

As long as we are playing what if, how about keeping the Mongols from wiping out the most advanced civilizations of the time. Places like Iran and Iraq have never recovered population from what they did. What they wanted was pasture, to get it they wiped out everything that was not. They used the people to trash everything, then killed them so there was no one who knew how to put it back together. Russia was owned by them it still shows the effect I think. Muslimism of today is the grim kind that survived them. WW-1 was small change next to what they did. China may have come out the best, but what could it have been without them?

367:

How did that Arab Spring script go again?

The fascinating thing about Iran is that the Ayatollahs are considered to be supreme, pragmatic survivors. That doesn't make them good rulers, as we're now finding out.

The problem is that if the ayatollahs do nothing, they're going to face a Persian spring at some point in the next few years, probably after democracy advocates have learned from the current problems in Syria, Yemen, and so forth.

Conversely, if they go on a war footing, they *might* be able to unite the country behind facing the US/Sunni threat. This is particularly good at the moment, when the US is withdrawing and Saudi power is starting to decline.

The thing is, I don't think anyone wants to invade Iran, not the US nor its allies nor even the Iranians. The problem is that you only get to bleed out the occupying power once they've invaded, and I'm afraid that the US is still pretty good at the invasion part. The US probably would be more interesting in bashing Iran than occupying it (my guess).

My expectation is that there will be a year or so of saber rattling and negotiations around petroleum. Relations might get better if Iraq and/or Afghanistan spasm into civil war, simply because there will be a lot of refugees on the move, and Iran's right on their borders. A humanitarian catastrophe might pay some dividends in international relations.

In the long run, the next question is what happens when the oil runs out. Absent something interesting (like, oh, plants using saltwater algae to generate biodiesel along the shores of the Persian Gulf and Red Sea), the region's going to start becoming a backwater again in a few decades. At that point, Iran will be poised to become a regional power, due to the amount of farmland they have, in areas that haven't been mined or fought over. All they've got to do is hang on until then. At a guess, that's their long-term plan.

368:

"Relations might get better if Iraq and/or Afghanistan spasm into civil war..."

Afghanistan is already a civil war.
If there is a civil war in Iraq, Iran will be heavily involved on the side of the Shia govt (the one put in place by the USA). Get out of that one Mr President...

369:

Re: pumped storage, reclaimed water, and the general superiority of the UK in these fields...

Look at it this way: All those Scots and Welsh civil engineers have great careers ahead of them, implementing this well-established technology in places like California, where it's new and cool.

Since one of the people I work with is a Scottish transplant, all I can say is there's a welcoming ex-pat community waiting for you, if you can get through US immigration silliness.

The weather in California sucks though. I've got to warn you about that. We haven't clue what seasons are here, it's all kind of a bland haze. If you can deal with that, and with the occasional earthquake and wildfire, you might be able to get by here.

370:

The only scenario in which Iran gets nuked that's at all likely is one where the US goes it alone. NATO isn't going to go along with that (France and Germany are sure to veto the idea, and many of the other countries will object, I would think). Russia, China, and India would lose big time from such an act, as they're all interested in trading with Iran. Pakistan probably wouldn't be motivated to do it, if for no other reason than they're likely to disagree with everything the US does for the next 20 or 30 years, and they're focused on making sure India doesn't attack them. The party in power in the UK might be willing to go along (though I don't think you guys are crazy enough to bring Tony Blair back), but I can't see them surviving more than a day or two afterwards, and not long enough to do the deed if word got out beforehand.

And if the US drops a nuke on anyone the rest of the world is going to be highly pissed. Maybe not to the point of joining the fight against US nukes, but enough to really tank any foreign policy objective the US may have other than military occupation of every other nation on earth. And we sure don't have either the troops or the will to do that.

371:

Expect Charles Stross gammon steaks to be served at SF conventions.

Charlie, how well marbled are those steaks going to be?

372:

Unpleasantly fresh if he visits Japan.
Last time I was there I got to eat food that was still moving.

373:

"By 2092, mass birth control is four to eight generations old in the West. Those populations that have resisted it successfully will, over time, tend to outbreed the populations that restrict themselves to only 2-3 kids."

Not sure if it will work out like that - I saw an analysis of the Australian census data a couple of months ago that suggested the number of large families (8+ kids) has actually remained fairly stable historically, the big change has been shift in the proportion of families having 3-6 kids to only having one or two.

374:

heteromeles, sorry but when you look the reserve numbers, even the real reserves rather than political, then the gulf is going to be more at the centre of things, not less. Their reserves last longer than, say, the US for example. The rest of the world will be a wasteland before the gulf is a backwater.

What I would expect is chemical & biochemical industries ending up there to partake of the domestic oil supply - centralising power and industry and speeding the decline of exports.

Of course, it could easily end up a glassy backwater fairly easy - that could be at any time. There is a pretty compelling scenario where israel gets nuked and nukes the rest of the middle east in a tit-for-tat - much more likely than 'backwater of irrelevance'.

375:

"it is quite common for children of fundamentalist parents to be less rabid about their religion -- and for their children to become agnostic or atheist."

Can work the other way around, too. My grandparents were militant atheists. I'm an agnostic. I'm unlikely to have children; but some of my relatives are religious.

376:

The "Not In My Back Yard" people have been blocking pumped storage at least from the 1960s in America. Now they are saving the poor fish by blowing up power producing dams. If we live we can grow the fish back. If the co2 from making power kills the seas we won't be there to grow the fish.

377:

Many of the dams being blown up were past their useful life anyway, full of sediment and not useful for much of anything. Everything's got a useful life span, and the best thing to do, sometimes, is to get rid of it at the end.

378:

Also, you should expect to get NIMBYs on any large project, whatever its merits. One of the challenges of evaluating a public project is to figure out if there's a real problem with a proposal or if one is just hearing background levels of nimyism.

379:
Now they are saving the poor fish by blowing up power producing dams.

Fish? I think the correct term is "Sea Kitten":

http://features.peta.org/PETASeaKittens/about.asp

380:

Regarding subtle Irish assistance to the Allies, I was amazed when I found out about the Donegal Corridor not long ago.

381:

On the subject of climate change, I wonder if there is any hope in the next hundred years of implementing carbon-scrubbing technology on a large scale to reduce whatever amount of CO2 we dump in the atmosphere before finally switching to solar or some other non-GHG-emitting energy technology...look at the article here, for example: http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2012/0105/Carbon-dioxide-super-scrubber-Potential-good-news-in-global-warming-fight

If we don't do something like this, I wonder if our civilization may be simply doomed, since it seems fairly inevitable at this point that in the next few decades we'll emit enough CO2 to put the Earth on track to rise in temperature at least 2 degrees C, quite plausibly more like 3 or 4 degrees, which might well be too much for us to survive. See these articles for example:

http://www.grist.org/climate-change/2011-12-05-the-brutal-logic-of-climate-change

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/faq-can-the-durban-climate-talks-avert-catastrophe/2011/12/09/gIQAADqzhO_blog.html?wprss=ezra-klein

382:

And meanwhile, someone's carrying a not too subtle assassination campaign against Iranian nuclear scientists, one just got murdered today with a magnetic bomb planted on his car by a motorist.

383:

>other than military occupation of every other nation on earth. And we sure don't have either the troops or the will to do that.

Not going to argue about the will. In terms of the troops... I agree today, but how long will that be true?

A hundred yesars ago, holding territory meant lots of troops, or controling the governments which controls the local troops. Today, it seems to be around peacekeeping missions with lots of well skilled and aimed troops against IED's / suicide bombs.

Fast forward this trend to 2032. Assume that the US at that point decides it WILL run the planet at whatever cost. Remove the sanctity of human life for non american's. In purely military terms, actions like Iraq would be simple... do want we say or have a city or 3 flatterned. Countries like North Koera would be harder, but someone would need to be made an example of to start with, and why not start with them?

There are more assumptions and what if's in there than I care for, but basically it comes down to avoiding cilivan deaths. With that line removed from the ROE, wars would be both quicker and much bloodier. Not a world I would want to live in.

Speaking of which. Today's bombing of an Iranian scientist is somewhat relivant. Depedning on which slant you believe, this will delay the Iranian nuke program somewhat, or delay the inevitiatble. I don't suppose there will be official confirmation of who did the bombing but there is one obvious suspect.

384:

Fast forward to post 2001, and there are/were a lot of US troops in Iraq on one side of Iran, and a lot of US troops in Afghanistan on the other side. All it would take is one medium-level military nitwit to start a shooting war between Iran and the US.

You're fifteen years too late. I suggest you read up on Iran Air Flight 655. (Incidentally, my money is on IA655 being the real reason for the Lockerbie/Pan Am 103 bombing -- the time scale is perfect for Pan Am 103 being a revenge attack, and I'm utterly unconvinced by the evidence against Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi. Who is still protesting his innocence despite being terminally ill and having been released from prison, which is kind of odd, don't you think, if he'd actually done it?)

For all those people talking about Pearl Harbour and 9/11, remember who won that war and who got shot in hiding by Navy SEALS instead of ruling a new Caliphate.

You seem to be confusing Salafite Sunnis with Shi'ites. I don't think there was any place for Iranian Shi'ites in Bin Laden's planned Caliphate ... at least, not any place they'd enjoy.

385:
I don't suppose there will be official confirmation of who did the bombing but there is one obvious suspect.

Mossad never publicly accepts responsibility for its covert acts. On the other hand, Israel's military chief of staff gave a statement that could at best be called "heavy-handed" that clearly predicted more such assassinations.

Whoever is doing it doesn't seem to care that, while they're taking out scientists who work on Iranian nuclear projects, the major long-term effect has been to piss off Iranian scientists and the Iranian government and make them more determined to continue their program.

386:

"pumped storage, reclaimed water, and the general superiority of the UK in these fields...

Look at it this way: All those Scots and Welsh civil engineers have great careers ahead of them, "

Um, probably not: Dinorwic was a 1970s/80s project, so the people who did it (such as my uncle, who was the turbine guy) have now retired. Bugger.

387:

Look at it this way: All those Scots and Welsh civil engineers have great careers ahead of them, implementing this well-established technology in places like California, where it's new and cool.

Unfortunately we implemented it too long ago -- hydro power in Scotland got close to 90% utilization by the early 1960s. The engineers who dug that stuff have all retired and/or died of old age.

Now, wind power is something else, and if offshore tidal gets going we may have some engineers to export in 15-30 years ...

388:

> Unless you're truly paranoid and see
> American spies everywhere

Which reminds me of a very bad novel I read a few months ago, with one unforgettable line:

"Most people think the Government makes it its business to spy on its citizens. In reality, it's more of a hobby than anything else."

389:

My expectation is that if the USA were to use nuclear weapons anywhere without it being a clear retaliation for an attack on US soil using WMD (preferably nuclear, but lots of nerve gas on a major city might just cut it), sufficient to justify invoking Article 6 of the North Atlantic Treaty (as happened the week after 9/11) ... then NATO would disintegrate. And there'd probably be economic sanctions against the USA and a run on the dollar and an oil/commodities price spike and a global recession (just like 9/11) not to mention two-headed sheep born and wells giving up blood etcetera.

But they don't need to do that; Predators with Hellfire missiles or F-15s with JDAMs are far more selective and accurate and much less controversial.

And in any case, my understanding is that, while a US retaliation against a clear state-initiated nuclear attack is pretty much turn-key, initiating a nuclear attack requires enough committee meetings to sober up even Richard Nixon.)

(Parenthetically, any nation using nuclear weapons is going to cause massive planet-wide outrage and a bunch of unpredictable economic consequences. About the least bad nuclear scenario -- for third parties, anyway -- would be a bilateral nuclear exchange triggered by a sensor glitch, so that everyone else can tell themselves it was an accident and it's all over bar the fallout.)

390:

Not a plausible scenario; the USA has neither the money nor the population to dominate the planet, even today.

300M people out of 7000M gives the US around 5% of population. Economic clout is down to under 25% of planetary GDP. Military spending is around 50% of the total, which sounds high, and the US punches above its weight due to not having to fund 190 defense ministries out of the other 50% of military spending, but there are at least three other countries on this planet who could inflict a world of hurt on the USA via nuclear means (not counting the UK, who rent part of the US nuclear submarine missile inventory).

To occupy a country to the point where you can suppress the natives effectively takes a huge number of boots on the ground; there aren't enough people in the United States to support an occupation force for the EU (pop. 500M; occupation troops required: 25M, plus home front logistical support adding maybe another 50-75M in keeping them supplied), never mind the rest of the planet.

So for this scenario to play out, the US government would have to collectively go crazy and threaten to bomb or nuke anyone at any location who didn't hop when they said "ribbit".

And I stand behind what I said about the likely outcome of a pre-emptive US nuclear strike on, well, anyone who didn't shoot first.

391:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: I am getting bored with the warmongering, and hereby declare a halt to it.

Further "my big brother's nuclear arsenal is bigger than yours!" comments may be moderated or deleted.

392:

I can see ways that such an attack could be managed with minimal radio traffic. It needs a very decentralised system to launch the missiles, each launcher team being able to figure out launch data for a particular patch of ocean, and able to move quickly to the firing position. You might be able to do the survey before the Yanks switch off GPS. You then have a radio broadcast that tells everyone the target location and the time-on-target, maybe a few other options.

The odds of it working as planned are not good, but it's good enough that, for an exercise, you can let it work. And a mass missile attack without obvious warning is a wonderful training opportunity.

I don't think we know the truth about the details, and "cheating" is a necessary claim to keep the politicians sweet. And it's no bad thing to have the politicians wondering if the bad guys really are the walk-over they seem.

I don't think anyone had a reason to tell the whole truth.

393:

> Mossad never publicly accepts
> responsibility for its covert acts.

Sure they do, and their top brass grant interviews to writers to brag about how they did it. I have a couple of those books on my espionage shelf.

Of course, some of those acts were ones where they got caught and publicized, and others were probably revealed to support foreign policy at the time, or simply to boost the mystique of the Mossad.

394:

Armies routinely use field telephones, and routinely put HQ radio transmitters a mile or two away, connected by wire.

Navies, for some arcane reason, don't use this approach so often.

395:

Charlie @ 390
Not (I hope) warmongering.
There is a very effective way to hold a country down, without using huge forces of your own.
Quislings and collaborators.
Particulaly if the "cause" of the occupier is some rampant political or better still, "religous" philosophy. The Nazis were actually (outside the Slavic lands) quite good at that, and the soviets turned it inot a (black) art-form.
And far, far too many other historical examples ....

396:

My guess on the energy future is no silver bullets, just incremental improvements and a mixed energy future. Also, why is it that "conservatives" will so easily fund devices that make smoking holes in the ground and are so tight about helping people? Even when it could reduce energy dependency. Even when helping people is heavily emphasized in their favored collection of myths and fables.

397:

...and something for Charles:

A repeated background feature of Greg Bear's novels is how labor is treated. There, you do your best in school in order to get in with a good temp agency, since the workplace consists mostly of temporary jobs and temps. Quite depressing, and I've seen a strong trend in that direction in my own working lifetime.

Anyway, I found this article to be interesting:

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=4094

quote
But how does one organize a workforce that is, by definition, unaffiliated? Where do you find members, if not in assembly lines or hiring halls? How do you hold your employers accountable and make yourself visible to government when you cannot strike? And isn’t a freelancers’ union, in all its individualistic self-organization, the ultimate oxymoron?
/quote

They're calling it a "union", but it's not a traditional type of union. It's more like a type of service organization. Such organizations have existed for a long time; auto clubs or travel clubs are good examples. For a small fee, you got customized route maps, towing or emergency service, and bail money and/or legal representation in various circumstances.

For some reason this seems to slot neatly into the Halting State / Rule 34 universe, at least in my mind. Instead of distributed crime, distributed service.

What happens when anyone at all can pick a "union" or service organization that suits their own needs? Any needs, not just workplace or healthcare. Send your dues to "Charlie's Lads" and get one set of benefits, send dues to "Arsenal" and get something entirely different.

Say, you're part of your Neighborhood Watch service organization. Mrs. Kravitz across the street is watching all the time anyway. But instead of calling the police when she sees someone jimmying your door, she calls the Manchster United service organization, who'll respond for free, just for the chance of dancing on someone's kidneys in good cause. No need for those annoying Robocops to come swooping in with their interminable questions and forms...

398:

TRX - if you haven't yet read Ken MacLeod's first published novel "The Star Fraction" read it now...

399:

Hi Charlie, in response to your comments on Higher Education, what do you make of this:

http://issuu.com/thestudenthandjob/docs/thestudenthandjob__with_posters_?mode=window&backgroundColor=%23222222

Written by current undergraduates/postgraduates.
As a current Eng Lit phd student, I'll admit your comments and the above make me nervous!
D.

400:

"I can see ways that such an attack could be managed with minimal radio traffic."

So can I. I'm not going to claim that all (or any) of them would actually work but then, unlike those who simply say that it can't be done I'm not claiming to have thought of everything. ...

Which leads me to the point I'm lumbering towards - historically when someone declares "We've thought of all the possible ways $THING could be done and have an effective countermeasure/response for all of them so $THING need not be planned for" $THING has bitten them on the arse often enough that I'm inclined to view such statements with some suspicion.

401:

Quislings and collaborators.
Particulaly if the "cause" of the occupier is some rampant political or better still, "religous" philosophy. The Nazis were actually (outside the Slavic lands) quite good at that, and the soviets turned it inot a (black) art-form.
And far, far too many other historical examples ....

Late-period capitalism makes quislings and collaborators out of all of us who have enough invested in the system to worry about where our next meal is coming from if it's overthrown.

The beauty of late-period capitalism is that it relies on portraying itself as an anti-ideology -- that is, of convincing people that it's just an objectively better way to fulfil their needs and there's no ideology underlying it.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc (who were unambiguously ideological, and who demonstrated the ideological nature of the late-period capitalist program merely by existing as its counterpart) hasn't done us any favours in that respect. (Put it another way, back when there was a demonstrable alternative, the 0.1% couldn't afford to be seen to be as rapacious as they are today.)

402:

Re. Vat-grown meat: we are nowhere closer to growing eukaryotic cells in defined media than when I last worked in a lab, ten years ago. That means that animal-derived serum (mainly foetal calf serum) is still used in tissue culture, rendering the whole process moot, as well as extremely expensive.

403:

Spare me. Please.

Oh wait, that was the blasted Irish multinational that was proposing that stupid solar plant. Never mind.

Off-topic, here's a great example of how to engineer a "green" project, if you're a big Irish multinational c. 2007.
--Propose a big solar thermal plant in the California desert, just like you've already built (and quickly mothballed) in Spain.
--Design it to sprawl across a desert wash, a bunch of archeology sites (including an old immigrant trail that was slated to be converted to a historical monument and opened to hikers), and to use all the water from an isolated aquifer that supplies a small town and popular desert park.
--Throw enough money around that BLM privately tells the environmentalists that the project is "a done deal" and they're just going through the motions by taking comments. (To be fair, they backed off building across the desert wash when someone showed them that it had flooded only ten years before).
--Oops, it's 2008. Where'd the money go? Sell off the project, rename, reorganize. But it's still a done deal, dammit.
--Reject an alternative site on nearby farmland as totally unworkable.
--Go bankrupt again.
--Reorganize, redesign for photovoltaic solar instead of solar thermal to get around that pesky water issue, and get back to fiddling.
--Meanwhile, the rejected farmland already has a solar plant going up on it.

For those in the US, the BLM is soliciting comments on a plan to license solar and wind projects on public lands *even faster.* I've got a few things to say, all right. One is that BLM didn't meet enough venture capitalists back in the nineties, so they're not immunized against the worst excesses of fast-talking moneyslingers. Sigh. Maybe if Obama gets re-elected, Salazar will dry up and blow away too.


404:

The collapse of the Soviet bloc (who were unambiguously ideological, and who demonstrated the ideological nature of the late-period capitalist program merely by existing as its counterpart) hasn't done us any favours in that respect. (Put it another way, back when there was a demonstrable alternative, the 0.1% couldn't afford to be seen to be as rapacious as they are today.)

Ah, dualistic thinking. That's another ideology, too, part of Christian programming (good vs. evil, for example).

The interesting thing here is that Capitalism may have screwed up in defeating communism. As with many other foes (for example: mosquitoes, disease, hunger, etc), capitalism wages a "war," declares "victory" and then goes onto something else after abandoning the infrastructure of that allowed the "war" to be "won."

Then the "enemy" evolves. Pests and pathogens, under intense selective pressure, evolve resistance, hunger gets to be a bigger problem as more and more people are added to the world. And so forth.

The injustices of capitalism are still around, but unfortunately for the rampant capitalists, they can no longer be easily classified as communist sympathizers. So sad. There are now attacks from all sides, from cultural conservatives to Occupiers to netizens. And even if most of these little annoyances get beaten down, the beat-down will just cause more selective pressure. It's a Red Queen race, really.

405:

Over 20 years ago I heard a really inspiring speech given by a retired Natural Resources Cabinet Minister who'd since become a civilian campaigner for preserving natural resources. His major point was that a Water War would occur before an Energy War because there's no commercial interest in water. Since then I've been watching what arid regions (esp. Israel, California, Nevada, Colorado) have been doing - not an awful lot.

The Israeli water desalination projects have been around for over 20 years now, yet this region still experiences major water shortages. Past 20-year info on Colorado, Nevada, California suggests that rather than figure out how to reclaim/reuse water more effectively, these jurisdictions have preferred to build dams to block others' access to potable water (rivers). I can't recall whether the PR clips said that the dams were primarily intended to provide hydro power.

I'm not a scientist, but it appears that you are - so: while desalination seems a good idea, what happens to the excess salt? Is desalination a healthy/viable long-term strategy in these regions? (Since ice caps are melting thereby causing ocean waters to become less saline, sea water desalination just might be the magic fix for both problems.)

Looking forward to your response.

406:

There's some truth in what you say, but note that the staunch proponents of late-period capitalism have hauled out and dusted off the old shibboleths for use against the new predators. That's why the terms "communist", "nazi", and "fascist" have been used so much lately, especially in new compound forms like "Islamofascist". I especially like that last one because of how it resonates with Mussolini's foreign policy in Africa :-)

407:

I'm not a scientist, but it appears that you are - so: while desalination seems a good idea, what happens to the excess salt?

You can safely tip it back into the ocean. (Dilute it first, so as not to kill off the sea life.) The hydrological cycle isn't a closed loop, so eventually the potable water you desalinated will run back into the sea (or evaporate and fall as rain on the sea or end up in rivers that have estuaries etcetera).

408:

The problem with recycling water is "toilet to tap"= YUCK for most people in California. Fortunately, it's becoming more palatable out here with every drought cycle. And anyone who's drunk water in New Orleans is drinking water that's passed through six or seven kidneys already on its way down the Mississippi, so it really shouldn't be the issue that people make it out to be.

With desalinization plants, the general idea is to dump extremely salty brine (not pure salt) back into the ocean or wherever they got the saltwater from. There's some concern among environmentalists that this is screwing up the ocean where the brine flows out, but compared to sewer effluent coming out of sanitation plants already, it's hard to tell how big a problem it is.

The real issue with desalinization is that it's energy intensive, and it doesn't look like there's a way to get around this issue. It only makes sense where potable water is quite expensive to begin with. As a result, there aren't too many desalinization plants around California. There's one on Catalina Island, because they've had all their aquifers tapped out since the 1960s (it was the only way they could build a new development on the island), and there's discussion of building one north of San Diego.

As with the solar issues (see the rant at 403, above), the problems with water are largely political and go back to the 19th Century, when Mark Twain wrote "Whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over." Land that's developed from the wilderness (under the Homestead Act) gains certain things, including water rights, that cause its value to go up.

Back in the 19th Century when people were settling California, they didn't have a science of hydrology, and the water rights they handed out to the farmers exceeded the capacity of some rivers, especially in drought conditions. Because resource rights tied to land are involved, it's hard to reapportion the water in a sane way (I can't use the word equitable, again because of those century-old water rights).

This rights issue also plays out in the deserts, where BLM is ignoring all the semi-developed land under its control, and trying to lease out wilderness for solar and wind. The thing is, wilderness has no water rights attached to it, so it's cheaper, and this seems to drive investor's calculations to the exclusion of all other factors. That a farmer got a solar project approved faster on his land tells you how questionable the whole "cheap land is good" notion is. The environmentalists have been saying this for, oh, two years now. The farmers are listening, but it's not clear when BLM or international investors will get the message.

409:

Charlie & heteromeles - Thank you both!


Re: "The real issue with desalinization is that it's energy intensive, and it doesn't look like there's a way to get around this issue. It only makes sense where potable water is quite expensive to begin with."

... in the meanwhile I'm paying premium prices for Sea Salt? Talk about (missed) marketing opps: Genuine California Sea Salt .. Add Hollywood bistro flavor to all your foods ... Pamper yourself with a California Sea Salt scrub, etc.!

410:

Desalinization might be a good thing to do to the Salton Sea, which is a highly salty (mostly) man-made body of water in California created largely by accident of hydrological engineering and the tourist industry, and largely ignored by tourists. Taking the water out wouldn't bother any wildlife I know about, and I don't think there are more than a few dozen people living in the area any more.

411:

Actually, no. There's a huge push on to clean up the Salton Sea, even with the crappy economy. While it's no longer a tourist resort, it is a major wildlife refuge.

The problem is that, as coastal lands have gotten developed in southern California, migratory waterbirds started using the Salton Sea as their major stopover on the Pacific flyway. It's become critical to over a dozen bird species, some quite rare. The farm fields and irrigation ditches around the area are also home to a surprisingly large number of birds (yes, I've been there).

They do have big problems with salinity in the Valley, and my guess is that the worst affected latifundias (as some have described the big farms out there) may try putting solar arrays on their fields, rather than trying to grow lettuce, onions, or alfalfa. Or algal biodiesel. We'll see. The Imperial Valley is a weird place, and the Imperial Irrigation District is almost pharaonic in some ways.

412:

Reading about the assassination of that Iranian scientist makes me wonder to what extent superior technology will enable targeted assassination.

Trying the leaders of rogue states in absentee, condemning them to death and then having a micro drone kill them would certainly take a lot of the fun out of being a dictator.

413:

I personally think that if both your next door neighbours just got invaded by the world's most powerful military, investing in some nuclear weapons is a perfectly rational response.

What people tend to forget is that any Iranian desire for nuclear weapons is motivated at least in part by regional politics. To wit, the fact that their former number one enemy (Iraq under Saddam Hussein) came surprisingly close to developing them, and the fact that their other significant neighbor (Pakistan) already has them.

(The first public revelations about undeclared -- and possibly weapons-related -- Iranian nuclear facilities appeared in 2002; since these sites were not constructed overnight, they clearly predate the US invasion of Afghanistan, not to mention the invasion of Iraq.)

414:

I would not call the pursuit exactly "rational" since most scenarios I can think of end with Iran in a worse not better place as a result of pursuing them.

If nothing else, Israel is quite likely to nuke them preemptively.

However I imagine they are feeling very backed into a corner at this point, and people that are desperate are rarely rational.

I think the US plan is to treat them like we treat North Korea and sanction them, ignore the hell out of them and let them to go to hell by pieces

415:

Iraq was nowhere near developing nuclear weapons.
They had no reactors for Plutonium and no enrichment program for Uranium.

416:

Ah, my mistake. The last I heard the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Reclamation bill had provided a few million dollars for the work, but almost none of it had been spent. I guess I shouldn't be surprised about the birds; I used to hang around some of the migratory bird wetlands in Northern Cal. Got some great photographs here in all the film I have to scan in.

417:

But the Turks got invited to the top table in the 19th century because their empire was too big to ignore. And they got to stay there in the 20th because, unlike the Germans, they beat us in the Great War. We tend not to notice that because they lost their empire; but we invaded them and their army kicked our arses, which is how come it took over there.

Er, no. While the Ottomans certainly did defeatt the Allied invasion of Gallipoli, and the initial British invasion of Mesopotamia, they lost the rest of the war: Palestine, Syria, and (eventually) Mesopotamia all fell to British armies (and Arab uprisings). WW1 ended with Allied armies occupying Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire partitioned among the victors. The attempted Greek takeover of western Anatolia in 1919 triggered Turkish resistance and the Turkish War of Independence; only the latter can be considered a lasting Turkish victory.

418:

Googled IID - they're having a Water Conservation Advisory Board Meeting tomorrow (January 12, 2011 - 1:30pm - 3:00pm). Maybe some of the Californians here could attend and update us on real-world progress.

419:

The point is that Iraq (in the 1980s) was actively working towards that capability (see, e.g., here). The post-Gulf-War revelation of how large and active the Iraqi program really was would not have been very comforting to Iran, especially given that Hussein remained in power after the Gulf War.

420:

@peter#417 - yes, exactly. That's what I meant. Not only did they repulse our invasion of earlier, but they kicked us out of Istanbul and Thrace later (well, mainly the Greeks with some French support but there were Brits there). And of course they comprehensively walloped the Greek-with-rather-sullen-British-support attempt to take over mainland Anatolia.

421:

This reminds me a bit of "comprador capitalism", as if many industrial country where devolving towards that stage:

http://www.quora.com/What-does-the-term-comprador-capitalism-signify-and-what-are-the-term-s-origins

It's more economically complex than just having quislings and "collaborateurs" and volunteers for the Charlemagne legion.

Surprisingly little on comprador capitalism on the Web.

422:

Er, yes. It was called 'The Chanak Crisis' so as not to call it 'The unsucessful attempt to impose the Treaty of Sevres on the Turks, which was then withdrawn and the far less punitive (unless you were Greek) Treaty of Lausanne negotiated in its place.'

Sevres was the Turkish iteration of the Paris Peace Conference, along with Versailles, Saint-German, Neuilly and Trianon.

423:

Won't be me, I'm afraid. I'm already booked up, and that's a bit of a road trip.

424:

Strictly speaking Al Qaeda's eventual game plan, after taking over the post-Saud and america/foreigner free Saudi Arabia, was to then try to convert the entire world to wahhabist islam... which had the weird theological problem that by the standards of wahhabism all non-wahhabist muslims were apostates, and while Islam has very specific laws about how to treat never-been-believers, there's no equivalent lore about the treatment for apostates... so "put them to the death" is Al Qaeda's solution to that little theological conundrum.

Yeah, so every muslim in Iran? Dead if AQ got its way; 99.99% of all muslims in the whole world? Dead if AQ got its way.

Which puts AQ in the slightly odd position that the only people who hate muslims more than AQ are the few complete nutters like Christopher Hitchens (trollface.jpeg) who wanted to kill ALL muslims, including the 0.001% that AQ doesn't explicitly want to kill.

(it also led to that weird phenomenon in Afghanistan during the early stages of the conflict where Taliban fighters were erecting animist shrines to dead AQ fighters, much to the dismay of surviving AQ members who view that sort of thing as basically paganism and idol worship.)

On Iraq and Iran and nuclear weapons, it bears mentioning that in the 90s Iran and Israel teamed up in the weirdest of buddy cop movie ever to coordinate airstrikes against Saddam's last serious attempt at developing The Bomb - since those attacks Iraq always had the problem that EVERY country that it bordered with made damn sure that no fissile material could reach Iraq - Iran by contrast has the porous border with Pakistan (who's scientists leaked a lot of scientific necessary to develop nuclear weapons gained during the Pakistani nuclear weapon program, pissing off the Pakistani military industrial complex in the process who wanted to keep that stuff to themselves, the messy kurdish/turkish border to the north, afghanistan, iraq... one of the many arguments against the Iraq war is that by invading Iraq and deposing Saddam it's provided another avenue through which Iran can obtain fissile material.

but the good thing about those borders is that it means that strictly speaking Iran could probably obtain highly enriched fissile material from external sources, if it was immediately going to construct and test a nuke for saber rattling and immediate destruction of Israel purposes, it wouldn't be bothering with an enrichment program of its own - any evidence of an enrichment program is likely evidence that Iran is going to take the Israeli or Japanese routes of having nuclear weapon capabilities, but never actually construct and test a nuke like North Korea and Pakistan.

Which also makes more sense from the internal politics stand point as the Ayatollah's wouldn't be entirely happy with the military and republican guard having access to live and ready nuclear weapons - Pakistan and North Korea have despotisms where the military is running the government, and so actually benefit from having nukes in a political sense, as it empowers the military and secret police. By contrast, Iran is a despotism run by its judiciary, and it's in their best interest to not tip the scale of power towards the military that much.

And the military would be in charge of the nukes, and that defuses the whole "but the religious nutters will overcome MAD because they don't care if they live or die", because while its debatable if there are any atheists to be found in foxholes, the one thing you don't find in Foxholes (by definition) are people too suicidal to hide in a foxhole once the shooting starts - and the people in Iran's military might be power hungry, but they're also people who survived the Iran-Iraq wars. Iran's military will respect MAD, because its generals have all seen WMDs usage first hand, in fact is one of the few military forces on earth that has.

425:

Hmm...why wouldn't world leaders try to move from a "let the grunts fight it out, we'll be back here with the Chateau d'Yquem and caviar." methodology of warfare to a "let the leaders die first" one?

Not to mention the chances that suddenly leaderless underlings might pull something dramatic in the disarray.

426:

"The beauty of late-period capitalism is that it relies on portraying itself as an anti-ideology -- that is, of convincing people that it's just an objectively better way to fulfil their needs and there's no ideology underlying it."

Of course it's ideological. So is communism.
You can find poor people who are ardently anti-communist/socialist, even though they'd be materially better off under a socialist system- why? Brainwashing, or just holder of an ideology that strongly opposes mutual cooperation with others?
Similarly, you can find comfortable-to-wealthy people who do support socialism, even though they'd presumably be less materially well off. Why? Silly, or just predisposed to find solidarity with other people?

(I have a sneaking suspicion that there's a deep neurological basis of both of these)

427:

That's true, but they subsequently did pretty well against the Greeks, and you don't see other muslim nations getting a sniff at NATO membership.
Here's my one bit of stick-my-neck-out futurology:
A future in which Turkey is a full EU member will be a more prosperous and happier and more peaceful future for Europe than one in which Turkey is not a full member.

428:

Predicting US politics: I recommend reading Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s essay "The Cycles of American Politics." Included in The Cycles of American History.

Historical note: In 1909, the Nevada legislature voted to outlaw gambling forever; the law took effect in 1910. "Forever" turned out to be till 1931, when the legislature temporarily lifted that ban.

429:

Administrative notice

I am displeased by the ongoing discussion of middle eastern nuclear politics. Please desist.

430:

#355 - Cruachan PS Hydro station ins Scotland has its top reservoir about 3_000 feet up a 3_500 foot mountain, so there's not a huge watershed to feed it. It's effectively a big accumulator for load-smoothing across the working day.

On the question of water re-use, Joan Slonczewski blogged on "how the UK are effectively all on Prosac" some time before Christmas there. I did comment, observing that that is probably only true of places like London which are heavily dependant on river water that travels through several other municipality water systems before they get it.

Also, at least AIUI, "grey water" is water that has been used for washing (people, crockery, clothing, possibly vehicles); "brown water" is the euphemism for water containing human deficated waste.

431:

I think you'll find that the Cruachan upper reservoir is 400 metres above sea level, in a 1126 metre high mountain. That is a slight difference...

I also recall walking through the valley behind it many years ago, and noticing some concrete interception structures in the streams. It did occur to me then that they could be channeling some of the water back through the mountain to the reservoir. effectively doubling the catchment area. Anyone wish to comment?
Unfortunately I was a child when we visited it, so can't really recall anything of the interior.

432:

THeir website says: "A network of 19 kilometres of tunnels and pipes divert rainwater from streams into the reservoir. The station can be used as a conventional hydro plant, using run-off water from its upper reservoir’s catchment area. Around 10% of Cruachan’s electricity is produced in this way."

433:

#431 and #432 - Thus proving that I did not check my references! However, since the reversable turbines used at Cruachan are less efficient than the non-reversable ones in most hydro schemes, the 10% of load generated from the upper reservior catchment water does actually support my base point that the facility is basically a battery rather than a source of additional electricity.

434:

Getting back to your original topic, i.e., what life will be like in 20+ years, I'd like to add two speculations.

Speculation 1- Due to genetics/environmental research, animal domestication will be banned as it will have been shown to irreversibly impact animal evolution.

Rational for Spec 1- "Hatcheries Change Salmon Genetics After a Single Generation - ScienceDaily (Dec. 19, 2011) — The impact of hatcheries on salmonids is so profound that in just one generation traits are selected that allow fish to survive and prosper in the hatchery environment, at the cost of their ability to thrive and reproduce in a wild environment. The findings, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show a speed of evolution and natural selection that surprised researchers. They confirmed that a primary impact of hatcheries is a change in fish genetics, as opposed to a temporary environmental effect."

Speculation 2- IKEA, the leader in DYI furnishings, announced their entry into the even more lucrative housing construction/renovbation sector via complete DIY home-building kits. All 3 IKEA home kits will come with the signature IKEA Allen key - the only tool ever needed to assemble IKEA products. IKEA first decided to enter this market following the complete failure of FEMA and UN-recognized NGOs to address housing shortages following natural disasters (Haiti, Thailand, Japan, etc.). The new IKEA home kits are guaranteed to last 10 years and which cost less than 15% of a traditionally built home of similar size. IKEA business development analysts noted that apart from natural disaster recovery consumers, this new product line would also appeal to the ever-growing frequently relocated/migrant knowledge and IT worker contract worker segments. IKEA BD analysts also noted that focus groups show IKEA's new house-in-a-box product line appeals to budget-conscious traditional neighborhood-centered home owners who already remodel/renovate their entire homes every 5-7 years. IKEA indicated that the upcoming JONESES home-in-a-kit model is already in the design finalization stage.

435:

Visually - just about every house and building will have solar panels attached either for heating or electricity. If neglected power generation results in brownouts most people will also have load levelling batteries.

436:

Y'quem doesn't go with caviar, it goes nicely with foie gras, though.

437:

The comment about IKEA housing reminded me that we are almost due for the conflict between Tesco and Denmark.

438:

Re speculation 1 - I find it extremely unlikely that after generations of knowing about this, we would suddenly now decide to stop breeding animals.

It might conceivably impact zoos and wildlife parks, though, and it might affect fish farming next to wild populations.

(Your use of the word 'irreversibly' seems a little unwarranted: there is rarely such a thing in evolution, as the case of the peppered moth in Britain's industrial areas has shown.)

439:

Why not IKEA in the 21st century; there are Sears houses still standing. Since the suggestion was originally made with a humorous tone I'll suggest watching Buster Keaton's One Week, which shows how a kit house project can run into trouble (synopsis at the link, video linked therefrom).

440:

Any thoughts / actual 'live' ones of these yet (meaning the batterys)?

I agree with both your comments, but wonder if it wouldn't make sense to use them already, as (I believe) that the current rate you get for electricity into the grid is less than you would pay for it coming out, so you should look to maximise the use of your 'own' KWH's.

441:

Commentary about the Salton Sea has me thinking about how such things might play out in the future.

For those with no reason to know of it - frex, every person in Scotland - this is a low area in California, along the San Andreas Fault and mostly within the Imperial Valley (like Death Valley, it's below sea level); over millions of years it's been a dry basin pr a river lake or something in between as the local climate and hydrology changed. The current situation came about through what may be the most dramatic man-made ecological accident of its era; heavy rainfall pushed a river over some canal headgates, which lead to more water in other places, and when all of the dominoes stopped falling the Colorado River had left its usual route and was pouring into the empty desert in the Salton Basin; this continued for two years. (As a comparison, the Colorado discharges about 500 m^3/s at its mouth, compared to about 66 m^3/s for the Thames at London; it's not a small river.) A hundred years ago this was an environmental disaster; today people are working to preserve the Salton Sea as it hardly ever was (first water spill, 1905; first salvage proposal, 1955). The alternatives, a salt lake like the Dead Sea or the dry salty and intermittently flooded basin it was before the railroads came through.

As our host says, by 2032 "the current remaining question marks over climate change will have been answered." We've heard little speculation about what new questions will have come up, which is reasonable - if we knew those questions we'd be asking them now. So I'll ask what man-made environmental change you folks think will warrant preserving.

As an example, the Alaska Pipeline provided unexpectedly popular with the fauna of the region; pipe support structures created microclimates suitable for vegetation and a degree of shelter from the weather. After we move from oil to magic pixie dust, will environmentalists be happy ripping out this habitat?

442:

Agree - 'irreversible' might be too strong a word choice here. However, this recently published research does suggest how evolution might be ramped up, i.e., via crowding. The scary part is that it also suggests that merely reversing the environmental circumstances may not be sufficient to undo this 'evolutionary' change.

443:

(apologies if this has already been covered)

"Over 20 years ago I heard a really inspiring speech given by a retired Natural Resources Cabinet Minister who'd since become a civilian campaigner for preserving natural resources. His major point was that a Water War would occur before an Energy War because there's no commercial interest in water. Since then I've been watching what arid regions (esp. Israel, California, Nevada, Colorado) have been doing - not an awful lot."

If the Middle East didn't have vast reserves of oil (energy), would the USA .have put vast forces there?
Not to mention the other players who can afford expensive toys and armies.

444:

Well, there's this: IKEA/Skanska BoKlok.

Although that concept requires a bit more than just one tool – you still need concrete foundations, and cranes to assemble the modules – but apparently that's done in a single day anyway.

It's not really DIY either; really kind of the opposite, more like buying the Apple brand than assembling a PC from parts.

I wasn't aware of that aspect at all, so it's interesting to see just how far it goes. You don't just buy a house and plonk it down somewhere – oh no, you get a whole lifestyle, including the neighborhood you live in. Just go to the nearest IKEA store (no, seriously) and you can get an apartment, home insurance, and of course the furniture...

445:

A few comments:

Charles: "Climate change denialism will probably be about as respectable as Lysenkoism is today — an intellectually corrupt pseudo-science emerging at the behest of a bankrupt ideology. "

I assume that this chiefly applies to the USA, where it's a 50-50 deal. Remember, this is a country where flying the flag of a slavers' revolt is OK, and a major part of a dominant political party. And pre-millenial dispensasionalism became resectable, and has stayed so, during generation after generation of End Times.

Which leads into the two biggest factors after climate change, which are how the USA and EU handle themselves.

I feel that the EU has three choices right now - fix things, shatter, or worst of both worlds. In the first, the EU would gradually become one of the big major developed countries over the 21st century, with an extremely well-educated population, competitive industries, and other countries begging to join. In the second case, Europe becomes a collection of countries who don't cooperate well, and fight frequent trade/currency wars (at best; at worst we see actual wars). In the 'worst of both worlds' case, the EU stays together, but Germany and France (with help from the UK and USA) 'colonize' the southern tier, installing technocratic governments whose only job is to pay off the German/French/UK/US big banks. This poses a problem for the powerhouse of the EU, Germany, since it needed to make money by exporting to the southern tier. In that scenario I'd expect a divided Europe which doesn't do that well overall, but where the elites in the north and their lackeys in the south prosper. Some countries would still be striving to enter, but it'd be far less attractive (joining means handing over your currency and finances to the ECB, whose open job at that point would be financial enserfment).


The US faces a trillemma, as well, but with far nastier downsides. It's clear by now that the financial system in the USA has gotten to the stage where the parasite threatens the host's life. The USA could well be in for a cycle of economic crashes, with the elites sucking in money in the good times, and then sucking money in the bad times (from bailouts and having cash when nobody else does). This happens until it's no longer possible for the USA to bail itself out, and then it has a hard slide into has-been status. All the while suffering from the social maladies one would expect. A second option is the even harder end, where the USA decides that spending 50% of the world's military spending should yield greater short-term advantages, and wages war against the rest of the world (full-on, or just something which makes the current Republican Party look mild).
I'd expect this to have some horrible consequences on both the USA and the rest of the world. I can well see the USA being the major troublemaker of the 21st century, until various factors put the mad beast down, relatively hard.

The third option, of course, is that the USA adapts well to a changing world. By the late 2100's, the USA is economically in the middle of a top group of countries (with the EU being a country).

446:

That would have to be an awfully big Allen wrench to hold together load-bearing members of a house. Might be handy, though: you could jump up and down on the end to get that last few newton-meters to snug down the bolts that hold the front wall to the foundation.

447:

Speaking of tools, I usually use my Swiss Army Knife on my computer.

448:

Thanks very much - I wasn't aware that IKEA actually was in this business already. (I also considered LEGO.)

Prefab housing has been around for decades and given its lower cost should be more popular. Ease of assembly, 'neighborhoods', and cheap plug-in infrastructure (water, hydro/energy, communications, etc.) were the historical barriers. Communications is no longer a major barrier. Energy might be the next physical infrastructure barrier to fall.

'Neighborhoods' is a social construct and given how few people actually know any of their neighbors any more, is unimportant apart from signifying socioeconomic class. Fairly easy to manage/market really.

449:

OTOH, my parents were taught in Cork medical school by an Irish medic who made no secret of how he'd help storm a Japanese-held hill in Burma during the great anti-fascist struggle.

450:

Greg, I'm no fan of Dev, but you're forgetting that when FDR died the whole Dublin parliament adjourned for the day as a mark of respect.

You're also forgetting that the Dublin fire brigade assisted in the tackling of the fires started in the Belfast blitz of 1941, and that allied pilots who crashed in the 26 counties were allowed to return to the UK, while German pilots were interned.

Ireland was neutral not because of German threats (if they couldn't mount Operation Sea Lion across the Pas-de-Calais, they were hardly going to make it over the much longer distance to Ireland), but because the divisions left over from the civil war were still very bitter in the 1930s, and made overt Irish participation in the war impossible.

And had Irish participation been essential to the Allied effort, Ireland would have been unilaterally occupied the way Iceland and northern Iran were (the latter being the only time the Red Army and HM Forces mounted joint operations).

451:

Charlie, one plausible piece of technology you don't mention is Vactrains. Those could potentially kill all long route air traffic by being much faster.

452:

Some thoughts on medicine in 2032:

ISTM that the way medical services are delivered is going to change drastically in places where the social contract doesn't break down. Medical test and sensor technology is already starting into a Moore's Law size, function, and cost curve; over the next 20 years we should see deployment of cheap and easy-to-use diagnostic and implanted monitoring sensors that can access a user's mobile phone to send data to a doctor, clinic, or hospital emergency room if necessary. In the case of patients with known, chronic conditions these implants could include standard treatment equipment such as nerve or heart stimulators, drug infusion pumps, or gut environment modifiers for changing the relative proportions of commensal bacteria varieties.

This level of remote service based on cheap equipment manufactured by micro- and nano-lithographic techniques would reduce the cost of health services significantly, and allow concentrating health professionals into larger clinics and hospitals where they could multiply each others' efforts and the use of the larger and more expensive medical equipment, with still further cost reductions. It would also allow significantly improving health care in areas outside the cities, where there is currently a shortage of both medical personnel and health care funds in many societies. In any society where health care is a rational goal (as opposed to the US, for instance), this would result in better and more individualized health care at lower cost. It might also, at least in some countries, allow adequate health care to be provided to the large number of city dwellers who today are cut off from most health services by living in favellas and shantytowns. The resultant improvement in the heallth of the poorer (and largely disenfranchised) parts of the population could result in a shift in the balance of power in some of the more unequal socio-economic systems in South America, Africa, and Asia. With increased health and longevity and a shift in political power would probably come a greater ability to share in the production and consumption of goods and services, and a positive feedback in the increase in GDP and economic prosperity.

On the other hand, the medical problems of the earlier-developed nations in Europe and North America will be different because they'll be farther along on the demographic shift to older populations in 2032. The cheap remote sensors, combined with techniques for delaying or controlling various forms of dementia would free older cohorts from assisted living, allowing some of them to continue working (if there are jobs for them), and allowing many of them to participate in the political life of the society. This will broaden the power base of the older cohorts and may prevent or at least ameliorate the effects of a narrow oligarchy of older citizens, but it probably won't affect the top-heavy power demographic of an aging society.

☤ Yes, there are certainly some nasty security, reliability, and privacy issues to be dealt with here, especially if we add treatment to these gadgets. And there are some serious civil rights issues, especially if a government tries to make medical sensors mandatory and use them as a very invasive part of a panopticon implementation.

453:

Medicine? It will be possible to live longer and more healthily. But it will be expensive. And most people will be old. And turkeys won't vote for Christmas.

There will be three kinds of medical services in the world in twenty to fifty years time. Most people will live in countries with some kind of national health service and/or tax-subsidised insurance. It will take up 20-30% of the total GNP of the country and rising (one day it will be more than half), and it will employ an awful lot of those low-paid people some posters upthread thought would be unemplyed for ever - because pervasive healthcare needs lots of cleaners and home helps and hewers of wood and drawers of water as well as doctors and technicians. Suggesting that the healthcare budget be cut will be political suicide in any representative democracy (as it already is in many countries including Britain).

A few people -maybe many tens of millions worldwide but probably not many hundreds - will live in what are essentially small, rich, low-tax city states or giant gated communities for the rich where everyone either has enough money to pay for what they want or else works for someone who pays for them. Dubai plus.

Quite a lot of people, but I hope and expect not a huge number, will live in countries that are in the same sorry state that Somalia is now, or Afghanistan, or the dodgier parts of some central Asian countries, where there is either no effective public service at all, or an actual civil war going on. They will mostly either leave or die young.

The USA can choose between (1) and (3). Its too big for (2)

Crudely, if technology gets to the point where expensive modern healthcare gives you a very good chance of living in decent health to the age of 100-120 - and I think it will very soon - and if most voters are over 50 - are they going to vote for their own deaths?

Like I said before I can't see beyond that into Struldbrug land. Can typical lifespans be extended to 200? 300? Indefinite? Maybe they can, but it would require new medical techniques we don't have yet. Its ahrd to think of a reason why it would be impossible, there is no phsyical law against it, but maybe its just so hard to do (complex, expensive, whatever) that its impractical.

454:

I'm not convinced the cost of health care will go up in a well-run medical system. As I said in #453, I think a lot of the routine medical tests and treatments are going to follow Moore's Law for function and cost, at least until 2032. This will reduce the cost of health care by reducing the cost of equipment, reducing the number of health care professionals required to proved the services, and increasing the amount of preventive medicine that can be delivered for a given cost.The fly in the ointment is Big Pharma, which has the power to control both the price of medicine and the direction of research into new medicines. In some countries they're going to find themselves heavily regulated to control that power; in others they'll probably be allowed to run loose as they have in the past.

455:

Before this discussion shuffles off, I'd like to draw parallels between world building scenarios for decades hence, and Charlie's interest in generation ships and civilisation concepts that can survive.

If you take on-board that oil will be a major problem, and that there are other major blocks possible as well, you have to take how we are changed and react to those collapse scenarios within your world building.

Now, I'd contend that one of the common themes that arise in such scenarios (particularly transport limited ones) is the breaking apart of large scale nationalism into small groups. Charlie has mentioned how he considered that scales above ~5m tend not to work - and empirical evidence suggests that in any large scale group "the 'stupid' is too powerful". If you assume that the common theme will be collapse and breaking apart - you have to ask what group size makes sense for survive.

I'd suggest the singleton or family group won't cut it, and that even groups of ~100 will probably be too small to have the resources and resilience to survive.

Thus, like the generation ship issue, I think we can expect groups of several hundred, up to tens of thousands make most sense - city states. Big enough to have the capability to maintain a civilisational level, small enough that the dumb don't rule.

You hit here the same issue as in those generation ships, how do you get the collection of capabilities and resources to maintain a civilisation long term - and what level can you maintain?

Whilst trade and resupply is potentially possible on Earth, you wouldn't want to have to rely on rare earth metals coming half way round the world in a post oil peak scenario.

What you therefore end up with is a civilisation structure and level that matches what can be achieved locally. And further more, what can be achieved locally varies; and thus so do these city state structures.

At a bare minimum, you need to be able to farm, to deliver power, to defend against incursion, and to create value to trade. Can you maintain plastics manufacture? Chemicals? Metals and machinery? Chips?

An interesting question is what collections of capabilities are robust to this future collapsed world with the city state scale you have; and what combination of location and capability mix maintains the highest level of civilisation?

I'm thinking the answer to that question, and the generation ship question, will have similar answers.

456:

"I think a lot of the routine medical tests and treatments are going to follow Moore's Law for function and cost, at least until 2032"

I could be persuaded to agree with this. Unfortunately, it's not going to affect spending much- it's not the routine care that breaks the bank.
For example- a US medicare report from about 2002 (studying 1992-96) showed about a quarter of the total medicare expenditure on a patient occurred in the last year of life...when they're trying to patch things that aren't going to be patched.
As long as people want (and get) extraordinary care rather than just going out on the ice floe, healthcare costs are going to keep going up dramatically.

457:

in order for vaccum trains to happen, either someone needs to go all in on "Fixing the economy by digging holes! Useful holes in bedrock!"- or the price of tunneling needs to come down, a lot. If what happens is the first option, it would annihilate "domestic" air travel over the polit(ies) that did it, but longhaul air stays intact.

Eh. This could have really odd political consequences. Senario: Team austerity start loosing elections all over europe, very badly, and faced with the loss of political power, it turns out that there is, in fact, an alternative to TINA - the printing presses get spun up, and the unemployed are handed hardhats and a crash course in rockworks, cement pouring and cable laying, as every bluesky nutty infrastruture programme that can be found gets funded. This includes blasting a network of tunnels between every major european city, pumping most of the air out, and running deeply transonic maglevs in them. Which, in terms of travel time, means that central London ends up being closer to Paris and Berlin than quite large chunks of the UK, and if anything could cement a european demos, I think that would do it. Not going to be pretty for cities that fail to get hooked up, tough.

458:

One of the foundation books of the organic farming movement is Farmers of Forty Centuries by F.H. King, about the agriculture of China, Japan, and Korea back around 1900.

Personally, I'd like to see every high-quality farm field in use now still being farmed 1000 years from now. That's monument enough for me.

459:

If you're personally seeing the fields a thousand years from now, that's a monument to your doctor. Bada-bing...

460:

Or those beautiful "natural lakes" the "Norfolk Broads" (actually the results of Victorian peat digging, mining or whatever the word is).

461:

I assume that this chiefly applies to the USA, where it's a 50-50 deal. Remember, this is a country where flying the flag of a slavers' revolt is OK

Thus proving that you know less about the ASW, the Confederacy, and about modern Dixie than you think you do.

1) Not all of the states in the Confederacy were "slave states"; Some of them (Texas and California spring to mind) were fighting for greater rights for states, including, for instance, the right to cecede from the Union, rather than in support of retaining the slave populations they didn't have.
2) The flag everyone associates with the Confederacy is actually their Naval battle ensign and not a variation on their "national flag".
3) Large parts of the population of Dixie see it as symbol of pride in their cultural differences (which do exist) from the Yankee states rather than anything to do with slavery (as related to me by a Dixie black who happily displayed said ensign as a symbol of his pride in living in Louisiana).

462:

You expected the genes of everything to stay the same forever?

Always confuses me how many ecology enthusiasts are proponents of ecological stasis for its own sake, as though the world somehow wouldn't change without us.
(Not wanting the world to change in ways inconsistent with human agricultural and habitation habits is another thing entirely)

463:

Physics nerd chiming in: vis a vis particle accelerators, the rather Star Trek-sounding plasma wakefield accelerators might provide a way to trade off beam intensity for more energy, with prototypes managing ridiculous gradients like 1GeV in 3.3cm.

There ain't the faintest that scaled-up versions would have performance that good, but the promising aspect is that the bottleneck in the performance of these things is how accurate a simulation you can run. So with any luck, their development will proceed as a function of good ole' Moore's Law.

464:

@ 450
I was unaware of the Dublin Fire Brigade's efforts - thanks.
I suppose my dislike of "Dev" was his clinging to the RC church.
I mentioned my culture-shock in the Ireland of 1966 ... I mean, I went to Inchicore Works (the engineering headquarters of what was then CIE - now IR) and an establishment with a famous engineering history.
What was out the front of this place?
A statue of the unmarried mother & her baby - my reaction was: "You WHAT?"

Ian Smith @ 455
We ARE ON a generation-ship, arn't we?
Please, tell that to the logging companies, and the Tea Party?

C @ 456
BIG difference between the USA and here (& not just the UK) in healthcare spending priorities.
The US spends, lets face it, silly sums on people in their last year or 6 months,
Here we probably don't spend (quite) enough. But, we do spend really large sums on infant care, whereas the US does not.
And that's not looking at the insane 3-way split between aganecises and insurance companies that the US has ....

heteromeles @ 458
Like the fields around the "Mole Trap" pub, you mean?
Or between 1 & 4km up the road at Ongar Park Hall, and Greenstead - the church is well over 1000 years old, in part, and the farming is still quite good.
Yes, and Buzzards in the air, within sight of the M25 London orbital motorway, hares and rabbits in the fields. I've seen an over half-metre-long grass-snake as well, then there's the fallow deer.
A well-maintained ecosystem, in fact.

Erm ... paws4thot ... no!
Early Mediaval peat-digging. About 800 years too late, there!
AND @ 461
California was not even a state during the suppression of the Slaver's revolt.
It should also be noted that some "slave" states did not secede, having more sense:
Maryland / Missouri .. Delaware was technically a slave state, but abolished it, and Kentucky, which declared neutrality, and was the most divided, with classic cases of members of the same family, fighting on opposite sides.

Andy L @ 463
I just googled that...
A factor of 2000 (!)
Even if scaling-up gives, erm ONLY 500, that will do very nocely, thank you.
Is fusion-power now less than 50 years away, as a result ???


465:

As Greg noted, the Broads are a lot older than that. For a very good rundown on the massive impact of peat-digging in the Low Countries over the centuries, see:
http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/09/peat-and-coal-fossil-fuels-in-pre-industrial-times.html

466:

Thanks for that link. It explains an awful lot about European history. An industrial economy based on burning peat rather than coal, with the advantages and disadvantages involved ... that explains why the Dutch became what they became. And why they have quite so many canals.

(And it mentions the important question of when is a renewable fuel not really renewable.)

467:

Possible general cure for viral infections

Never heard that Irish WWII veterans faced any discrimination, I'll ask my grandmother about it. She participated in the cleanup of the German bombing, btw. Someone handed her a human head "It was just like a turnip, I didn't mind." That's my gran.

468:

Cheers Greg; would you excuse me while I attempt to devise a suitable and untracable death for the person who told me about the Broads? ;-) Not that this changes the base point that it's an artificial landscape, rather than natural lakes.

I didn't think California was a state during the ACW, but the Dixie seemed very sure of their facts, and the ones I was sure of all agreed.

469:

Just change it to 'the result of pre-Victorian peat digging'.

470:

Another prediction for 2032.
Well into a massive industrial boom based around solar and battery tech, with places like Spain becoming the powerhouse of Europe. Deserts being re-purposed for power generation and algal fuel synthesis. Powerful anti-aging tech becoming avalaible. AGI for all intents and purposes from the perspective of ordinary people. The USA still planning to return to the moon :-)

471:

Greg and Paws: California was a state and in the Union, as was Oregon. Texas had slaves. There's plenty more that could be said on this subject, but I think it would be a derail to go long on this one.

472:

paw4thot
We were all worng ..
California was admitted as a free US state in 1850.
And, very importantly supported the US against the slaver's rebellion.

473:

Half an hour of fascinated clicking later - I was misinformed (not wrong; I said "I was told" later, and had correctly related what I was told) I think in the specific case of Texas, but it's clear from the ordnances of secession http://web.archive.org/web/20040404171724/http://members.aol.com/jfepperson/ordnces.html that at least some of the CSA states seceded because they believed that the states did or should have a right of secession from the Union.

474:

As a non-scientist I acknowledge that I don't have anywhere near enough understanding of molecular genetics to 'expect' anything. I was quoting - actually cutting&pasting - a scientific study press release that said that the scientists involved were surprised.

Actually I was rather hoping that some of the scientists visiting this blog might offer some insights. For example -- methylation (epigenetics) has become a pretty big area of research in developmental bio, diseases, neuro, etc., so I was wondering whether 'targeted methylation' (if it exists) has ever been used to undo a genetic change in following or next-generations. (Why bother with methylation when we have stems cells: (a) better or crisper targeting, and (b) for stem cell transplant for diseases - a lot less suffering and expense.)

FYI, here's the actual Abstract:

Genetic adaptation to captivity can occur in a single generation

Captive breeding programs are widely used for the conservation and restoration of threatened and endangered species. Nevertheless, captive-born individuals frequently have reduced fitness when reintroduced into the wild. The mechanism for these fitness declines has remained elusive, but hypotheses include environmental effects of captive rearing, inbreeding among close relatives, relaxed natural selection, and unintentional domestication selection (adaptation to captivity). We used a multigenerational pedigree analysis to demonstrate that domestication selection can explain the precipitous decline in fitness observed in hatchery steelhead released into the Hood River in Oregon. After returning from the ocean, wild-born and first-generation hatchery fish were used as broodstock in the hatchery, and their offspring were released into the wild as smolts. First-generation hatchery fish had nearly double the lifetime reproductive success (measured as the number of returning adult offspring) when spawned in captivity compared with wild fish spawned under identical conditions, which is a clear demonstration of adaptation to captivity. We also documented a tradeoff among the wild-born broodstock: Those with the greatest fitness in a captive environment produced offspring that performed the worst in the wild. Specifically, captive-born individuals with five (the median) or more returning siblings (i.e., offspring of successful broodstock) averaged 0.62 returning offspring in the wild, whereas captive-born individuals with less than five siblings averaged 2.05 returning offspring in the wild. These results demonstrate that a single generation in captivity can result in a substantial response to selection on traits that are beneficial in captivity but severely maladaptive in the wild.

http://www.pnas.org/content/109/1/238

1. Mark R. Christiea,1,
2. Melanie L. Marinea,
3. Rod A. Frenchb, and
4. Michael S. Blouina

+ Author Affiliations
1.aDepartment of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331-2914; and
2.bOregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Dalles, OR 97058-4364

1.Edited by Fred W. Allendorf, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, and accepted by the Editorial Board November 11, 2011 (received for review July 14, 2011)


475:

California was on the Union side Paw4thot, notably because of the high speed communications it maintained with the Union prior to the civil war (which was achieved with The Pony Express) and Texas' declaration of joining the confederacy reads like... well why don't you read "A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union". It's quite an... interesting read.

Do note this bit right at the beginning where Texas described itself:

"[Texas] was received [into the union] as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association."

And then note how it goes on to whine and moan endlessly and exclusively about how the north is "proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law." and then finally finds a second issue to whine about for a single sentence... when it talks briefly about how the northern states weren't doing as much as they possibly could to commit acts of genocide against Native Americans.

And then they say this:

"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."

So on the weight of their own stated reasons for committing treason, I'm gonna say Texas was a slave state that didn't give a single hoot about states' rights.

476:

About Texas, slavery and secession:

https://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/secession/2feb1861.html

DECLARATION OF CAUSES: February 2, 1861

A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union.

The government of the United States, by certain joint resolutions, bearing date the 1st day of March, in the year A.D. 1845, proposed to the Republic of Texas, then a free, sovereign and independent nation, the annexation of the latter to the former as one of the co-equal States thereof,

The people of Texas, by deputies in convention assembled, on the fourth day of July of the same year, assented to and accepted said proposals and formed a constitution for the proposed State, upon which on the 29th day of December in the same year, said State was formally admitted into the Confederated Union.

Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility [sic] and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery--the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits--a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

[snip]

477:

Wind your neck in a bit until you've read my #473 please.

Also, @SFReader ref #474 - I'm a non-historian, but when have you seen that stop me? ;-)

478:

Vac trains belong to the same class of technologies as flying cars, food pills, personal jet packs, and atomic-powered limousines; all theoretically possible, but pretty much killed by economics.

In the case of vac-trains, the problem is that you need to build a robust, air-tight tunnel strong enough to withstand the stress of containing multi-hundred-ton trains moving at what would be trans-sonic speeds (if they weren't evacuated). Putting 'em underground would cost on the order of hundreds of millions to billions of dollars per kilometre unless yuou use nuclear tunnelling charges for the excavation (that was Ted Taylor's original proposal, IIRC), you have huge energy costs (keeping the tunnels evacuated), and if something goes wrong, the resulting "oops" takes your entire route out of service for months, as well as the unfortunates on the vactrain that just crashed at upwards of 1000km/h.

But the real problem is that a complete vactrain line connects two or more points on a line. Whereas an airport connects to all the other airports in the web; you don't just get to serve stations on a line, you get to handle lots of other routes, and the more airports you get the more routings are possible.

Which is why we build airports, not vac-train lines (although HSR is chewing off corners of the transport pie; they're a lot cheaper than vac-trains, rival turboprops for speed, and can run -- albeit slowly -- over existing regular rail routes.)

479:

Administrative notice:

I would like to respectfully remind you that references to the Civil War will be taken to refer in all cases to the war(s) of 1636-48, unless you specify the country in which the said war took place. This is a British blog, after all.

The War that took place in North America from 1861 to 65 was very uncivil indeed, and is referred to on this blog as The Slaveowners' Treacherous Rebellion. Attempts to deny that it was primarily about defending the institution of chattel slavery will be deemed to violate the moderation policy, just like attempts to deny the Nazi attempt to exterminate European Jewry.

480:

Just had a quick furtle about teh interwebs, and it's interesting to note that the Confederate States Constitution didn't significantly extend "states rights" beyond what was already in the US Constitution. It has a hell of a lot of new stuff protecting slavery though. 'Nuff sed I think.

481:

> As long as people want (and get)
> extraordinary care rather than just
> going out on the ice floe, healthcare
> costs are going to keep going up
> dramatically.

The American system requires that the physician do anything he can to prolong the life of his patient. If the patient doesn't particularly want this ("for the love of God, let me go!"), he's obviously no longer competent to manage his own affairs, so he's stripped of his rights and ministered to anyway. The cycle continues until the money runs out, at which point the patient usually dies soon after. I'm assured this is a complete coincidence.

482:

Like your nomenclature, treacherous indeed. The misrepresentation of history is ever with us.

483:

Thank you, Charlie. For those who want to continue to discuss the The Slaveowners' Treacherous Rebellion, I strongly suggest that you first go to Ta-Nahesi Coates' blog and search out posts on his research into the causes and consequences of that conflict. If you think you know the truth about that subject, you may be very surprised. Coates has a great deal to say about the effect of slavery on people of all classes and colors, and about the politics and socio-economics of the period leading up to the war, and much of it is related directly to source documents; where he refers to modern history books, he tries to balance different historians' accounts, to find their biases and correct for them. If he doesn't get a doctorate for that work there's no justice.

484:

One of the changes to medical care that will be in place across most of Europe by 2032 will be the legalization of voluntary euthanasia. Long overdue in my opinion.

485:

I would argue that vactrains are more plausible than everything else you mentioned (except the food pills, which I think can be done now, just useless).

Vactrains need advancement in a several technological areas, none of which are impossible.

1. Abundant and cheap energy sources in form of solar and/or fusion power. We will have it anyway if we want to keep our air-conditioned civilization going.

2. Efficient energy transmission in form of superconducting cables. We already have commercial superconducting transmission, and we will need a world-wide electric grid if we are going into full solar to address the intermittency problem of solar (need to transmit power from the day side to the night side of the Earth).

3. Advance in material science to build leak-free tunnels. I don't think there are problems here. NASA is considering building orbital propellant depots. If it will be possible to keep liquid hydrogen in space, same technology could be applied to keep near-vacuum on Earth.

I agree that airplanes are more flexible, but they are limited by speed. Vactrains are not, you could accelerate them up to orbital speed. For intercontinental travel, nothing can be better.

486:

The earth has this annoying tectonics thing going that might make things a little hairier for vacuum tunnels than space habitats.

Flying cars and jetpacks on the other hand exist, they're just too expensive.

487:

My initial point is that I think vactrains are theoretically feasible -- but like flying cars and jet packs, they're just too expensive.

We might get them eventually, but first we need a fundamentally richer world. Sort of like the prospects for building wide-bodied airliners in the 1850s, back when aluminum was worth more than platinum (so that Napoleon Bonaparte had a diningware canteen full of aluminium knives and forks -- the height of luxury in 1810!).

488:

2032. Nobody makes a living as a professional recording artist.

The major record companies will be long gone, most of the indies along with them.

A whole generation will have assumed that it is their right to have downloaded recorded music for free.

Not saying recorded music won't exist, but musicians will need to fund it in some other way. (And don't say by gig revenues, because if you scratch the surface there, you'll see that whole part of the entertainment world is slowly feasting on itself and will eventually implode)

489:

I gave some though to the idea of vacuum-tube train systems a while back and the limitations were not as bad as I feared.

Point 1: you don't need to bury the tubes, they can be constructed as evacuated steel tubes on the surface. It might be necessary to tunnel in some places and build viaducts in other places in order to keep the line of "flight" as straight as possible but that's true for any high-speed rail system today. Worried about seismic movements? See Japan's shinkansen rail system for the lack of drama on that front. Assuming a not-a-train design with capsules the size of a minivan carrying four or six people or palletized freight in a 3-metre diameter tube then the actual construction effort and land needed would be much less than the corresponding requirements for high-speed rail. Designing the system for capsules more like regular train coaches and/or the ability to transport a standard freight container would take a lot more structure and cost immesurably more.

Point 2: the tubes don't need to be totally airtight as small leaks can be coped with by continuous pumping. Any larger leaks will simply reduce flight time of a given train. Even with a worst-case leak a given train is not going to run into a bolus of atmospheric-pressure air in flight at vacuum speeds of 3000 km/hr which could be disastrous.

Point 3: a submerged 3-metre vacuum tube train system across the Atlantic from, say, Brest or Land's End to New York would use up about a year's supply of planetary steel production for its construction. It would cut the transit time down across the Atlantic to about 1 hr 30 minutes or so station to station if all the power distribution and drive technologies were optimised. Since the tunnel is buoyant it will float; it can be tethered to the sea bottom in a suitable curve to provide a smooth ride depending on the planned acceleration/deceleration profile for the trip.

490:

California was not part of the confederacy.
Texas was a confederate state and also a major slave state.
If there is anyone in the South who believes that the Dixie flag is not associated with white supremacy in the eyes of the rest of the country, then they are as ignorant of the world outside the South. The claim that anti-African-American policies are actually something other than that seems to be eternal in the South.
On the other hand, yes there are substantial cultural differences and the South has a different and valid culture. According to "Albion's Seed", those differences predate the earliest English immigration to America and arose deep in English (and Scottish) history.

491:

"a year's supply of planetary steel production for its construction."
This is even less when you consider that currently, globally there is massive over-capacity due to extreme expansion of capacity in China.

492:

I am not a biologist, but that looks to me just like another confirmation of evolution in action. All it means is that you shouldn't let the original fish die out in the first place, and that any re-introduction scheme using captive fish will face extra hurdles.

As an activity in itself, animal domestication has already had massive effects upon the original animals, which generally render them less fit in surviving in the wild. This is not news, it has been known for years and years.
What is likely to be banned is releasing genetically modified creatures into ecosystems, but right now the bigger threat is simply transported creatures from different ecosystems. Alien species are a large cost, hundreds of millions per year and the damage to ecosystems is far higher than any problem you might have with releasing farm bred fish.

493:

Perfect terrorist target - won't happen

494:

The probably future of fishing from an aquaculture proletarian today:
http://commonstruggle.org/fishfarm

495:

I think you've made some good points there despite yourself. If it won't carry an intermodal container, why bother building a too-small tube? And the 90 minute London to New York tube isn't worth thinking about if that route isn't already clogged with post-Concorde SSTs.

496:

@ 474 & others
Captive breeding changing genetics?
And behaviour, as well.
I'm assuming everyone here knows about the selective breeding of (Arctic) foxes for "tameness"/
They become almost like Collies in 20 generations/years - their coat colour changes, their ears go "floppy" and they want walkies and tummy-tickles!

Mark G @ 488
Free music huh?
Not before the USSA's "Music corporations" have persecuted and crucified a few more people like this Bastards.

497:

And the first Cat 5 hurricane to come along will completely trash the transAtlantic vactube.

☔ We can expect a lot more of those in the future as climate change pumps more energy into storm systems.

498:

The tube will be floating about 100 meters underwater. Surface conditions will not affect it.

499:

In this case, terrorists already won...

500:

Cost, basically. A three-metre diameter vacuum transport tube would cost ten times less per kilometre to construct than a six-metre diameter vacuum transport tube. For example it could be built along existing highway rights-of-way overhead or along medians whereas a bigger six-metre tube would need its own right of way.

A single-person-wide capsule could probably fit into a two-metre tube saving even more construction costs but it would be somewhat claustrophobic and less attractive to sell tickets for. However that size of tube could take a standard Europallet and a regular intermodal shipping container is often full of Europallets or similar-sized shrinkwrapped lumps anyways.