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"Rule 34" moments

The 'chemputer' that could print out any drug. For implications, see "Rule 34". (Or 1998's "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling, for a look a little further down the line ... Bruce is always a decade ahead of the rest of the SF field.)

I'm pretty sure some of the British police forces are proactively engaging in internet monitoring already; here in Edinburgh they're already running anti-cyber-bullying campaigns in schools.

So far I haven't heard about any venture capital partnerships throwing the rule book out of the window and getting into organized crime business process re-engineering, but I may have been thinking too small.

So. Just as "Halting State" was basically at the "stick a fork in it, it's done" stage when Google announced project glass, I think we're creeping up on the finishing line for "Rule 34".

And in about a month I'll be getting down to work on "The Lambda Functionary", the third book in the trilogy, set circa 2030, in a world where the second and third generation descendants of ATHENA are in widespread use, the global population is ageing and greying (in particular, in Europe, where by 2030 the median age is projected to be 45.4).

What are your expectations for the world of 2030? (Singularities and catastrophic collapse of civilization scenarios excluded: I want "if this goes on ..." projections, not Book of Revelations schadenfreude.)

611 Comments

1:

Something I imagine will be quite sigificant is the culture shock that many westerners will have from not having as much power as we used to. By 2030 the average person would have been born ~1985 and grown up on the idea that the US and Europe were the polticial, economic and academic powerhouses of the world (and aspects of our culture reflect that). It will be interesting to see any cultural strife caused by the realisation that much of the world is now also developed (or rapidly developing) and in doing so leapfrogged to better infrastructure along the way (no copper to replace, roll out the fiber optics) and that many of these countries are trading and propsperous amongst themselves.

Essentially what will the west be like to live in when it is relatively poorer than any other point in history?

2:

About companies going into crime - about two months ago police closed down a company which was in the (legitimate) business of recycling laser printer cartridges and at the same time in the large scale illegal business of faking laser printer cartridges.

Press coverage (in German): http://www.channelpartner.de/index.cfm?pid=761&pk=2587850

3:

(p.s. the project glass link is the same as the thinking small one)

4:

Didn't you once say writing near-present sci-fi made you crazy?

5:

Essentially what will the west be like to live in when it is relatively poorer than any other point in history?

We have a model for that: the middle east. Go back 400 years and they were one of the two richest, most advanced civilizations on the planet (along with China). The psychological aftershocks are still echoing, recomplicated by the history of the oil kleptocracies and imperial meddling (thank you, Messrs. Sykes and Picot).

On the other hand, I don't think 18 years out is far enough for the full impact to be felt.

6:

Yes I did say that. But the end product is worth the pain, don't you think?

7:

Finance gets regulated into oblivion, after enabling the "masters of the universe" is proven to be much too politically destabilizing.

The world is older, but not visibly grayer to nearly the extent you would expect - most people are using a cocktail of drugs, hormones, and supplements to maintain vigor and health sufficiently potent that guessing if someone is fifty or thirty at a glance is a mugs game.

- Obesity has been cured. Amusingly enough, the same treatment turns out to significantly boost effective intelligence - superior bloodsugar regulation means people are on their best game a much greater percentage of the day.

A heck of a lot of money is spent on mitigating the effects of climate change.

Nobody is selling new petrol powered cars anymore, and with the infrastructure supporting them disappearing rapidly, selling one in the second hand market is quite difficult.

Airbus is rolling an out an all-electric prop driven plane - and it is selling as fast as they can build it.

In related news, electricity demand turns out to have been direly underestimated by all planners public or private and the construction projects to fix this shortfall tend to operate in round the clock shifts.

8:

One strong possibility is that Watson and friends have eliminated most administrative jobs. Another is that all driving jobs, from trucks to taxis, have been googled away. In short, bureaucratic makework will no longer be able to create jobs. Mass unemployment amongst the once Middle Classes.

9:

Disagree on the gas/electric shift. I think petroleum products are an excellent way of storing energy -- dense, transportable, relatively safe, made of abudant elements -- and we have several $Tn of gas-handling infrastructure already in situ. Our carbon problem is extraction related, because digging fossil fuel up and burning it adds it to the atmosphere; if we switch to direct synthesis from CO2 and H2O we can keep using carbon without increasing atmospheric CO2 levels. The question is, how do you efficiently run direct Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, or something equivalent, using solar/wind/tide power?

I also expect airliners to be the last transport form to shift away from burning hydrocarbons. Fuel with a high energy density is essential for flight because you want to make your vehicle's frontal area small in order to reduce atmospheric drag. Batteries might work for short-range general aviation; not so likely for airliners.

10:

I think that 3D printers are going to be a lot closer to replicators or "magic" nanotech. http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/07/researchers-control-reactions-between-just-two-atoms/ With things like this, they'll be able to print materials that don't exist, and with properties that are astoundingly weird.

Computing power is going to keep increasing several iterations of Moore's Law past where everyone expects it to stop. As a result, most everyone will have the power to see through walls with just the cameras they already wear. What that does to privacy...?

There will be a small, slowly accelerating space exploitation program. By 2030, they'll be about to the stage of beginning to bring home an asteroid, possibly on their way. Unless rare metal shortages push it, in which case they'll be beginning refining, with all the disruption in the market that entails.

Biotech will be about where CS is today. There's some amazing stuff, but teaching the good habits and information needed to new people is hard. So the extremely difficult modifications stay in research labs, and those who can afford it. Average biotech will still be able to cure many diseases, help people live an average of 30 years longer and younger, and re-build/grow limbs and organs. The research will be just unimaginable (by me anyway. I don't do much biology). This is of course, assuming they don't kill us all. You did specify that.

11:

Predictions:

1. Labor's share of gross world product goes way up.

Roughly the past 40 years have been dominated by two trends: (a) the entry of women into the workforce, and (b) the reconstruction of global trade networks after the catastrophe of WWI and then the Cold War. This has meant that the supply of workers readily available to global corporations went way up, and they have used it to keep wages down -- median wages have been flat in Western countries for all of those decades.

However, we are hitting peak cheap labor now, since even 3 billion women plus another billion Chinese and Indian peasants is a smaller supply than infinity. Wages in coastal China are now in the 3-6 dollar-per-hour range, which means that it's no longer the case that it's always cheaper to manufacture in China than in the US or Europe any more. For example, the Google Nexus 7 is manufactured in the US (by a Taiwanese company, no less), because the labor cost differential was less than the cost of transport.

2. However, the spread of automation means that the distribution of income among the workforce is uneven. Jobs which cannot be easily automated will be the big winners -- think nursing, social work, and other caring professions.

The fact that these are presently female-dominated professions will have very interesting sociological effects. Status follows money, and women-dominated professions becoming the big money winners will do a number on sexist cultural norms.

3. Teaching is a big question mark.

Right now, there's a lot of excitement (eg., Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy) about automating and scaling education. If this successful, then it will tend to make education workers into one of the losing professions. However, it might not: distance education is an old idea, and has failed to displace onsite education so far.

My guess is that classroom-based education works by a cognitive hack. Learning is painful, and most people don't want to do it, since it involves repeated rubbing your face in your ignorance and incapacity. However, people want to conform even more, and so if you put people into a social context where studying is expected, then they will study and learn. So if social networks work out as a semi-decent substitute for physical social contact, then "scalable learning" is possible. Otherwise, not.

4. Home automation and personal robotics will be a really big deal.

Once cheap-enough robots can fold clothes, wash dishes, chop vegetables, and tidy a room, then we set the stage for a massive increase in personal leisure, since these devices can reduces home labor in a similar way that dishwashers, vacuums, and microwaves did so in the 20th C.

Again, this relatively helps women more, since even today women account for a much bigger share of home labor than men do. It also means the elderly can live independently much more easily than they can at present, since routine home maintenance is now largely automatic.

Furthermore, the fact that a robot can actually cook you proper meals every day means that disgusting heavily processed junk food becomes relatively less convenient, which means that people will eat less of it, and nutrition improves in quality. This will have big long-term effects on public health, possibly with huge unpredictable effects -- e.g., the speculation that the big plummet in US crime rates over the last few decades is due to the elimination of leaded gasoline.

12:

Computing power is going to keep increasing several iterations of Moore's Law past where everyone expects it to stop.

_really_? And why would the rules of Physics (namely quantum mechanics) suddenly not apply any more?

Or you just have a very different interpretation of the word "everyone".

13:

It's very obvious that global warming is not being addressed in any meaningful way and that it is happening much faster than previously expected. You can probably put all the most unpleasant GW predictions into your book without fear of being remotely wrong. (Or you can throw in some form of miraculous carbon sequestration if you don't want to deal with it.)

14:

I think 2 major factors that inevitably will impact lots of other events. The death of democracy and our inability to live within our means is starting to come home to roost.

For the first we only have to look within Europe as banks and unelected powers impose new heads of state of those nation they deem not towing the line, further afield China begins to really flex it's muscle, Russia is a kleptocracy more openly and the Arab spring results in more radical fundamentalist religious leaders both in the middle east nations and in the US.

Environmentally, although AGW is the hot debating topic, food and water are where environmental issue will finally hit. We are already "fishing down the food chain" as we move from the larger, slower reproducing species at the top of food chain that we have decimated and move into ever smaller fish and start looking at algae foodstuffs. On land the resources to produce meat and reserves of fresh water will struggle to keep up with the global infestation of humanity.

A bit of a dystopian I know. Probably more upbeat come Friday afternoon and the pub...

15:

Although this is a little more "Next Week" than 2030, I've been playing around with the idea of creating a self-contained "Geek Pod" on wheels. Take a hybrid delivery van (full size, like this one), fit it with RV plumbing and furniture, a large AC inverter, and about 1500-1800 watts worth of solar cells (cover the roof). You've got enough power to keep the interior air conditioned (even with global warming heat waves like the one currently parked over the US Midwest) and run decent amounts of electronics (modern LED-lit HDTV's draw 20-30 watts, netbooks about the same and "plug" computers less than 5).

Throw in a 4G broadband modem and supplement as needed with a little wardriving, and you've got living quarters that can go anywhere there are roads and is the next best thing to invisible, and everywhere is the same place when your focus is online. White vans of this type are so common in the US that they are effectively protected by an SEP shield, people just edit them out of the visual field without consciously seeing them.

Seems like a character that had more need for anonymity and mobility than creature comforts could make use of something like that.

--Dave

16:

I'm typing this in a part of the world (Sierra Leone) where the official government plan is to achieve middle-income status by the middle of the century.

If what I've seen so far is representative of the country, they may well succeed. This will involve - and require - the emergence of not only an African middle class, but also a new African proletariat (as the Chinese workers finally get a living wage, look out for cheap stuff that has 'made in Africa' on the back sometime in the next twenty years).

This won't be a smooth or even process, however. Some people and regions will be able to access development (I fully expect to live to see at least one African country make it to developed status in my lifetime), but others will not, and not necessarily through any fault of their own.

Climate change, as for everywhere else, will be the joker in the pack, throwing up obstacles and blockages whose effect will be, as of this writing, entirely unpredictable.

17:

Learning is painful, and most people don't want to do it, since it involves repeated rubbing your face in your ignorance and incapacity.

I'm not entirely sure that's the case. You look at a kid asking questions all the time, and you're not looking at someone who doesn't want to learn, you're looking at the exact opposite. I reckon what happens is that the person being questioned gets tired of it all, and teaches the kid to stop. The kid is in learning mode, and learns not to learn.

Fix that and the world would be rather different. Sadly, the education systems of the world are still strongly geared to keeping young Jimmy out of trouble rather than letting him to develop into what he could become.

(I am lucky. I received a decade of private education — even though it near bankrupted my parents — before managing to get into a world-class University. My parents couldn't afford the same for my sisters too.)

18:

The switchover to electric - if it happens - will not be policy driven, it will be a consequence of a breakthrough in battery tech.
I am expecting lithium-oxygen or an equivalently potent chemistry to go commercial before 2030. Once that happens, gasoline becomes strictly obsolete - for any given preformance and range an electric motor+battery pack will weigh less and take up less space than a combustion engine + fuel tank. Okay, it is very probable that fast charging a 500km range car, or a plane will be quite a.... Spectacular. Feat, but this is oversold as a problem. For areonautics, battery swaps work, and for private motoring, if you have just driven fivehundred kilometers, being forced to take a breather before doing it again is a feature, not a bug.

19:

>Computing power is going to keep increasing several iterations of Moore's Law past where everyone expects it to stop.

_really_? And why would the rules of Physics (namely quantum mechanics) suddenly not apply any more?

I have something to say on the subject of Koomey's Law, but first I need to find time to edit that talk down to a blog entry (and I have 770,000 words of fiction to edit this month) ...

20:

Complex, high data capacity colour QR codes that instead of just linking to URLs download applications directly to the device scanning them. Then you get the Pirate Bay starting massive graffiti campaigns and data piracy moves onto the walls of the real world.

21:

Some interesting points in there.

Currently status follows Male phenotype and Money in most parts of the world (there are provisos, but even in liberal bits of Europe significantly more than half high status individuals are male). If the two are separated it will be interesting to see which one keeps the status. History would suggest dangling appendages.

At least one of the selections for distance learning you've mentioned is not going to replace classroom learning for its avowed subject. The Khan academy fails to teach mathematical thinking and while it might be a semi-useful approach for some students to learn some aspects of numeracy it's not going to replace the teacher. To a significant extent that's because there's a myth that you can educate everyone in the same way. Distance learning is based really strongly on that assumption, at least until you get a good teaching AI to teach individually - the classroom comes to you. But if you go to observe two classes teaching the same topic, even the same teacher teaching the same topic to two different groups of students they know you'll spot differences. The human touch to adjust the teaching method, words used and so on to present well to the current group of learners is going to continue to remain important.

Plus, schooling has a plethora of other functions. For one, it's a safe (as safe as reasonably possible anyway) place for parents to send their children while they're working. For a second, although home schooling can produce dramatic learning gains because you focus on teaching only one learner and adapt the lessons to be ideal for them, being at school teaches good lessons in socialisation (as well as more ambiguous culturalisation lessons). Universities offer 'water cooler' moments and concentration of minds, lab resources and the like.

Online learning and forums can provide some of that - forums, blogs, twitter etc. might replace the water cooler moment and possibly some socialisation, but the rest is a lot harder. And I'd be stunned if there was strong AI sufficient to teach well in 20 years.

22:

Given the decrease in fuel availability and increasing extreme weather,

* The rail network will be more economically useful and probably more profitable than it used to be.

* high food prices, farming is profitable, but significantly corporatised. Possible mass deaths in developing countries, expected economic drag in developing countries.

* the banking sector will have gone bang again.

* insurance is more random than it used to be, and more expensive. Possibly the prices paid for insurance by different generations are very different, but possibly not. If they don't know insurance isn't expensive, then we won't tell them. They're only young.

* voice data entry works, everybody has a tablet and a phone, and a laptop, and possibly google glasses a la rainbow's end.

* the tax system, and with it government spending, may have collapsed in England. (tax fraud / bitcoin).

* global warming increases, but that's just storms and annoying heat

* economic collapse in Texas, possibly in China too, as robotics becomes normalised.

* The Euro area will have collapsed economically. I don't know whether the euro will still exist. You could get quite a lot of nationalism out of a euro collapse, maybe even a war. Equally, this would probably be a setback for democracy from which it would not quickly recover - it might even cease to be the desired standard, which could have hellish consequences. I don't think it will cease to be the desired standard.

23:

Judging by the way things are going now, during the next eighteen years I'd expect to see:

  • World population growth to 8.5 -- 9 billion
  • More and more abnormal climate events. Storms, droughts, floods, hard winters, abnormally warm winters, heatwaves, insect plagues, etc.
  • Consequently a worldwide pressure on agricultural output. At best, food price inflation; at worst, famine.
  • Resulting from that, political instability especially in poorer countries less able to use wealth to cushion themselves from the shocks.
  • Large numbers of economic migrants looking for a new life in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries
  • A strong anti-immigrant sentiment in those countries, with far-right parties becoming more mainstream and better supported
  • In rich countries, as a consequence of a long series of financial and political scandals; a strong reaction against corporate greed. The ostentatiously wealthy will become pariahs. Far-left parties becoming more mainstream and better supported.
  • A proportionately larger elderly (65+) population. Frequent poverty amongst the old; generally increased retirement age, decreased state pensions and other aid.
  • General economic pressure due to shrinking supply of raw materials and increasing demand.
  • Despite that, spending on scientific and technological research is protected, as this is recognized as the only real hope for solving much of the world's problems.
  • Most routine work not involving much human interaction or creativity is capable of being automated -- eg. delivery drivers, builders, farmers, assembly-line workers, stock & currency traders, pilots. However, not all such jobs will be replaced as a matter of political policy
  • Widespread high-bandwidth networking and telepresence combined with the rising cost of fuel and power, terrorist attacks against transport hubs, draconian counter-terrorist policies means the end of the typical 9-5 grind and commuting
  • Cities lose their commutter belts. Population dispersal leading to regional regeneration, growth of smaller towns and rural populations.
  • Decline in private car ownership. Short distances covered by walking or cycling. Long distances by rail or air. Development of highly efficient computerized goods delivery networks "direct to the door."
24:

Probably doesn't make any real story difference what the energy storage and transport technology will be. The big one will be whether you'll be driving or whether the car drives itself, not whether the energy comes as a solid, liquid, gas or other (or whether it's called "fuel" or "batteries").

25:

On Moore's law, I expect it will keep going, but in the original form, IE, transistors will keep getting cheaper, not smaller, and computers will be very very ubiquitous, to the point the real business challenge for tech companies is coming up with a new way to convince everybody they need a new 10 cent processor to keep track of their ties and whatnot.

26:

I'd guess a few more bits per cell by using colour in QR. But the maximum capacity for a level 40 B&W code is 2953 bytes; current phone cameras have a bugger of a time with codes much smaller than that, often taking several seconds to lock onto the pattern.

So the data bandwidth is really horrible.

[Ref: ISO/IEC 18004:2006 + TC1]

27:

Home automation and personal robotics will be a really big deal.

I sort of agree but not in the exact way you are describing it. For decades the idea of a general helper android has been held up as the pinicle of home robotics, if anything I think it far more likely that we'll get more of the same: specialised appliances e.g. dish washers, roombas, food printers etc.

What really might bring on a qualitative change is something akin to what OGH posted recently, an industrial style robotic arm capable of recognising and handling non-standard objects. Currently I could take some food out of one box (freezer) put it in another (oven) eat it then put the plate in a cleaner (dish washer) and after it's cleaned put it in the storage (cupboard). Having extendable arms and monitoring equipment could mean that ordering dinner and tidying up is as easy as hitting a selection on your app and watching as your production line kitchen prepares it for you.

28:

Aircraft probably are going to be very hard to wean off oil, but for every other form of transport:

Direct synthesis of Methane from CO2 & H20 is 75% efficient, higher carbon counts lead to lower efficiency. Burning Methane in an internal combustion engine is 40% efficient. Even ignoring the losses associated with collecting and concentrating CO2 for the F-T process, you're throwing away 70% of your collected solar / wind / hydro energy.

A battery can sensibly return 85% of the energy used to charge it, and an electric motor (in a car) can easily put 90% of that energy to use, ignoring regenerative braking, throwing away only 25% of your collected energy.

You'd certainly hope that another 20 years of battery development would lead to a commercially available 1kWh/Kg battery that charges in minutes and lasts for decades - there's no physical or chemical reason why not.

29:

"the polders of Bangladesh"

I don't know where that phrase fits, but it could well be 2030.

I suspect that Amsterdam is not among the cities most threatened by global warming. The Dutch have centuries of experience dealing with rising or otherwise inconvenient sea levels.

Why not export that know-how? Other countries might benefit...

30:

I think a big change in the next 10 years or so will be how media content (what we currently think of as TV and radio) is presented.

We're already seeing genuine big name actors in free-to-view online shows. Julia Stiles released a whole series of 15 minute specials. During the SAG strikes lots of names appeared in Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long with Joss Whedon's support. Battlestar Galactica presented their 'peaceful colony year' as web episodes between two seasons of the TV show. But p2p sharing is making a mockery of copyright laws. Amanda Palmer and Louis CK are showing you can make money other ways from your artistic material, at least if you have an internet following.

I suspect we'll see the middleman (the TV companies) to a large extent disappearing, certainly if they rely on advertising revenue. If I want to watch CSI season 30 (I think that's right for 2030) I'll buy the rights direct from Jerry Bruckheimer TV. How the BBC will cope (will an independent Scotland care?) I'm not sure, since it's responsible for making a lot of content as well as broadcasting it. But I think ITV, C4, C5 and Sky will have changed beyond recognition if they still exist.

My guess... the 'fused catch-up' service from the terrestrial broadcasters will start to offer paid content too, live, and probably on-demand from the US for a fee effectively live. This will replace the advertising content and gradually freeze everyone else out. Why pay Virgin/Sky for a subscription when you can watch what you want without adverts just as easily?

Sports channels might survive but the Sky One, Living, Fx etc. channels won't be there.

And, of course, this will also lead to advertisers having to come up with new ways to reach us.

31:

Koomey's Law looks interesting. The next question is whether anyone has yet plotted the curve of mobile computing power wanted by users, which appears to be slightly outpacing Koomey's Law.

(Though increasing battery density is also in there, meaning that the higher capacity batteries are also getting smaller.)

32:

Wasn't that seen already in the runaway-robotic-cab escapade?

I can't even remember if it was in Atrocity Archives or Rule 34.

33:

I'd thought that classroom teaching was a psychological hack too, but it was that you listened to the teachers because they were people, and that this explained why being taught something was so much easier than slogging through the manual.

I'm not sure it's true.

34:

If that was going to happen, there'd be more USB dead drops. And the security implications would be horrifying (would you lick graffitied-up taste patches, if such a thing existed?)

35:

Halting State.

36:

I read this article on indian companies purchasing prominent motorcycle brands the other day. it's behind a paywall, here's a very quick summary "Indian motorcycle companies that are the ones in acquisition mode, buying up large stakes in famous legacy brands like KTM and Malagutti in advance of expanding westwards, or setting up joint ventures... with India forming the world’s second largest market for electric motorcycles, most of which are in the commuter class... India is a country with a vast middle class, and more millionaires than anywhere else. With Germany luxury car brands and Harley-Davidson sales surging, the Polaris product portfolio offers many toys to affluent Indians" (Apologies for the info dump.)

TLDR Indians like and can afford nice motorcycles and cars and are buying into many prominent Western brands.

So what happens when the centre of manufacturing and design of desirable designer products shifts eastwards to countries not previously thought hip? I think it may pull the worlds attention away from american (well, californian) products and ideals.

The desirability of both manufactured goods and physibles that originally came from the west being spun back with a different design philosophy will likely pull youth towards the culture, as well as working as a backlash against amero-centric views of their parents, and increasing hatred of the ideas and politics imported from the states that caused climate change, econopocalypse etc.

37:

The general form of Moore's Law will continue for decades in the sense of the cost per unit of computing power decreasing exponentially. Once feature size physical limits are reached the area of "chips" will start expanding exponentially. How many transistors could be patterned onto a square metre of graphene?

As for Koomey's Law, we are still at least 10^10 away from theoretical limits.

38:

Coming off a Guardian article that's just hit my ticker: young couples will, once again, be running away to get married in Gretna Green in order to get around unpleasant legalities in the UK. Only this time, they'll include non-heterosexual couples, rather than the traditional hetero sort.

(I figure it'd be a nice little bit of pop-culture stuff...)

39:

Random thought:

A few weeks ago, I had a chat with a guy who builds lasers as a hobby. The lasers were in the 300mW to 1W range, much brighter than the average laser-pointer. One of the lasers had a focusing element that could cause a piece of wood to smoke.

I jokingly commented that while lasers did not live up to the 'death ray' devices long seen in science fiction, that the big limitation was energy density.

I'm not seeing any indication that such energy density will be available by 2030. Which would severely limit their utility as weapons...though I wouldn't be surprised to see an organized-crime enforcer who likes to toast a non-paying client's legs with his powerful laser.

On the non-weapon side, what if a person wanted a communication channel that didn't rely on the grid? Could they use IR lasers to construct such a channel, on a line-of-sight basis?

There have been rumors of using lasers as eavesdropping devices. (Measure vibrations of a window-pane or metal surface, turn into digital data representing sound hitting that surface.) That kind of technology is currently limited to government labs, if it exists at all.

Would lasers-as-eavesdropping tools be more widely available in 2030?

40:

Charlie, stop crowd-sourcing your books! 8-)

41:

Slip of the finger. I must have mistyped Halting State as Atrocity Archives.

You're right, though. Charlie has embedded self-driving cars into that world already.

When will that roadway be indistinguishable from a private train-car, from the user's perspective?

42:

I think the developed world will become more unequal and stratified and most of the developing world will become less so, but they will approach a median with a more diverse and globally mobile elite reigning over a more diverse and (relative to the past on a global scale) more educated underclass/working class.

Parts of the developing world and probably some of the developed world will suffer significant damage or collapse related to climate change. Those areas will depopulate to a lower density. If things fall badly, then these collapses could have a global effect. (Say if droughts hit agricultural hubs like the U.S. or Argentina, then people will likely starve in other places too.) But you asked for something like optimism here; so we'll say no to that. Depending on what the changes are, the areas might become large estates for the elite or just failed states/areas.

I think gender equality will continue to develop, in uneven fits and starts as always. This will continue to depresss the rate of population change. It will aslo be a good thing in itself as far as I am concerned.

Racism/nationalism may decrease as the nation state loses some of its predominance. I am not sure on this one. Paradoxically, cultural localism may eventually become the norm as non-elite people travel less and have less access to the newest toys. The old toys (like Ipods) will probably become more widespread and cheap, and might at first foster uniformity, but I have a feeling people will eventually react against this as their one way to have something unique of their own and to avoid aping the overlords. I think Overlord culture will tend to become homogenous or at least regional in scope.

We might see more a patron model of arts and big works. My guess is this will also damp down exploration efforts that don't immediately benefit the wealthy. (Weather prediction satellites and private clubs sending robot explorers, but no moon base type exploration.)

43:

Sure, but by 2030?
That's a lot of time for the technology to evolve.

44:

You're wrong: the Conservative government in Westminster is planning on legalizing gay marriage in England by 2015, i.e. before the next election. Scotland will pip them to the post by maybe 12-18 months.

(Traditionally the tories have been on the wrong side of the barricades, but David Cameron appears to Get It and looks to be committed to dragging the stick-in-the-mud crazies along behind him.)

45:

Ahem: battlefield lasers powerful enough to blind human eyeballs (by pretty much melting the retina) have been around since the 1980s. Their use in warfare is classified as a war crime and they're forbidden under the Geneva conventions. However, there's nothing stopping a gangster using one of those green LED lasers on their victims today. If it sets fire to wood, it'll really do a number on your eyeballs ...

Eavesdropping lasers are available in online catalog stores. For a price, of course, and with an end-user certificate ...

46:

I am not suggesting this is static for long term development. After maybe less than a century of the above, we may get to the point where the technology accessible to the comman man is too potent on an absolute scale to be held down by the relatively better tech on the elite side.

(This is assuming no global catastrophe, no singularity, no neurocontrol/behavioral modification that nullifies the free will of the lower classes, etc. As requested: no real dystopias.)

47:

The laser I saw demonstrated didn't produce flame, it produced a thin column of smoke from the wood. And the demo was discontinued rapidly. (However, the wood was thick. An appropriately-thin slice would have likely started to burn.)

We were encouraged to look away while he was setting up the focus, the laser was bright enough (shining on something else) to harm the eyes.

I have long known that lasers can blind; even the laser in a CD player contains warnings about potential to blind. I hadn't know that they'd been outlawed for anti-personel military use by international convention.

It's a wonder that mob enforcers don't use lasers now.

48:

Baseball bats don't run out of batteries, and are known quantities in the intimidation stakes?

49:

If Google's self driving cars become common I would expect that to increase the take up of car sharing clubs like Zipcar. If you could order a car to turn up when you wanted, with price discounts for off-peak and advanced bookings then it would make the total cost of ownership for private vehicles harder to justify.

50:

Well, self-driving cars increase the convenience and usefulness of both zipcar and individually owned vehicles. Which way the balance tips will probably depend on second-order considerations...

51:

Outlook for 2030: Widespread unemployment due to automation, robotics, and lack of government intervention. Complete control of the machinery of government by pseudo-libertarian elites and attempted stifling of dissent by use of drones, debt, mercenary armies, and cyber-surveillance. The fruits of biotechnology and nanotechnology will be enjoyed by the elites with occasional crumbs tossed down to the masses. Also, a return of thought to be extinct ideologies like Marxism and ancient ideas like debt jubilees as a reaction to all of the above. Perhaps even revolution.

52:

CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, of course.

53:

Out on a limb, but:

We've got climate prediction sorted to a seasonal and decadal scale.

This is the cutting edge if weather and climate prediction. It'll be statistical (ie. able to describe probabilities, not the precise weather on July 4 2030), and volcanoes will probably still be the joker in the pack.

But, getting seasons out to 5-10 years: a strong likelihood of there having been more cold-winter events like 2009-2010, but being predictable 6 months in advance. Dust-bowl droughts in US and S. Europe, but predictable. Don't plough this summer, save it 'til next year.

Assuming we're adapting to climate change, not treating it as the end-of-the-world, then the snowy Alps are going bye-bye in near decade or two, to be replaced by significant torrential winter rains that we need to capture. What are the economic consequences of turning Switzerland into a bunch of reservoirs?

Aquaculture completely dominates fishery, up from 50% today. The near shoreline from a harbour looks out at offshore windfarms with wave, aquaculture farms. No desolate fishermen going deep-sea fishing in the North Atlantic.

Sailing: ships are down from 23+ kts 5 years ago to 17-18kt today, heading potentially for 7 kts. Journey times up from 25 to 37 days and sailors are demanding Skype and Facebook access to their families. I was shocked to hear a ports logistics expert say they expect marine shipping to be "out of oil" by 2020. I was expecting decades more, with bunker oil. But no, the leading ports are already installing LNG tanks / pipelines in preparation for this.

54:

It's the optics. Barcode technology ... sorry, printed symbology technology ... goes back half a century by now, so it's actually a fairly mature technology. The problem with it has always been pattern recognition and optics which develop relatively slowly.

The maximum capacity deployed has managed maybe two orders of magnitude increase in 40 years. Allowing another order of magnitude in another 20 years seems about right.

On the other hand, something like an RFID tag (think the chip in the Oyster/Leap/Octopus/OPUS cards) can be pretty small and in theory hold an decent amount of data. Totally passive (like QR Code), but someone dawdling past one might be able to suck down a decent amount of data.

Disclaimer: I'm much less au-fait with RFID than with printed symbols.

55:

Economics: we will just be emerging from "the Great 20 year Bond Deleveraging & oil peak". The indebted and demographically depopulating West will be joining the 3rd world whilst Asia races ahead.

Geopolitics: Either Tel-Aviv or Tehran will be a glass plain. A jihad & counter-jihad may have played out in Europe which is demographically Yugoslavia.

Technology: massive multicore systems will apply brute force code generation to make programmers obsolete. Twitter + Google Glasses will enable 'telepathy' / shared hallucinations. Software-quakes in multi-layered systems. Enough proteomic data to make Bio-CAD feasible. economies of scale may make epaper / eplastic prevalent (garish animations everywhere you look). Otherwise, not much has changed - welcome to the new middle ages. The son of Ray Kurzweil will still be promising that the Singularity is around the corner.

56:

This is less in the category of "if this goes on" than in disruptive changes. There are three things: energy storage, energy generation, and trash handling that are ripe for disruption and sudden change.

Despite what's been said above, the current oil-based economy is heavily invested in getting, processing, storing, and using oil. If battery tech every approaches the energy density per mass of oil then we're ripe for serious change.

Likewise energy generation is also key. While transportation isn't a market for very high efficiency solar cells, many other stationary applications are. And transporting that energy is critical now, and with distributed generation could change radically.

Last, garbage is an ignored resource. It's a mixed up set of highly refined and processed materials that we're largely ignoring. The amount of really aggressive recycling is not large on a volume basis. A real nano tech garbage operation could be highly disruptive to current materials industries.

In the "if this goes on" set of things: The maker culture combined with 3D printing has some massively nonlinear possibilities for culture.. (Charlie, you done some of this this in Rule 34 and Declorinating the Moderator.) But this will be as big as electric power and fractional horsepower electric motors. (Which were the computers of the day back in the early 1900's.)

The interesting issues are that the culture won't change as radically. We'll adapt existing cultural conventions to the new tech. Like an elder parent writing a text like an email for a small example. Socially, we're still a youth-worshipping culture. If elders really dominate, then that may change. Or the elders may still worship their youth.

57:

"By 2030 the average person would have been born ~1985 and grown up on the idea that the US and Europe were the polticial, economic and academic powerhouses of the world (and aspects of our culture reflect that)."

IMHO, somebody born in the USA/Western Europe in 1985 would have come of age in the decade of the doc-com collapse, the housing market collapse, the Great Financial Collapse, the collapse of the Euro, 9/11, etc. The perception of vulnerability would have been solidly established.

58:

There was a case of suspected use of a laser blinder or (more legally) a dazzler by a Russian "trawler" against a USAF pilot somewhere in the North Pacific not many years ago. As I recall the story the airman suffered partial loss of vision as a result. I'm on a phone right now but if anyone's really curious I could probably find online refs later.

Blinders are treaty-banned as a war crime, but dazzlers are being increasingly deployed. There's a fine line between the two.

59:

Geopolitics: Either Tel-Aviv or Tehran will be a glass plain. A jihad & counter-jihad may have played out in Europe which is demographically Yugoslavia.

You're being ridiculous here.

Firstly, neither Tehran nor Jerusalem particularly want the glass plain scenario to come about. Certainly not for themselves -- I suspect if Iran does get the bomb it will be seen by history as a stabilization event, allowing a relatively safe MAD stand-off to evolve from the current assymetric and brittle cold war status.

Secondly, Europe is nothing like Yugoslavia, and the prospect for Islam in Europe is one of assimilation, not Jihad. The whole "eurabia" and "Londonistan" narrative you hear from certain islamophobes in the USA and UK is lunacy of the first water, unsupported by demographic trends or events on the ground.

60:

Shipping is fairly likely to shift to fission power. If you can clear this with the port authorities at both ends of your route, nuclear powered freighters would be significantly cheaper today, never mind with more expensive oil. If this happens, it will reverse the speed trend with a vengance - more expensive ships, marginal fuel cost of approximately zero, so optimal return involves sailing fast.
Crews will be larger, and include quite a substatial armed security complement.
2030 is likely to be early days of this move, tough.

61:

"Finance gets regulated into oblivion, after enabling the "masters of the universe" is proven to be much too politically destabilizing. "

As far as I can tell, finance dodged any significant regulatory bullets after the last crash, which gives me confidence (in a bad way) that they won't get strongly regulated until after the next one. It will literally take a full Great Depression II to rein in finance.

62:

Oh and I made a laser eavesdropper myself, from parts, in the late 80s. They aren't that hard to put together.

63:

Recall that the Great Depression took about 4-5 years to really get rolling, and our current mess only really got under way in 2008. We're about on course for the shit to hit the fan over the next 6-18 months. Think in terms not of Greece but of Spain and Italy suffering financial crises. If the contagion spreads to France, just about anything could happen -- France is one of the top 5 economies worldwide, just with a slightly overexposed banking sector: in terms of manufacturing and industry they're healthier than the UK. (Random speculation: a euro-zone domino collapse leading to French debt-default will be followed by Japan and finally the USA re-valuing. All die: oh, the embarrassment!)

64:

Prognostication is a mug's game but I feel up to embarrassing myself.

The $64k question is the cost of energy vs. the cost of human labor. Energy costs are a direct input into automation. If we do suffer a bad to worst-case scenario for peak energy, we're going to see a lot more huddled masses employed in sweatshops. Feeding mouths to power busy little hands will be cheaper than running the robotic assembly line. If we find energy substitutes, then we're not only looking at the post-industrial world but the post-labor world. The bulk of us just aren't necessary for existence anymore.

While the whole "turn the solar system to computronium" bit in Accelerando is a frightful fantasy, I think we'll be coming across that sense of bewildered alienation in the near future. What was the exact phrase concerning Economics 2.0, self-aware business plans predating on each other? Throughout human history, the peasantry were a vital part of the economy.

http://www.prosebeforehos.com/image-of-the-day/01/18/the-pyramid-of-capitalism-poster/

Peasants and workers on the bottom, upper-class twits above them, the military and priesthood providing the theoretical carrot and very literal stick to enforce social rules, and the idle aristocracy above all that to live lives of idle uselessness.

When farms and factories run themselves, the base of that pyramid becomes a lot narrower. The pyramid of capitalism becomes the pillar, maybe even a plinth.

A pillar of capitalism means there's going to be a displaced population that isn't even a part of the system to exploit. They won't be needed for their labor, they will have no money of their own to buy consumer products to transfer wealth to the corporations. We will have arrived at the point of "life unworthy of life," the "useless eaters." How bad could it get? Famine and genocide as government policy ala Stalin's Ukraine? Pol Pot's Year Zero? Or just a general kicking the can down the road, generating just enough surplus from the automated factories and farms to keep the surplus population at a sustenance level, a global favela for the disenfranchised, the disinherited?

The intersection of climate change, resource depletion and technological development has the potential of making the future bad-ugly. The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history except for the 21st which was so much worse.

65:

Much of "...if this goes on" is heavily dependant on what happens politically during the next 5 years. Some form of global revolution would not surprise me, nor the emergence of new influential religions or variations of the old ones. Militant Islam has taught us many lessons.

66:

IMHO, somebody born in the USA/Western Europe in 1985 would have come of age in the decade of the doc-com collapse, the housing market collapse, the Great Financial Collapse, the collapse of the Euro, 9/11, etc. The perception of vulnerability would have been solidly established.

I disagree a little bit with the conclusion that it is solidly established. For the majority of people and the prevailing cultural narrative these haven't begun to make a dent yet, possibly because they're seen as black swans. It's the denial phase if you will of the writing long on the wall.

Otherwise I agree there are ample well known examples of this trend (but cultural blinkers prevent people from joining the dots).

67:

Ohh, and in the vein of Charlies recent short, but moderately saner...
If I am reading the political speeches and translated papers from Russia right, the russians have taken a what everyone else regards as a blue skies paper design, and are actually trying to build the darn thing.
- The dusty core fission fragment rocket. Which has exaust velocities measured in % lightspeed.

So around 2030, getting from earth orbit to Mars might be a shockingly rapid journey.

68:

Small-scale chemistry systems will effectively kill the War on Drugs stone dead. Think about it for a minute: the current drugs war is all about stopping people moving certain chemical compounds around the place; these chemical compounds are the result of a known series of enzymatic steps in a plant metabolism. The genes are known, the enzymes are known, the precursor compounds are known and the route to the precursors is known.

If it becomes possible to produce small-scale chemical synthesis systems (actually, it already is possible) then building one's very own small-scale cocaine manufactury using a 3D printer and assorted home-scale robotics will be completely possible. At this point the war on possession of various substances is essentially lost, dead-in-the-water, over.

Human blood or similar complex biological fluids make for very nice general-purpose precursor feedstocks. Simply run off a pint of blood into a saline-glucose-citric acid holding vessel, then feed into your mini-manufactory to filter out what you need to run the drug synthesis, and run an osmotic concentration step at the end followed by a freeze-drying step and there you have it, 100% pure cocaine salts ready for sale.

Except, there won't be a market. Everyone will have all the cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine and whathaveyou that they need, and the real market is going to be in novel bio-actives and in information, not in actual substances at all.

Precisely how law enforcement will cope with all this is anybody's guess; pervasive head-in-the-sand syndrome followed by ignoring the laws entirely is my guess.

69:

Well, there's the Chinese Spring (along with a worldwide churn of authoritarian states rising and falling) that stems from Chinese growth slipping from a measley 2% into actual recession. That will be fun.

UK politics will have seen the end of the Tory party to be replaced by a Liberal/Nationalist wing, and the Labour Party becomes the dominant party, broken by intermittent radical liberal administrations. House of Lords abolished outright. Queen Elizabeth reaches 104 (her mother made 102) and is living on a life support machine. A back door republic emerges through an elected regent. Her doctors see no reason for her not to continue another 20 years.

The EU survives, but becomes more like the UK, a mess of confusing inconsistent pragmatic levels of competency and design. There are Three Eurozones.

Ireland has become an oil state (no, it really has).

The US, a mess, possibly more polarised and more Roman (i.e. the formal substance of the old constitution continues to be undermined by the Imperial Presidency).

Minor naval battles between US/Russia/China/Canada over artic sea lanes.

70:

On a tangentially-related front, anyone want to take a stab at what the "Mayan Apocalypse 2012" type stories will be in 2030?

71:

The same technology makes it even cheaper and easier for the authorities to detect and punish users. It is or was illegal to have some kinds of controlled drugs in your bloodstream in Sweden - there have been arrests and prosecutions. Meanwhile workplace drug testing is on the rise. There have been calls to mandate drug testing for welfare claimants - notably on Florida. When it's cheaper to do that, it's going to happen more often. A logical endpoint to this kind of Puritanism is to outlaw some meditative states.

72:

On a tangentially-related front, anyone want to take a stab at what the "Mayan Apocalypse 2012" type stories will be in 2030?

That one's obvious: going by fundamentalist biblical chronology we'll be approaching the 2000th anniversary of the crucifixion of a middle-eastern terrorist and rabble rouser called Yeshuah ben Yusuf, and if some of his followers don't get all uppity and apocalyptic over the numerology shtick I'll eat my hat. (Memo to self: go looking for an easily digested natural fibre hat.)

73:

(re: perceptions of somebody born in in the USA/Western Europe in 1985 or later that the USA/Western Europe is in decline)

"I disagree a little bit with the conclusion that it is solidly established. For the majority of people and the prevailing cultural narrative these haven't begun to make a dent yet, possibly because they're seen as black swans. It's the denial phase if you will of the writing long on the wall."


I'd expect the massive youth unemployment of the past several years to hammer that home. And more so over the next several years. And in the USA massive student debt will weight on a generation like a lead shirt.

74:

My big "if this goes on" has to do with currency.

Currently, current currency is probably backed by the U.S.A. dollar. The U.S.A. dollar is guaranteed by dollars -- you are guaranteed that you will be given a dollar for every dollar you own. Obviously, though, that's not what makes it valuable. What makes it valuable are the people that will trade them for other things, and there's a significant population that have to trade them for other things (U.S. taxpayers, for example).

But we have a global economy, and the U.S. population is just a tiny fraction of that population, and some of the largest populations are coming out of the dark ages and starting to have significant economies.

Meanwhile, U.S. politicians can be bought, and there's probably a game of temporarily bolstering the U.S. economy (at least enough to buy a politician) to try to institute changes that have a long-term advantage for other economies (and it's certainly the case that some significant part of that economy has to do with funding other countries -- and the structures for transferring the funds in these cases probably fund numerous forms of corruption).

So, anyways, the current situation seems non-ideal, and temporary.

And, national currencies bring with them some influences from the nation in question.

And...

...

... if the value of a currency is based on the productivity of the people that want that currency, then we have a difficult balancing act between (a) the hyperinflation that politicians seem to secretly be trying to work for (to fund their initiatives and those of their friends) and (b) the opposite situation where people don't work because they people that would be hiring them do not have money to do so because that money is tired up elsewhere. [That said, (a) and (b) are not opposites because when you can just print money and hand it directly to your friends they do not need to be working with the people they used to have to work with to get their money.]

So....

....

... anyways...

everything here is obvious, not a prediction.

Obvious predictions are poverty as a consequence of quantitative easing, heavy "can do" coping on the part of smart people hit by poverty, and the consequent rise of alternative mini-economies (which can't be as big as a currency based economy because of the lack of a standard currency), borderline illegalities that result (no one can entirely understand the law, and the law wants to fund itself -- the U.S.A. by the way has posession laws on the books which allow police to fund itself by declaring ownership of something illegal -- if this is to be stable, that means they can't kill the geese that lay the golden eggs, but you can't have this kind of thing without some kind of fleecing ...)

So... anyways, if this goes on we should see continued blurred lines between legality and illegality, where parasitic governmental people are balanced by legitimizing governmental people, and where people funded by governments are trying to gain economic power in other governments.

And a related issue would be that jurisdictional law winds up having so many loopholes that it's almost irrelevant compared to people that can rally mass opinion. Your evangelical preachers, movie stars and popular bloggers call the shots at one level while at another level it's the con artists and drug dealers that are driving the police and the economy. (Food also matters, but food requires what? 3% of the economy of an industrialized nation?)

Add onto this some empowered charismatic dictator (maybe north korea takes over india... or maybe someone with a heavy hand climbs to the top in china... or maybe an oil emirate discovers some sure-fire cure-all approach to medicine and handles it right, gaining massive popularity) and you have a nice basis for taking over everything and "shutting down the corruption"...

... and if things are tangled enough, I would expect a cleanup effort to mostly hit the people not talented at shifting blame elsewhere with another resulting wave of poverty and stumbling recoveries by the people that are smart enough to care about practical issues.

----------

Meanwhile (I have just skimmed over other comments) I'd like to point out that there's a dichotomy between "teacher" and "student" -- the ideal education system, from my point of view, would attempt to train the student in education, rather than making that the task of the teacher (and this becomes a different subject, when treated from the viewpoint of the student, than it is when treated from the viewpoint of the teacher or administrator). The teaching role would not be so much about expertise in the domain being studied, but in the expertise of teaching students how to learn, and indirectly: finding contacts with domain expertise. Properly done, domain expertise can scale massively, while expertise in learning needs hands-on attention.

If we go this route, though, we need some system of tracking basics (still need to read and write, still need to deal with numbers and each subject will need some vocabulary mastery and you can't distinguish real learning from posers if you don't have any practical exercises to distinguish between people just making the sounds and people who have mastered what makes the abstractions important).

But "if this goes on" I do not expect any major progress in education.

75:

Unix rollover apocalypse

76:

People don't own cars any more. They request them by phone, and the cars automagically drive them to their target. WiFi (or its successor) is made available in all populated areas by the gouvernment and that's necessary, because current protocols like G3 run into a bandwidth issue in the next few years. Air can only transmit so much.

The US will be in recovery after a civil war where the fundamentalists went so far as to burn science books, and the 1% was lynched alike the French revolution.

Prime issues in Europe will be the unemployment rate in the 30% area due to robots and software taking all but the jobs concerned with creating them. You either become an engineer (or a teacher), or you live off welfare, or you work for the government (which is equivalent to welfare, since software does your job better any way).

If I'm lucky, I still have parents, and my future children will not be especially horrible teenagers.

77:

Minor naval battles between US/Russia/China/Canada over artic sea lanes.

Not just Arctic sea lanes either - the Russians are already attempting to claim the sea bed at the North Pole.

(Though I'm not sure what dog China would have in this fight. The others have Arctic coasts, as do Norway (Svalbard is also theirs) and Denmark (in the shape of Greenland).)

78:

.. oh frack it, might as well.

Prediction:
Gini coeficients will go down in most places. Quite a bit. Unemployment will be zero. A lot of these jobs will be in the "Panic effort to secure against weather events" and "Titanic energy infrastructure" sectors, but they will be quite well paid all the same. This being nessesary to persuade people to mount and polish the sealing plates on a hydralic granite piston hundreds of meters down.
http://eduard-heindl.de/energy-storage/energy-storage-system.html

79:

Damn.. forgot to even mention the chemical printers...

Chemical printers (and analogous advances in chemical analysis) without an education base suggest a small elite of people that know how to deal with them, and a mass of consumers and victims trying to maintain status quo. But without an educated base, the scope of the impact of printers will have to be small and narrow, because there just won't be many people capable of operating them, let alone printing them.

And, meanwhile, I expect laws to be their usual "blunt instrument". If possession of drugs is illegal, then possession of the equipment to print them must be the same kind of crime, and if intellectual property laws are valid then we get into violation of those laws using printers. Since intellectual property is based on people agreeing that something is a copy we get back into opinion formers driving enforcement efforts. And on a related note opinion formers that clash will tend to reduce their mutual effectiveness and people that can "successfully defend their intellectual turf (perhaps using age old tactics including scapegoating and demonizing)" would have significant power in the realms of the stable.

But that's just english speaking culture. I'm grossly ignorant of current trends in the context of the bulk of the non-english speakers.

80:

Shipping: I think the problem with this scenario is that you don't trust the bottom end of the market with fission reactors. Our problem with fission has been when people cut corners on implmentation / training to save money. Even the Japanese couldn't be relied on to deliver cheap nuke power safely ...

Shipping is predominant today because labour is cheap in China. When Japanese production lines were shipped to China they used to take out the expensive robots and insert cheap human labour. Now labour costs are rising and Foxconn are buying robots ...

Maybe by 2030 the cheap places are where energy is cheap; read: Saharan Solar, geothermal ... other than that, ship manufacturing to where skilled workers are. For entrpreneurial manufacturing you need experienced technicians. Faster turnarounds on new products if the robots are beside the skilled staff to program them.
Shipping is really in competition with robotics.

I'd really like to see someone do a near-future "climate adaptation" novel. . 2050 where climate change is happening and we're moving uphill from the coasts, extremes are being adapted to, ski holidays are a figment of our elders imagination ... anyone done one, or up for it?

81:

Ireland has already had multiple chances at being a petrochemical state (Kinsale Head field, Corrib field); we tend to just give it to whoever's extracting it and run away. Our government appears to be terrified of taxing oil companies.

82:

I realized recently that the killer app for Google's self driving vehicles is long distance trucking. Drivers are the limiting factor (with hard legislative limits on how long they can drive). ROI on vehicle investments goes way up when they can potentially be running 24/7 (plus maintenance, loading/unloading), plus faster delivery times.

And ubiquitous cheap computation kills another source of employment.

83:

"Recall that the Great Depression took about 4-5 years to really get rolling, and our current mess only really got under way in 2008. "

In the USA, things bottomed out in 1932, IIRC. Coincident with replacing Hoover with FDR (which every right-winger will tell you was a puuuuuuuuuuuuuure coincidence, and that FDR did not help).


"We're about on course for the shit to hit the fan over the next 6-18 months. Think in terms not of Greece but of Spain and Italy suffering financial crises. If the contagion spreads to France, just about anything could happen -- France is one of the top 5 economies worldwide, just with a slightly overexposed banking sector: in terms of manufacturing and industry they're healthier than the UK. (Random speculation: a euro-zone domino collapse leading to French debt-default will be followed by Japan and finally the USA re-valuing. All die: oh, the embarrassment!)"

I agree with this idea - it looks like the ECB (i.e., Germany) has no problems driving off of the cliff, under the insane delusion that they'll be protected by the rock-hardness of the Deutchmark. With, of course, high finance in the UK and France pushing for, as well, lest they have to take a haircut on their bad investments.

This has the potential to both cause a global depression, and to render 'Europe' back to a purely geographic term.

84:

Newton's prediction of the End Times in 2060 will be providing a whole new media feeding ground, especially as it is safely a few decades away allowing long-term marketing.

Otherwise, the future will in many ways be similar to the past, even to a recycling of nostagia for the 'better' and 'safer' times of the Cold War or even WW2. It's like travelling on the London Underground and realising that the basic infrastructure is virtually unchanged since the 1930s (and in places much much older), with just some extra (and often unpredicted and virtually invisible) technology glued on the side.

85:

"The Sea And Summer" by George Turner has those themes. Written in the 1980s, set in 2041. There are elements that reminded me of Shockwave Rider.

86:

You had me right up until "maybe North Korea takes over India".

Well played!

NK: poverty-stricken autocratic backwater with around 16 million people, intermittently starving. Might have the odd A-bomb.

India: 1.2 billion people, builds everything from cars to nuclear reactors to fricking interplanetary space probes, has an army which, including reserves, is equal to 20% of the entire population of NK, has the world's 11th highest nominal GDP (but 3rd largest in PPP), economic growth averaging 6% over a period of decades. Oh, and an estimated 150-250 nuclear weapons, including H-bombs, and the ability to build ICBMs to deliver them if necessary.

Somehow I do not think NK will be conquering India any time soon.

87:

Okay, let's get the crazy scenarios going on.

Thanks to fracking technology, oil prices drop dead. As a result, the collapse of Russian economy (and government) is now complete. Over the desolation that is former USSR, american and chinese (not to mention indian, israeli and basically everybody) spec-op teams race to secure the stockpiles of various old russian doomsday devices and steal they yet-unstollen technologies (they'll find out there are no more of those).

SpaceX acquires Reaction Engines. In his dark fortress (not on Mars yet, but give it time), Elon Musk laughs as his plans for world domination draw nigh.

Human internet trolls become obsolete as advanced artificial trolls come online. (First generation seen here: http://tassadar-ha.livejournal.com/180660.html). AI is still over the horizon, but since when trolls needed intelligence?

88:

The point is that ships currently spend quite insane amounts of money on bunker oil - you would not have to cut corners to run a nuclear powered freighter profitably. The fuel savings and higher speed will more than pay for doing it right. This in turn has cultural implications - The first world will have large numbers of people making their living at sea again. And someone (.. the french.) gets shipyards again, because this is not something one can retrofit.

89:

Charlie -- I hate to burst your bubble, but Derek Lowe (whose blog I strongly suspect you read after reading Tall Tail :P) is very bearish on the chemputer: http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2012/07/23/science_fiction_gets_the_upper_hand.php

Not to say it can't become something real in the next twenty years, but this isn't it.

90:

Nuclear powered ships would require far more maintenance, far more specialised crew and would be a terrorist dream. Simply highjack a cargo ship and crash it to whatever coastal city you like.

For energy savings on shipping we can go three ways:

- More local manufacture (with increasing automation and diminishing of cheap labour this could become viable)

- Less usage of shipping (widespread deployment of continental high speed rail)

- Cheaper, smarter and simpler shipping (automated hybrid fuel/electric ships of low-maintenance composite materials with sails and kites supplemented by accurate weather monitoring)

91:

I tend to agree with most of Matt's points. The easy predictions are:
--graying of much of the first world, with them being cared for by economic migrants from the areas hardest hit by global warming. second generation Bangladeshi nurses may be very popular in China.
--Global warming. It's not just heat and storms. The biggest problems are city-killing hurricanes (which are, yes, a manmade disaster as in New Orleans, but how many coastal cities don't have a backlog of critical infrastructure repairs), crop-killing droughts, and resulting food shortages. Less meat consumption will be the norm, and corn-based ethanol will have been in the dust-bin of history for years, due to repeated failures of the Midwest crop.
--There's going to be a huge landrush on in Siberia, with complaints about them cutting down the last big forest in the world.
--Marijuana will be generally legal, and probably some other drugs as well. The drug wars will be taught in school, and kids will shake their heads in disbelief. The US will be considered the marijuana capital of the world (it is in absolute consumption already, and close in per capita consumption already). Many American farmers will be growing hemp, just because it stands up better to drought than, oh, corn or tobacco, and we may see hemp-based biofuels taking the place of ethanol.
--Fossil fuels. I just found out that financiers currently *assume* there's ~$20 trillion in fossil fuels left in the ground, and various bodies are already using these as collateral for new projects. It's going to be hard to keep that carbon in the ground, so long as greed runs the world. Hence, I predict:
--We head for something closer to the IPCC's "worst-case" scenario, but probably don't quite get there.
--There's going to be a ludicrous surplus of money. We've already got $23 trillion squirreled away in offshore tax havens, $20 trillion in the ground, and however much banging around in the world economy. What's left to buy? Some possible solutions include:
--Massive inflation (1 gallon of water being $100) or massive deflation (a lot of money simply disappears). Or both.
--Sudden loss of offshore assets. The irony is that some tax havens are quite vulnerable to global warming. How many trillions can the right hurricane take out?
--Revolution. As in the past, when the few try to own the world, the many rise up. I don't think there will be a successful global revolution, but I do think the stupider members of the 1% will be long gone.
--Most retirement schemes (pensions AND 401ks) will have evaporated, because they are part of this huge money pool. Solutions range from a resurgence of the welfare state (since the world will be run by the old) in a few places to something more Dickensian in the rest.
--The Cloud will be a humorous memory, after the vulnerabilities of huge data centers become well known through a long series of avoidable mishaps and natural disasters. The old will be enormously concerned over their loss of data (aka photos, videos, records, pensions, etc). I'm not sure what will replace it, but the young may become inured to data loss. A credit card may be about as durable as a dollar bill.
--If the biggest market is the old, that's where tech and culture, and advertisements, will go. We may actually see cyberpunk as Effinger predicted, not for the young and sleek, but to help old people stay productive, since they can't retire. Teens will be largely ignored by markets (they have no money or pull), and have to sit through endless ads for the latest geriatric drugs, implants, and so forth. The commercials around the US nightly news are a good sign of things to come.
--If the world is a gerontocracy, we might see a huge resurgence of Confucianism in China and Korea (and Korea will be unified). Perhaps it will be the latest fad in the West too, as Taoism and Buddhism have been.
--drones will have gotten to the size of small birds and insects, and they will have a host of new functions that we're not thinking of right now.
--The UK will be a major wine-producing nation, due to climate change, and Scotland and Ireland may be known for their wines--so start coming up with new names. The current wine-growing regions of the world will be losing their vineyards at a large rate, and they will be setting up new ones further north.
--At least one major city in the Ring of Fire will be wiped out by an earthquake (LA, SF), a volcano (Seattle, Tokyo, etc), or a tsunami. If we're really unlucky, the east Kilauea fault gives way, and that resulting tsunami scours the west coast of the Americas.
--Kessler syndrome. If we see any wars between space-going powers, we'll see this as well, and we may lose all our weather satellites without ability to replace them. Just what we need as more storms roll in.

92:

Andrew, Lowe says: "Cronin's ideas are not crazy, but there are a lot of details between here and there, and if you don't know much organic chemistry (as many of the readers of the original article won't), then you probably won't realize how much work remains to be done."

Which is absolutely and irrefutably true. I've done some organic chemistry -- just enough to know that it's brain-warpingly difficult. By analogy: what I see in the newspaper coverage of Cronin's chemputer idea is a journalist's garbled and breathless coverage of an electronics engineer, the year the transistor is discovered, discussing the possibility of building microprocessors. Yes, it's entirely possible. But it's not going to happen this year -- or probably this decade.

93:

If we do see peak-oil with no suitable substitute, we could be in a Cowboys and Kalashnikovs scenario. I won't paste the whole writeup here, just provide a link.

http://jollyreaper-ideapit.blogspot.com/2012/05/cowboys-and-kalashnikovs.html

The TLDR skinny:
* The US Federal government collapses to the Eastern seaboard
* High-tech manufacturing remains in areas of cheaper power like hydroelectric but suburbia is gone, commuter culture is gone, much consolidation into cities
* American West is depopulated but cattle ranching makes a comeback in a big way in suitable areas
* China's agriculture is wrecked but they remain relatively prosperous and their 21st century wind-jammers carry what trade remains on the high seas.
* China is a heavy buyer of American cattle.
* The West is wild once more with fortunes to be had for the daring and the desperate.

There's a strong feeling of schizo-tech where handheld computers are affordable but heavy machinery is expensive because energy is expensive to produce. Every watt is spent grudgingly like a Fremen's water rings.

Now something that could throw everyone for a loop is if one of our super-volcanoes decides to cook off or if we get that asteroid impact everyone's been worrying about. A regional nuclear war, say between India and Pakistan, that would have global repercussions.

94:

A few more predictions that hit while I was making the coffee:

--The US and much of Europe will be majority minority countries, due both to differential birth rates and to immigration. There will still be discrimination based on the color of people's skin.
--jellyfish will have replaced krill in the food industry, and most people will not have eaten a wild-caught fish, except on special occasions or in certain isolated communities.

95:

>>>If we do see peak-oil with no suitable substitute

What, ASB removed all uranium?

96:

Nuclear powered ships would require far more maintenance, far more specialised crew and would be a terrorist dream. Simply highjack a cargo ship and crash it to whatever coastal city you like.

You don't know a lot about nuclear reactors, do you? (Let alone marine nuclear reactors, which are a different breed of animal.)

Not to mention the fact that any such ships would have a security detail on board to prevent exactly that scenario from happening.

97:

I would speculate that there will be sideways shift. Look how long we have has the basic Intel instruction set. There chip designs dominated the market, as did MS Windows. But the ARM chip design has been around as long, with greatly reduced power consumption. And now it's being used more and more. All those tablets and smartphones, maybe they will be the key to displacing the IBM-derived computers we all use.

98:

.. I should have quantified. Large freight ships can burn through upwards of fifty million dollars of fuel a year. This means that even after paying the cost of a reactor, and the high-skill crew to maintain it, the ship can carry a fifty man security complement permanently and still be cheaper. That isnt a terrorist dream target, that is a terrorist death trap. Al-Queda is not attempting to high-jack warships either.

Not to mention that crashing the ship into a city will do absolutely nothing to the reactor core. The standard design for a nautical reactor is designed by the military. - For rather obvious reasons, they are not going to go boom in the event of a sinking.

99:

The window for imposing fairer taxation (as part of regulating global finance) is rapidly closing, if it hasn't already slammed shut. If we miss it, expect more taxes on working people and the poor and a more aggressive approach to collecting them. (The poor are indeed taxed, through VAT on whatever they buy for their survival. Management of the poor by private companies instead of by government agencies also taxes the poor by cutting the quality of services to them while costing taxpayers more.)

As has happened in Greece, Spain and Italy, I expect more countries to massively increase their underground economies, via barter, and policing to expand to chase it. No Tobin Tax to discourage high-frequency trading, but micropolicing to make sure you paid tax on that sofa you bought on Craigslist, or that you reported it when you lent your car to a friend who would otherwise have to rent one. Craigslist, eBay and Amazon won't collect the taxes but they'll happily pass your purchase information to the government to check against your tax return. When I lived in Washington DC many years ago, when you filed a tax return, you were supposed to report and pay sales tax on things you bought outside the District. It was impossible to enforce unless they could get my purchase info.

The shock doctrine capitalism now underway in formerly social-democratic Europe means gutting of social services and the accelerated selloff of public infrastructure to private companies, resulting in higher prices. These lead to leaner and definitely meaner governments of little use to most people, but which still need to support the 1% in the style to which they're accustomed. Unlike their model, the Most Serene Plutocratic Republic of Venice, piracy may not be an option, so it's internal colonization or nothing.

Since every other government function is being privatized, why not bring back tax farming, through privatizing collection of VAT and income tax?

People more willingly accept high taxes if they're fair and they can see some benefit coming from it. If the very government helps the better-connected to dodge taxes, everyone else will resent paying even at historically low rates. And raising VAT is already encouraging formerly law-abiding people smuggle from abroad.

100:

The problem comes in that it takes billions of pounds/dollars/euros and (at best) inbetween 5 and 10 years to build a nuclear reactor. That work must be done by a technically proficient workforce and if you're doing it en mass it's going to be even more demanding.

For a more in depth look at the issue I recomment Tim Murphy
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/10/the-energy-trap/

101:

"Say if droughts hit agricultural hubs like the U.S. or Argentina, then people will likely starve in other places too."

We don't have to wait till 2030 to find that out. The US is *currently* in the middle of its biggest drought in several decades.

102:

You don't know a lot about nuclear reactors, do you? (Let alone marine nuclear reactors, which are a different breed of animal.)

Not to mention the fact that any such ships would have a security detail on board to prevent exactly that scenario from happening.

*Shrug. I'm not a nuclear engineer and I'm aware of the use of nuclear reactors in submarines and have a generally good understanding of the safety of nuclear reactors. My response was aimed at the idea of retooling the entire shipping industry onto nuclear for which I feel I have still raised valid objections.

103:

Recent stats in the USA show that fewer young people are getting drivers' licenses. (The theory is that the internet makes f2f contact unnecessary. I think that's nonsense; correlation is not causation.)

Also, the population trends of "move to the suburbs" are reversing, with more people moving to city centers (if the city centers are nice) because of the efficiencies of city living.

This trend can only go on as long as cities get funding to build real mass transit systems, so that would be the "hmmm, maybe not" factor. But let's assume that somehow happens.

Add increasing climate change effects and problems.

Voila, the domed cities we were supposed to have on other planets instead happen right here on Earth. Okay, actual domes are unlikely in that time frame--getting subways and monorails built is difficult enough--but greening city rooftops is currently underway. Imagine people living in hanging-garden urban enclaves! Add some vertical farms to make more of the food local-grown. More vegetarians (or the primary meat being chicken raised in backyards and rooftops).

This lifestyle would be completely unremarkable to many Europeans, but to Americans it's radical, and I'm fairly certain we wouldn't handle it the same way.

104:

It would render the shipping industry irrecognizable, because it would subject it to nuclear-level regulatory standards. This would shift costs from fuel to labor in a very big way, but fuel costs are currently so very high that the economics work.

105:

The problem comes in that it takes billions of pounds/dollars/euros and (at best) inbetween 5 and 10 years to build a nuclear reactor.

No it doesn't. Once the skills and infrastructure are in place you can bang them out frighteningly fast -- if you don't have NIMBY campaigns and planning enquiries and extensive financial hedging over decommissioning costs. Between 1955 and 1970 the UK banged out a couple of dozen Magnox reactors for power generation, providing 20% of our base load, without it being a major priority.

If we hit peak oil hard, then reactor construction will go onto a wartime footing. Think in terms of men with guns turning up to expropriate the land required, then the US Army Corps of Engineers (or equivalent) turning up to pour the concrete.

Yes, there will be mistakes. But if we find ourselves in an energy crisis, a lot of the current rule book will be chucked out of the window.

106:

I predict two tiers of shipping: expensive, fast, nuclear powered freighters with armed security details -- running at between 25 and 45 knots, the limiting factor being hull fatigue -- and mostly robotized sailing ships going a lot slower. With weather satellites it should be possible for sailing skippers to make optimal navigation decisions, and with motorized aerofoils instead of sails they won't need the hundreds of deck-hands of classical sailing ships.

Passenger liners may not exist at all, even as floating hotels (the way they thrive today). For security reasons you don't want to put nuclear reactors in a passenger liner, sails are too damn slow, and oil will cost too much. Airliners will therefore still have a niche for travel on long-haul routes where high speed rail is impractical.

107:

Sex bots are perfected and the worlds population goes into a reverse.

108:

By 2030, the “Revolt Against the Modern World” will be in full swing in the Western world, as citizens disillusioned by the abject failure of the secular Religion of Progress will turn to older traditions in hopes of finding something with real mythic potency. Islam will be by far the fastest-growing ideology among younger Westerners; thousands of churches and secular institutions will have been shuttered for lack of interest and been replaced by mosques. Catholicism will make a surprising comeback among Westerners, who find in its magisterial tradition a comforting antidote to all that ails postmodern civilization. By 2030, Christians and Muslims will be more allies than enemies, having realized that militant secularism is their greater common enemy.

That’s all I have for now. Note that most predictions about dramatic technological changes on this time scale are laughably wrong, but I suppose hope springs eternal among the techno-religionists. In the realm of human belief, however, things can change with terrifying rapidity, and since the memosphere and the population will be increasingly non-Western, we shouldn’t be surprised to see non-Western and pre-Enlightenment ideologies making rapid advances. I could go on about other aspects of the dawning “Age of Endarkenment”, but instead I will just refer you here: http:// http://www.sithacademy.com/black-papers/

109:

I suspect that a large part of The Cloud will move from central servers and NSA oversight to P2P. It's difficult, but it is already happening with some communities. After all, the amount of memory on PCs will probably always exceed that of Cloud servers eg Amazon

110:

The gas/electric shift will happen, I think. The infrastructure for handling liquid fuels and gases is going to wear out as the existing hardware does and the expenditure to replace it will be less forthcoming than it used to be. Nobody is going to be funding the construction of an oil or pipeline with only an expected lifetime of ten years profit-making before the oil or gas supply at one end dries up.

I foresee a shift to lots more nuclear power stations being built starting in the 2020s after the natural gas supply bubble dissipates and limiting the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is taken more seriously than it is today. The result will be more consumption of electricity requiring large infrastructure changes, especially in cities and urban communities where home heating has traditionally been done by gas. France has already made this move; few homes there are heated by expensive gas when nuclear-generated electricity is so cheap.

Fischer-Tropsch is a desperation process, like the Japanese expedient of using pine tree roots to make aviation spirit late on in WWII. It is hopelessly inefficient and its output will be limited to military and other high-value fields. Commercial aviation will rely on biofuels and some limited extraction of fossil oil but it will be a shadow of its former self in terms of numbers of passengers and flights per year; Concorde ticket pricing for cattle-class transportation. There might be some dodge or other that would allow grid electricity to "drive" aviation but avgas at twenty dollars a litre (inc. carbon taxes) is going to put a serious crimp in Business As Usual.

111:

Are sails really too slow for floating hotels? If you change the structure a little, fewer stops, more on-board entertainment, add "the romance of travelling under sail" (and helicopters or similar to ship people off if needed) and I suspect there's a luxury floating hotel market just as there is now.

112:

I'd expect to see a lot of tiny, twinkling lights in the night sky - one idea that's been pushed around is sending up a lot of micron-sized high-reflectivity particles into an unstable low-earth orbit as a temporary fix for climate change. A few thousand tons of powder would have an appreciable cooling effect and the particles re-entering would be constantly burning up.
If airliners aren't off fossil fuels (or even biofuels) by that point, there's a chance that they'd be refueled soon after taking of nearly empty - it's more economical to lift one heavy tanker that can refill three airliners than it is to have the three airliners take off fully fueled. Airliners would just be for plebs, though - business passengers would be flying on things like the Reaction Engines' LAPCAT.
I also wonder what the chances are of some rushed out drug or vaccine (in an emergency, such as a major pandemic) in the very near future causing a long-term problem like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's - something that wouldn't show in a quick round of testing when faced with something nasty. Half the world crippled by degenerative diseases twenty or thirty years after being dosed.

113:

Putting an extra section into an already-built ship is an established technology. The problem is in replacing a large diesel with the steam turbine. Never mind the reactor technology, you have a major bottleneck with producing reduction gears for ship propulsion.

114:

Sean: Yellow card.

Play nice and I won't ban you. OK?

As far as your "religious backlash" hypothesis goes, it's actually happening already. Whether it prevails or not ... well, denial of change is a side-effect of future shock, and folks who set their compass by early iron age guide books probably won't be too good at surviving the coming climate disruption.

115:

"The point is that ships currently spend quite insane amounts of money on bunker oil - you would not have to cut corners to run a nuclear powered freighter profitably. The fuel savings and higher speed will more than pay for doing it right. This in turn has cultural implications - The first world will have large numbers of people making their living at sea again. And someone (.. the french.) gets shipyards again, because this is not something one can retrofit."

Other people's point is that the shipping industry lives on running cheaply under flags of convenience,
which is the exact opposite of what a nuclear fleet would be required to do.

116:

2030 is 18 years from now. Look back 18 years and you are at 1994 with the internet still dial up, AOL had only 300,000 members with every nerd screaming at them to, "Get off the Internet!" HA!

By 2030 only hobbyists will have PCs. Everything will be smart phones or tablets, and there will have been multiple Cloud-Fails wiping out everyone's personal store of family photos, ripped music, and cat videos. YouTube will be wiped and refilled at least three times in those 18 years, growing smaller and smaller with each reset.

In 1994 world population was below six billion. By 2030 world population will once again be below six billion as the Millennial Population Bubble bursts.

2030 will be the beginning of the cleanup and closing out of most cites as the population no longer focuses on pathological "growth for growth sake" and begins the "Rightsizing" of world population.

90 years ago world population was below two billion. 90 years from now it will be below two billion again. The turning point occurs in the next 18 years as the Greatest Generation dies off leaving clueless Boomers to rage and cry, "Why me!" as they die alone, still clueless. HA!

117:

(Charlie, I am not disposed by nature to play nice, but I don't make this comment with any particular malice, just intellectual interest)

Interesting Stross, so are you hoping that a climate change "die off" will prejudicially dispose of large numbers of backward, inflexible religionists and cleanse the world for your kind? I've heard ideas like this from the other side, so I guess this Apocalypse could go either way...

118:

(re: nuclear-powered merchant ships)

"Not to mention the fact that any such ships would have a security detail on board to prevent exactly that scenario from happening."

A lowest-cost 'detail' obtainable. Which would probably mean that there is at least one rifle in a vault onboard for every crewman who's gone through an all-day security training 'program'.

I keep thinking of mixing nuclear power with 'flag of convenience' and not feeling good.

Now, this can change, but it'd be a major intergovernmental program.

119:

My late father was a teacher whose considered opinion was that the first priority of a teacher wasn't to teach, but to avoid snuffing out that thirst for knowledge.

His dream of a good exam was one that lasted all day, and was set in a good library. What you were testing for was the ability to assimilate, assess and act upon information, rather than simply to learn without understanding.

120:

>>>>abject failure of the secular Religion of Progress will turn to older traditions in hopes of finding something with real mythic potency

Yeah, only older traditions never had any real mythic potency, because magic don't exist. While "Religion of Progress" gave you everything you have, starting with the computer you use to shitpost.

IOW, GTFO.

121:

At current rates of national-level superscandals, there won't be a polity in 2050 that doesn't associate Catholicism first and foremost with child abuse. I wouldn't mind betting that the Church's future is remarkably similar to the tobacco industry's.

122:

>>>By 2030 only hobbyists will have PCs

So, am I supposed to play Half-life 5 on my fricking smartphone? Not cool, dude, not cool.

123:

...that is to say, desperately fleeing its reputation to progressively poorer markets.

124:

"Recent stats in the USA show that fewer young people are getting drivers' licenses. (The theory is that the internet makes f2f contact unnecessary. I think that's nonsense; correlation is not causation.)"

Incorrect analysis - what people are doing is observing a correlation, and noting a plausible, existing (partial) causal factor. The question, of course (as always) is how much of a partial cause this is.

125:

"...denial of change is a side-effect of future shock, and folks who set their compass by early iron age guide books probably won't be too good at surviving the coming climate disruption."


Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. They might be. At a considerable cost to others, and to the lesser folk among themselves.

126:

Baseball bats don't run out of batteries, and are known quantities in the intimidation stakes?

And are much easier to explain when found in the back room.

127:

"If we hit peak oil hard, then reactor construction will go onto a wartime footing. Think in terms of men with guns turning up to expropriate the land required, then the US Army Corps of Engineers (or equivalent) turning up to pour the concrete."

You mean Blackwater turfing people out and Halliburton pouring the (defective) concrete :)

What worries me the most is that it's now established in the USA at least that there's far more money in failure than in success - for the elites.

128:

I do think 2030 is about the right timeframe for Moore's Law to moosh squishily up against the physical limits of silicon photolithography.

Then, there will be a long pause as we look for something better than silicon photolithography. There will be unanticipated economic and technological shocks, as assumptions predicated on Moore's law fail. There will be continued improvements in power, scale, and efficiency as other aspects of computer design catch up after all these decades, though.

No way to predict how long the Long Pause will last -- but my money is on "just long enough for us to get comfortable again".

129:

Nope, I'm just pointing out that there seems to be a correlation between climate change denialism and "young earth" creationism; that in Pakistan there are campaigns against polio vaccination, of all things, on the grounds that it's a joint USA-Israel conspiracy to sterilize muslims: and that magical thinking isn't a terribly effective way to respond to crises. See, for example, the sorry history of HIV treatment in South Africa for an example of how that ends up.

Hopefully we won't see any large scale die-offs or nuclear wars; just a gentle demographic transition to static or declining population.

130:

>>>. A few thousand tons of powder would have an appreciable cooling effect and the particles re-entering would be constantly burning up

Oh, I'm sure rocket makers of the world will love to launch their payloads through a constant stream of hypersonic death.

131:

In regards to shipping, one possibility is the construction of a rail/road line across the Bering Strait, either by bridge or by tunnel:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/bering-strait-tunnel-to-connect-u-s-and-russia/

The Chunnel and Confederation Bridge are already examples of (smaller scale) relevant technology. After that, it's merely a multi-thousand-mile slog through frozen hell to level, fill and otherwise make serviceable the terrestrial terrain. None of this is really risk, merely hard and expensive. But it does have the advantage of allowing for electrified rail (as the Russians have), which means you can use any power source. It also reduces the time required for shipping bulk stuff all over, and allows for the eventual interconnection of 5 continents via rail/road system.

This almost certainly won't be done by 2030, but construction might well be under way by then.

132:

Anatoly - So, am I supposed to play Half-life 5 on my fricking smartphone? Not cool, dude, not cool.

Sony playstation 9 the future of gaming in year 2078
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2gzRQ5f3No

HA!

133:

>>>Then, there will be a long pause as we look for something better than silicon photolithography

Ahem. We are looking for a few years already. There won't be any pause, what will be is a smooth transition from silicon to carbon.

134:

Right now the drawbacks are simply too much, but if hydrocarbon fuels continue to become scarcer, with improving technology, lighter-than-air transport could have a comeback.

Apart the hydrogen-helium problem (not little but bypassable with adequate tech), the biggest problem of LTA is slowness for people transport, and too much lift when discharging cargo for freight use.

They're deal breakers now, but if cost become enough of an issue... Also, with all that surface, an LTA vehicle could be a candidate for PV electric propulsion if smart-material tech continue to improve a little further.

135:

Violent conquest by outsiders isn't the same thing as just ending up relatively poorer than the others. (I think you're talking about Tamerlane, the Mongol invasion, etc. since I don't think that at any time since then the Middle East has been the dominant civilization.)

I really don't think *that* was what the original poster meant by "the West ending up relatively poorer". So we need a different model. This kind of thing has historically usually happened after losing a war, but that's not what's being predicted here.

What I expect is that there will be a massive retreat and narrowing of vision as people attempt to deny the evidence. This, of course, will just put the West even further behind (in a relative sense). I don't expect it to go as far as Japan did when it refused the gun, partially because there will be parts of the West that don't have the same history. Poland probably won't react the same way as the U.S., e.g. They never (in memory) *had* an experience of being "top dog". So there may be a sort of an inversion of modernism, with Poland, Estonia, etc. being nearly as advanced as the countries outside the group known as "the West", but many other members of that group going heavily into denial. (But probably not to the point that it leads to war. War has gotten too expensive. And too dangerous even for the winning side.)

Still, I'm not sure. The leaders of the US have been showing notable signs of craziness, and I think it's been increasing over the years. (I'm not counting the second term of Reagan, when he was certifiable for Alzheimers.) I've been reading this as the early stages of denial, but they *could* lose touch sufficiently that something serious happens.

OTOH, by 2030, assuming that things haven't collapsed in one direction or another, I expect that computers will be as (or nearly as) "intelligent" as people. But quite differently. As you said, the second or third generations descendant from Athena. Lots of different versions of them. Teenagers still won't know enough not to embarrass themselves in public, and people still won't forgive them for their permanently recorded transgressions when they get older. Robots will still be relatively expensive (though the price will be decreasing, but their numbers will be rising rapidly. Most of them will be controlled by some of Athena's descendants, but they will attempt to present a humanized set of reactions, so that people will believe that they can predict how the machines will react. Most people will so react, but they'll often be wrong. Most of the robots will be a lot smaller than adults, and they'll usually be weaker (usually...dockyard cranes will still exist, and other strong robots), but they'll be able to react in swarms. (Note that due to the speed of light, the minds controlling the robots will not usually be attached to those robots, and may, in fact, be controlling several different bodies simultaneously.)

Nurses will be a dying profession. Doctors too, though they'll maintain a bit of control through legal maneuvering. As today with nurses, robots won't be allowed to treat patients except under nominal direction by an MD. But most doctors will rarely see patients. That will be handled via remote viewing through the eyes of a robot, and will be increasingly nominal. Advanced surgery, in particular, will be an area where robots are MUCH more adept than humans.

By 2030 I expect the neural connections (built-in rather than attached) to just be getting well started. It won't be experimental anymore, but if you don't have a reason that medical insurance will pay for it, you won't be able to afford it. Those who have it will need to put in a lot of time and effort learning how to use it properly. (Think learning arithmetic using Roman Numerals.) But once they do it will be immensely useful. It will be the eventual basis of a form of uploading. It remembers how you react in a situation, and predicts how you will react in an upcoming situation. Originally this just lets it load relevant memories into it's buffers, but eventually it advances to automatically handling routine tasks, then to handling phone calls under your personal supervision. Gradually it handles more and more of your life, and it has a good model of how you handle the part of your life that you don't delegate. By 2040 some of them will have learned to be indistinguishable from you, except that it avoids the things *you* think are social gaffes, or poor decisions. Sometime after that it will be shockingly revealed that someone has died years ago, and nobody could tell, because they kept on appearing to be present. Perhaps they'll be allowed to incorporate, and thus become legal persons with some legitimate claim to the right to the term.

OTOH, I don't see why you don't consider this a "Singularity". It's a soft-takeoff, rather than a hard one, but it's still a "Singularity". And it's also true that I'm fairly certain that I'm underestimating the changes. I'm only considering SOME of the easily predictable ones.

136:

Actually there reason to suppose that Islam may well be predisposed to shoot its self in the foot in a demographic sense. Islam is one of these cultural systems which prefers males over females, especially where reproduction is concerned. In the normal run of things, you end up with roughly equal numbers of girls and boys being born, hypothesised female sex biasing effects aside.

However there is certain to be a problem arising in future which concerns the effects of cheap, pervasive biotech. In farming certain animal breeding systems have a very marked preference for one sex over another; when breeding dairy cows, for instance, bull calves are often shot soon after birth as they are almost worthless for a dairy farmer. Male chickens are similarly selected out soon after hatching if their brood are intended for egg production.

Biotech techniques like immuno-labelling with flow cytometry raise the possibility of being able to determine which sperm will produce females, and which males; if you can tell which is which, then you can select them and do so in bulk. This thus lets you produce only female, or only male offspring.

Now, if this system is applied to humans, then you too can select the sex of your children. At this point we get a replay of the Tragedy of the Commons all over again; everyone will go for the favoured option, and nobody will put community over self interest save the few who cannot afford the technique.

Imagine a world where Islamic believers have the temptation of being able to choose the sex of their children. It'll have a lot of little boys in it, that's for sure...

137:

With respect to hydrocarbons, farming presents an interesting case:

We don't currently have a viable prototype af a non-hydrocarbon driven tractor which can farm a relevant fraction of the current agricultural area.

If a tractor is too heavy, it compacts the soil which makes it impossible for plants to penetrate with their roots, and ruining water transport if they do.

If it is too bulky it is no good either.

Within a Finagle factor of 2, all the bio-fuel we can realistically hope to produce, may already be ear-marked for the tractors necessary to produce food.

138:

I also expect airliners to be the last transport form to shift away from burning hydrocarbons. Fuel with a high energy density is essential for flight because you want to make your vehicle's frontal area small in order to reduce atmospheric drag.

Do you mean energy density as in per mass or as in per volume? Fuels like CH4 and H2, while being lower density than jet fuel by volume, are higher by mass. Thus while the volume of the tanks increases, the mass of the plane is lower, requiring smaller wings and engines, thus reducing wing surface drag. I think the problems of cryo fuel handling and storage are the issue, rather than energy density concerns.

139:

By 2030 your smartphone will be about 100 times as powerful as your PC, your monitor will have been replaced by a pair of glasses with resolution greater than the resolving power of your retinas, and the interface will be some kind of motion capture system so that it's entirely controlled by gestures: not so much air guitar as air bazooka.

140:

There is all there is that co2 going into the air and more importantly the seas. I think that's going to be the big thing.
From Marx forward people have said there will not be jobs to go around.. In America you worth is your work. In the 70' and 80's the only thing that would seem to hold society as we knew was some kind of make work jobs. Even President Nixon had a bill starting that way.
If it comes to that, and I think it will, natural gas can be made into a liquid fuel that's better than gasoline and cheaper to make than using oil. That's what a late 70's Scientific American magazine said. But who owns the natural gas? And who will pay for the new refiners? And there is still all that co2.

141:

OTOH, airliners are large enough to allow more expensive fuel handling to be economic. Liquid hydrogen/air engines may be in line.

Still, I haven't heard of any being developed, so probably not by 2030.

142:

Another old-fashioned idea that could see a revival is the idea of domed cities: once gas prices are up enough and the concept of personal mobility become less of a sacred cow, expecially in colder climate cities, it would be a way to reduce the heating expenses, and reduce the impact of extreme weather.

I remember reading about an american city in the '70 that went very near starting building one with the consultancy of Buckminster Fuller, before Reagan happened...

143:

Futurology is hard. Back in 2001 I predicted that telepresence would displace business air travel, with a time frame of 2010 to 2020.

Well, that is not happening yet, but maybe it is a reasonable prediction for 2030.

144:

If Google's self driving cars become common I would expect that to increase the take up of car sharing clubs like Zipcar. If you could order a car to turn up when you wanted, with price discounts for off-peak and advanced bookings then it would make the total cost of ownership for private vehicles harder to justify.

Cars are needed for far more than just transport of bodies.

What I do think might be a secondary effect is the disappearance of city center parking lots. If a car can self drive, why not simply let the vehicle keep circling in town and come to you when needed.

A reason to have private cars and not just public vehicles like taxis or shared vehicles is that you can be sure the car is clean when you get in it, that if you leave something in it it doesn't get lost, and you can recognize it arriving. As always, it will be a status signal too.

145:

They'll be all about Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038 UTC...

146:

I hope you are right regarding a clash of civilizations not being on the cards. However, this belle epoque is not "the end of history" - in the small snippet of time since the neolithic age, there have been countless power realignments. These things happen gradually, then suddenly - especially during periods of financial turmoil and changing demographic patterns.
The nation-states in existence, ascendance / decline and alliance today are very different from 200 years ago - in accelerated rates of socioeconomic & geopolitical change, why expect the status quo?

147:

I agree. They already exist for some niche applications.
I also doubt we have reached the limits of wind ship development. The recent records of the "upwind/downwind faster than the wind" set for land suggest that wind turbines might have possibilities for ships with very slippery hulls. We also have kites to use the higher altitude, faster winds.

In practice, I suspect that cruise ships will be hybrids, using winds to augment fossil fuels, which may be algal based sometime after 2030.

148:

Don't you think that when males outnumber females 2:1 or more, the value of a female will go up?

149:

anyone want to take a stab at what the "Mayan Apocalypse 2012" type stories will be in 2030?

Y2.038K, of course.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2038_problem

150:

Possible secondary effects of self driving vehicles:

1. better safety -> lower insurance rates
(vehicle verifies that 80%+ of use is driverless to reduce rates)

2. vandalism rises. Trying to trick driverless cars into making mistakes and scaring passengers. Hacking the automation to make errors.

3. No age limit to usage. Old folks and children can use cars instead of public transport - a boon for the US transport model.

4. Mixed with robots, delivery vehicles will displace human drivers. (This seems like a no-brainer with online shopping continuing to increase, needing increasing goods delivery).

5. As mentioned by another commenter, long distance trucking becomes much more efficient as drivers can either go longer distances while using autopilot, or drivers are completely eliminated.

Whatever happens with automation, one thing I do expect is cars to become:

1. Much more aerodynamic to reduce hwy fuel use.
2. Flexible screens to replace windows so that the whole vehicle can be a strong shell.

151:

Oh yes, this would certainly occur and one would also expect a sort of reverse dowry system taking over whereby men pay a dowry to their prospective wives, but such things would take time to happen.

A radically altered sex ratio is going to cause demographic grief much more quickly than a culture can adjust to the new situation.

152:

"--Fossil fuels. I just found out that financiers currently *assume* there's ~$20 trillion in fossil fuels left in the ground, and various bodies are already using these as collateral for new projects. It's going to be hard to keep that carbon in the ground, so long as greed runs the world. Hence, I predict:
--We head for something closer to the IPCC's "worst-case" scenario, but probably don't quite get there."

I expect us to pass the 'worst-case' scenario, since to the best of my knowledge those scenarios are watered-down compromises between delegations from various governments. They've consistently underestimated the changes, and everything I've heard for the past decade or so is that the changes are exceeding most nonpolitical scientific forecast as well.

There's a good chance of trying geoengineering, but AFAIK one major side effect is that the temperature profile of the atmosphere will remain strongly changed.

153:

Sex bots are perfected and the worlds population goes into a reverse.

This is perhaps the most realistic scenario I've seen for a means of avoiding a population-induced environmental catastrophe.

154:

the biggest problem of LTA is slowness for people transport

The problem isn't slowness for people, it is the low turnaround time between each flight that raises ticket prices to cover the capital cost of the vehicle.

Hypersonic vehicles, possibly like passenger variants of an evolved REL Skylon, could have quite favorable economics for long distance flight, even though the capital cost was very much higher than a subsonic jet.

155:

I suspect that what will happen is the usual thing: when men do it, a job becomes higher status. (An interesting example is computer programming.) In other words, in a sexist society, status follows the gender, not the role.

Also, with sexism, the high-status individuals within a profession will continue to be largely male. (More women than men work in catering and beauty, but look at the so-called top chefs and top hairdressers...)

156:

climate change denialism and "young earth" creationism

Amongst the vocal TV nuts yes. Amongst the practical YEC believers (farmers, shippers, etc...) they believe it is happening, (as a farmer you'd have to be dumb as the dirt you plow to not see it) just not our industrial civilization is causing it. Which is leading to some interesting internal strife in the conservative religious world of the US.

157:

Telepresence is happening. It is crap today (a screen on a robot vehicle), but probably will be a lot better by 2030.

While Charlie forever pounds on the General AI will never happen (even when thinking as far forward as star flight), I think that low quality ai plus human brains will suffice. The sex robot idea needn't be a full fledged sex bot, but rather a telepresence device with plenty of basic simple ai (bump, grind, moan) supplemented by a real human when necessary.

One persistent meme has always been the human/robot machine dichotomy. Either the human is in control, or the machine is (except for simple autopilots). I see telepresence as a way to monitor lots of robots and take over/help when they run into difficulties.

The secondary effects are that we will need a lot more bandwidth, which may be difficult to manage, especially wirelessly.

158:

One effect of global warming, its effect on weather and hence food (US drought in mind) might be to start the shift of agriculture away from growing crops for biofuel and meat. Cows should be grass fed only and more crops used for human food directly. Ethanol from corn should disappear due to high costs (which will require the US to change its ethanol policies).

Maybe this will be the shove that gets vat grown meat becoming more mainstream.

For people who like fish - that is going to be increasingly expensive, unless it is farmed. The good news - if you like squid, there will be plenty of it. And jellyfish (ugh!)

159:

The problem is in replacing a large diesel with the steam turbine. Never mind the reactor technology, you have a major bottleneck with producing reduction gears for ship propulsion.

I would expect that they'd go to reactor to steam to electricity. That's what the US Navy is doing with new carriers already under construction.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Gerald_R._Ford_%28CVN-78%29#Power_generation

And to carry forward the other comments about nukes on smaller ships these reactors are smaller and more efficient. Now one way they do this is by using highly enriched Uranium fuel rods. But the don't need to be re-fueled for 5, 10 or more years. These things produce 300MWatts.

So build them smaller with longer refueling cycles and seal up the re-fueling hatches. Hard. So when you run out of fuel you have to get a new reactor instead of refueling the old one.

@112 as to refueling commercial planes that really only might work on longer haul flights. Much of air travel in the US and I suspect the EU and China and India is under 2 hours. Adding a hour with a highly dangerous operation soon after take off does not seem to make sense. Especially as you'd have to find a space to do it which I suspect will not include air space over much of the east coast of the US or say southern England around London.

160:

Comprehensive bikeway networks.

161:

I believe you vastly underestimate the importance of human interactions in medical care.

Sure, having robots that can help transport meals to beds on the hospital ward would be great. But if the patient can't feed themselves (as is the case with many geriatric cases)? Or if they don't like the food enough to want to eat it, with a depressed appetite? Or if they just want to talk to a human being? These are not easily automated functions, and I think 2030 is way too optimistic to see as a horizon for complete automation of personal care.

If anything, I think personal services -- including medical and paramedical professions (physiotherapy, anyone?) -- will be employment growth areas with an ageing population to look after. If current trends continue, nursing will be increasingly professionalized, incorporating a lot of what used to be the personal care/liaison aspects of general medical practice, while doctors will be increasingly specialized. It's the low-end tasks that will be automated, from floor cleaning robots to internal logistics (the porters who push your hospital bed/stretcher from one examining room to another, for example).

162:

BTW, check this out people:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9358#comments_top

Orchards may be the future of agriculture.

163:

Dave bell:


Putting an extra section into an already-built ship is an established technology. The problem is in replacing a large diesel with the steam turbine. Never mind the reactor technology, you have a major bottleneck with producing reduction gears for ship propulsion.

You never reengine merchant ships, they get scrapped. Future nuke merchies may be different, but don't worry about refits.

You can do nuclear without reduction gears. Read up on the turbine the Ohio subs use with their S8G... 12 x30 foot cylinder...

All in all, I think that if I were facing this problem I would do nuclear tugs rather than whole ships. Tow a string of conventional ships like they were barges. They head into port on their own power, tug continues straight on with another string of ships for the next port... Underway replenishment, more compact controlled security, etc.

164:

While Charlie forever pounds on the General AI will never happen

Ahem: I'm not convinced general AI will never happen.

What I am convinced of is that we don't know enough about human intelligence to have a clue about how to automate it, or build something as flexible and useful as an intelligent and imaginative and well-educated human. And that's before we look into the ethical conundra surrounding it.

I suspect black-box statistical inference engines that display many of the characteristics of human general intelligence -- without obviously being conscious -- will arrive first, and automate individual aspects of human resoning, from chess-playing through Jeopardy and then document translation and medical diagnosis. But we won't be seeing a HAL9000 style talkative-brain-in-a-box machine any time soon.

165:

Lasers? A friend is building a laser-based wifi router. I think he bought it from a kit. IIRC it had a range measured in kilometers and a 10 megabit throughput.

166:

In the USA, things bottomed out in 1932, IIRC. Coincident with replacing Hoover with FDR (which every right-winger will tell you was a puuuuuuuuuuuuuure coincidence, and that FDR did not help).

FDR was elected in the fall of 32. He took office in early spring of 33. Depression didn't start to end, for all practical purposes here in the US, until the federal government starting spending for WWII. 39/40 or so with the naval carrier buildups. I dug into this a while back and much of the reduction in unemployment in those years can be accounted for by carrier and (especially) air wing production and staffing. The F4s were already deployed when Pearl Harbor happened and the F6s were well down the pipeline by then.

Now you can make a good argument that the FDR presidency kept the depression from getting much worse. Either from a moral raising point of view or some of the programs. There have been a lot of studies that indicate almost any change to a large process (the US economy) that is put forward in a positive light will improve things. Even if it is a throwback to a previous way of doing things.

And I'm not arguing that Hoover's policies would have been better than FDR in the mid thirties. Although Hoover did some interesting things fighting famine before he became president.

167:

>>>But we won't be seeing a HAL9000 style talkative-brain-in-a-box machine any time soon.

I say when it passes Turing test WHILE FIRING AT US, we will be forced to admit it's an AI, black-box or not...

168:

nuclear tugs rather than whole ships. Tow a string of conventional ships like they were barges. They head into port on their own power, tug continues straight on with another string of ships for the next port

Now that's an interesting concept. Basically handle ocean freight the way the US does river traffic on the Mississippi, Ohio, and other big rivers. I wonder how long it would take to get the standards in place so you could tie the ocean barges together and keep them together in rough seas. Pumping for ballast and all that.

169:

The spread of tiny, cheap and disposable personal video cameras means that every person is potentially under surveillance by everybody else. Every display of rudeness, every foul-mouthed outburst and every embarrassing display of public drunkenness could potentially be uploaded to YouTube or Facebook and you could be named and shamed.

This will lead to a return of rigid standards of Victorian decorum and politeness in public places. Bad behaviour will be confined to private spaces where video recording will be prevented by technology or vehement social disapproval.

170:

Though I'm not sure what dog China would have in this fight.

China is already making noises about claiming, with force, the entire south China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, and a dozen or so other countries have disagreed with the China position on the matter. The Philippines have been buying naval and air assets to counter such claims.

171:

"Something I imagine will be quite sigificant is the culture shock that many westerners will have from not having as much power as we used to." The US reached its relative peak of political, economic, etc. power around 1945, and has since declined.

With a temporary rise after the fall of the Soviet Empire, of course; when, among other things, Eastern Europe adopted such exotic American foods as bagels. (I am not making this up.)

Note: I've seen "The West" defined as including Japan. I wouldn't be surprised to see South Korea also included (by some) by 2030.

172:

There was a case of suspected use of a laser blinder or (more legally) a dazzler by a Russian "trawler" against a USAF pilot somewhere in the North Pacific not many years ago.

There's a lot of it going on at a lower level.

According to an MSNBC report there were over 2,836 incidents logged in the US by the FAA in 2010.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_pointer#Malicious_use

and

http://www.laserpointersafety.com/news/news/aviation-incidents.php

173:

If you are serious about blinding, use IR

174:

I'm pretty sure you're right. The teacher in my just phrased as a question to promote thinking in the other party... sorry, it's a nasty habit.

175:

Minor point, but sails *are* aerofoils already. Which is why traditional sailing vessels can travel downwind faster than the wind (but hull friction / peak ground speed means only iceyachts and land yachts usually achieve it in practice), and can tack into the wind.

Come to think of it, sail motorization and extensive automation are already in place for small hulls, thanks to generations of solo round-the-world sailors, and automatic helmkeeping is already available as well. So there's very little technological progress needed, but lots of less tangible barriers (insurance / mental health issues with one-person-per-hull staffing?)...

176:

Futurology is hard. Back in 2001 I predicted that telepresence would displace business air travel, with a time frame of 2010 to 2020.

We came close in 2010. When the volcanic ash cloud hit, we very quickly adapted to using videoconf and streaming at conferences. It dissipated just as quickly when the need went away.

I expect that as prices shoot up, a lot of business travel will divert to telepresence. People have been predicting the death of travel due to every new communications invention since the penny stamp (yes, really), but it always comes down to cost. As the cost of travel drops, the amount goes up. We're a very social animal.

Personally I can see us becoming much more mobile as we get older and kids, etc. are less in the picture. I can "hot desk" my work anywhere, but spend a lot of time in airports on conferences to colleagues throughout Europe. When the kids are grown up, however, I can see little need to be hurrying home -- go to Paris for a meeting / work project, stay there until the next conference in Hamburg comes up, get on the train ...

177:

In 1600, the world powers to watch were the Ottoman, Mughal, and Ming empires. The Hapsburg kings were second-rank powers with good ships and some mines whose products mostly ended up in China. The dominance of Europe and its Europeanized colonies is an 18th and 19th century phenomenon.

178:

See the talk going back and forth about the sustainability of nuclear power. Even if you remove all NIMBY and environmental regulations, it remains complex and expensive. Proponents argue newer designs could be more affordable.

If they are correct, then an energy abundant future remains possible and we look at the problems that will cause. If they are wrong, then we look at the problems of an energy scarcity future.

179:

But we won't be seeing a HAL9000 style talkative-brain-in-a-box machine any time soon.

I'm not so sure. The machine doesn't have to pass the Turing test, just be able to interpret human conversation and get the human to accept its responses as intelligent. I suspect that the statistical approach will get us close, and Siri and her ilk work quite well for some people in teh limited domain it works within.

In the movie, HAL's interactions with Bowman and Poole were mostly quite simple. Apart from the lip reading and the recognition of who Bowman was drawing, was HAL really an AI prodigy? (He was more so in the book, I think). Where I think there is a difference between HAL's capabilities and near term reality, is that both the book and movie hinted that HAL was conscious. That may be a hard achievement to make, but we really don't know, and it may be a purely emergent phenomenon.

BTW, I do appreciate that very often you stipulate no AI to prevent magic pixie dust solutions to the assignment. I just think that we should accept that sub-general AI will slowly creep up on us, as computing machinery becomes ever more powerful.

180:

"...that in Pakistan there are campaigns against polio vaccination, of all things, on the grounds that it's a joint USA-Israel conspiracy to sterilize muslims: "

This was not helped by the CIA-backed vaccination campaign in Pakistan.

181:

Every display of rudeness, every foul-mouthed outburst and every embarrassing display of public drunkenness could potentially be uploaded to YouTube or Facebook and you could be named and shamed.

Or it could drive a demand for obfuscating devices, like masks. I like the versions in Phil Dick's later stories.
Brin uses a much simpler technique in "Existence" to help avoid identification.

182:

Haven't read all the comments, so forgive me if I'm repeating but...

Read an article the other day about one of the unforeseen side effects of global warming: water temperatures in lakes and rivers are rising, making the water too warm for use by nuclear power plants as coolant. That's not good.

On the plus side: there are new micro-climates developing in the shade produced by solar farms. In some areas, they're finding tiny jungles growing in the middle of the desert, due entirely to shade and fed by condensation.

Not so useful to a story set in Europe, but here in the US, there's a big push towards urban renewal, rehabilitating exurban sprawl, turning it into livable, walkable communities rather than just miles of tarmac and strip malls. there was the story on Boing Boing a few weeks back, about the Wal-Mart that was re-purposed as a library. We're seeing single purpose buildings getting a second and third life, in the street-finds-its-own-use kind of way. Just this time, the actual street is being re-purposed.

And a story that's been floating around since last week: a hotel chain is chucking the Gideon Bibles out of it's rooms and replacing them with Fifty Shades of Grey. Might porn replace religion as the cultural solace berry?

183:

Britain's relative peak power was in the Victorian Age. Attitudes of superiority lived on even with rude awakenings like Suez in '56. Over my lifetime, I think it is fair to say that Britain has continued to decline relative to other nations and certainly as regards global influence. Am I wrong in thinking Britain has weathered that decline quite well? (We do have a good sense of irony that might be linked to that decline).

184:

"Apart the hydrogen-helium problem (not little but bypassable with adequate tech), the biggest problem of LTA is slowness for people transport, and too much lift when discharging cargo for freight use."

Aside from the incredible slowness, and far greater vulnerability to weather, yes, the above are the biggest problems.

185:

And a story that's been floating around since last week: a hotel chain is chucking the Gideon Bibles out of it's rooms and replacing them with Fifty Shades of Grey. Might porn replace religion as the cultural solace berry?

That hotel was in England. Tell me when it happens in the US. Then I will sit up an take notice! :)

186:

"FDR was elected in the fall of 32. He took office in early spring of 33. Depression didn't start to end, for all practical purposes here in the US, until the federal government starting spending for WWII. "

Please look at a graph of GNP/GDP by year through the 1930's.

187:

But we won't be seeing a HAL9000 style talkative-brain-in-a-box machine any time soon.
---

I think it's possible we'll see something that can fake it well enough for much of the population to be convinced while the techies snidely point out that it's not really conscious and god, aren't mainstream people so credulous and lame.

It won't be so much that there is a proper brain in the box like with Saturn's Children, it's just the miracle of anthropomorphization, superstition and self-deception. We find it so easy to personify mere machines, turning mechanical idiosyncrasies into personalities. It'll be so much easier when the machine can respond to natural language, possibly has an android body, and can mimic suitable human emotions.

188:

So what are the consequences of surveillance everywhere? We see some early signs - bad behavior by the police being used against them, "naming and shaming" (started with photographing cars picking up prostitutes?). What would a real-time Google street map be like and how would it be used? We've started to see the consequences of software infiltrating computers, whether as surveillance or malware. But what happens when it is ubiquitous? Do we step back from using computers as much as we do, or plunge in further, accepting complete loss of privacy. What laws will be passed to protect the privacy of life logging? Surely these issues and a host of others will be impacting society by 2030?

189:

Biotech. I think we are seeing a real world example of Clarke's comment that we over-predict technology changes 10 years out, but under-predict for 50 years out, in biology. It seems to me that biology is making increasingly rapid headway in understanding life, how it works, how to control it and even how to reprogram it.

No doubt regulatory actions will put a brake on deployment speed, but I would be very surprised not to be surprised by products being made by engineered cells by 2030.

190:

Most important question is how secure the ubiquitous surveillance will be. If it is easily hacked and tampered, no one will trust it and the situation will be even worse than today - people will just shrug off anything that has no material back-up.

191:

Break-up of atrophied western states into more nimble statelets better able to respond the the globalised economy & global warming ie no more USA, UK, Spain, Canada, Italy etc. Hello California and Texas, Scotland, Catalonia, Castille, Quebec, Lombardy &c.

192:

>>>>No doubt regulatory actions will put a brake on deployment speed, but I would be very surprised not to be surprised by products being made by engineered cells by 2030.

2030?!?

How do you think monoclonal antibodies are produced?

193:

but I would be very surprised not to be surprised by products being made by engineered cells by 2030.

By 2030? We've been doing it for 40 years already, just look at insulin formation with DNA recombinant technology. I agree with you though that we're going to see more and more. IMO the nanotechnology revolution dream of the 90s and 00s will arrive in a very wet form with some similar by many strikingly different effects.

194:

Hmmm, I'm not so convinced. I'd be surprised if anything less than a fully conscious AGI could avoid moments that place it firmly in the pit of the uncanny valley.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

Yeah your natural language user interfaced digital personal assistant may respond perfectly well 99% of the time but that 1% where it responds slightly oddly in a not-human way will be enough to have it jar home that this isn't conscious.

195:

Post-peak-oil, ubicomp, universal surveillance, TV as dead medium and backyard gardening.

If the EU survives, by 2030 Turkey could be a member and Israel and North Africa being part of the waiting list.

196:

1. Remember the garish, flashy city of Blade Runner? I think cities in 2030 will be very different from that. Signs will be almost non-existent, and most buildings will be a bland gray, brown, or white color to people looking at them with naked eyes sans augmented reality devices.

2. I'm skeptical that we'll have large-scale use of non-medically necessary implants, particularly if there are cheaper attachable devices that don't require invasive surgery to install and/or perform maintenance. Don't under-estimate the body's immune reaction to foreign objects - is that eye implant worth it if you constantly have to take anti-immune rejection drugs to keep it from having issues with tissue building up around it?

3. Few people will have mechanical limbs, because they'll be able to outright print new tissue, bone, and so forth in the lab from your own cloned stem cells before attaching them. Same goes for organs and other tissue.

4. I think we'll actually have a more extensive space presence in 2030, because of the advent of robots remotely controlled from the Earth doing all kinds of assembly work up there. You wouldn't need to send astronauts up to build the future equivalent of the ISS, for example. You'll just send up the robots and their storage/recharging system, and then have them do the assembly work on what comes up.

5. I agree with Charlie in thinking we'll see a lot more nuclear-powered freighters. Even if they're hellaciously expensive, they could work extremely well in a situation where they're mostly carrying bulk commodities and natural resources because re-processing and manufacturing is done with smaller facilities and the descendants of today's 3D Printers. In that situation, the bigger amounts of resources you can haul with a single ship, the better (provided they can go up navigable rivers).

6. We'll see some interesting changes to our diet from a combination of artificial meat and animal products, America's Great Plains and Midwest going through desertification, and increasing use of contained greenhouses for growing large quantities of food. That could lead to weirdness where grain and corn are unusually expensive but tomatoes and meat are not - which might actually be healthier.

197:

I forgot to add-

7. Most warfare is going to be Drone Spam, with fleets of autonomous and/or remotely controlled drones on ground and in air. Any human soldiers are going to have robotic companions to carry stuff and provide support.

8. We'll be using a ton of solid-state lasers to shoot down artillery rounds, aircraft, and missiles. Artillery fire will basically involve shooting a ton of rounds just to get a few through, and battlefields will have the use of chemically generated smoke or steam to screw with lasers.

198:

Right, I'm familiar with the uncanny valley. But the point I made is that these AI's will be generally convincing, not completely convincing. You know what they say about fooling some of the people all of the time? The kind of people who respond to John Edwards cold reading, the people who respond to 419 spam, the people who don't think the fax was sent because the paper came out the other side of the machine.

199:

The problem with nuclear reactors is that they are prohibitively expensive (and getting more so), have large problems with production bottlenecks, and rely on uranium. The best way to handle the upcoming energy crisis will be first to improve efficiency, and then to bring out renewables. I doubt nuclear power will become a major player for a long time, if ever.

200:

What will the world be like in 2030? So let's roll back to 1994.

I had a pager. 20" TVs were not small. Cable had 50 or so channels and a truck roll was required for premium content changes. 56K modems were not yet around or were very new.

Per PC Magazine the perfect PC would have an 8X CDRom drive, a 4mm DAT drive, a 120MB floppy drive, USB support, a PCI graphics card with 4MB of ram for 1280x1024 with an optional upgrade to 8MB for 1600x1280, 32 bit sound, 10/100 Enet, an ISDN modem, 20 watt per channel speakers, and a 21" display with either 1280x1024 or 1600x1280 resolution. Inside the box, a 200MHz Penium or Pentium Pro with 256K or more of L2 cache, 32MB of EDO ram, and a 4GB fast/wide SCSI drive. And if you are running Win95 make sure you get service pack 1.

I think my iPad v1 has better specs.

Apple was the #1 vendor by PC revenue. Compaq #2, IBM #3, Packard Bell #4. DEC was #11. AT&T was #13. TI #17. Unisys #23. In servers DEC #5, AT&T #6, Apple #7. In LAN hardware IBM #4, US Robotics #5, DEC #7.

Hard drives are more interesting. #1 Seagate, #2 Quantum, #3 IBM, #4 Western Digital, #5 Conner. Only 2 of these are left. I forget where Quantum and Conner went but IBM sold their stuff to Hittachi who then sold themselves to WD.

So 18 years into the future? Hmmm. Fiber or similar to the curb. In the US will plumbing be split off from content or will we still be held hostage to these being served by the same company so that to them the internet is a nuisance that gets in the way of their paid content delivery systems that fewer and fewer people really want. Google is trying to change this but the last time they tried to change a business model they failed miserably. (Nexus phone v1). But I have hope that the split will occur. Or the US will not matter much in the world.

Improved battery tech? Hmmm. This has been SOON since I started college. In 72. I'll bet on better electronics faster than better batteries. So far the chemistry doesn't look all that promising without lots of handwaivium involved.

Petroleum products going away for transportation? For the last 15 year I thought so. But now it seems when gas in the US starts heading for $5/gal it becomes profitable to dig up oil that wasn't even considered a second look previously. When will this end? In 10 to 20 years has been the prediction since the early 70s.

Space flight. That's a hard one. A big question in my mind is will we screw up so bad that there's too much junk for us to get into orbit.

I think Charlie's idea about persistent personal recording from a year or so back will be a game changer. Our iPhone equivalent will hold a few hundred or thousand gigs continuously shipping it off to our cloud service as connections permit and the pricing of the moment makes sense. Text/Email/PhoneCalls/VoiceMail will all merge together and be hidden. Your eNohpi will take your Iris commands and figure out the best was to get them to who is supposed to get what. It will be based on cost, bandwidth, and access to needed information?

"Send the minutes of this meeting to Bill and Frank".
"You mean Bill Jones or Bill Smith?" Both are a part of this project?"
"Sorry include both of them."
"The video from the Europe branch will incur a $100 surcharge if we send if now at a speed that will get it to them with the rest of the meeting material. Send it now, include a note that it will come later when you get back to the office for your 2PM meeting, or give them a link?"
"Send it now. It's worth the money? Where's the car?"
"You didn't want to pay for a guaranteed reservation so you the current estimated wait time here is 15 minutes. If we walk down to the next block the wait time is 2 minutes."
"You wanted to let your wife know if you got out in time for lunch. Should I tell her not as it's 12:30 now?"
"No ask her if she can meet us at 1PM at Billy Bob's Fake Meat Experience. If not order my usual to get to the office 15 minutes after we get there."

Now we can do a lot of this now but to make it a part of your seamless personal consumer eNohpi experience for $100 to $200 per month (current value) a lot of things will have to get better. Will it be batteries, denser circuits, way better wifi and cell phone service, a Google Glass that you stick on your earlobe or such or something entirely different that we've all missed. I don't care to some degree. Geeks care. (I used to care way more than I do now.) But users just want it to work. Apple gets this. MS kinda does. Google is painfully learning this. Specs matter to geeks. Especially early in the life of new technology. Later most could care less. They want to know benefits, not features. My latest car is rated 34MPG, sits 4 or 5 comfortably, has a large trunk and a 10 year power train warranty. I have no idea of the size or horsepower of the engine. (And I can tear down and rebuild an engine if I have to.) Cars are there now. eNohpi's will be there in 18 years.

201:

I'm a bit late to the party, but I think that folks are going to take the computing for granted and the excited focus will be on biotech. Tricks that make the special yeast from Rule 34 look tame.

Aging. Lots of folks are not going to accept that gracefully. Combine high end telepresence and good robots, and you may see a crash in the medical bubble. Particularly in surgery and plastic surgery in particular.

Add in fabs that can print you new organs and skins, combined with bone shaving, and, hey, you can look a lot younger.

Related to that, identity to us shaved primates may be much more slippery than to the AI (after all they have the advantage of not having our biases and the panopticon to play with).

Neurology. Neuropsycholgy. I think this may be a real game changer here. From direct tweaks and hacks using drugs and transcranial magnetic stimulation, to a broader understanding of how people learn. Want to pop a pill to help with the PTSD? Sure thing. Go see the psychiatrist, wire up to the fMRI (or its replacement) and dose up as you get the flashback.

Or just make Toymakers to order. Bleh. I'd think Athena and sibs wouldn't want that.

What else? Smart phones will interface with medical. Want to tell a lie? Better disable the one you're carrying and make sure the guy you're talking to doesn't have one. Or it may let you know you're running a fever, your BP is up and you need to see a doctor. Or just monitor your chronic conditions.

And probably more, but these are topics on my mind and that I've spouted off about lately.

202:

Yeah but the point of the uncanny valley mention was that it's those small, rare events that cause the effect. As you rightly say for the most part it will be fine but the human brain is designed to pick up on those tiny differences and attach huge significance to them. More so than if there are many differences; hence why anthropomorphic but obviously non-human machines illicit a more positive emotional response (and recognition as human-like) than very similar machines with tiny differences.

203:

It depends, no? I mean, rotoscoping doesn't bother people the way that motion capture often does. We don't tend to get "uncanny valley" feelings from paintings that try to be realistic. The uncanny valley experience definitely happens, but it seems to only happen in particular situations.

To be honest, I think the quirks in future AI will be seen as personality traits more than anything.

204:

The problem with nuclear reactors is that they are prohibitively expensive (and getting more so), have large problems with production bottlenecks, and rely on uranium. The best way to handle the upcoming energy crisis will be first to improve efficiency, and then to bring out renewables. I doubt nuclear power will become a major player for a long time, if ever.

You're making value loaded judgments based on applying peace time rules to a crisis situation. When the light can't be run in NYC, London, Paris for 24/7 you'll see a lot of red tape go away. And much of the expense is related to the continual re-design of standard items. I'm with Charlie that if we run OUT of energy nuclear will show up big time. I personally think we'll go to more smaller modular setups to avoid some of the build it huge to save operations money but pay for it up front in design and construction. Taken the current sub/carrier design and just build a few hundred over and over again.

Now if you don't want this to happen make renewables cost effected and WORKING sooner rather than later. A bad "know it works" will beat out a nicer maybe almost every time.

205:

On a tangentially-related front, anyone want to take a stab at what the "Mayan Apocalypse 2012" type stories will be in 2030?

Asteroid impact.

206:

@Anatoly192 and Ryan193. Obviously I phrased my thoughts badly. I didn't mean to imply products being produced of that have been widely foreseen as likely in such areas as therapeutics. What I think I am seeing on the biological front is:

1. That we will fairly fully understand cell biology, such that we can predict which interventions might make desirable changes. We can include regenerative techniques (stem cells, gene therapy, etc) and even open up new functions that seem to be repressed (limb regrowth in mammals).

2. Engineering cells, both existing (e.g. E. coli) and totally synthetic to create products cheaply. In the near term that includes efficient algal biofuels for those jets, but also silk proteins and possibly electronic components. I also see cells being made more computer like, acting as simple computing devices based on inputs.

But what I am really trying to say is i would be surprised if biotech didn't come up with something really new and out of left field that no one has on their radar yet, including the SciFi authors.

207:

Remember the garish, flashy city of Blade Runner? I think cities in 2030 will be very different from that. Signs will be almost non-existent, and most buildings will be a bland gray, brown, or white color to people looking at them with naked eyes sans augmented reality devices.

Nope. Cities take a long time to change. When Kubrick asked what a city of 2001 would look like, he was told to "look out his door".

What I do think is that we might start to get rid of the worst advertising offenders as AR gets going.

On freeways, automated cars won't need road signs, so they might disappear eventually, but not by 2030.

208:

You might be right, but my understanding of the worst case IPCC (5000 GT carbon release) was that it was basically all the fossil fuel in the world, blown into the atmosphere. By contrast, there are strong rumors that the size of our natural gas and coal deposits are slightly overestimated, which is why I'm not sure that we'll actually blow all 5000GT--it might not exist.

As scale, we've produced something like 300-400 GT of atmospheric carbon since the start of the industrial revolution. The mild case IPCC is 1000 GT release before we get our act together. The worst case is 5000 GT. Assuming IPCC wasn't stupidly undercalculating, AND that companies are overstating their proven reserves, that means that we'll actually come down somewhere in the middle.

I briefly posted what the long term outlook is for both IPCC scenarios on my blog, although I'll admit right off that I'm not a climate scientist.

The good news is that all the carbon *eventually* ends up back in the ground, although not in a form we can burn again. The bad news is that *eventually* is in the range of 100,000 to 1,000,000 years out. It will be followed in its natural course by another ice age--and we won't have fossil fuels to deal with that ice age. Happy fun times, to be sure, and humans will likely be around to experience them. By 2030, we'll only have to worry about records storms and droughts.

209:

It depends, no? I mean, rotoscoping doesn't bother people the way that motion capture often does.

That's explained in the idea of the uncanny valley by being not close enough to human that the differences are remarked upon so strongly.

We don't tend to get "uncanny valley" feelings from paintings that try to be realistic. The uncanny valley experience definitely happens, but it seems to only happen in particular situations.

Agreed but those situations are when an entity appears to be very similar to how humans are but not close enough.

To be honest, I think the quirks in future AI will be seen as personality traits more than anything.

It seems more likely to me that they will be annoying bugs the same way that imperfect software is annoying.

It's academic at the moment of course, we'll have to wait to not only see how the field develops but also how cultural attitudes may change things.

210:

Please look at a graph of GNP/GDP by year through the 1930's.

Sorry. I wasn't using the official definition of depression/recession. I was using the personal one. Who's working?

Some stats I dug up in a few minutes of googling.
US Unemployment rates
1920 5.2 %
1928 4.2
1930 8.7
1932 23.6
1934 21.7
1936 16.9
1938 19.0
1940 14.6
1942 4.7%
Things were better in 38 than 32 but not by much if you were looking for a job.

211:

Why people know that FDR had nothing good to do with the Great Depression. And why a lot of the world is in deep dodo. They oppose anything that says anything about anything they don't like. "GOP Opposes Critical Thinking"
Party platform paints original ideas as a liberal conspiracy
BY RICHARD WHITTAKER, 1:17PM, WED. JUN. 27

Who needs a frontal lobe anyway? Texas GOP platform opposes critical thinking.
It's official: The Republican Party of Texas opposes critical thinking. That's right, drones, and it's part of their official platform.
One of our eagle-eyed readers emailed us to point out this unbelievable passage in the RPT 2012 platform, as adopted at their recent statewide conference.
"Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority." http://www.austinchronicle.com/blogs/news/2012-06-27/gop-opposes-critical-thinking/

212:

Nuclear reactor designs are getting cheaper per MW of generating capacity -- the latest GenIII+ reactors like the EPR produce 1500-1600MWe and cost about 5-8 billion dollars to build compared to the previous generation designs with capacities of 800-1100MWe at about the same unit price.

There's no shortage of uranium in the world markets. The current spot price is $50 US per lb of uranium oxide, and that's with the biggest market, the US, operating a wasteful once-through fuel cycle. There's lots of uranium around, decades if not centuries of known high-quality orebodies. In fact there's so much uranium the search for more ore bodies has stopped since no-one will pay for the surveys. In addition the world stock of spent fuel adds another decade or two to the reserve assuming reprocessing is permitted in the US. All this is before we might consider breeding plutonium on a large scale to cope with a decreasing supply of extractable uranium.

Even if mined uranium becomes scarce in a century or two, the oceans are saturated with elemental uranium, over three tonnes per cubic kilometre of seawater. Experimental attempts to extract this uranium have been successful and it is estimated the commercial cost of doing this would be about $300 US per kilogramme of metal, or about twice the current spot market price for orebody uranium. Even better it has been estimated that river water runoff from mountainous areas continuously adds more uranium to the oceans than we are ever likely to extract to meet our energy needs.

And fusion is, of course, only fifty years away.

213:

But how does that relate to your expecations of the world of 2030? Please try to keep it on topic.

214:

Signs are much easier to take down than making new buildings, and particularly powered signs that require money to operate. I'd expect private road signs and powered displays (like Times Square) to disappear first, with road signs simply going without replacement. That could easily happen by 2030 if we're getting a ton of augmented reality stuff now.

But what I am really trying to say is i would be surprised if biotech didn't come up with something really new and out of left field that no one has on their radar yet, including the SciFi authors.

Same here. I remember reading about the concept of transplanting bacterial cultures from the stomachs/feces/whatever of skinny people to the stomachs of fat people, because it might actually help them lose weight and stay skinny once it's gone.

215:

Most cities black with PV panels, paint etc
Most valuable patents created by supercomputers running genetic algorithms
Solar energy cheaper than any other source by a long way - during daylight. Hence the need for continent spanning grips.
Lithium batteries (or maybe graphene supercaps) with 5x the existing capacity

216:

Here's a simple left-field biotech projection: ethanol from root crops. I know they're trying this with sugar beets.

Here's the point: root crops have an advantage over "shoot crops" like corn and sugar cane, in that they don't have to bear the weight of the starch-filled organ above ground. It's in the root. Corn (maize) and sugar cane have an advantage in that they have C4 photosynthesis, rather than C3. Without getting too technical, the C3 photosynthesis is the basic system, and it tops out at about 20% maximum sunlight and at a fairly low air temperature. C4 is effectively a turbocharger, where some cells gather CO2 and force-feed it into C3 photosynthesis in other cells. The advantage is that the C4 plant can photosynthesize at higher temperatures and light levels than a purely C3 plant can.

I don't know of any C4 root crops offhand (feel free to correct my ignorance), but there are some pretty good C3 root crops, in terms of how many carbs they produce per acre. It might turn out that sweet potatoes or sugar beets (or something more exotic) can fix more carbon per acre than sugar cane can. These will become the fuel crop of choice. Or, if you want to get really exotic, we might see switches from oil palms to sago palms as sea level rises (sago palms produce a lot of starch).

217:

I think rotoscoping in films like "A Scanner Darkly" look much more realistic than motion capture in a film like "Polar Express". But the latter has that "uncanny valley" problem, and the former doesn't. So I think how you do it is just as important, if not more so, than how close it is.

218:

But I'm not talking about designs, I'm talking about ones that are production ready. There's plenty of stuff on the drawing table for renewables, but they're not ready yet. It's a reason why most people don't push geothermal.

I know that a couple new plants they are trying to build in Florida total 2,200 Megawatts and have a price tage of $12 - 18 billion dollars, substantially more than the estimate given several years ago. And here's a paper on the increasing costs of nuclear power: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510003526

Compare that to solar, wind, biofuels, etc, which just keep getting cheaper.

And again, production bottlenecks are pretty severe for nuclear energy. We could invest a ton of time and energy in trying to overcome that, but such time and money spent on renewables would wield better results.

You're right that the uranium supply isn't an issue at the moment, but if there was going to be large-scale construction of new plants (which we can't do right now because of the bottlenecks), There would be a strain on the uranium supply. They can, of course, build new mines, but that takes time.

Sure, you could make nukes cheaper by throwing out safety standards. Do we want to do that? Especially when we have viable alternatives?

If you compare our current ability to produce nukes with our current ability to use renewables, renewables come out ahead. If you use our theoretical future ability to make nuclear power plants with the theoretical future ability to use renewable energy, renewables come out on top. It's only when you compare the theoretical ability of nuclear with the current ability of renewables that nuclear seems viable.

And of course, conservation and efficiency will be the cheapest way to come out with more energy.

219:

hmm, not entirely convinced. Residential districts change relatively slowly, granted. And if you say all tower buildings look the same, then you might be right.

But look at London over the last 20 years. Millennium Dome, The Gherkin, Canary Wharf, The Eye etc. Sure the old things like Palaces etc. are still there too, but some of those have changed - Wembley's been completely remodelled IIRC.

And although it's of less impressive impact, I live in an old Northern city on a relatively short street (the highest house number is 43). I've lived here for 10 years. In that time 3 buildings have been knocked down and entirely different premises built in their place - in one case an old bungalow went and a 2 modern town houses appeared. The other changes were less dramatic but still pretty significant. Several buildings have been sand-blasted and repainted in very different colour schemes and so on. I have no idea how representative this is but I'd guess fairly. On the nearest shopping street I think all but one of the shops (the curry house in fact) is now run by a different company. Sometimes in that 10 years they're on their 4th or 5th remodel, repaint etc.

On the grand scale, satellite photo or similar, shot from a distant hill, you'd probably struggle to see much of the changes on either scale. Walking around, VR goggles or not, cities have changed quite a bit, even without major disasters.

Add any major disaster - 9/11, Canterbury earthquake or similar - and you have even more dramatic changes. Not that I'd wish any of them on even a fictional version of Edinburgh for Charlie's book.

220:

In 2030, the nostalgia industry will be just cranking up the 2010s revival. So expect to see hoards of mid to late 30-somethings paying serious money to see Skrillex play Wembley Arena.

221:

Because I'm feeling pessimistic:

I suspect that some form of more or less official slavery will make a return in the (current) first world, within the next hundred years; in the US, at least.

I figure it would start out as servitude on behalf of some corporation as a way of paying off debt to them. A person would be given the pretense of a choice, but the process would in essence be coercive, like many things in "free" society.

From there it would a few short steps to contracts that could be changed at any time, or that would absolve the corporation of legal responsibility in the event of injury...

I don't see a return to the genocidal atrocities of the American South. But the US has been serving the rich at the expense of the poor for a while, and currently it's swinging back towards the old policies even more; IMO slavery a la Rome is a reasonable prediction if that swing continues.

222:

Well, we never stopped looking for alternatives to silicon -- but, to date, better silicon has been such a dominant strategy that none of them has ever been developed to replace it.

My point was that, once we reach the functional limits of photolithography, development will diversify as materials and construction techniques which were previously uneconomic to pursue commercially will become plausible.

And, developing a new process to the level that silicon currently is (never mind wherever it ends up) is difficult, and *expensive*, and will take a long time. Such a project would take so much capital, with the the success of any particular technology so doubtful, and the supposed profits would be deferred for such a long time, that there may not be much commercial impetus to to motivate industry to pursue it for quite some time...

223:

The way people organize to accomplish goals will be fundamentally different. Hierarchical, top-down corporations will be gone. Organizations designed to produce products or services will be more brands then companies, much more dynamic and distributed. The number of "employees" the new generation of company will have will be an order of magnitude lower. Most people will have multiple "employers" and function more like modern contractors then employees.

224:

Another left-field prediction that's already starting: cook stove technology. The UN is pushing hard to get efficient wood-burning stoves into the undeveloped world as fast as possible, in part to decrease deforestation, in part to decrease some really messy air pollution problems.

The interesting side effect here is that some of the current efficient stoves produce biochar as the side product. Biochar is interesting because it *can* be charged up with nutrients (e.g. by pissing on it, or in a compost pile) and then serves as a long-term "nutrient capacitor" in the soil. This can help restore soil fertility by increasing soil's nutrient holding capacity, possibly for centuries.

Biochar also appears to sequester carbon in the soil fairly effectively.

Given that there are very good reasons to push efficient, biochar producing cookstoves in the developing world right now (reduce air pollution, increase soil nutrient holding capacity, and decrease deforestation rates, all in one cheap package), it will be interesting to see how much effect they have on sequestering carbon in a few decades. I don't think that they'll come close to sequestering all the atmospheric carbon that we're producing right now, but I'm pretty sure that the technology will grow exponentially, AND that it's not accounted for as an avenue for carbon loss in current climate change models.

In general, I'm not fond of geoengineering, but these new cook stoves may have as big an effect as the more exotic approaches geoengineers have proposed.

225:

Wembley's been completely remodelled IIRC

Wembley Stadium was demolished and a radically different new stadium build in its place. They didn't even keep the Twin Towers.

It's pretty impressive inside, though the seats in the royal box are nothing special to sit in.

226:

I've been predicting the end of the two-party system here in the USA `by 2040' for a while now. I don't know if it will have much impact on this series, but I suspect it has some legs as a backdrop for the type of fiction I would expect from "The Lambda Functionary", based on Halting State and Rule 34.

227:

Hierarchical, top-down corporations will be gone. Organizations designed to produce products or services will be more brands then companies, much more dynamic and distributed.

What are you going to do with what appears to me to be about 1/2 or more of the global population that likes someone in charge or being the someone in charge?

229:

Already happening.


http://mikethemadbiologist.com/2012/01/05/meet-the-new-boss-the-sociopath-as-banker/

"At one major investment bank for which I worked, we used psychometric testing to recruit social psychopaths because their characteristics exactly suited them to senior corporate finance roles."

230:

The first GenIII+ reactors are being built now in China, Finland, France and elsewhere. To give you an idea of how much cheaper they are to build than their predecessors just in materials costs, from world-nuclear.org.:

"A contrast between the 1188 MWe Westinghouse reactor at Sizewell B in the UK and the modern AP1000 of similar power illustrates the evolution from 1970-80 types.

Sizewell B: 520,000 m3 concrete (438 m3/MWe), 65,000 t rebar (55 t/MWe);
AP1000: less than 100,000 m3 concrete (90 m3/MWe), less than 12,000 t rebar (11 t/MWe)."


The AP1000 like other GenIII+ designs is modular with most large components (some as big as 400 tonnes) being built in factories and transported to site rather than being manufactured in-situ, a much more costly process.

The scare stories from pro-coal organisations about the Florida reactor complex are maximum estimates assuming everything goes wrong during the planning, construction and licencing of the project. It's likely the total ticket price for both reactors will be comfortably under 12 billion dollars US, for 2.2GW of carbon-dioxide-free mercury-free radon-free cadmium-free NOx-free sulphuric- acid-free generating capacity with an expected uptime of about 90% and a working lifespan of 60 years plus.

Renewables are cute and fluffy but you can't run an industrial first-world country on them. When the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine then everything stops. Hospitals close, sewage pumps stop pumping, lights don't work, factories shutter and workers don't get paid, trains stop running, the list goes on.

The world consumed about 500 exajoules of electrical energy last year. Nuclear power plants produced about 20% of that, or 100 exajoules. Toxic killer coal was the king, at 200 exajoules. Hydro did very well, at over 50 exajoules. Wind and solar? Less than an exajoule in total. That includes Germany, the leader in renewables which burns 50% more carbon as France does to generate electricity that costs about twice the price at the meter as nuclear-powered France.

Conservation and efficiency improvements assume that little or no effort has already been made in this direction, that electricity and energy has been so cheap it hasn't mattered up till now which is manifestly not the case. What conservation and efficiency improvements do you suggest that would reduce our current energy requirements by even 10%? The only one I can think of that could make a serious difference in that area is collectivisation of living spaces, moving folks out of their detached houses with two-car garage free-standing in a half-acre of suburbia and into giant Soviet-style apartment blocks with centrally delivered heating and aircon. Isn't going to happen, is it?

231:

There will be people in charge, just not an established hierarchy under them. The organizations will just be very flat, and the workforce composition constantly changing I think. Kind of like how Vernor Vinge describes things in his Rainbow's End series

as far as what people like, I'm not sure that would win out against the most competitive organizational structure, Darwin and all.

232:

Sounds like a RONJA kit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RONJA

Even though it's point-to-point, I always wondered if airborne optical links would be a workable last-mile solution to some of the rural locations out here east of the Cascades: relatively flat, high elevations, clear weather most of the time.

233:

I think you are talking small scale stuff. I think you would agree that no gleaming cities like those in "Logan's Run" have replaced any existing city. Look at NY. Apart from the loss of the Trade Towers, could you detect much difference in the skyline c.1990?

I went back to London in 2008 and 2009. While I did do teh tourist thing on the London Eye, which is a new landmark, I didn't even see the Millenium Dome, so it didn't stand out for me. I went back to my old haunts, and while the businesses have changed, the streets more shiny and crowded, it was still pretty familiar from 30 years ago.

I often look for familiar places in old movies to see how much they have changed. My impression is that the surfaces have changed, but little else. Piccadilly Circus changed quite a lot, whilst Trafalgar Sq. seems almost unchanged from the turn of the c20th. You need to use the traffic and buses as a cue to the era.

234:

On automated cars: I don't believe these will be universal by 2030, the low wage sections of the economy won't allow it outside the handful of cities that actually have adequete transportation. There's too many people who can't afford anything better than a 20 or 30 year old car, but who cannot keep their job if they do not have that car (peak oil isn't a barrier to this, tons of flex fuel vehicles on the road already).

Short of legislation mandating it, self driving cars won't be the only cars on the road for a very long time.

235:

Most investment is now going into renewables, at around $250billion per year. Solar electricity production has been doubling every two years, and now stands at about 40GW for 2011. Two more doubling by 2018 and the rate of installation will be 160GW per year.

236:

Here are some simple conservation matters that almost no one uses (courtesy Hawkins and Lovins Natural Capitalism):

--align new homes to take maximum advantage of passive heating and cooling. This is seldom done, because it (probably) results in lower ROI per land value than packing people like sardines, and asking them to depend on heating and cooling. Nonetheless, many buildings from prior to the 1940s are known to have lower heating and cooling costs than those built with HVAC (post WWII), simply because they were designed with passive heating and cooling in mind. Designs afterwards assumed that heating and cooling costs were irrelevant.

--In HVAC systems, take all the right angles out of the duct work. Each right angle bend causes major turbulence, increasing the power that has to go into moving air. One major reason why pipes bend at right angles is that it's simpler to measure that way. The pipefitters aren't paid to minimize the length and angles of the piping, they're paid by the hour and told to get . It takes less time and brainpower (or trigonometry) to lay out piping in right angles than it does to make an efficient design.

For what it's worth, Natural Capitalism suggests quite a few ways that conservation can reduce energy needs up to 20%. The trick is that they require cleverness, which people often don't want to pay for. Cheap computing might help here, as will a surplus of smart people and a dearth of cheap energy, aka the regime we're moving into now.

To be fair, there are some caveats they don't cover. One is that, once you've taken a bunch of conservation measures, the remaining consumption will be more essential ("hardened" in water conservation parlance, where this is already a serious issue). A certain amount of waste in the system isn't a bad thing, provided it can be done away with during emergencies. Another issue is simply politics, which are a non-trivial problem to solve. People like conspicuous consumption as a status symbol, and that can make conservation hard to swallow.

237:

People like conspicuous consumption as a status symbol, and that can make conservation hard to swallow.

Yep. Al Gore blew most any cred he had telling people how we had to cut back when the energy details of his house (small mansion) came out AFTER the movie.

238:

A couple of energy-related bits I forgot to add:

- Thorium reactors become popular in smaller states given it's difficult to make weaponisable material from it. Nations running thorium recieve substantial amounts of money from more mature nuclear countries as they buy old reactor waste to burn in the thorium reactors.
- The polywell breaks even in a 1H-11B test and is used to power ships, given its small size and large power output. As this system is aneutronic, this small-scale form of nuclear power becomes very popular for large infrastructure and small towns.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

239:

If polywell is going to break even it will probably do it within 5 years. Dense Plasma Focus is a tech that could change spaceflight.

240:

--align new homes to take maximum advantage of passive heating and cooling.

Definitely a long term plan. No real results for 10 to 30 years. And I suspect if you run the numbers it will be more a slowing of the rate of growth rather than a reduction in total energy needs.

241:

Moving to LED lighting will make a noticeable reduction in electricity consumption. At a guess, around 7% of current consumption.

242:

"Break-up of atrophied western states into more nimble statelets better able to respond the the globalised economy & global warming ie no more USA, UK, Spain, Canada, Italy etc. Hello California and Texas, Scotland, Catalonia, Castille, Quebec, Lombardy &c."

As fun as it'd be watching an Independent Texas trying to survive on its own, I don't think that that will happen. The obvious move is to band together - unless the ECB destroys the EEC first.

243:

True. My point was that by 1933 the USA, at least was improving ( from a level of sh&t). I was referring to Charlie's comment about five years in. Which to be fair was probably right for the UK.

244:

"I suspect that some form of more or less official slavery will make a return in the (current) first world, within the next hundred years; in the US, at least."

I fear that it's much closer than that in the USA. In fact, We're already there, with privatized prisons.

245:

I suspect it's very close now - I don't think it's coincidence that the US Navy (who are sponsoring the polywell) and BAe are going all out on rail gun designs, which are very electrically intensive.
In case you're thinking I'm having flashbacks of too many FPS games:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BfU-wMwL2U

246:

Does make you wonder what would happen if we had radical transparency, doesn't it?

I agree about the privatized prisons, but there are other implications. For example, have crime rates in the US really gone down, or have we merely swept them into prisons where "they no longer matter?" (hint: it's probably the latter) If so, the US is one of the very few places where homosexual (male) rape is more common the heterosexual rape, and all we've managed to do is ghettoize our crime to an extent previously unimaginable.

The US is developing an enormous "shadow," whether it's the secret military, prisons, energy infrastructure (which they'd rather stick out in the desert than anywhere near a city), drugs, corporate influence in politics, or even what happens in schools. It's the flip side of a middle class existence, isn't it, where anything unpleasant is either ignored, swept away from our nice little existences (NIMBYism) or at worst disappeared.

It will be interesting when our defenses start breaking down in the next 30 years, and when we have to reintegrate that shadow into our currently comfortable middle class world view.

247:

Colonel Boris:

Thorium reactors become popular in smaller states given it's difficult to make weaponisable material from it.

Ahhhhh

Stop saying this. It's not an intentional dastardly lie, but the thorium salt reactor folks have a mental disconnect with the weapon material potential of their technology.

Before THEY invented it as a power source, I (and according to historical records, independently, several others before me) invented it as fissile material production systems.

Yes, you can tune it to make it harder to produce fissile output streams. But you can also detune it back into weapons-usable operating modes. And even if you design a particular facility that is impractical to shift back to weapons use without IAEA-clearly-visible changes, building and operating them in general teaches you all you need to know for the weapons-fissile-output types of facilities.

Worth it anyways? Maybe. Proliferation-risk-zero? Not even close...

248:

"Some stats I dug up in a few minutes of googling.
US Unemployment rates"

There are two sets of "unemployement" numbers for the US during the depression one can easily find by googling.

One of them counts everyone benefiting from the WPA, CRA, etc direct employment programs as unemployed. I believe that is the one you have provided. Another counts those people as employed.

To simply copy/paste a comment from another blog:

The New Deal and the Great Depression

Rates of Unemployment

1929 -- 3.2% Hoover era begins, March
1930 -- 8.7%
1931 -- 15.9%
1932 -- 23.6%
1933 -- 24.9% (20.9%) Roosevelt era begins, March
1934 -- 21.7% (16.2%)
1935 -- 20.1% (14.4%)
1936 -- 16.9% (10.0%)
1937 -- 14.3% ( 9.2%) Recession begins, May
1938 -- 19.0% (12.5%) Recession ends, June
1939 -- 17.2% (11.3%)
1940 -- 14.6%
1941 -- 9.9%

Numbers in brackets correct for employment in New Deal programs.

Thomas M. Geraghty
University of North Carolina

end copy/paste

So the real story is that unemployment was dropping very quickly basically immediately when FDR's policies began to be implemented (inauguration in march 1933, unemployment goes from almost 25% to 10% in 3 years!). As long as you count those employed by the jobs programs as employed. Which is, of course, what mostly matters to the people on the ground. Those jobs programs were eventually replaced by the massive government derived employment of the war. After the war we had the massive government stimulus of the GI bill to keep people gainfully occupied (whether in education or starting businesses/buying big things with their cash payouts).

That bit where unemployment went up again in '38? Policy had been shifted toward deficit reduction in '37, and there was an immediate recession.


Sorry, its a bit off topic, but this history is critically important, particularly now.

249:

Dirk wrote:

If polywell is going to break even it will probably do it within 5 years. Dense Plasma Focus is a tech that could change spaceflight.

I would personally add - it's a game changer for a number of fields, including spaceflight and clean ground power, even if it only works with D-D fusion, as neutrons are inherently manageable, and deuterium is cheap.

P-B11 fusion with it would be even better.

It may take longer than 5 years but if the Navy doesn't chicken out on the funding they're marching along a very good technology exploration pathway right now. Predicting where it lands is sort of hard, though...

250:

It's one of those technologies that will either fail completely or change the world overnight.

251:

What about nut-jobs printing out nerve agents? You have to wonder what the people at the far ends of the bell-shaped curve are going to do with this tech :-/

252:

Umm...those price quotes aren't coming from the coal lobby, they're coming from the company that's trying to build the nuclear plants:
http://www.fpl.com/environment/nuclear/faq.shtml
Yes, the people that are trying to build the plant estimate it will be that expensive.

Here's another article touch on price:
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2059603,00.html
"Since 2008, proposed reactors have been quietly scrapped or suspended in at least nine states — not by safety concerns or hippie sit-ins but by financial realities. Other projects have been delayed as cost estimates have tripled toward $10 billion a reactor, and ratings agencies have downgraded utilities with atomic ambitions."

Sure, you won't be able to run the entire world on photovoltaic and wind. But they will cut emissions, and take some of the load off fossil fuel sources. If you wanted to cut out all fossil fuels, you could use concentrated solar thermal to store the power, or biofuels, for when the sun wasn't shining and the wind wasn't blowing.

But that's a long way down the road, since no matter what we do, we won't stop using all fossil fuels anytime soon.

There're many more ways to conserve energy other than your nightmare scenario. We could adopt the energy efficiency standards of California, we would reduce our consumption dramatically:

http://is.gd/x0wkZe
"This is the state whose per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for 30 years, even as per capita consumption has risen 50 percent nationally."

There's tons that can be done on the conservation side that's now happening.

253:

cheap, low power, wireless networked sensors might make for some interesting changes to social behavior and your plotlines.

An analogy might be to movie scripts written before cellphones were cheap - Brad and Janet have to walk around in the dark after their car breaks down because they can't just pull out the cellphone and call a tow-truck

If I can buy a bag of ambient(or ten year battery) sensors and throw them around my house, then maybe I don't have to worry about burglaries, fires, or suffering a heart attack and not being able to contact help. Turning off the lights and the heaters, and other real savings could provide a decent financial boost.

We might work into this gradually - I suspect that "stick on the wall" wireless light switches must already be cost effective compared the the cost of purchasing and installing power cabling from the light bulb to the wall switch.

254:

Speaking of sensors, I wonder if newer homes ten years from now will be built with a bunch more of them attached to everything. If something goes wrong, it lets either you or a subscription-service maintenance company know that something is broken.

255:

Ahh, 2030 without catastrophic collapse of civilisation? More fantasy than SF, but hell, let's hope for the best.

First, we are post peak oil. No fracking, no shales, are going to change that. With that exports will dry up significantly and prices are less important than 'can you have any'. Assume volumes south of 50Mbpd. Now that's not too bad - 1970 levels - but with many more potential users, and less well distributed.

As such, expect personal commuter cars to be outlawed, and in those countries that can't secure supplies, expect much moving about by individuals by car to have stopped. Instead expect electric bikes to predominate (much more viable than electric cars).

As such Charlie, we may need those nuke power stations, but it doesn't really fix for society as normal even so.

Flying still exists, but at a much lower level, on a as needed basis. Global shipping of goods still happens (it's hellishly efficient).

Big problem : what are the prols for? We are already hitting the problem here in the west - most people don't add value, just cost and hassle. Any new industry tends to build itself up not depending on people, for good reason. The old big employers die, or move overseas.

Put that together with the first, and I think supranational and even national entities will fall away in power, and there will be more dramatic differentiation between 'have' and 'have not' areas - with the have nots finding they can't really move anywhere. Entire regions will become ghettos of the useless. 'Nation' matters less than regional type - are you a member of Richville, or Scummyland?

I'd also expect a major pandemic or two, both because of the poverty, and as an adhoc population thinner.

Oh, and a air burst nuke or two as well - probably in Tel Aviv. There's only really one outcome still possible there; it's only a matter of time.

Politics - well I think politics as we know it will have died. Already people don't like, trust, or engage with politics. When TSHTF they aren't going to stand for the same old, same old. That will probably happen with a few swinging from lampposts. Local decision making, local fiefdoms. Pure, not representative, democracy.

Computers - well as transport goes down, network communications goes up. Your social circle is global, as your real world circle is local.

Finance - collapsed. Well you have to let me have at least one collapse, and I don't see that particular pack of cards surviving the next GFC. With it goes the pensions, so no retiring, and investment for new business/infrastructure/etc. Hopefully it will also include a few firing squads - but somehow I think those leeches are already running, at least virtually.

Climate - nobody is going to do anything about climate change, and the probability is tipping point, not gradual change. Some places will be drowned, some dustbowls, but next to the other upheavals, I'm not sure people will notice.

Oh, and finally, for our host, scotland has ceased to exist. After a spectacularly badly timed independence action the economy imploded along with the GFC. Most of the areas weren't let back into the UK prosperous zone, only the bits with worthwhile resources. The lowland conurbations are now dumping grounds for the unemployable prols; with a big fence and border between them and the highland resources.

256:

1. ubiquitous high speed wireless
2. very cheap very good servers everywhere.
3. continued devolution of software to cloud.
4. everyone carries a 20th generation iPhone.
5. We will have seen several more spectacular cyber espionage events making Stuxnet seem like BASIC.

Bob should have a billion CPUs at his disposal to do whatever he needs to. As long no-one's jamming the signal, or spent the time writing a worm.

World IQ decrease. Nobody actually knows anything anymore.

Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales awarded Nobel Prize.

The original Highlander remains orders of magnitude better whatever happens between now and then.

George Lucas dies. Biggest celeb death since Beckham and Jobs.

257:

Self-driving cars are mainstream. Manually driven cars are old heaps, and their use is restricted.

Leaderless, self-organizing groups like Anonymous and the early Tea Party are as powerful as nation-states and multinational corporations. I don't know how this effects, or is effected by, ATHENA. AI isn't required for these kinds of organizations, as we've seen with Anonymous, although they are easily co-opted, as we've seen with the Tea Party.

There is a permanent presence of several thousand people in Earth orbit and on the moon, with at least one expedition to Mars well along in planning stages. Nobody lives in space full-time, though.

The US has broken up into several nations in fact, although legally and in name it is still one.

Long-distance air travel is accomplished on small jets, carrying a half-dozen to two-dozen people.

258:

"The first GenIII+ reactors are being built now in China, Finland, France and elsewhere. To give you an idea of how much cheaper they are to build than their predecessors just in materials costs..."

No.

The reality is that the flagship Gen III EPR in Finland was supposed to be running in 2009. It has been delayed, again, won't be running by 2014, and they don't know when it will be running (
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18862422).

The cost of a nuke is mostly the capital cost. They've spent shed-loads so far with no prospect of earning an income at any point in the future. Right now, the interest payments alone will be making them weep. They've admitted to the cost doubling, so far, and they don't have a plan to actually earn any money from this yet.

The French EPR started its build in 2007, to be switched on this year. They're currently saying 2016 and a doubled cost. That's presuming no further delays.

In the meantime, solar falls in price by 10% every year, just as it has done for the past thirty years, with no signs of stopping, reaching grid parity in 5-15 years, depending on your latitude. Wind is already cost-competitive without subsidies. Geothermal gets cheaper and deeper every year. Marine is 5-10 years away from take-off. And you want to tell us that Gen III reactors will be commercially viable?

259:

The only point that matters is that people in power don't think. Nor do they want people under them knowing how.
Its been shown in math and tests that co2 can be removed from the atmospheric. At least one building code back in the 70's saved more energy than anyone believed. Even the authors were surprised. Its likely that oil will not be the problem many say to be. Look up the old Club of Rome report.
In the 70's Buckminster Fuller said everyone in then world could live like the West Germans of the time. Looking at the wars and waste that would seem to be true. Maybe its not now. But just thinking about it can solve things. One problem is that people put all the problems into one big ball and cry over it. Fixing on a small part of it, solving that part and moving on is the way to solve the big ball. If the people in power can think and will let others do so.

260:

Islam also allows multiple wives. But the Qu'ran mandates a husband giving a gift to his bride. Some cultures which overlap with Islam also have the concept of a bride-price, apparently more a gift between the families than a payment for another human being.

On the other side you have the dowry.

These things are complicated, and don't always align well with religion. I wouldn't be surprised if some well-known Islamic countries get hit by such a demographic time-bomb, others tend to use the technology to assure a son, and then leave subsequent births to the will of Allah, and others pretty well ignore it.

Some very wealthy Islamic states are imbued with a rather extreme, even fundamentalist, brand of Islam. The cultural element and the religion could push in opposite directions.

Islam isn't a monolith.

261:

On road signs...

The automated cars need something. GPS, yes, and a built-in road map, but I would expect them to need some signage and road markings that they can detect. And perhaps the humans want to change the journey, and there is still a need for human-readable signage.

Anyone with kids will know better than to expect that a long road journey does not need to include interrupts

262:

If Polywell isn't a scam I'll be very surprised.

263:

Um, in theory I agree. In practice...

Well, let me give you a NIMBY response that (temporarily?) shot down a natural gas plant. First, the plant was located because it was at the intersection of three major power lines and a natural gas line. Great place, right?

Well, the proposed plant was also right next to a freeway, between a major highway, a road, and the major rail line for the area, and right at the end of the runway for a military airbase that experienced a jet crash a few years back. Oh, and it's 3.5 miles from an active earthquake fault. It's also across the freeway from high-density apartments and a brand new research park.

So, what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, but the real problem (from my perspective) was that if the plant blew up for any reason, it would shut down a bunch of critical traffic arteries and black out a big chunk of the city, while putting a lot of people at risk and making it hard to evacuate them quickly. Nonetheless, the mayor's office secretly spent a couple of years recruiting the power company (from another country, not that it matters) to develop the site. Of course, as an environmentalist, all I could officially talk about was all the endangered species that the proposed plant would kill. See, the proposed site is a *good* place to keep open, and so it was one of the last little fragments of wildland in the area. The military likes such areas around their runways because, oddly, people don't get too upset if a jet crashes into them or an earthquake rocks them.

This is the problem that NIMBYs can solve--crappy and aggressive planning. While I agree that NIMBYs can be a real problem, I'm rather more afraid of where the government would locate emergency power plants, at least in the US. With Obama's renewable energy development, the developers showed a positively vicious pattern of ignoring reasonable locations and destroying wilderness, even when it didn't make a lot of financial sense. I have no doubt that, were they granted emergency powers, they'd trash a lot of beautiful places just because they could, even when those places were left empty for some damn good reasons (earthquake faults, military flyways, floodplains, and so forth). When those emergency nukes started breaking and killing people (cf Fukushima), the cleanup costs would dwarf the cost of siting the plant properly in the first place.

I think the lesson is, if you're going to build something with a working life of 50 years or more, it's worth spending a few years getting it sited properly, rather than doing a crash job and spending billions trying to make it good.

264:

#262,263 look like spam...

265:

Liberals in the US are referring to the "Prison-Industrial Complex."

266:

You might be right, but my understanding of the worst case IPCC (5000 GT carbon release) was that it was basically all the fossil fuel in the world, blown into the atmosphere. By contrast, there are strong rumors that the size of our natural gas and coal deposits are slightly overestimated, which is why I'm not sure that we'll actually blow all 5000GT--it might not exist.

For its last report (AR4), the IPCC had a range of scenarios, but most groups only studied two, A1B and B1, in detail. These are "moderate growth", "low growth", basically bracketing a 2 degC line: showing the politicians the effects of the choices that were expected to be made in adaptation / prevention. The higher scenarios (A2, etc) were not studied in much detail beyond "you really don't want to go there"; the uncertainties in ecosystem reactions made detailed predictions too speculative, anyway.

Unfortunately we've been shooting way beyond those. This time round, new scenario methods are used, and most groups are concentrating work around the changes that are actually happening rather than what we'd like to happen ...

The watering-down comes later in the IPCC process. The science is done by the climate scientists; the IPCC assessment report is then a summary of that science written by eminent scientists in the field. Then the diplomats come into the room and the every statement gets picked apart. A worldwide consensus of diplomats, mad radicals that they are, "moderates" the statements of confidence in each statement and removes the more incendiary ones. Yes, the result is a product that consistently underestimates the actual rate of change in the climate.

267:

Dude, if there is an air-burst over Tel-Aviv, you can be sure that the reply would not be "one or two" nukes.

268:

The real protection for nuclear freighters won't be armed guards, but robot ones. Automatic turret guns of various sorts will keep most pirates away, and comprehensive surveillance of the freighter's surrounds by unblinking panopticon eyes coupled with threat-recognition algorithms should take care of more sophisticated intruders.

Sounds expensive? So did face-recognition 20 years ago, and now it's in my 60 dollar cameraphone.

269:

2030? Here's a handful:

blowback from geoengineering to combat AGW getting bad about now

shortage of rare earth metals leads to massive efforts to mine municipal dumping grounds etc

China has imploded fairly bad

India has the living standards of Greece in 2012, and rising bloody fast. Brazil also resurgent and with a huge space program (I'd bet on that one).

unforeseen (in 2012) uses of biotech are where the hot startups are at. They may be as trivial as 4square, but they'll involve gene-spliced mammal-cyborg wetware somehow.

a large array of tech is becoming invisible. Heads-up displays on contact lenses, wearable wifi, bone induction speakers. Gadgets in films will date them to 2012 like smoking dates movies to the 70s now.

We still drive cars. Most still run on gas. Traffic is still bad. Kyoto is still unimplemented.

270:

In the current UN Human Rights, all humans, without exception, have a right to life.

Good Old Fashioned War is handled by UNHR via a downgrade to the Geneva Convention, which still forbids killing a wounded enemy soldier etc.

But notice how USA was unwilling to give 'enemy combatants' even the protection of the Geneva Convention, using the fig-leaf excuse of them "not fighting according to the Geneva rules", for instance by not having a "recognizable uniform" ?

Unless a pandemic or two decimates Homo Sapiens, I think overcrowding combined with climate-induced scarcity of resources will reduce the value of the human life sufficiently that certain behaviors will reduce humans to "pest" status.

The pirates of Somalia may be the canary in the coalmine for bending UNHR this way. A lot of shipping companies will shoot them on sight, no questions asked, before or after, with no consequence of notice, because there is no law on the high seas.

It's also increasingly difficult to maintain the pretense that UNHR or Geneva applies on the West Bank these days, with little or no consequence for the anybody.

Climate refugees sailing the Mediterranean by 2030 will likely be refused at all harbours and left to starve and/or drown in the first convenient storm.

The refeudalisation of the west probably also puts any Romanian spotted in Kensington or any Black spotted in a fenced white neighborhood in USA in the cross-hairs, literally.

I also wouldn't be surprised if we see a privately owned prison burn to the ground, and the owners get a mild slap on the wrist, and hypocritical praise for saving a few token inmates from the inferno.

But it all depends on a pandemic not decimating us first, and I have that at p>.5 for a 2030 horizon.

271:

I had the impression that there was a significant move towards electric drive (as transmission rather than prime mover) in large merchant ships these days.

Would it be completely silly of me to imagine a nuclear generator with enough output to replace a large marine diesel engine/alternator combination packaged into a modest number of standard shipping containers?

Refuelling (assuming it was ever necessary within the economic lifetime of the hull) would mean swapping the container housing the reactor for a fully fuelled replacement and shipping the exhausted one to a secure location to be be overhauled and refuelled for reuse. You might conceivably even be able to re-engine existing vessels by hacking the existing generator set into manageable pieces in-situ (or chopping out the hull section containing it) and then adding the wiring, standardised connectors etc to hook up to the standardised shipping container nuclear plant...

272:

Its perfectly possible to pack a nuclear reactor in a container, it was done in 52 years ago, where USA put a containerized reactor under the Greenland Ice at Camp Century and a couple of years later also on McMurdo, Antarktis.

The only real trouble is that such small reactors need highly enriched uranium: If it wasn't for non-proliferation issues, they would already be commonplace.

(Did anybody else notice Irans announcement about nuclear propelled ships ? A perfect IAEA-compliant cover story for having stashes of HEU if I ever saw one.)

273:

OK, I'll bite the fusion bullet. People are now talking about it being twenty years away. According to Wikipedia(ahem) commercially viable by 2040 (fnar).

To be realistic, by 2030 we will know whether fusion is viable and will have moved into the strategic/implementation phase of making it available, and the necessary precursor infrastructure will be going into production.

274:

About aging populations:
Not that gerontocracy is impossible (I loved Holy Fire), but there's another possibility. What we're seeing happen now, is that retirees are looking for employment (usually in low-paid service jobs like housekeeper) to subsidize their pensions/retirement funds. A longer average lifespan might not mean that the elderly become the new masters. It might mean that the elderly become the new servants. We might expect to hear justifications like "well, medicine can keep him healthy enough to mop the floor, but would you put him in charge of the company? The guy's OLD, man! He's lost touch with the zeitgeist, and that's not what we need."

275:

Those ideas are good, but impractical in the UK. Over here, HVAC is unheard-of in domestic construction -- we mostly run on gas-fired central heating with water circulation through radiators (air conditioning? what's that?), and the average British home is 75 years old; meaning half of the homes in active use were built prior to 1939.

This apartment, for example, predates indoor plumbing, never mind electricity. (Actually, it's probably a superior design from an environmental perspective; thick stone walls mean lots of thermal ballast, wooden shutters inside the windows to reduce heat transfer, shared walls with other apartments under the same roof, designed to be heated in winter using fuel some poor bastard had to carry by hand up four flights of stairs.) But the 75 year thing means that making an appreciable dent in the national housing stock that's been thrown up since 1940 and central heating is going to take a very long time indeed. Running in its favour is the projection for the UK's population to grow by around 15% over the next two decades, meaning there's a huge pent-up demand for new build accommodation; running against it is the sky-high price of land for housing, artificially constrained by green belt planning regulations intended to prevent suburban sprawl.

276:

"Memo to self: go looking for an easily digested natural fibre hat."

s/ an / a really small /

Just trying to help.

David

277:

"The two highest achievements of the human mind are the twin concepts of "loyalty" and "duty." Whenever these twin concepts fall into disrepute -- get out of there fast! You may possibly save yourself, but it is too late to save that society. It is doomed." - Robert Heinlein

All the above comments have been fascinating, but they remained focused on technology, technique, process and materialism. But as Napoleon remarked, morale is to material as 3 is to 1. What matters is a society's "soul", not its tool set.

And as I look around me at the start of the 21st century its easy to give into despair, with endemic corporate and political corruption being exposed almost daily. And people for the most part not caring. Our society is sick to its soul, from LIBOR at the top down to bigoted Arizona sheriffs (a breed I had thought extinct since the 60s) at the bottom. We have politicians caught in one lie after another, and people just shrug their shoulders. A narcissistic sociopath whose one claim to fame is running a financial chop shop that destroyed livelihoods and communities is the head of a major political party and could be our next president. Every corner of the world's financial system is corrupt and untrustworthy - and this system depends on trust, otherwise it cannot function.

Maybe I'm just a tired old man earning for his lost youthful idealism and pining for a golden past that never existed. Maybe people have always been bastards. Still I can't see any kind of functioning society in 2030, no mater how advanced its science, so long as it remains this corrupt.

278:

I didn't know you could fit one into a single container already. I imagine though, with a bit of imaginative engineering you could more or less build a reactor that doesn't require enriched uranium into 1-2 containers (possibly vertically arranged) for the core, and then a shell of either 26 or 34 containers around it for heavy shielding, control panels, sensors and whatever. You'd have some fun with umbilicals and the like and you wouldn't want to whip those containers out in a normal dock, since a current Panamax ship can carry about 4,000 containers and a new Panamax more like 12,500, even if you have to go another layer bigger (125-150 TEU) it's a pretty viable option for a power unit without oil in terms of volumes I'd imagine.

279:

OK, I'll bite the fusion bullet. People are now talking about it being twenty years away. According to Wikipedia(ahem) commercially viable by 2040 (fnar).

A recent article in Physics World (IIRC) put it better at "80 Billion euro away". At current rates of funding, they're equivalent. But it makes more sense, in terms of the work needed.

Of course, there is absolutely no way anyone could afford such a sum, even if the world was at stake, is there?

280:

Gosh, you got out of bed on the wrong side this morning didn't you!

But I think your final phrase holds the key. It can't remain this corrupt. I thought I was too old for mad idealism, but I find my first thought is to say that there are plenty of movements afoot that are idealistic about changing the system to one that is inherently less corrupt and more even-handed. While I am old enough to recognise they might all fail, probably will all fail in the really long term just as the current system is failing, I believe there is enough support for changes to be introduced to reduce corruption and the chances of corruption.

The cynic in me looks at it and says the youth have no power, and those that want power will tend to support the status quo - they can analyse it to obtain power. At the same time, LIBOR scandals, Fannie May and Freddy Mac and all will show the current power brokers that the system is broken. This is, in part, risking their measure of power - the bottom line - and so they will move to fix the system in a way that enables them to increase their measure of power. Some of this relies on someone like me coughing up my £14 for Mountain Lion yesterday to swell Apple's coffers a little more. If they keep on screwing the system past breaking point it will break, so they will need to decide on which is more efficient - better checks to stop breaking point being reached or stronger walls to reduce the chance of breakage. I suspect enough of them will decide on the former route - it's always easier to add more checks and stop the house falling down than to rebuild it.

281:

Well, that Irish oilfield (above) has a rough value of $100 billion. I see a solution to all our problems, and it just involves exploiting the Irish. Again....

282:

18 years from now... I'll be in my 50s. I grew up as computers were growing up, but I'm not an internet native. The first natives will be in their 40s, say...

Generational change takes the Pirate Party and their ilk from minor parties to the ruling parties, and they've been itching to do things a bit differently. After centuries of waterfall model, and increasingly baroque laws, governments will be adopting this cool new thing called "Agile". If you think big clunky law fsckups are fun, wait till you see what progressive refactoring and release-early release-often does when it starts chewing over centuries of common law and carefully balanced rights.

Oops. Urgh. Better add that to the test suite...

283:

"At the same time, LIBOR scandals, Fannie May and Freddy Mac and all will show the current power brokers that the system is broken."

You should read Jared Diamond's book Collapse. Throughout history (Easter Island being a prime example) ruling elites will fight tooth and nail against any reform - no matter how necessary - rather than lose an iota of their power and privilege.

Elites would literally rather see the planet go to hell in a hand basket and see our civilization collapse rather than surrender any privilege.

284:

The Finnish EPR is first-of-its-kind and it's like the Dreamliner prototype, encountering all the bugs the rest of the production fleet won't. The Flammanville site slowdown is more to do with the fact the planners thought they were on a tight schedule to start replacing much of the existing French nuclear fleet in the next 20-25 years but it's turned out that most of the existing Block 2 reactors built after 1980 or so can easily meet the safety and operational requirements for life extensions into 2040 and possibly beyond (absent some refurbs of steam plant etc.). A hundred-year operating life for the Block 2s is not out of the question according to some engineering studies.

The two Chinese EPRs at Taishan are on schedule (4 years from construction start to first watt) and, if you believe the builders, on budget (about $4 billion US per reactor, supposedly). Then again the Chinese really need a lot more generating capacity online ASAP and having it non-polluting is a major bonus.

As for the "solar is getting cheaper" claim it still has the problem that absent large subsidies from the consumer it wouldn't be anywhere near competitive with grid-based generation. I've seen claims of bulk solar supposedly costing 3 or 4 cents US per kWh today but the grid operators are compelled by law to buy it in at €0.30-€0.50/kWh as part of a carbon offsets scheme (which nuclear generation doesn't qualify for, oddly enough). They then pass these high prices on to the consumer as best they can, backstopped by cheap nuclear, coal and natural gas generating capacity. Luckily expensive solar and wind makes up a very small part of the electricity generated pretty much anywhere outside Germany which is why it's still affordable (Domestic electricity rates -- France: €0.1478 per kWh, Germany: €0.2781 per kWh). Attempts to cut the buy-in tariffs after ten years or more now that solar and wind generation are supposedly maturing are being met by screams of outrage and heavy-duty lobbying by the renewables industry who see their cash cows being led to the slaughter.

In addition the solar generators are going to have to start replacing their existing panel installations in a few years time as they degrade and lose efficiency. Same with the wind turbine fleet which was typically built with a 20-25 year operating life expectancy. Adding more solar and wind capacity is going to be handicapped by the loss of existing plant and the cost and effort of its replacement.

285:

Extremely large government on the lines of the EU is likely to disappear as it is simply too unwieldy and inefficient to survive. China, Russia and the USA are likely to follow the EU into oblivion as the central power slowly gets starved and dies through lack of funding. Currencies like bitcoins or virtual representations of commodities which follow a strict "No Fractional Reserve" model are likely to slowly take over from fiat currencies, as the inherent stupidity of trusting politicians not to abuse a money system they control becomes more and more apparent. Simply put, we'll go back to a variant of the Gold Standard, or the "X sacks of coal" standard or somesuch.

286:

The libertarianism is strong in this one.

287:

Not merely strong, but whiffing faintly of eau de crank.

288:

Speaking of gold. I expect it to crash /hard/ long before 2030.
This may happen on its own, but if it doesnt, it will get triggered by the large scale mining of ocean hot vent deposits for copper. These deposits have a fairly significant gold content which will get extracted along with the copper regardless of how far the price of gold falls.
This means the gold market will see a very large increase in supply, more or less permanently. And since the current holders of gold reserves are the most panicky bunch of nervous nellies you can find in the marketplace, once this sinks in, they will all stampede for the exits, driving the price of gold into total freefall.

So goldbuggery will be quite heavily discredited around 2030. (.. and whoever buys a bunch of gold at the nadir of the great gold crash of '18 will make out quite well)

289:

According to messages received by OPERA from the future neutrino satellite CRISWELL, 2030 will see a war between fusion-powered drones and flying silicone rat-jellyfish, in the slowly dispersing cloud of rubble which still occupies Earth's old orbit.

290:

Not that gerontocracy is impossible (I loved Holy Fire), but there's another possibility. What we're seeing happen now, is that retirees are looking for employment (usually in low-paid service jobs like housekeeper) to subsidize their pensions/retirement funds.

I think we'll see people start planning their careers and futures for the new, longer reality. For example, I've moved sideways from IT to science: scientists have a longer (interesting) working lifespan than programmers. Its even common for scientists (in academia, where most of us are, now) to see an uptick in productivity after "retirement", where they get to really do interesting things in the lab but have shed their administrative taskload.

Whats the likelihood of a future where management is a young'uns game: willing to be tied to answering emails / IMs at a moments notice, staying on top of things, while the elder ones hold the interesting productive jobs (and the newbies are slaved to their desks, willing to work 18hours a day because they haven't got kids and a mortgage to pay yet?)

291:

I would say that while a Tokamak reactor might be constructed, its complexity will likely mean that the cost of its electricity will be the most expensive of any generation method by a long way.

292:

One Bloomberg report says solar PV will provide cheaper domestic electricity than mains in half the nations of the world within 3 years - no subsidies. And it is one technology that will get cheaper year after year, while everything else gets more expensive.

293:

Personally I think the killer for nuclear fission is the engineering infrastructure, not the detail of particular reactors.

We have working examples of how to run a reactor safely. They involve highly-trained engineers, limited number of designs, non-unnecessarily-complex devices, well understood. Engineering needs to be open as to how it all works, flaws in the design. Chernobyl, for example, thought us we can't give competent engineers a manual to follow and hide the flaws: the designers knew of occasions when dropping the control rods backfired and led to runaway (which is what happened to C.) and wrote the manual to avoid those particular circumstances without explaining why. The engineers on the ground followed the manual when all was going well, but lived by the rule "in emergencies, drop the control rods". Kaboom. Fixing this means knowledgable engineers on the ground, not following manuals.

A world in which there are many small nuke reactors, nuclear ships, etc. is one with 1-5 million engineers capable of building a nuclear weapon, and one with lots of uranium and fissiles moving around. Forget abusing a reactor in a ship: any Al-Quaeda level competent group will find a necessary engineer and steal the necessary Uranium. The security will not scale globally.

(Note the ease at which Mossad stole UF6 to kickstart the Israeli program. Now go x100 on the materials, throw in more expertise and 3-d printers to build processing labs).

294:

I've still got faith in laser-ignited fusion, but we've been into that in other threads and the wiser heads here are sceptical. We'll see. It'll take a lot of money.

295:

There is only one approach that would make electricity generation simple and easy and that's Dense Plasma Focus.

296:

You better buy Dense Plasma Focus stocks right now.

297:

That's domestic PV, not grid solar. Domestic installs where rooftop panels provide some or all of the power requirement for the house underneath are still backstopped by the grid when the sun goes down or the clouds blow over. Of course it requires the home owner to own their home and their roof for them to install domestic solar panels -- given that over half the UK's population live in rented accommodation or in multiple-owner properties like blocks of flats, installing domestic PV is not for everyone or even the majority of the population.

Even saying that domestic PV is still expensive in terms of capital outlay (the costs of a domestic PV installation spread over a period of 10 to 15 years match the cost of grid electricity it replaces, just about) although with more government subsidies on tap that can be worked around for wealthy individuals holding a mortgage on a suitable property. Moves to reduce the domestic PV subsidy here in the UK last year (since the boosters were telling us solar costs had come way down over the past decade) were met by intensive lobbying by the renewables industry resulting in court cases and a partial government climbdown.

298:

The effect of domestic PV will be to seriously constrain domestic retail prices, at least in a free market. At some point power prices will rise until a very large number of people opt out of buying through the mains in favour of PV plus battery. Also, there are several billion people living in sunny climates who do not get either reliable or cheap mains supplies. That alone represents a multi-terawatt market.

299:

.. Visible changes in daily life, within the next 18 years.

Lets see:
Dinner:
I think the iron fertilization ocean sequestering research is likely to get repurposed/highjacked by the fishing industry - because what it amounts to is a low cost way of greatly increasing the primary productivity of high-seas ecosystems. So we will be eating a heck of a lot of shrimp. Whether this use actually sequesters any carbon will be an open question. In general, a lot of advanced aquaculture making fish the default protein source.

Saltwater greenhouses will be a big thing on the southern shore of the med, so someone will be eating a lot of vegtables.

Look of cities: City centers sprouting green roofs left, right and center to moderate micro climate.

Look of the land: If the weather is getting more unpredictable, brute force methods will be employed to shelter the soil - A systematic big planting of windbreaks (fruitbearing?) crisscrossing the land seems quite possible.

300:

Those ideas are good, but impractical in the UK. Over here, HVAC is unheard-of in domestic construction -- we mostly run on gas-fired central heating with water circulation through radiators (air conditioning? what's that?), and the average British home is 75 years old; meaning half of the homes in active use were built prior to 1939.

That problem isn't as bad in the US where I suspect we have much more single family housing built after WWII that in the UK but still there are issues of the installed base having a long tail.

Plus, in the US, single family housing is a very emotional issue. People want the look much more than they want the practical. So the look is what gets built.

Things like better insulation can be in theory imposed by legislation but he lobbies against it due to increased costs are fierce. As to siting rules. Now you're into interpretation issues and builders will always have more lawyers to fight city hall than the zoning, inspection departments. These rules would be much more open to interpretation than something like the fire rating of a material for walls.

But in the end most people will be more than willing to pay for a face "natural" rock veneer over OSB (a long term disaster waiting to happen in many cases) than for better insulation or a more efficient HVAC layout with a 5 year payback.

On the flip side I do know that simple up front things can work. My father was a part time contractor/builder and when we built our house in 67 it was an east/west axis ranch with bedrooms on the east end. We split the AC into an east and west zone but with a single air handler. Wired it so the east end compressor would not run unless the west end compressor was running. The few times in the morning when the east end only was hot the air handler would circulate air and almost always cool things enough. If not the circulated air would heat the west and both compressors would run and rapidly bring temps down. And many times in the afternoon/evening the west end compressor would run and not the east end. Our power bills were non trivially less than similar houses of friends. 20% or 30% less. But no one we built a house for wanted to pay for this up front. Oh, well.

301:

I should clarify about "gerontocracy," because I used it in a muddy fashion.

What I was thinking was that, in a democracy where the majority of the voting population is old, they will control which issues are important and where the money goes. Basically, I'm saying that groups like the AARP will be even more influential than they are now, and things like retirement investments will continue to drive a big chunk of the financial market, whatever that looks like.

I'd also point out that many politicians don't seem to like to age out of the system either. They simply keep going until they are incapable of further service. In local politics, there will be ex-mayors staffing the important but unpaid commissions in major cities. In fact, this is what happens already, in places like Los Angeles County.

I agree that there will be old servants, just as there will be old people working at all levels of society. To some large degree, this has already happened. I'm merely saying that the trend is going to get more universal, assuming median ages rise, and non-working retirement ceases to be an option.

302:

"Our power bills were non trivially less than similar houses of friends. 20% or 30% less. But no one we built a house for wanted to pay for this up front."

Which is where govt should step in and mandate energy efficiency.

303:

One of them counts everyone benefiting from the WPA, CRA, etc direct employment programs as unemployed. I believe that is the one you have provided. Another counts those people as employed.

Can you point to where this is better documented? I'd like to read it.

If I read your comments correctly most of the differences is to account for people on WPA type projects. And yes they did allow people to put food on the table and keep some dignity. And were overall needed in the time of crisis. But they were a stop gap till the economy got started. There was no way they were a long term fix to the depression. IMNERHO.

My grandfather took part in some of these. He was contracted by the county to hire out a mule team or two to repair dirt roads. 3 men crews. I think my father said the county paid my GF $3 to $5 per day and about 1/2 to 2/3s of that went to the men. My grandfather kept the rest to pay for the mule and drag bucket.

304:

I rather resent an implied crankiness; I was merely trying not to sound like a classic goldbug.

The real point is this: absolutely no fiat currency has not experienced periods of inflation due to it being easier and less politically damaging for a political system to inflate away debts, than to fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that politicians have a very strong motivation to give away things to buy political support and to do so needs money.

Money is a difficult thing for governments to come by; tax avoidance and evasion is getting more attractive to people and companies as time goes on and politicians get greedier. To this end politicians have been flailing about, looking for a socio-political group who can be taxed unmercifully without getting much reaction, and have gratefully hit upon one: future generations.

This is why the Eurozone and to a lesser extent the UK is in a difficult situation; it is much easier to issue gilts (promissary notes sold to investors) than it is to fix the underlying inefficiencies and problems in a political system which are causing the need for such huge monetary inputs. If you own the bank that issues the money, then it is even easier to simply buy back gilts with money magicked up out of nowhere, and hope that the huge amounts of new money vanish into banks' vaults for the time being.

This is a known bug with fiat money, inherent in the short-termism of politicians who normally have but a 5-year horizon to work to for re-election. The only fix is to use something other than fiat money for some transactions and as a wealth store; gold, radioactives, rare earths and fuels spring to mind here.

305:

Which is where govt should step in and mandate energy efficiency.

It's not that hard to mandate (regulate) energy efficiency of standard parts. Things like SER ratings on HVAC units or R ratings for insulation in attics and walls. The thing we did is tied directly to the layout and design of the house and how it sits on the lot and trees and .... This is very hard to write into legislation unless house plans in terms of layout have to be approved by a board (I can see the pitchforks and torches now) only certain standard plans are allowed (bigger pitchforks and torches). I just don't see it without a major energy crash. We'll be building modular small nuke plants with 90% enriched U before then. Based on my reading of the US population.

306:

You may be right, about society not functioning by 2030. However, I'll point out that back in the 19th Century, Congressmen went armed to the House of Representatives, and in a couple of cases, they actually came to blows. Similarly, they've been horribly corrupt, off and on from the late 19th Century through the 1920s, and so forth.

I'm only pointing this out, because it's entirely possible that we'll get through the mess we're currently in.

It's fascinating to watch the unfolding of the Arab Spring, because we're undoubtedly going to see more of this. In fact, with the drought killing much of the US corn crop, we're undoubtedly going to see more social unrest in poorer countries that rely on American corn for their food. This is where international trade, and the US' deliberate use of "food warfare" to degrade other countries' farm infrastructures, comes around to take its bloody toll.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the huddled masses are starting to use a new playbook in their rebellions. That playbook is promulgated by Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institute. He has written a number of books, including From Dictatorship to Democracy, which was the playbook for the Arab Spring. Since it's available free as a pdf, I strongly recommend getting a copy, and making sure your friends have copies too. This may be the 21st Century's equivalent of Mao's little red book, except that it's about tactics people can and have used to turn dictatorships into functioning democracies. Anyone who thinks that power only comes out the barrel of a gun really should read this as well.

Reason I recommend having copies here in the US? There's something about the way politics are going suggests that we may need to reinstall democracy in the US sometime in the next few decades. Possibly in the UK as well? We'll see.

307:

Isn't deflation a major problem with currencies linked to a fixed stock of something?

308:

My apologies to Unholyguy, but I disagree about people becoming less hierarchal. Human beings are hierarchy based status focused primates. Unless we radically change our brain chemistry that is not going to go away.

309:

There is an obvious link between the need for air conditioning and sunshine. I would have thought that PV panels driving HVAC combined with good insulation would be very cost effective - esp if no PV grid connection was used, just an inverter. The retail price of PV panels, one off, is below $1/W.

310:

absolutely no fiat currency has not experienced periods of inflation due to it being easier and less politically damaging for a political system to inflate away debts, than to fix the underlying problem. The underlying problem is that politicians have a very strong motivation to give away things to buy political support and to do so needs money.

But who owns the debts? In our current system they're largely held by the banking industry. And the politicians are in turn in thrall to the financial sector, even more than they are to the folks who nominally vote for them. The banking industry really doesn't want to see their assets devalued by inflation, and they're calling the shots right now ("too big to fail").

The other problem with the finance system is the future generation -- but not, I think, for the reason you cite. We're in the throes of a demographic transition in which a high birth rate/high mortality steady state is replaced by low birth rate/low mortality/high life expectancy. Yet we haven't pushed back our retirement threshold from the 55-65 most nations set it at when they first instituted social security systems, after 1870. If we don't fix this, we're going to have a much higher ratio of dependants to workers in future, which means less revenue generators and higher social security costs. Yet it's not really practical to insist that 80-yo's with cancer or Alzheimer's remain in the work force. What we really need is a cure for the ageing process, or failing that cures for the slow killers (dementia, cancer, heart disease) that cause about 20-30% of lifetime healthcare costs to be incurred in the last year of life.

311:

I certainly do not see people becoming less hierarchical within 18 years.

312:

Why pick on Islam? China is currently showing a skew which is going to continue to deepen for a while yet, and India's starting off down it now.

313:

[the links were getting this thrown in the spam filter, so google the quotes if you want the sources]

Umm...those price quotes aren't coming from the coal lobby, they're coming from the company that's trying to build the nuclear plants (from the companies website): "We believe Turkey Point 6 & 7 will cost $12 billion to $18 billion."
Yes, the people that are trying to build the plant estimate it will be that expensive.

Here's a time article that touched on price:
"Since 2008, proposed reactors have been quietly scrapped or suspended in at least nine states — not by safety concerns or hippie sit-ins but by financial realities. Other projects have been delayed as cost estimates have tripled toward $10 billion a reactor, and ratings agencies have downgraded utilities with atomic ambitions."

Sure, you won't be able to run the entire world on photovoltaic and wind. But they will cut emissions, and take some of the load off fossil fuel sources. If you wanted to cut out all fossil fuels, you could use concentrated solar thermal to store the power, or biofuels, for when the sun wasn't shining and the wind wasn't blowing.

But that's a long way down the road, since no matter what we do, we won't stop using all fossil fuels anytime soon.

There're many more ways to conserve energy other than your nightmare scenario. We could adopt the energy efficiency standards of California, we would reduce our consumption dramatically (from the New York Times):
"This is the state whose per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for 30 years, even as per capita consumption has risen 50 percent nationally."

There's tons that can be done on the conservation side that's now happening.

314:

Yes. But REQUIRING PV at the individual home? We'll have to get near an energy crash in the US before that happens any time soon.

The entire (well a lot of) WWII and boomer generations have an attitude that "I can afford this so go away and leave me alone". Which doesn't take into account how non trivial portions of the US military budget and activities are closely tied to our oil intake in particular and energy use in general as a country. Plus all kinds of other "hidden costs" in our economy that tie back to energy use choices.

We have a very complicated social and economic web that will take years to untangle and in the absence of a major crash of some sort may require anyone over the age of 40 dying off.

315:

If we don't fix this, we're going to have a much higher ratio of dependants to workers in future, which means less revenue generators and higher social security costs.

Except, labour productivity is rising faster than the rate of increase in the dependency ration. This is the real battleground: who gets the proceeds of growth. Or, good old fashioned class struggle.

316:

PV panel costs will trend towards zero cost. Right now the cheapest can be manufactured at around 50c/W, and I would expect that to eventually fall to 10c/W. Which means that effectively a PV solution for aircon would be around $400 plus fitting costs. Over 25 years comparable mains electricity solutions would be around 20x higher, assuming mains electricity prices stay stable (which they won't).

317:

I'm arguing the aesthetics of the issue. At least in the US. Under 40s might be OK. But the over 40 set has wired into their brains that your single family dream house has to have "these" attributes to look "correct". Metal roofs are still very controversial even with their advantages over shingles.

You're arguing logic over emotion.

318:

Here's my prediction for 2030 - the over 40s are going to be a lot poorer than they are now.

319:

Aircon gets cheaper the less heat you have to get rid of. So, really, really good house insulation combined with some sort of forced circulation and heating/cooling system, like the German Passivhaus system uses, is the way to go on this one. The Passivhaus also works on a premanufactured kit system, so is cheaper and easier to build than conventional houses.

The downside is that it looks unusual and doesn't appeal to everyone, just strange, strange people like me who don't like paying huge gas bills.

320:

Here's one that hasn't been mentioned.

In the US the Postal Service (USPS or snail mail) is in a real mess. Laws and assumptions and union attitudes and the derived legal requirements) that predate the internet and FedEx have the USPS tied in knots. It is a Constitutionally mandated department so there is an extra layer of political mess added to the mix. Plus a strong aversion to making waves in rural districts to avoid loosing votes. And they now contract with FedEx to deliver a lot of things as FedEx does it cheaper.

Now the postal workers union is running national TV ads touting the virtues of not switching to internet delivery of bills.

The biggest issue is money in comes up short of money out. With money in dropping non trivially every year. (The pension issue is somewhat of a joke. Congress has mandated that the USPS truly fund their pensions unlike other government agencies which the unions claim isn't fair.)

Will the USPS exist in 2030 in any meaningful way? I think their best bet is to become a neutral party electronic certification system to replace the current certified letter and similar services provided by paper now. (I have a hard time imagining a constitutional amendment to eliminate the USPS.)

Any other ideas? And how are the postal services in the EU doing?

321:

I may have mentioned this here before... but I expect to see a rise in non-State-backed exchange; "virtual money."

The problem with direct barter is that if you agree to split firewood in exchange for a chicken, it's difficult to exchange your firewood obligation to someone else for leather. The use of tokens ("money", in the colloquial sense) with an agreed value makes it much easier to exchange services and goods.

There are still advantages to barter - exchanges across currency boundaries, practical exchange during times of hyperinflation or economic troubles, avoidance of official controls or taxes, etc. It would also be a useful way to wash stolen or illegally obtained money.

Now, with ubiquitous cheap networking and computing, keeping track would be possible.

Once such a system is created tax revenue loss could be large. Being virtual and distributed, it would be very hard to stamp out. The USSR spent its entire existence battling the black market, which became so large even military contractors sometimes depended on it.

And the tighter the regulatory screws turn, the more people will use a black exchange. In the USA, I first started hearing about armed and armored "task forces" breaking up boot sales and "unlicensed vendors" a decade ago.

How would this affect 2030s Scotland? It would be yet another burden for the police to bear; if unregulated, black exchange would probably be a crime to start with, as it would avoid taxation. And it would make washing criminal gains very easy. How do you "follow the money" when there never was any money to start with...

Years ago someone said, "it is difficult to defend against a highly distributed enemy." It would also be difficult to block a highly distributed resource...

322:

Passivhaus will not work in temperatures that hover around 35-40C for weeks at a time, and much of the world is going to be like that in future.

323:

Or this summer in much of the US. Near 100F(38C) today in central NC.

324:

Another bonus might be lots of pure drinking water when the humidity is high. Not so important for the West, but a huge difference in much of the Third World.

325:

What to do with the aging population will be one of the biggest problems faced by developed societies in 2030, as big a subject of discussion as terrorism or the financial crisis or global warming today.

Medical science extends life now, but it tragically also extends the amount of time people spend dying. Problems which used to kill a person off in short order now leave the sufferer in pain, diminishing, often confused and senile.

Proving that God has a sense of humor. the more money you have the bigger this problem is for you. Only the affluent can afford the kind of extraordinary treatments that inflict this level of torture.

326:

That's why initiatives such as the SENS Project should be given massive support now. If it is possible to substantially extend healthy Human lifespan it should be done sooner rather than later.

327:

A very specific slice of the cultural future:

By 2030, competitive gaming will be a multibillion dollar industry, driven largely by the ubiquity of low-latency broadband access, greatly cheapened minimum-threshold PC gaming hardware, and sheer generational shift as public perception shifts more towards "oh, cool," than a skeptical "really? video games?"

There will be formal multinational bodies created around it, and talent scouting will be rather streamlined - you skim off the top ladder rankers, stuff them through a coaching process, and see if they're good enough to plug into your semi-pro circuit team, then see which of those guys are good enough to break into the prime time circuits.

South Korea maintains its "historical" honor of being the mecca of esports, though Nordic players periodically sweep the rankings. Infrastructural and cultural head-starts count for something. NA's talent pool is not without prestige, but the general focus is elsewhere - specifically, in the tropical heat of South-East Asia.

Blizzard actually collapses, despite being the grand-daddy of the scene, due to frankly shoddy management and a creatively fatigued development staff. This probably happens prior to '30, as there are already talks from Vivendi regarding the possible sale of Activision-Blizzard. Its RTS teams either get absorbed by Relic, shifting the competitive focus towards a revamped Homeworld series (wildly speculative wish-fulfillment this one, I admit), or builds its own studio from scratch in an attempt to capture the old Blizzard magic.

At least one tournament suffers a scandal as it turns out that a prize-winning team is, in fact, a network of supercomputers.

The first generation of pro players are now graying at the edges. It's no longer primarily an activity of the young and heavily wired, and both commercials and sponsorships reflect that. Tension between esports followers and conventional sport fanatics, as it is not completely baselessly claimed that the newcomers are poaching from their turf...

328:

"But they were a stop gap till the economy got started."

Now you are moving the goalposts. Since this is off topic and I really just wanted to correct the bad fact, not start a long debate I'll drop it.

329:

Can you point to a source for the other stats?

330:

Logan's Run has an alternative solution to the aging population problem. Add a touch of Soylent Green to replace some meat in the diet too... Although probably neither of them quite that dramatic in the next 20 years.

But the Logan's Run solution could be part way there if, for example, laws on assisted suicide/voluntary euthanasia are changed to make it much, much easier. That I expect will be in place in the next 20 years.

Although I doubt the UK will go this far in the right time frame, the US and others could easily have the death penalty for anyone convicted of 'serious crime or the three strikes law' for example. If the US does it in say 2020 or maybe 2024 either your independent Scotland or the English and Welsh parliament might be discussing it as a possible solution over here.

331:

Yes, the oil price will go up as far as it can. As will everything! We can talk about whats going to happen about anything only in the widest terms. Complexity theory kicks and the smallest thing will make big differences. For all that, I don't think we will run out of oil soon or fast. As prices goes up more will go on the market. That price will not do the rest of us much good. But there is little we can do about it. But yes it will cost as much more as enough people can pay. The only people with real facts are out of control oil companies and government backed monopolies. I know there are a lot of oil wells that were in use that are now capped. And long ago I read only about %70 of the oil is pumped out of a well for reasons of cost. Its still owned by the same people who can wait till the price goes up. But yes it will cost as much more as enough people can pay. And any free market will have less to do with it than the people running things now will say. Its not so much the oil in the ground.

332:

Here is one well cited blog discussion.
http://www.fundmasteryblog.com/2009/09/08/great-depression-unemployment-recovery/

Some of the comments on that blog contain hard citations you could look up in a good economics research library.

Thing is this data is old. The original sources are on, like, paper... in buildings someplace. :) Or be better at digging up old academic papers and ancient government reports online than I am.

Oh, actually here is a good one.
http://www.nber.org/papers/w4174.pdf
The table is at the very end.
"Two series of aggregate unemployment rates are shown, Stanley Lebergott's (1964) and Michael Darby's (1976) [...]. The difference between Lebergott's and Darby's series, which is examined later in the paper, concerns the treatment of persons with so-called "work relief" jobs. For Lebergott, persons on work relief are unemployed, while Darby counts them as employed."

The lesson, of course, is that one must be very careful to understand exactly what a statistic is before using it to answer a question and one absolutely must not assume that right-wing think tanks are using statistics honestly. For a question like how the depression 'felt' to working people Lebergott's series seems far worse than Darby's.

One can also fall back on smell tests. FDR was elected president four times before dying in office. He won 62% of the popular vote in 1936, up 3% from his first election. His congressional majorities grew dramatically during the two congressional elections after his election (by 1937 democrats controlled 79% of the house and 81% of the senate). "The people" strongly approved of his actions. You can look to Europe right now (or to Hoover) for how "the people" react when your policies fail to improve things during an economic crisis of that magnitude.

333:

You seem to have a bias against right wing think tanks. I look at all of them with a jaundiced eye. They all exist to further some point. Which is why I like to get data from all.

As to FDR's re-elections. Huey Long was also hugely popular around this time. They both handed out lots of things to the people. FDR's were much more legal than Huey's but handing out things is always a vote getter with the targeted recipients.. And there's nothing like a war that seem to be "not loosing" or better yet winning to enable a near death with brain functioning issues to get re-elected.

While work relief was employment I have a hard time treating is a normal jobs. Just my bias. But it or something similar was what was needed for the times. Hunkering down and doing nothing (the R position at the time) was a huge fail.

My dad grew up on a reasonable big working farm at the time. They had a phone, electricity, and food. And he said it was not a very nice time compared to after WWII.

334:

D-D fusion produces as many neutrons as it does protons. It is also considerably less likely to happen than D-T fusion at keV temperatures.

In general, polywell/dense plasma focus/inertial fusion systems ignore the hairy ball problem of confinement. Inertial fusion gets a lot of funding as a way to get around the various test ban treaties, but is not, without substantial improvements in laser/materials tech, a potential energy generation technique. Most intermittent plasma technologies suffer from a serious lack of consideration of the necessity of sufficient confinement times, as well as the difficulties of producing electricity from the resulting plasmas.

335:

A local subway station uses geothermal heating/cooling, pacifico station in Madrid to be precise.

No clue how practical it may or may not be, just throwing it out there. It was nicely cool in our current 38C+ weather last monday.

336:

Passive geothermal is an interesting system, because it depends on heat moving slowly through earth, eventually equilibrating to somewhere in the 50s or 60s (10-20 deg. C, aka the temperature in deep caves).

This is useful in areas with cold winters and hot summers, because water circulated into the earth can be warmer than air temperature in the winter, and cooler in the summer.

The problem with such a system is that the heat doesn't move very fast, so if you use a passive geothermal system to dump a lot of heat into the ground, after a while, the ground will warm up and stay warm for quite some time. If a cold winter is coming on and you can release that heat to the cold air above, that's great news. If not, well, your temperature control system won't work so well any more.

This isn't to say that I don't think it should be avoided. Quite the opposite. However, it needs to be coupled with fairly sophisticated systems for managing heat loads, starting with house design and moving out. Most of this technology exists (indeed, some of it has existed for centuries), but it requires a lot more sophistication than simply turning on the HVAC and setting the temperature you want. That's the biggest problem--it's still, ultimately, a hacker's solution, not something that's consumer-friendly.

337:

Simply put, we'll go back to a variant of the Gold Standard, or the "X sacks of coal" standard or somesuch.

I like how you added the somesuch. It's a nice handwave you can use to swat away the stench of the millions of people who would starve to death because they weren't savvy enough to own any commodity that the goldbug elites deem useful.

If we want to have a viable economy still in 2030 (not to mention beyond), we're going to have to forgive a lot of international debt. And national debt. And personal debt. And also, tell the austerity mongers and the goldbugs to go eat a shit sandwich and bark at the moon.

338:

In my pocket I have a Zimbabwean 100 trillion dollar note, a curiosity piece now worth a quid or two from Ebay. It illustrates nicely the temptation of all fiat currency issuers, which is to make more of the fiat currency in order for the issuer (usually the government) to do something with the money. Great galloping inflation such as Zimbabwe experienced is rare, but common or garden inflation is commonplace and is a really great way of robbing the general public without them working out what is going on.

Now consider a Victorian gold sovereign. It is an alloy of gold and base metals, and in 1895 had a face value of one pound, and the buying power of roughly £150 in todays terms (and will cost you about £260 to buy these days, reputable dealers only). That's inflation for you; gold price bubble aside the British pound has lost an awful lot of buying power through inflation, and the inflation is from more pounds coming into circulation.

This is what I'm getting at; fiat currencies are very nice short-term (especially the ability to squirt huge amounts of liquidity into an economy to stimulate growth) but they really, really suck if you want a stable currency that you can glom onto and expect to hold its buying power. Governments hate stable currencies since they cannot play fast and loose with them to alter the economy short-term; it is notable though that the massive industrial expansion of the Victorian era happened in an environment of alternating inflation and deflation on a gold standard, and this didn't seem to hinder this expansion much.

339:

It seems like your problem is with the current monetary system that allows for inflation. If we adopted a sustainable steady-state system then we could do away with some of the problems you've mentioned as well as avoiding the problems others have mentioned with a commodity standard.

340:

Hmmmm.

Yes.

Zimbabwe's only problem was that is used a "fiat currency". The legacy of colonialism, a structurally unfair global economy, and a cynical dictator had nothing to do with that country's problems. It was only "fiat currency". Yes.

And what does Zim currently use in place of its hyperinflated local currency? Did they revert to the gold standard, or some other bright shiny object?

Actually no. . . if memory serves they now use famous fiat currency the US dollar as their medium of exchange.

341:

In my pocket I have a Zimbabwean 100 trillion dollar note

What's the expiration date on yours?

I have a 500,000,000 note that expired Dec 31, 2008. I wondered how high they'd go. I guess they have no limit.

342:

The problem with the gold standard is that you can't eat gold.

So, fine, we all go to a gold standard tomorrow. This does nothing to stop inflation.

Let's say the price of a loaf of bread is a gram of gold. Then there's a drought. Or everybody just decides they looooooove bread, so demand increases. A year later, you can only buy a slice of bread for that gram of gold.

How is anything improved from the way things are today?

343:

Which is above the maximum operating temperature specified for my computer in the user manual...

344:

"...the inherent stupidity of trusting politicians not to abuse a money system they control becomes more and more apparent.

He gets the problem, but his solutions are off the map. Bitcoin? Sacks of coal? I know, maybe we'll slap each other with fish instead of using money. "Here's your two cod!" *Smack!* *Smack*

"And I have two mackerels change for you! *Slap* *Slap*

It will work until the fish become rotten.

345:

3D printed gun:
http://tinyurl.com/cbrpz22

Makes a nice fashion accessory to the 3D printed drug factory.


What happens when there are competing instances of Athena working to differing value systems?

How does Athena know what is moral and/or legal? What if someone runs a copy in goniffstan, where murder, blackmail and extortion are both legal and preferred?

346:

... you are misunderstanding the basic cause of Hyper inflation. It happens when you destroy the productivity of the real economy, and only when you destroy the productivity of the real economy.

Mugabe completely wrecked the commercial agricultural sector of zimbabwe. Since that sector was most of the formal/cash economy, and thus what was "backing" the zimbabwan currency, it was no longer worth anything.

Weimar Germany had its industrial economy grind to a nigh-complete halt due to the occupation of the Ruhr, and thus marks, being claims to the output of that machine, was no longer worth near what it was.

Hyper inflation is thus a symptom of the fact that things have gone completely haywire in the economy, not a cause of problems in the economy, and a gold standard will not fix that kind of problem.

Sometimes debts are more or less deliberately inflated away, but that process runs at wastly lower rates of inflation and is in any case a better way to exit unsustainable debt loads than formal default.

347:

Late to the game as always, but I'll throw my hypothetical $1 bet out there (after losing real $1 on the Higgs).

In 1908, Heike Kammerlingh Onnes's lab at Leiden produced 60 ml of liquid helium. One hundred years later, some 2,400 metric tons of liquid helium are used for cryogenic purposes in the US alone. My bet is that Bose-Einstein Condensates will be used and produced an a comparable industrial scale by 2030. I will also make a side bet that the material of choice is metastable neon. I will further make a bet that the application most in use in 2030 for BECs will not be any of those posited today (nano-fabrication/ultra-precise measurements/quantum computing). I do not know what this application will be, but I do know that if I was told right now, it would make me very likely to shit my pants in astonishment.

348:

hen3ry:

D-D fusion produces as many neutrons as it does protons. It is also considerably less likely to happen than D-T fusion at keV temperatures.

Even polywell D-T fusion - which is far easier to run - would be acceptable to me.

Neutrons are just neutrons. A bunch of water and they're harmless, other than activating some of the reactor core, but the integrated fluxes aren't that bad and radioactive waste disposal of the polywell core decades later is about the cheapest part of the whole equation.

The whole "p-B11" shebang is making things a couple of orders of magnitude harder than it needs to be. D-D is an order of magnitude harder than it needs to be. D-T is as easy as it gets. All of these systems are inherently safe - flip the switch off, plasma collapses, reactions are off and no more heat coming into the system. Even if part of the system is mildly radioactive by midlife, it doesn't have the residual heat problems that make fission reactors dangerous and hard to manage.

D-T is bounded by T supply - which is either fissile bounded or requires a good lithium blanket in the reactor.

IF - and only if - we can make p-B11 work via one of the tricks, its inherent aneutronic operation is a net win.

If we can't, and we settle for mild-neutrons D-D, we have a decommissioning radioactive waste hazard we need to plan for and a mild neutron attenuation during operations hazard which we know how to handle six ways to sunday. Perhaps not something for everone's basement, but not something requiring current nuclear plant separation and safety standards, due to zero residual heat.

If we can't make D-D work D-T already arguably works, and the neutron hazards all get a bunch worse, but it's still zero residual heat and tolerable operating and decommissioning risk. The issue with it is that the Tokamaks it would work in are too damn expensive to be credible as a real power source now. Polywell may fix that, as may future tokmaks or other solutions...

349:

heteromeles:

The problem with such a system is that the heat doesn't move very fast, so if you use a passive geothermal system to dump a lot of heat into the ground, after a while, the ground will warm up and stay warm for quite some time. If a cold winter is coming on and you can release that heat to the cold air above, that's great news. If not, well, your temperature control system won't work so well any more.

The heat moves reasonably fast. Geothermal flux is something like 100 kW/km^2, or about 0.1 W/m^2. In areas with a functional water table the water ups local conductivity (not the bulk geothermal flow, which is bounded by the heating rate underneath, but local evening out rates). And the thermal sink involved trivially reaches thousands of tons... if you have a 10-meter-cube of solid rock you're effectively working with, that's probably 3,000 tons of thermal mass (depends on your underlying rock density, etc). That will take a long while to heat up...

350:

The current value, based on 2011 prices, puts all the gold in the world at about US$10 trillion.* Of course, 52% of that is in the form of jewelry. Only about 36% of the Earth's gold supply is in circulation. That means there would only be US$3.6 trillion for the entire world economy to play with. For comparison, the PPP for 2010 was US$74 trillion.

Switching to the gold standard means getting rid of US$70.6 trillion in net worth. Poof. Gone. An accounting error.

Which would cause massive currency devaluation, making your Zim almost worth something again. It would also destabilize governments and throw most of the human population of the planet into abject poverty, the likes of which would make Dickens' ghost spit blood (seeing as how the US has 77% of the planet's fungible gold supply in its possession).

This would of course result in global unrest and mass starvation, all because you want to make accounting slightly easier.


____
* numbers form Wikipedia's article on the World's Gold Reserve.

351:

That may be true now, but it seems that hyperinflation originally arose when governments got in the habit of printing paper money, and thought that they could simply print more money when they needed to cover their debts. The first example I know of was in the first place to use paper money: Imperial China. They did proceed to wreck the cash economy by printing too much cash, but I'm not sure that the problem was that the economy wasn't working. Rather, I think they Chinese didn't understand the downside to printing too much money until they conducted the experiment. It's hard to tell with Mugabe whether similar ignorance was at play, or not.

352:

Fair enough.

I was thinking about it in terms of thermal propagation from the top of the soil down, which can take weeks to months to move deeply, so I was thinking of it in terms of soil and insulation, not rock and thermal mass. If you're boring your passive geothermal well down until you hit solid rock, I agree that it would work pretty well. If you're laying out your passive geothermal pipes a couple of feet under your lawn and covering them up with dirt, it's a different story entirely. The dirt is a better insulator than rock is (lower thermal flux), and so a local warm zone can build up around the pipes if you're not careful.

353:

I didn't say people become less hierarchical, I said companies become less hierarchical. Companies, despite Republican propaganda, are not people.

Hierarchies are a means for the person at the top to communication and control the organization, technology is making people in the command and control loop more and more obsolete. Even the people there are in the loop are trending toward more facilitator and less of a traditional manager.

354:

Hierarchies are a means for the person at the top to communication and control the organization, technology is making people in the command and control loop more and more obsolete. Even the people there are in the loop are trending toward more facilitator and less of a traditional manager.

I don't know what field you're in but I certainly haven't observed this trend in any field I've worked in recently and I would wager that is the same for most people. I'm not sure what kind of technology you are thinking about, considering the amount of people who work in the service industry doing retail, admin etc I fail to see any continuing development that allows them to efficiently get on with their job with less people.

I'd like to think what you're saying is correct but I don't see anything that would indicate that it is.

355:

I'd like to ditto comment #3 (Ryan). The "Project Glass" link points to the wrong Web page.

356:

If you're boring your passive geothermal well down until you hit solid rock, I agree that it would work pretty well.

In the US drilling down to rock requires anywhere from inches to maybe a mile or more. Which is why around here I've seen them talk about multiple 300' and 700' deep holes per house for such systems. And if something breaks (and it does) you abandon the hole and drill another nearby. Now they likely have much better piping for the holes these days than systems put in 10 years ago that have failed but still.

My brother is talking about putting one in with a 5 year payback. I'll let everyone know if it was a good idea if this blog is still up in 5 years or so.

357:

Without trying to be polite but you sound like the folks promoting communes back in the 60s.

358:

-less meat consumption
-less skiing
-less collision sports
-more microadvertisements
-more techno-Amish (like neo-Victorian, but you're homesteading; the USA is still pretty sparse)

359:

The stated goal of the European Pressurised Reactor was that it would be low cost, using proven technology and an evolutionary design, not a revolutionary change, a safe path to improved performance, and a shortened construction time. Those are all quotes from AREVA, who build the bloody things.

AREVA argued that they had 40 years of reactor experience and could build the first one on time and on budget. Well, that didnt' work out in Finland.

But ok, it is the first one, you'd expect a fair few things to go wrong, but AREVA planned for "a shortened construction time relying on experience feedback and continuous improvement of construction methodology and tasks sequencing". So you'd expect the second one to go faster? Well, the build of the French one started two years after Finland, plenty of time for all the balls-ups in Finland to be fixed. Is the French build any faster or cheaper? No.

And as for the French reactor being deliberately delayed to avoid the French having OMG too much electricity? The French grid is part of the European grid so they can and do sell excess electricity outside their borders. German, having closed its own nukes, is desperate to buy power. And you're telling me that the French are deliberately slowing down the build of their nuke and willfully paying three billion Euros when they could be flogging electrons to the Germans and paying back their build costs? Is that what you're really saying?

No, the second EPR is over time and over budget coz the nuclear industry over promised and cannot deliver. Again.

As for solar, the point is that it continues to get cheaper and will reach grid parity. It's not cost-competitive yet (unless you're on a desert island), but it will be. Subsidies are a way to hurry that date along buy building economics of scale.

Panels have no moving parts and a physical working lifetime of close to forever. Yes, they degrade with power output falling by 0.2-0.5% per year, but so what? The economic life depends upon the running costs, which are about as close to zero as you can get, maybe get someone to wave a water-blaster over them one in a while to wash the dust off. Once they're in place and working, there's every economic incentive to leave them there for many decades. Here's one paper talking about a 100-year lifespan:
http://solar.gwu.edu/Research/EnergyPolicy_Zweibel2010.pdf

360:

Adopting the coal standard might at least discourage people from burning it.

361:

Jeff, thank you for helping to dispel the persistent right wing myths about FDR's policies and the depression.

It is a deeply tragic irony that most western governments are once more pursuing the depression-extending anti-"deficit" policy which FDR adopted in 1937 and 1938.

Once again, leaders not only ignore history but deny it. Well, if they could ignore two millenia of history in Afghanistan, why would they they pay attention to futile policies less than a century old?

362:

I'm all in favor of life extension research. I don't want to get old and don't want to die.

However, I don't think life extension research solves this problem. It might postpone it. But even if people manage to extend their average lifespan to 140, they'll spend the last 20 years in declining health, and an unfortunate many will spend their last years in misery.

As for the possibility of life extension breakthroughs -- virtual immortality, like Larry Niven's boosterspice -- I'd say that's outside the scope of Charlie's request to leave Singularity-like events out of it.

363:

For all and sundry,

I cannot count how many times I have referred people to the following but, for anyone concerned about the future, it's always interesting to know where the U.S. military thinks we're headed.

http://1.usa.gov/PO9Z6W

And, folks, it ain't pretty.

The title of the paper is From the Middle Ages to the New Dark Age.

364:

There is the concept of "longevity escape velocity". If your life could be extended an extra 30 years in that time period new technologies might extend it even more and so on, to the point where old age is no longer a killer.

365:

By the time FDR was elected to office, there had already been at least three revolutions against the United States government, each of which had a credible change of succeeding, all of which fortunately failed:

- The Bonus March, in which World War I veterans set up camp in Washington demanding their benefits. General Douglas MacArthur was eventually called out to lead the army breaking this up.

- The Business Plot, in which a group of Wall Street millionaires tried to hire a Marine general and World War I hero with the unlikely name "Smedley Butler" to overthrow FDR. Butler proved to be an authentic patriot; he told the coupsters to get stuffed and testified against them.

- Huey Long had carved out a swathe of the Louisiana area as, basically, his private dictatorship. Fortunately for history, he was assassinated.

When FDR took office, the Depression had already ground on for several years. As we know from news coverage of the current Great Recession, recessions almost always last 18 months to two years. So the Great Depression had already gone on a heck of a lot longer than that.

And yet critics persist in the belief that FDR did nothing to stop the Depression, and as a matter of fact, he prolonged it. I'd like to ask when the good sound Republican policies that FDR overturned were going to bring back prosperity, and would there have been a United States left to enjoy it?

366:

"Longevity escape velocity" is, again, something I would welcome, but I would have to classify it as a Singularity-class event.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: I am not trying to play comments police here. Charlie and Sean have that job, I'm just a guest here like you. Your comments have been intelligent, thoughtful and enjoyable. I'm just talking about what counts as a predictable event, and what counts as a black swan. Anything resembling immortality looks like a black swan to me, as does alien contact, human-race extinction, time travel, the Singularity, and so forth.

367:

Should we assume that the social changes of the next 18 years will be like the last 18 years?

The years from 1994 to now have proceeded on a curve. The US is still the world's only superpower, although it's getting a little tattered. The US and radical Islamism were at odds in 1994, given that and the scale of military spending, it's no surprise they should be at war 18 years later. Racial relations were steadily improving; it's surprising we've seen an African-American president this early but, really, it had to happen sometime; and African-Americans still face obstacles. Gay rights was advancing in 1994; now gay marriage is accepted in great swathes of the nation.

In America, 2012 is a lot like 1994. The big, shiny, and fast parts are bigger, shinier and faster. The crappy parts are crappier. I imagine the same could be said for Britain and the rest of the developed world.

So should we assume that the next 18 years will be like the last 18?

Or will they be like 1960-78, an era of drastic social change?

I'm still trying to avoid Charlie's no-Singularities rule here. We can assume that technology will continue on the same curve as it has, and still see drastic social change. What if the Religious Right in all countries gains the upper hand, and we see a fast erosion of women's rights and gay rights, and return to segregationalist xenophobic policies and norms?

368:

i work in technology, no surprise, biased as all get out

I see the following trends at work

1: Many of the business that require marshaling large amounts of regimented labor are simply ceasing to exist. Retail as an example, IMO there will be no large retail chains or big box stores in 2030, there will be only brands. Factory work will be following, by 2030. You won't really need legions of people to do anything, machines will do it. Everything left with be service or knowledge work, or boutique atmospheric small businesses

2: Knowledge work is not a work that you micromanage, it's work that you facilitate. Organizations have found that the most effective way to enable knowledge work is to push as much decision making down to the workers as possible. Technology and social networking are making it easier and easier to give a broad base of employees the necessary context to make these decisions. The flatter the hierarchy the faster and better the decision making, the more competitive the company will be.

3:The average tenure of a person at a company is shrinking. It used to be you worked for a company for 20 years. Now it's more like 5 years. The general rate of change of the world make it less and less likely that a worker and company's economic interests will remain aligned enough to guanretee long term employment. Contract employment is going to become more of a norm

369:

Even with what's in the pipeline now eg the polypill, if adopted widely could extend average life expectancy by a decade before 2030. That would totally screw the pensions funds and insurance companies.

370:

The future is not the past. Social changes are likely, but not those particular ones, for oh, so, many reasons. If an old idea was going to come back in wide circulation, my personal bet would be on the social and legal disapproval of Usury. Finance is currently working exceedingly hard at discrediting itself utterly, so having them succeed is not.. entirely insane as a possibility.

Imagine a work with no finacial sector, it is easy if you try (state banks. Noone in them making more than a master carpenter)

371:

So now I'm trying to think of what kind of disruptive social change we might see in the next 18 years, other than simply throwing the engine in reverse, absent a Singularity-class event. Something between "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer" and "OMG ALIENS RUN BEFORE THEY EAT OUR BRAINNNZZZ!!"

372:

No, the second EPR is over time and over budget coz the nuclear industry over promised and cannot deliver. Again.

I would be naturally inclined to accept this in the spirit in which it was intended, i.e., as tough-minded skepticism. But I've found these types usually have some sort of agenda. Let's look at what this guy goes on to say:

As for solar, the point is that it continues to get cheaper and will reach grid parity. It's not cost-competitive yet (unless you're on a desert island), but it will be. Subsidies are a way to hurry that date along buy building economics of scale.

Ain't irony God's compensation for putting up with twits ;-) The fact of the matter is - as anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the industry knows - is that solar energy (and in particular, solar PV) has been over-promising for decades.

Somehow, I don't think that people like jez will accept that as an argument to stop pushing for investment into solar energy. Though they clearly think that's a good enough argument for abandoning nuclear ;-)

373:

Somehow, I don't think that people like jez will accept that as an argument to stop pushing for investment into solar energy. Though they clearly think that's a good enough argument for abandoning nuclear

Because if solar doesn't pan out, we have slightly less electricity than people want, but can move laterally to something that works better. If nuclear doesn't pan out, we have Fukashima and Chernobyl.

374:

Photovoltaics cost US$ 65 per Watt in 1976 and US$ 1.4 per Watt in 2010 (real prices, not nominal, so inflation is accounted for, data from IPCC SRREN 2011, Figure SPM 6). The solar industry has delivered a 10% fall in price per year for over thirty years.

That's not over-promising. Looking forward from 1976, that's scarcely believable progress. Research into solar has delivered massive cost reduction, as promised. AREVA haven't delivered a GEN III plant yet, despite their promises. In fact, bollocks to promises, they haven't delivered despite their contractual obligations.

375:

Current manufacturing of PV is 40GW per year.
How many nuclear reactors are built per year?
If PV manufacturing capacity stopped expanding as of this instant, installed PV would top out at around 1TW.
But PV manufacturing is still expanding exponentially.

376:

The real question for photovoltaics is the same as for any technology on an exponential growth path: at what point does the exponential growth path turn into an S-shaped curve and level off?

Given the promise of continuously-printed cells, polymer film cells, and roll-on & paint-on cells, there seems to be no obvious road-block to the price of photovoltaics continuing to plummet, to the level where all the discussions of the economics of nuclear power look pointless.

377:

A little out there, but...

The RSPB and local councils team up to lobby government into eradicating feral pigeons to preserve the last colonies of wild Rock Doves in the UK and to reduce costs for cleaning up after pigeons.
Removal of the main diurnal waste-consumer results in an explosion of the rat population, raising fears of epidemics. Solution: autonomous rat-killing robots that patrol the sewers (method of death is up to you - CO2-powered air-rifle pellets dipped in wafarin, death lasers, etc). However, this goes wrong when they work all too well, resultings in piles of rotting rat corpses and driving the survivors into living in houses in run-down council estates. The new consultation fees to see a GP under the NHS means that poorer people in these estates who start to get sick hold off seeing the doctor right away, with predictable consequences...

I'm not giving up the day job on the strength of this storyline...

378:

Jez Weston:

The real question for photovoltaics is the same as for any technology on an exponential growth path: at what point does the exponential growth path turn into an S-shaped curve and level off?

Yes, precisely.

Given the promise of continuously-printed cells, polymer film cells, and roll-on & paint-on cells, there seems to be no obvious road-block to the price of photovoltaics continuing to plummet, to the level where all the discussions of the economics of nuclear power look pointless.

"Ah, but MY favorite technology comes with unicorns AND PONIES!"

I am all for ground based solar, both grid daytime peak load (and potentially, with energy storage, nighttime / base load) and for end user based local generation. There is no immediate sign that the next couple of generations of major advance in solar cell cost reduction are turning out unviable. But the assertion that it WILL continue to do so is unsupported.

I would bet on another ... 4x, and hope for more than that. That's life changing enough. But keep a skeptical eye to things going wrong.

379:

Mitch:

When FDR took office, the Depression had already ground on for several years. As we know from news coverage of the current Great Recession, recessions almost always last 18 months to two years. So the Great Depression had already gone on a heck of a lot longer than that.
And yet critics persist in the belief that FDR did nothing to stop the Depression, and as a matter of fact, he prolonged it. I'd like to ask when the good sound Republican policies that FDR overturned were going to bring back prosperity, and would there have been a United States left to enjoy it?

From an actual economics standpoint, both sides are wrong. Hoover (and other modern republican solutions) were simply and obviously ineffective. FDR immediately took up some policies that were utterly disasterous from an economic perspective, but also responded to criticism and problems rapidly and flexibly, undid some of his own damage, and was in fact good at getting people back to work (as the numbers show). His pure forceful optimism was a good part of what he got right, and the sort of thing that say Greenspan and those that followed took to heart... In economies, confidence is a big part of it, and economic leadership confidence matters.

It's not fair to blame him for many of the things he got wrong, theory of the time didn't understand the problem. We're still studying it now.

It's possible to not attempt to score current political points off of slanting the economic history either way. Why is it so unpopular? Ah, politics.

380:

That 4x will take, at present rates of expansion, around 4 years. There is also the question of battery technology that crops up with electric cars. There is good reason to believe that soon(ish) Li batteries will be available that can store around 5x the charge of existing designs. When that is applied to domestic PV going off grid for long periods becomes viable and cost effective, esp if the mains supply is being charged at an exorbitant rate (because nuclear is so expensive?)

381:

I'm all too aware of the rate of change for both batteries and cells.

What I also am observing is A123's trials and tribulations (may be bankrupt in 4 months, much less 4 years), Solyndra, etc. The vast bulk of cells being sold are not innovative new tech they're as-cheap-as-China-can-make-them older tech.

I will believe it when it's here. I do believe things are in labs, and in prototype factories, to change the world. I believe that the things coming to in the labs will change it further. But I don't have the faith here that I do with semiconductors.

Hope != faith.

Pessimistic case: the cell prices hit about the 10% lower than grid power levels, and then stagnate, due to economic forces and profit-taking in the cell manufacturers...

382:

Something nobody is looking at is Solar Ponds. Maybe its because hey can't be patented. There have been real world tests that, so far as any test can, show they would work and work well in many parts of the world. Including the USA. Not only could they make new power they could store power from other sources. But there is no money to pay for lobbyists.
Back in the late 70's or 80's,I talked to researchers in geothermal power. They believed it could meet about %80 of the USA's needs at the time. They could not understand why no one seemed to care. The power of big oil in the GOP?
Nobody real pays attentional to Right Wing think tanks because the are like Fox News. They affirm a view. They do not look for, want or try to Illuminati the truth. When the New Right got big I read some of what their Think Tanks were saying. It did not fit history. But the Right said that it was real history not what the liberals said happened. I found they even rewrote what famous people said to mach what they wanted said.

383:

"The real question for photovoltaics is the same as for any technology on an exponential growth path: at what point does the exponential growth path turn into an S-shaped curve and level off?"

As of now, balance-of-system costs (i.e. regulatory approval, construction work, grid connection, etc.) exceed PV panel costs.

If subsidies are scaled back, then: at about this point.

384:

Here is one prediction I am somewhat surprised no one has yet made.In 2030, OGH will be asking on this blog, or its successor, the following question :

What are your expectations for the world of 2050? (Singularities and catastrophic collapse of civilization scenarios are still excluded: I want "if this goes on ..." projections, not Book of Revelations schadenfreude.)

385:

Herbert Hoover was a tragic figure. He went into office with the admiration of the American people. He was an engineer by training, handsome, relatively young, and he wore white suits. He was going to apply engineering and scientific principles to government. You might even say he offered "hope and change" to a cynical American public.

By the end of his term he was a symbol of impotent failure, which is how he is remembered to this day (to the extent he is remembered at all). Around 1971, when "All in the Family" went on the air, the lead characters sang, "Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again" to show they were bumpkins.

Thing is, Hoover actually took bold action to end the Depression -- by the standards of his time. He applied all the best practices of good government. It just wasn't enough. What was required was someone like FDR who was willing to throw the rulebook out the window.

386:

True for domestic installs where you're dealing with small numbers of panels.

For industrial farms where you're rolling out tens of thousands of panels, economies of scale and practice kick in: you only need one regulatory approval, one grid connection, one EIA, etc... At that level, capital cost of panels (and mounts) remains the determining factor.

387:

What will 2030 look like?

Applying the 90% - 9% - 1% rule of thumb: over 80% of it will be just like now.

The visible trends (extraction by political elites, etc.) will push the urban environment towards that in the film "Children of Men" (sans the Pink Floyd pig, of course). A large cohort of young people will have come into the workforce with diminished expectations, a stagnant economy and a risk-averse outlook, and facing increasing casualisation.

(Labour productivity can't grow dramatically in a diversified economy. If it does grow dramatically in one industry, then employment in that industry decreases relative to total employment. Employment in that industry was already small - diversified economy, remember - so aggregate productivity is unaffected (or made slightly worse, if the revolutionised industry was above average to start with). A general-purpose robot that throws masses of people out of work merely causes the This Time It's Really The Great Depression, That Other One Was Nothing By Comparison depression.)

People are going to be conservative and tense.

In terms of the 1% blue-sky stuff,* a good old-fashioned global infectious disease epidemic is still reckoned to be the number one risk. If one occurs between now and 2030 it could have interesting effects on politics at all levels from the personal to the international. Countries accusing each other of biological warfare, or bioterrorism, people being unwilling to travel, even to the next city ... all sorts of effects.

(*Interesting instance of the availability heuristic in action here, that so many commenters have mentioned drought/famine but so few epidemics.)

388:

If so, the balance point between panels and balance-of-system can't be far away. And the essential point remains: balance-of-system costs don't have the same potential for exponential declines that panels do. Think Amdahl's law.

By contrast, manufacturing and installation of nuclear power plants is completely unoptimised. There's still a lot of potential to drive down costs.

389:

Someone used a 3D printer to make a working assault rifle. Cost? About $30.

390:

Expect massive redistributions of wealth. From the "working class" of India and China, who will be relatively wealthier. The working class of the US and EU will be much much poorer. Public services that act to slow increasing inequality such as education, transport and healthcare will be utterly privatised and inaccessible to middle and working class people. The global elite will rule over us with levels of wealth never seen before. At the moment inequality levels in the US and Uk are at the same level as in the 1930s with a third of US citizens living on less than $3 a day. Expect the one dollar one vote principle to increase. Expect the media arm of the global elite to become more aggressive. Expect ubiquitous surveillance to intensify with all dissent quashed instantly before it starts. Your children will live in a capitalist dystopia. 

Consider that under austerity the relative wealth of the world richest people has increased. For example the Times Rich List of the 1000 wealthiest people in the UK has shown their combined wealth has increased by 5% in the last 12 months to a new record high of £414 billion-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17883101

As an aside we might ask why these people are so desperate to earn their next billion. My own preconception is their greed is a product of the way they were potty trained, serious only child syndromes and seriously bad bullying in certain English boarding schools. Certainly these people are dysfunctional enough that they are capable of inflicting limitless misery on everybody else in order to get exactly what they want. 

Back to the point though which is to compare the effect of austerity on the super rich and the other 99.999% of the population. The effects of the austerity policies propagated by the Tory led coalition have been severe and immediate 
With average incomes dropping over 6% last year in the UK (according to ONS earnings figures). 

Indeed austerity is likely, with only 10% of the Tories cuts implemented, to intensify and carry on for at least a decade. For example see last years IFS report- 

Presenting its analysis of 2011 autumn statement, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted real median household incomes would be no higher in 2015-16 than they were in 2002-3. In other words, more than a decade will have passed without any increase in living standards for those on average incomes. The same analysis estimates 1 in 4 children will also end up in poverty. 

So the implications are clear. Our current policies lead to rising incomes for the ultra rich but grinding poverty for everybody else. But what would endanger this balance and result in policies that increased living standards for the 60 million UK citizens as the expense of constraint in inequality for the ultra wealthy?

To my mind the answer to this and the reason the entire right wing press, the Institute of Directors, CBI, economic think tanks, Tory donors and so forth are behind the austerity is the role of wage equalisation in international trade. 

It has been known for a long while (
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factor_price_equalisation ) that when two countries enter a free trade agreement, wages for identical jobs in both countries tend to approach each other. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, for instance, unskilled labor wages gradually fell in the United States, at the same time as they gradually rose in Mexico.[citation needed] The same force has applied more recently to the various countries of the European Union.

The implication of this is that globalisation has begun to open up the huge workforces of China and India who are currently paid much lower wages than their US and European counterparts. 

Given that we know, through Factor Price Equalisation, as long as we continue free trade, that the wages of these workers are going to equalise over the next 20 years. 

There are of course two ways that wages could equalise. In the first scenario governments in Europe and the US deliberately pursue their current austerity program’s and suppress workers wages. The Chinese and Indian wages gradually rise to meet our levels and the converged wage for workers in a decade or twos time is modest. This scenario of course supplies much larger profit margins to the ultra wealthy owners and managers of multinational corporations as their wage bill is low. Bankers are happy to as austerity allows greater indebtedness to them and inflation isn’t allowed to eat into the real interest paid by households on the debts owed to those that have lent the money. As a side benefit, privatising the profitable parts of the state (tuition fees, the NHS, NATs etc) under the excuses of austerity allows further tax payer backed profit opportunities. 

The other scenario for wage equalisation- sovereign debt monetization, tax reform , financial transaction taxes, Keynsian stimulus etc- are not to be welcomed by the global elite. They circumvent the Austerity for the hundreds of millions of citizens in the US and Europe but at the cost of wage equalisation at a higher level with China and India. 

This is an unacceptable outcome for the worlds global elite who will lose profit margin from the higher wage bills they will need to pay their workers. This is the reason we see the forces of business, Tories, all right wing economists and so forth lobbying so hard for austerity and the continuation of misery.

391:

Ahem: we're already at the stage in Edinburgh where combinations of anti-pigeon defenses and depletion of North Sea fisheries have caused seagulls to turn into urban avian pests. And seagulls are to pigeons as foxes are to rats -- they're bigger, brighter, and much nastier to deal with one-on-one. (Not to mention loud and aggressive.)

Note: I've seen seagulls in the USA. I'm no bird-spotter, but the ones hereabouts are much bigger -- somewhere between a large duck or a small goose -- and very aggressive.

392:

Mine seems to be a 2008 note; I think that 100 trillion was the largest value note made, shortly before the issuing bank went bust.

I was really only using the Zim notes as an extreme example here; as I said before fiat currency is very useful, but does have some serious drawbacks where it is controlled by individual governments. The argument that "Gold is rubbish, you can't eat it" is bogus; you cannot eat fiat currency either. Similarly arguments on the lines of "We have X trillion of gold reserves therefore yadda yadda..." are equally bogus, since as I ought to have made more obvious, I was only using gold as an example of a currency which is hard to produce more of.

Bitcoins or something like them might be a better solution; the supply would be limited, and the issuer's reputation and that of it's currency units would stand or fall on how solid these units were, so the incentive to print huge amounts more would simply not be there. Do note that this only works if the issuer of the bitcoin-like units is NOT a government.

393:

.. Do you seriously still have more trust in private finacial institutions than you do in first world governments?
Where have you been for the past couple of years, Pluto?
The adoption of a currency under the control of private entity is likely to end badly in pretty much precisely the way you fear goverments abusing fiat currency, only instead of senoriage financing widespread largesse, it would be pocketed by the ceo/board.

394:

Sadly, I am a birdwatcher. Up your neck of the woods, it's Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, mainly. Herrings are probably the stroppier of the two.
They were taking steps to put paid to some of the future populations of gulls in Glasgow when I lived there by visiting nests and dipping the eggs in paraffin. If you just destroy the nest or eggs, they build/lay more, but killing the eggs means they waste weeks incubating them.

I need to get out more.

395:

They did not make the barrel or receiver - the really hard and illegal bits of an assault rifle (at least illegal here).

396:

The PV industry is following the model of the semiconductor industry with its boom/bust cycle. Nations like Taiwan and Korea that pumped up their industries with vast subsidies to smooth out this cycle now dominate manufacturing.
As for the relative price of PV panels being some 40% of total costs, two points:
a) Grid inverters are due for a price crash - they are vastly overpriced.
b) Most of the rest is installation labour.

397:

Postal services in Europe are all over the map - privatized, fragmented and useless in some countries, shining examples in others (anecdotal evidence: friends of mine regularly plead with amazon.co.uk to offer Royal Mail delivery, because they beat the pants off the couriers. Fedex once sent me a letter via An Post to tell me they couldn't find my address).

399:

Sorry about posting three times - there's something a bit I'll with the comments (or it could well be my mistake). Apologies.

[[ Duplicates removed - mod ]]

400:

Are these lesser black backed gulls and herring gulls different species, or not? Are you sure?

401:

At the risk of me going somewhat off topic (I kneel before the threat of the banhammer, but the question must be answered), the European Herring Gull Larus argentatus and the Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus were once considered conspecific, but were split some time ago. In the UK, they're easy enough to tell apart - HG is light grey on the back and wings with pink legs, wile LBBGs are dark grey on the back with yellow legs.
However, large gull taxonomy is a real can of worms.

On the subject of 3D printers, given that they can construct the parts to make more, could this be a macro version of grey goo given an ATHENA-style AI and a couple of mobile bots? Imagine one in a deserted place like Pripyiat, assembling its more war-like bretheren out of the eyes of people...

402:

I should correct the above - I didn't mean it would build bots out of people's eyes, more out of their gaze. Squishy eye-robots would be easy to take in a fight.

403:

Actually this one's a biological in-joke; I should've made this more obvious. If you start off looking at one of these species and move around the world, it starts looking more and more like the other species until when you arrive back in Britain, you're looking at the other.

The Herring and Lesser Black Backed gulls are only really separate species in Western Europe; there's a sort of species gradient around the northern hemisphere between these two extremes everywhere else. The example here is usually used as a way to hammer home the point that whilst species are usually separable, some of the time they're not (and don't get me started on "lumpers" versus "splitters" in the paleontological world).

404:

Dammit! I did wonder for a minute. Well, Lars Jonsson still reckons you can tell them all apart in the Baltic, but if you're reduced to making an ID based on the Kodak Grey Scale, you're better off lumping...

405:

"Isn't deflation a major problem with currencies linked to a fixed stock of something? "

Yes. And IIRC this is a classic problem of causing a country which is in recession to have to raise interest rates to keep the gold in-country (to keep the economy from dying from lack of money), which causes the economy to die from high interest rates in a slack economy.

See any real economist on this. For quickie, search 'Krugman gold bug'.

406:

"Yet we haven't pushed back our retirement threshold from the 55-65 most nations set it at when they first instituted social security systems, after 1870. If we don't fix this, we're going to have a much higher ratio of dependants to workers in future, which means less revenue generators and higher social security costs. Yet it's not really practical to insist that 80-yo's with cancer or Alzheimer's remain in the work force."

Note that age discrimination starts by age 40, IIRC, and is severe by age 50. We are a society in which people are in major jeopardy for the last 20 years of their working lives.


And it's not really even that; our real problem is that we cut taxes on the top few percent of society, even as their share of the income and wealth increased.

407:

"The biggest issue is money in comes up short of money out. With money in dropping non trivially every year. (The pension issue is somewhat of a joke. Congress has mandated that the USPS truly fund their pensions unlike other government agencies which the unions claim isn't fair.)"

IIRC, it's not 'truly fund their pensions', it's more like 'put enough in *now* to cover the next several decades'.

Which would trash anybody.

408:

"In my pocket I have a Zimbabwean 100 trillion dollar note, a curiosity piece now worth a quid or two from Ebay. It illustrates nicely the temptation of all fiat currency issuers, which is to make more of the fiat currency in order for the issuer (usually the government) to do something with the money. Great galloping inflation such as Zimbabwe experienced is rare, but common or garden inflation is commonplace and is a really great way of robbing the general public without them working out what is going on."

Except...........................................
this is not happening.

Somebody writing about the Great Depression said about the fearers of inflation "They were crying 'Fire!' in Noah's Flood". That holds today, just as strongly.


409:

True, we'll have to forgive a lot of debt. Too bad we were so good at manufacturing it in the first place.

One simple way to do that would be to create the infamous One World Government and use it to do away with all offshore tax havens. Apparently, the amount of money sitting in tax havens (estimated around $23 trillion) would nicely cover the debt owed by the entire developing world. The interesting point is that in some countries, unethical leaders have far more money stashed in their personal, off-shore accounts than their country owes in international debt. In other words, if the country had enough power to claw back from their leader, they could conceivably pay off their debts and rebuild their economies.

This, of course, avoids the fact that the debt is typically forced on the citizens of most countries, without their having much say in it. For example, many colonies got stuck paying off the debt that their former conquerors accrued in subduing them, just as the targets of hostile takeovers often get to pay the cost of the takeover.

Getting back to the original question, this is where things get interesting: in 2030, do we see a worldwide democracy movement, with monetary clawbacks from the 1%, and capitalism becoming opposed to democracy, just as it opposed communism?

410:

"What I also am observing is A123's trials and tribulations (may be bankrupt in 4 months, much less 4 years), Solyndra, etc. The vast bulk of cells being sold are not innovative new tech they're as-cheap-as-China-can-make-them older tech."

the whole point of solar power is really that things like Solyndra don't matter; small individual companies can die without causing much harm.

With nuclear power, everything is big, everything takes a long time, and everything in Big Corp. Where
'Big Corp means 'too big to fail', big enough to grab massive bailouts, and big enough that the people running things will survive and prosper even if they screw things up.


I don't take credit for this, but somebody pointed out that solar power is far, far more free market than nuclear power, and that's why it's doing better.

411:

I'm not sure we have to wait until 2030.

If democracy is the voice of the people - which is what it means at root - there's certainly a strong vox populi anti-financial institutions in many countries and a more radical anti-1% movement too.

I don't know about your country, but in the UK there's a lot of will to tax bankers and company directors getting big bonus packages, currently being somewhat resisted by parts of the current government. But it's not just the radicals - shareholders, even shareholders that are financial services with a different slant like pension fund holders, are standing up against the big bonus, mega-payout culture. I appreciate that's not all capitalism means, but when the Tory leadership are talking about improving ethics around profit and income you can be pretty sure there's a lot of focus groups telling them it's the way to go - after the last budget they have to be seen to be being hard on the super-rich that avoid doing their bit.

Given that's happening in the here and now and might just be a big issue in 2014/5 come the next election, I think it will be the next round of it that's likely to be an issue in 2030, or we'll be in a period of relative stability and thinking it's broadly OK. Followed by riots in 2032 when it's not.

412:

"By contrast, manufacturing and installation of nuclear power plants is completely unoptimised. There's still a lot of potential to drive down costs."

I think that in a sense this is like practical fusion power - always thirty years away. After ~60 years of nuclear power it's likely that what we see is in the 'optimized' process, and won't get any better.

413:

herring gull?

414:

Sorry for the double posts - I was getting that 'server error', which seems to mean 'I posted your comment, but won't tell you'

415:

Fedex once sent me a letter via An Post to tell me they couldn't find my address).

It helps to know that An Post (The Irish Postal Service) saw the writing on the wall in terms of competition arriving, and deliberately didn't introduce any postcode / zipcode system (They have a top-sekrit one in-house). It's being introduced against their will by the relevant minister precisely to aid private courier services.

Ireland consists of a lot of rural "townlands" and recently-built suburbs nobodys put on a map yet. You will struggle to find a map with the "townland" (patch of fields where I live, subdivision of a Parish elsewhere; or maybe Hamlet in a better organised country) I live in on it. Only close friends, neighbours and the postman knows where we physically live.

416:

"If democracy is the voice of the people - which is what it means at root - there's certainly a strong vox populi anti-financial institutions in many countries and a more radical anti-1% movement too."

So far, the 1% seem to have control of all chokepoints in both the US and UK systems. Which, when you think of it, is very important for a parasite to do (eliminate the host's defences).

417:

Worth noting is that An Post forked off the Royal Mail about 90 years ago, at independence. And unlike RM (which has an even more recognizable brand) An Post is actually profitable. Even with competition from couriers they've got a lot of real estate they can lease out to do stuff with -- local post offices with sorting rooms in the back that are no longer needed since they moved to centralized sorting at three major depots.

418:

Eh, a large part of the "problem" is that security concerns, safety regulations, public opposition and design has interacted in a fairly fucked up way.

There are major barriers in place before you can get any reactor built - but the security costs, documentation political suasion, ect needed are effectively the same for a small and large one, which has driven reactor vendors to go for absolutely gigantic designs, to the point where the construction projects get very hard to manage well.

Then Areva decided that subcontracting was good idea. (this makes the build project even more complicated to manage. Really NOT a good thing)

Not impossible. China is building multiple EPRS on scedule and on budget, but either we need much better skillz at managing large projects, or we need smaller scale reactors that rely on passive cooling for emergencies. (molten salt designs. ELSY.)

bringing things back to relevance, the french do, actually have a.. plan. To solve some of these problems. Google Flexiblue for a fairly mindbending idea. Plan is basically to build a powerplant into a submersible hull, tow it whereever roll a cable ashore, and leave it under water. Which is a fairly neat solution to site security and emergency heat sink issues. Practically speaking, I think this is mostly intended for the overseas territories, since sticking an epr on the various islands France still has is kind of impractical.

419:

I apologize if someone else commented on this re: nuclear shipping.

Remember how freaked out everyone got over the Daichi plant kerfuffle? Remember how Germany then pledged to go non-nuclear? And you expect them to be cool with regular merchant ships being run by fission? It has nothing to do with the actual safety of the reactor or protecting the boats with 50 rent a cops. It has to do with the fact that non-experts are terrified of nuclear power and have a very, very strong nimby response.

You're simply not going to get every nation with a large sea commerce sector to sign onto a comprehensive international treaty and let those types of ships into their ports and the shipping industry isn't going to make that type of change without knowing their ships can go to all the major ports. I mean, we can't even get beyond the Doha round of trade talks. From an engineering standpoint I understand it's doable but from where I work in the policy it's like people arguing the best way to clone humans- it's just not going to happen regardless of how screwed we are energy-wise.

As for 2030 there'll still be a metric ton of attorneys like me. World's second oldest profession, baby!

Another 2030 prediction, everyone is forgetting how much coal we have in the ground. Is that a good way to really screw our future and make Earth:2100 a hellhole? Yes. Do you really think that's going to stop us?

420:

Also impressive is the fact that I've been handed a letter addressed to a family member thus:
<name>
<postal area>

Said postal area has a population of more than 15,000, and $family_member does not have a very rare name. ",)

[[ Use &amp; not & for an opening angle bracket, or expect it to be taken as invalid HTML — mod ]]

421:

Ak!
The address was
[name]
[postal area]

422:

Oh! And another 2030 point: people forget how petrochemical intensive our modern agriculture system is. As that gets more expensive, you'll probably see more food price shocks, which are some of the most effective drivers for causing unrest in a political system you can have. Of course, that may not have the same impact in the developed world and primarily mean that we'll probably be eating less meat since at least in the US a significant majority of our grain goes to feed animals rather than people and we're one of the big producers (and consumers) of meat.

423:

I don't think we'll have to wait until 2030 for democracy to break out, either. However, I don't think democracy will have *won* by 2030. Rather, I think the battle will be fully engaged at that point.

It will be interesting if we get in a red queen-style race between dictatorships and democracy. Machiavelli came up with a rule-book for how a dictator could win over republics, and Gene Sharp seems to be codifying how democratic rebels can beat dictators. During the cold war, both sides tended to support dictatorships (and the US even believed that fascism, as the natural enemy of communism, was preferable, leading to much of the mess we see today). We may be entering a world in which both democratic and dictatorial rebellions become more commonplace, and the tactics of both sides become more sophisticated through the conflict.

Even more interestingly, the social sides of such conflicts may become more important if we get into a post-peak oil situation, where the resources for industrialized warfare no longer exist.

From a novelist's perspective, a world where the conflict comes from sophisticated strikes and work stoppages on one side, and financial pressures and subversion on the other. Hate to be the politician in the middle, trying to assimilate both forces.

424:

.. I really should just keep a text file with the standard debunking of the oil-agriculture link on hand, it gets really boring typing it out in every discussion of the future ever.

Anyway: Agriculture is dependant on ammonia. Ammonia is currently mostly synthesised using natural gas as a hydrogen source, but this is not a strict nessesity - electrolysis was the what the earliest synthetic fertilizer plant used, and going back to that would barely move fertilizer prices at all. And the elctricity for it can be easily found, as electrolysis doesnt need steady power. Intermittent will do fine.
As for motive power for the machines, sufficiently potent batteries would work, but failing that, you can burn ammonia in bog standard combustion engines with only modest modifications, and doing this would not increase farm ammonia consumption much. - There are farmers doing this right now, (it avoids fuel taxes) so at most, oil scarcity would make this common practice.
Fossile fuels are not a lynchpin of modern agriculture. They are an easily substitutable good consumed by it.

425:

One thing the Fukushima meltdowns taught us is that nuclear is safe - but the estimated $300billion bill for the cleanup makes it uneconomic as a cheap power source. That's about $3000 for every man woman and child in Japan. Or the cost of putting a PV system in every home and building in Japan.

426:

Regarding the 3D-printed AR15:
On the contrary, the lower receiver, which they 3D printed, is what carries the serial number of the rifle. It also carries the sear mechanism, which determines whether the rifle is semi-auto (lightly regulated in USA, goes bang...bang...) or full-auto (heavily regulated in USA, goes ratatatat).
The lower receiver is as troublesome to purchase as an entire rifle.
The barrel, upper receiver, and remainder of the parts are available mail-order without a license.

By 2030, we will have already gone through multiple cycles of discovery-propagation-panic-regulation-workaround-discovery regarding the hacking of common or unregulated items using 3D printing and retail CNC.
OGH (among others) covered the first cycle of that in Rule 34, but what will be the effect of multiple cycles, each with backlash and unintended consequences?

Is there a Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory that applies when people have anonymous access to cheap fabrication?

Prediction #1: Fabbing will never produce products that are competitive with manufactured ones. It will at best be able to produce 20-year-old products at early-adopter prices. And that will be just fine, since we'll be able to design them with with 20 years of hindsight. "Retro" will kill "Vintage".

Prediction #2: Thanks to mediocre products and periodic bouts of bad press, fabbing and prototype design will go from being merely nerdy to disreputable. This may kill off what little status engineers may have once had.

427:

Don't bother, Thomas, especially if you were thinking that the industrialized warfare reference was about oil-agriculture. I was rather thinking about the habit of sending out huge, fuel-gulping machines to kill things. This includes everything from jet planes to non-nuclear powered warships.

As for burning ammonia, you first. I grew up in a high smog area and have the asthma to prove it. I'll thank you not to advocate releasing huge amounts of NOx into the air in a misguided attempt to keep internal combustion. Besides, why spend a lot of energy on horribly inefficient ammonia production when you can invest the energy directly in transportation and get more miles.

I should also point out that, AFAIK, the electrolysis method wasn't for ammonia production at all, but production of nitric acid, which was then turned into nitrates. It was so energy inefficient that it was largely abandoned when the Haber process came along. And you want to use it to run cars? Sorry. No.

So, to get back to your comment, I do suggest doing a bit more research first. Right now, you're not believable. Start with Alchemy of the Air, if you want a detailed history of industrial nitrogen fixation.

428:

If democracy is the voice of the people - which is what it means at root - there's certainly a strong vox populi anti-financial institutions in many countries and a more radical anti-1% movement too.

But here in the US the people are of a totally split mindset. The people in power in BOTH major parties that have the most support from their bases are also the ones that cater to the large financial interests.

Cognitive dissonance on a major scale.

429:

One more prediction - the "hydrogen economy" will have been forgotten.

430:

In the UK only the barrel and upper receiver would be illegal AFAIK

431:

Barry wrote:

the whole point of solar power is really that things like Solyndra don't matter; small individual companies can die without causing much harm.

From an ongoing operations safety point of view, yes.

From a 30-year lifetime evolutionary point of view? If the cutting edge companies go horrendously broke - and becoming a major campaign issue in a US presidential campaign, along with a forlorn looking huge and embarrassing "FOR SALE" sign on the buildings along 880 in Milpitas and having so much to auction in bankrupcy that they're on auction number five and still going (I drive by the former and am on mailing lists for the latter)...

Development of industries can stall, reverse, or be slowed or stopped for years or decades by such events.

It's not hitting that much of a wall in Solar - either with Solyndra or A123 - but how many more big high profile things going wrong before "alternate / green energy" becomes politically toxic in the US and is forced to survive on pure economics, without tax breaks or trendy R&D funding?

432:

I recall hearing a few things about the assassination of Huey Long, to the effect that everybody got shooting, and nobody bothered to check whether the fatal shot was fired by an assassin or a bodyguard.

433:

By 2030, we will have already gone through multiple cycles of discovery-propagation-panic-regulation-workaround-discovery regarding the hacking of common or unregulated items using 3D printing and retail CNC.
OGH (among others) covered the first cycle of that in Rule 34, but what will be the effect of multiple cycles, each with backlash and unintended consequences?

My guess, on the weapons side of things:

By 2030, amateur milita goons will obsess over home-printed AR-15s and other automatic guns. Real militaries, in contrast, will still carry guns ... for the same reason that swords are part of a dress uniform. For actual war-fighting, they'll be fielding swarms of killer drones ranging in size from a wasp up to a B-52, with capabilities ranging from "fly into the ear of anyone you see holding a rifle and sting them with tetrodotoxin" to, well, a B-52 ("deliver 72 cruise missiles, each carrying 32,000 wasp-sized submunitions, to this continent: despatch each missile to its designated drop zone over the enemy capital city and release").

In other words, 3D printers won't upset the assymetric force differential between civilians and big governments.

434:

I wasn't familiar with Huey Long's biography but after reading wikipedia's article on him, I'd say we need a couple hundred like him worldwide, kicking corporations in the teeth.

435:

Agreed on microdrone speculation.

Here's my speculation on a future weapon: the tackler-bot. I'm thinking two long tentacles, crossing like a plus sign. For a walking motion it curves the four tentacles to the ground. For a dash it rolls like a wagon wheel, "handspringing" along.

The tackler is covered in a foamy, cushioned padding. When deployed, it will dash towards a target and tackle, intending to physically immobilize without using lethal force. The arms will pin the target just like any high school wrestler would.

You can deploy them against armed assailants. No worries if the bot gets shot. You can deploy them in numbers in a crowd because anyone who gets tackled who isn't a perp can be released, it's not like you shot them.

The optimal number of arms might not be four, it might be more. But however many there are, the idea remains the same.

436:

Your crowd control system sounds absolutely terrifying. People are likely to react badly to them.

437:

I would add high voltage electrodes to its arms.

438:

That reminds me of Richard Morgan's pacification spiders in the Takeshi Kovacs series. Basically a mortar shoots a shell that contains thousands of small spider size robots that attach themselves to people and if they detect adrenalin (or whatever) levels above a certain level inject an anaesthetic.

439:

Since I'm an optimist. Here are some random predictions:

1. Homeless "Parks" have become massively darwinian housing experiments for bored & unemployed architecture/engineering students.

Think self-replicating Buba-Yaga like "Chickees Huts" made with Air-Breathing Solar Tarps, Paper tubs impregnated with carbon fiber with "muscles" made from gene-spliced kudzu vines.
Built-in with Chicken/Bunny coops and Grass-Hopper tanks.

2. The Earth develops a macrobiome of drones, Smartballoons, Pedirigibles and floating sawdust-bergs so thick you can Mario Bros. jump across the Atlantic.

3. Due to the massive radio-wave-related Cancer epidemics of the '20. WiFi, Cellphones, ham-radios are outlawed. AR died a quick death. VR is alive and well.

4. There are two Space-Elevators based in:
Ramsay, New Zeland
(-43.26398753725155, 171.0368299484253)
and it's antipode,
Como Porto, Portugal
(43.26398753725156, -8.963170051574707) .

Owned by thriving meteor-mining corps.
Maori and Portuguese cuisine/culture are in ascendance in the gold-rush like aftermath.

440:

"[...] And you expect them to be cool with regular merchant ships being run by fission? It has nothing to do with the actual safety of the reactor or protecting the boats with 50 rent a cops. It has to do with the fact that non-experts are terrified of nuclear power and have a very, very strong nimby response.

You're simply not going to get every nation with a large sea commerce sector to sign onto a comprehensive international treaty and let those types of ships into their ports and the shipping industry isn't going to make that type of change without knowing their ships can go to all the major ports. [...]"

Extensive quote - sorry - to establish context.

GW Herbert's tugs get around most of those objections, although towing is much easier in calm seas instead of rough weather, as someone pointed out earlier. The economics might be challenging, however, since nuclear ships tend to cost a fair bit. The duty cycle can be greater given that tugs don't have to hang around port as a cargo ship does for transfer operations, but would that be enough to offset the high nine-digit cost?

The prospect of the US, UK, or Japan building such ships seems unlikely. Cosco has proposed building atomic-powered container ships, but the idea seems to have vanished post-Fukushima.

One country unafraid of nuclear matters, with the requisite marine experience (10 nuke submarines to its credit), and a tradition of large technological projects, is France. It's still unclear whether even they can make the numbers work but non-ratepayers might find the exercise entertaining to watch.

441:

A nuclear powered merchant ship would be effectively uninsurable, hence there will not be any.

442:

1. Cellphones don't cause cancer. No, seriously: the epidemiology figures are in.

2. Ground-anchored space elevators require an equatorial location. Portugal and New Zealand are not on the equator. QED.

443:

The cost of computation is already quite low - you can buy parallel processors for less than $200 / teraFLOPS right now at Fry's. They're called graphics cards, but both nVidia and AMD have APIs which allow programming them as coprocessors.

Unfortunately getting the best performance from these is fiendishly difficult, so decreasing the cost of computation depends strongly on clever coders in this instance.

444:

A 70's idea for SF, that should work and has only been used twice in SF so far as I know. As a Fuller domes gets bigger, the weight goes down compared to the weight of the air inside inside it. When its big enough and a sphere it will float with only a small difference in the air temperate inside and out. When its big, what it carries is of little importance. Things like Soar cells over the clouds and lower air with longer sunlight, ways of beaming the power down. Living space and personal will be of little importance. Likewise ways of holding positstion. It could do most of the things satellites do now and more. And it seems the technology is here now. I said it was a SF idea. But its a good one
On #390: By Gorge I think his got it. More so than I ever said at lest. Much so than American and Euro pols now in power. “Keynesian...not to be welcomed by the global elite. “ It slows and limit the big economic ups and downs. The real way to make money is to have money. Then sell when others are mass buying and buy when they are selling. And scare them in to doing both. It takes the panics and the mob greed to make that system work. Keynesian cuts back on all that. So if you daddy and his daddy and his daddy left you the money to do so, then you and yours can make more. That’s why the war on estate taxes was declared a lot of years ago.
There is so little gold in the whole world that its nuts to think of running a global economy on it. But if you have some then its a grand idea. Back in the 60's I read that IBM was worth more that all the gold in America, a lot more. At the price then. Real economicomists have alway thot gold bugs were nuts. In panics they make money, in other times they lose.

445:

Low cost computation is a petaFLOPS per Watt, and we are off by about 10^6 on that.

446:

Others have touched on this tangentially, but one big change I expect is the deprecation of meat in the First World because of price since feed will become more expensive as crop yields drop with climate change, but also due to health considerations wrt animal fats being increasingly tied to circulatory problems, and growing proof of rampant antibiotic use causing multiply-resistant bacterial strains. This last will either lead to many people shunning meat because the side effects could kill them, or stricter regulations limiting antibiotic use, slowing growth, and thus causing price increases. I'm not optimistic on the latter when lobbyists infest Washington like boll weevils in a cotton crop, so expect a drop in meat consumption over the next couple of decades simply out of fear.

Developing nations will have no such choice - the rising cost of animal products will keep them off most plates, at least in the quantities we saw in the West.

447:

Getting the GFLOPS of a top 2002 supercomputer on my desk for less than a case of good wine counts as cheap, not counting the lack of a subfloor & multi-ton cooling system, and I don't have to haul my fat ass over to Los Alamos to use the sumbitch either.

Cheap is what I can get off the shelf & use at home, and there's enough competition in parallel machines to keep products surfing down the price/performance curve for a while to come. Notional measures of performance substituting for availability, well, I'll leave those to one-handed readers of extropian fantasy.

448:

Cheap is Human brain processing equivalent at Human brain energy consumption.

449:

Unless synthetic meat is a big industry.

450:

If only you'd told Lloyd's register that a few years ago, you could've saved them a lot of wasted effort thinking about how nuclear tankers will work.

451:

One of my expectations is that barriers will continue to come down. It is quite odd when you find yourself, as a Scottish Atheist finding a close internet chum who is anything but. The degree of cross-cultural connections are quite astonishing right now and I expect that that will grow over time. If your chum is, say, an Indian, it would be kind of hard not to sympathise with her over, say, the Mumbai killings. To the extent that the bland '164 dead, 308 injured' becomes something more than a news report.

This crazing of the mirror of our connections, from the local to the global, is unlikely to reverse under current rules. And it is happening at a human level, below the radar so to speak.

452:

Ammonia is toxic:

Permissible levels of exposure to toxic gases are defined by time-weighted average (TWA), short-term exposure limit (STEL), and concentration at which toxic gasses are immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH). The TWA is defined as the concentration for an 8-hour workday of a 40-hour workweek that nearly all workers can be exposed to without adverse effects. Similarly, the STEL is the concentration to which an exposure of longer than 15 minutes is potentially dangerous and may produce immediate or chronic compromise to health. Anhydrous ammonia has a TWA of 25 ppm, an STEL of 35 ppm, and an IDLH of 500 ppm.

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/820298-overview

It's also caustic when dissolved in water, and rapidly fatal at half a percent concentration in the air.

453:

Sure - I remember the Savannah.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NS_Savannah
That was then, this is now.
A $300billion clearup for fukushima has altered the odds somewhat. That report is just like all the Mars mission plans NASA comes out with every 5 years. Every name in Lloyds would run a mile if asked to put their money on the line for a nuclear ship today.

454:

Indeed. Beyond Meat apparently has the texture almost exactly right for faux chicken, and they're working on ersatz beef as well. Researchers are optimistic about cooking the first vat-grown hamburger this year or next, but we shall see how good it tastes.

In any event, Asian diets typically are much less carnivorous than Western, the emphasis being placed on meat as a flavouring agent instead of a whole course, and I know a fair few people cooking more stir-fries than before as a health and convenience issue. McDonalds isn't going away any time soon, but their burgers could get dearer with crop failures.

In other news, some interesting religious questions come up: is vat pork kosher or trayf? Would it be considered even an animal under kashrut if there are no stomachs to ruminate or not, or hooves to qualify as split?

455:

I wonder if by 2030 I'll have an AI to digest the comment thread of our predictions for 2048.

It's been alluded to above briefly, but it's worth emphasizing: Alzheimer's will be cured by 2030. So will Parksinson's. Maybe by stem cell implants, maybe by medication. If by medication, the patents will be about to expire by 2030.

My guess is that these medications will be very profitable, but since they will cost significantly less that providing long-term care, it will be a net gain for society without the interesting side effects that make for interesting science fiction.

456:

Have you got any evidence for this, or is your understanding of marine insurance as good as your understanding of which Lloyd's is which? (hint: Lloyd's of London has Names, Lloyd's Register does not. Their only relation is being founded in the same coffee house)

457:

Yes, you are correct about the two Lloyds.
However, I still believe that any commercial nuclear ship is effectively uninsurable, if only because the insurance quote would be so high as to make the whole thing uneconomic.

458:

Our Good Host:

My guess, on the weapons side of things:
By 2030, amateur milita goons will obsess over home-printed AR-15s and other automatic guns. Real militaries, in contrast, will still carry guns ... for the same reason that swords are part of a dress uniform. For actual war-fighting, they'll be fielding swarms of killer drones ranging in size from a wasp up to a B-52, with capabilities ranging from "fly into the ear of anyone you see holding a rifle and sting them with tetrodotoxin" to, well, a B-52 ("deliver 72 cruise missiles, each carrying 32,000 wasp-sized submunitions, to this continent: despatch each missile to its designated drop zone over the enemy capital city and release").
In other words, 3D printers won't upset the assymetric force differential between civilians and big governments.

The government spent the 90s and 2000s trying and largely failing to make small affordable drones; it took labs at universities and crazy open source hobbyists to get them off the ground, and shortly thereafter they showed up in $20 chinese import RC toys.

More than anything else this was driven by cheap light MEMS gyros; I know of a bunch of quadcopter designs which were attitude-sensing-impaired going back way beyond any of the public popular successful ones. And I suspect that the amateur rocketry people who figured out VTVL flight / attitude sensing and control had a big play into it (many of them had the first gen quadcopters).

I think that the idea that the government has an enduring advantage here is a little overly optimistic... They may not even have the same order of magnitude of capability at the moment...

459:

I seem to recall a definite "Yes it is" to the Kosher question, but I can't recall where I read it. No doubt it was related to a previous discussion on this very blog though, couple of weeks ago.

Regarding nuke ships, aren't the nuclear icebreakers valid case studies or have they all been decommissioned by now? I don't even know if they use the reactor to drive the ship or merely to heat the ice.

460:

@345:
3D printed gun:
http://tinyurl.com/cbrpz22
---
No. Not even close. What they printed was an AR lower. It's a non-stressed part, available commercially in injection-molded plastic as well as cast or forged aluminum. AR hobbyists have built lowers from cheap plastic polyethylene cutting boards, and even pine boards, though that one didn't actually work all that well.

All of the precision machining - and there's a lot of it - is in the "commercially available upper" mentioned in the article.

Basically, that's like putting an iPhone in a wooden box, and claiming you just carved an iPhone. The "commercially available electronic components" are only a negligible part of the overall phone experience, right?

461:

Actually, there are some good reasons to keep guns around. It's hard to launch and aim a supersonic killer microdrone, but it's pretty damn easy to fire a bullet.

That said, one thing I CAN suggest is that we can use microdrones to revive that old science fiction staple, the stunner.

Here's the deal: chemical stunning with tranquilizers doesn't work very well, because you've got to do two things right: guess the target's weight, and monitor the blood chemistry and vitals well enough to keep the person from dying on you (this is how anesthesiologists make their money, and the mistake that killed Michael Jackson).

Hard to fit that many functions in a bullet or a beam.
However, if you equip a swarm of microdrones with tasers, injectors, and vital monitors, you can create a flying stunner. They embed in the target, knock it down (with the taser) and stun it (with onboard drugs), and they keep the target down, out, and alive until they are relieved of that job. For added fun, format these things to look like locusts and launch them in large swarms. The jumping will make them harder target, especially if they are insect sized.

And before you ask, I already used it in a book I wrote, but feel free to tweak and borrow it.

462:

The 300 billion dollar cleanup cost you mention is a lie propagated by anti-nuclear types. That's the total cost of restoring the Tohoku region from the effects of the earthquake and tsunami, rebuilding smashed towns, removing oil, debris and waste from thousands of acres of agricultural land, restoring roads, bridges etc. and starting to improve the tsunami defences of the coastal towns of the Tohoku region and elsewhere before the next 15-metre tsunami kills tens of thousands more Japanese. The cost of dealing with the meltdowns at the reactors is a small part of that pricetag but it has been promulgated as referring to only the nuclear cleanup by those with an axe to grind.

463:

Or better yet it can hold a link or index to a lot of data now that always on wireless Internet is common (aka every cellphone and tablet).

464:

Yes, Dirk, we all know that it is your opinion that nuclear is Just No Good. Please don't let that stop you from giving your opinion on the subject five or six more times with the same amount of research you've demonstrated so far.

There really should be a FAQ to link to for these solar rah rah types, especially when they condemn the nuclear option with the same enthusiasm . . . and lack of facts.

The simple fact of the matter is that no alternative source of energy looks as good as the mid-century use of hydrocarbons - for the simple and sufficient reason that the environmental costs of their use was discounted with a vengeance. That's not the 21st century way of doing energy accounting.

465:

No, nuclear will be Just Too Expensive unless there are radically new designs.

466:

Dirk:

No, nuclear will be Just Too Expensive unless there are radically new designs.

Not proven, because it's not being done right (standardized designs, already debugged through a couple of production iterations, with ongoing production campaign and serial production).

Except in China, assuming we believe that their safety process is as good as ours in the west (no sign to the contrary, but not proven). They are delivering cookie cutter reactors on schedule, on budget, in bulk.

The western designs that might become that level of producability and repeatability are new - haven't been built more than once and therefore completely debugged yet.

467:

Ah, reflexive butt-headed contrarianism followed by agreement that yes, nuclear is Just No Good . . . offered up with the same level of scholarship as the last five or six times the exact same opinion was given.

Dirk, would it kill you to do a little research before posting? It's not as if this stuff is obscure.

468:

No - the "radical" bit is designing reactors that cannot melt down and are inherently safe. The PWR is a bad design.

469:

I don't remember this for sure! But the US has about five generations of reactors planed. The next one is safer and is less dependent on powered safeties. The later ones get much safer. So why not spend more on the later generations that will be safer and bring them on line sooner? There were reactors that could not fail designed back in the early 50's. I think they would use more fuel or other wise cost more for the power they would make. Or maybe the company did not get the government money the earlier companies did and gave up.

470:

By 2030, I'll guess that the US will be in the middle of an economic boom - similar for South America (largely driven by exports to China). I'm not sure about India. Europe and Japan will also be in decline.

In the life sciences, we'll finally start to be able to do crazy stuff (like custom-grown organisms) reasonably quickly.

I expect chemistry to be fairly dull. Same with physics.

Home decoration will be spiffy glowy and computerized.

Nanotech will have a bunch of sensor applications, and probably make for some seriously interesting dresses...and maybe some high-end structural materials. ...maybe a space elevator...probably not.

Slightly practical quantum computing will probably happen. It may not matter.

Practical AI will probably happen. (most likely based on approximate hypercomputation...this may make a big difference.) Practical quantum AI might happen - and will be somewhere between really effective and prone to insanity - realistically probably crazier than humans.

A certain amount of smart weapons will be practical - I don't believe they'll matter much.

We'll probably be looking at the start of a decline in available fossil energy. And, yep, we'll be building fission plants because solar isn't sufficient and fusion will still be 25 years away.

Alternatively, we'll be burning coal and working on deploying mirror satellites to reduce global temperatures. Around the collapse of 2090, we'll really regret that choice as we become unable to maintain the mirror arrays.

Regarding diet, heh. Um. People will probably eat increasing amounts of meat - primarily genetically engineered insect derivatives. (Insects are actually reasonably efficient at converting calories.) Oh, and, maybe by 2030, people will laugh at vegetarians and finally stop paying attentions to Keyes's original research. (...the guy graphed cardiovascular events as a function of fat intake for ~11 of 22 countries and found a strong association...the followup paper graphed all 22 and found no association...and a strong association with carbohydrate intake.) I actually sat in on a meeting where:
(1) absolutely none of the nutrition experts (major university) argued that fat intake was unhealthy
(2) someone on the board of the AHA said 'oops...does the website still say that...'
(3) exactly one doctor argued against low carbohydrate diets. Her assertion was that, yes, they were good for patients...but that, long-term, encouraging protein consumption would be bad for the environment.
(4) Everyone agreed that the China study was flawed because it fails to adjust for confounding variables...yes...vegetarians are healthy...strangely...they also exercise.

--Erwin

471:

Ok, before the rah! rah! nukes! crowd accuse the rah! rah! solar crowd of ignoring the facts and vice versa, I'd like to just point to two undeniable facts:

After sixty years of commercial nuclear power, we're currently building the Generation III reactors.

After thirty years of solar power, we've seen prices fall by a factor of fifty, to the point where the costs are a few years off becoming competitive with fossil fuel and nukes. In the medium term, there are no signs that the fall in cost is slowing.

What you make of those facts is entirely up to you. I take them to suggest that in a free market, nuclear power won't be competitive with solar power in a decade and, given that it takes about a decade to build a nuclear plant, there's little point in starting to build one right now.

472:

Jez:


What you make of those facts is entirely up to you. I take them to suggest that in a free market, nuclear power won't be competitive with solar power in a decade and, given that it takes about a decade to build a nuclear plant, there's little point in starting to build one right now.

Except for that whole night problem.

If batteries / pumped storage / etc all work out as well, then it may obsolete ALL other forms of electric power. That takes two hard things, but not at this point two miracles.

473:

Damn, I don't even get to ask about the earthquake tolerance of the Elevator ground stations! The 3,000m mountain range that the NZ location is basically in is there for a reason!

474:

Here's data for the daily usage pattern for NZ: http://www.gridnewzealand.co.nz/f4689,69348727/Chapter_4_Demand_Assumptions.pdf, figure 4.1). As you can see, we use less electricity at night.

No-one's suggesting solar in isolation, it is a partner and good fit with wind, hydro, geothermal, and marine power. And we already have storage for solar energy, they're called solar hot water heaters. China has 20 GigaWatts worth. For comparison, their current nuclear reactors amount to only 10 GigaWatts.

475:

On diet, I think you're wrong: the main arguments for vegetarianism aren't "fat is bad for you" but "eating things with nervous systems is morally wrong" (arguable) and "animals are an inherently lossy way of converting insolation into human biomass" (entirely true). Put it another way, you do not convert 1Kg of animal feed into 1Kg of human feed by shoveling it into a cow and then eating the cow: something called entropy gets in the way.

Now, whether these two arguments (the moral one and the efficiency one) win out is an interesting question, but it looks as if vat-grown tissue is likely to win on both counts (efficiency at turning input nutrients into meat/protein and no nervous system) anyway. And there's the small matter of around 25% of the Earth's population coming from religious traditions that emphasize vegetarianism and another 25-50% coming from countries that have been so poor that meat was a vastly expensive luxury.

TLDR: the steak-eating middle-American lifestyle is a minority pursuit and likely to dwindle as climate change wrecks the environment in which those cattle thrive and demand drives up prices. This doesn't mean you won't be able to get I-can't-believe-it's-not-hamburger and tastes-like-fried-chicken; but the production chain putting it on your plate won't look like current-day agrobusiness.

476:

I did some work for another Irish Govt agency a few years back - they used a map of townlands dated back in the 1880/1890s to locate properties.

477:

I think 2030 will be much more like the present day than it is different.

Key differences will include:
* near ubiquitous surveillance
* large scale attempted micromanagement of public behaviour (think the recent Twitter trial)
* in parallel, use of darknets and software tools to go 'off grid' and avoid surveillance, will be penetrating much deeper into the community than the present activist/geek demographic.
* increased poverty/inequality especially among the elderly and the young coupled with increased public disorder/drunkenness.
* devolution max/independence in Scotland and perhaps Wales leads to greater levels of migration from/to England (direction of movement depends on which ends up more liberal in terms of behaviour management)

478:

"Not proven, because it's not being done right (standardized designs, already debugged through a couple of production iterations, with ongoing production campaign and serial production)."

But it HAS already been done right. In the 70s France took the dumb old Westinghouse PWR design and they created an incredibly standardized design from it. The industrial tolerances required from suppliers and subcontractors were, and still are, amazing.

Much, much more importantly they standardized the training of operators, safety inspectors and centralized everything that dealt with quality control, both in construction and operation. None of that anglo-saxon "do your own thing" stuff. Everything was, and is still run in a Cartesian fashion from Paris.

The final human aspect that they invested in was an ongoing charm and investment campaign for all of the municipalities in which the reactors were built. You can still discover "la différence" yourself if you drive around France and ask questions in those charming villages with huge cooling towers not far from them. Compare that to the bully capitalism attitude the US power companies have towards locals!

And that's why I don't think you'll have a significant nuclear shipping industry in 2030. Because the successful use of nuclear energy is a social question. It's a social problem and no other country is suited to the type of society - based organizational solutions France came up with. In fact the really big problem is that most countries see the commercial use of nuclear energy as a technological problem.

In my opinion the new ship designs in 2030 will have even less and not more (50 security staff? Yes, go on making me laugh, given what I know of attitudes towards staffing by shipping companies) crew, with probably 3 or 4 skilled hands for a giant container ship. Tight knowledge of oceanic weather with new satellite arrays dedicated completely to this will permit the use advanced sailing ships. Even tighter logistics control (current logistics planners still haven't integrated the latest software advances like giant non-SQL databases) will mean that the weeks long sailing times are planned into any transoceanic production process.

The sails themselves will be advanced semi-rigid airfoil shapes made possible by future super - computing software. Nothing in common with what current sailing ships have, even the current rigid airfoil types that have been tested here and there

479:

After thirty years of solar power, we've seen prices fall by a factor of fifty, to the point where the costs are a few years off becoming competitive with fossil fuel and nukes. In the medium term, there are no signs that the fall in cost is slowing.

The price so solar PV panels can get to $0 and they will still have large costs. What comes out of them is not what any national or local grids need. So you have storage and conversion costs. When storage starts to get cheap I'll be more enthused. But based on the curve of improvements in battery tech, it is going to be a long time. Most of the predictions I see around here involve a lot of handwavium. Do you really think Apple, Samsung, Toyota, etc... are not investing unholy amounts of money into making better batteries already? And the results are, well, small increment in performance.

480:

You already have the technology for huge humongous - sized batteries. They're called dams and reservoirs.

All you have to do is find a suitable valley, dam it up, and pump water in it when the sun is shining. When the sun isn't shining you let the water flow down.

481:

The counter-argument to veganism (note the distinction between that and vegetarianism) is that animals turn material that humans can't eat into food humans can eat and products humans can use.

This includes:
--cellulose, which can be turned into milk (primarily), meat (including all those inconvenient male calves), and hides, bone, horns, gelatin, and the other 200-odd things we make out of animals these days.
--Organic trash, which can be fast-decomposed using pigs (especially) or goats. The advantage to pigs is that they are more efficient at turning food into meat than most other mammals. The disadvantage of eating trash-fed hogs is that you have to be very careful about their food sources. Still, there's a Las Vegas hog farm that eats the food scraps from the casinos and produces (reportedly) high-quality pork, so it's entirely possible to do this well if the farmer's smart.
--Bugs and weeds, which is one of the classic roles for ducks and chickens to a lesser extent. This turns garden pests into eggs, feathers, and meat.

The mistake we make in modern industrial agriculture is to maximize the efficiency of producing meat and eggs and ignore the inefficiencies this mode of production induces in all of our agriculture.

I seriously doubt meat will go away, or even that it will be replaced entirely by vat-grown meat. It's simply too useful to, say, keep a couple of ducks around to keep your garden free of snails (something my family did for years). Conversely, I do predict the decline of corn-fed beef, and the rise of grass-fed beef and weed-fed goats all over the place. We have a lot of degraded farmland in the US right now (and degraded ranchlands, come to think of it), and the best way to rehabilitate them is to get some smart livestock farmers in there to regrow the good grasses, let the animals properly manure the fields, and rebuild the soil (cf: The Omnivore's Dilemma for an overview of how to do it).

The problem with vat beef, to be very blunt, isn't the complexity of producing tissue, it's the cost of producing the feedstocks, and potential upstream bottlenecks in these feedstocks. For example, the algae necessary for many culture media, has been in increasingly short supply for over a decade, and there aren't a lot of good substitutes yet. Unless we figure out how to replace such resources with more common materials (jellyfish jelly, perhaps?), it may be impossible to culture enough beef to meet even a small fraction of the demand.

482:

Yet it seems quite plausible that Li batteries with 5x the existing capacity can be built. There are even lab versions of two types, one using Silicon electrodes and the other a Li-Air battery.

http://www.extremetech.com/computing/129299-silicon-nanotube-lithium-ion-battery-stores-10-times-more-power-lasts-6000-charges

The problem is manufacturing them reliably and cheaply. There is no show stopper when it comes to far greater energy density.

483:

I like solar heaters. I liked one ones President Carter used on the Whitehouse. I made a hot water and a window box heater years ago. (No, that they are now in use.) I used a lot of scrape metal. If we use lot of them, the energy for the material and there construction will have to come from mostly co2 making sources. Oh well. Its just that its not that easy. In fact I don't think anything will be.

484:

I'm not sure I agree with high-tech oceanic merchant vessels - although I used to sail and occasionally watch America's Cup shows and I'm impressed by the impact of their rigid aerofoils so it's possible.

But one solution I've touted before to reduce oil consumption and enhance bio-versity, would be a return to barges for non-time-sensitive deliveries. Some food, printed newspapers if such things exist in 18 years time obviously have to be distributed quickly. Plain paper for printing newspapers on, empty cans to the point the food is put in them - and with most cans full cans too - hard cheeses with a shelf life in the months range and so on... it doesn't matter if they take 2 hours or 2 days to get there as long as there's a steady supply. Canals can do that well enough in places where they run close to cities - like a lot of the midlands and North of England, but some go surprisingly far out into the Norfolk Broads, down towards Devon and the like.

In fact, if we decide to do it now, well maybe next year if it's drier, it's a set of nice capital investments to try and stimulate the building trade too. OK, that's local in time and space, but by 2030 we'd have a lot of people trained for that kind of work, possibly as the canal building comes to an end and they'd be looking for new work. Nice social problem there.

485:

Jellyfish are pretty tasty, mild, crunchy and sweet.

I like to think that racial discrimination is on its last legs, a vestige in the minds of the rural, poor and ignorant.

486:

But one solution I've touted before to reduce oil consumption and enhance bio-versity, would be a return to barges for non-time-sensitive deliveries.

The central US already may be at or near capacity using barges. Large 3x5 barge tows are an impressive site on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. From a quick google search.
The standard barge is 195 feet long, 35 feet wide, and can be used to a 9-foot draft. Its capacity is 1500 tons. Some of the newer barges today are 290 feet by 50 feet, double the capacity of earlier barges.

487:

All you have to do is find a suitable valley, dam it up, and pump water in it when the sun is shining. When the sun isn't shining you let the water flow down.

Not in the US. Damming up much any valley of any size will likely never clear the environmental impact. Most large dams in the US now would never be built if attempted today.

488:

Vacuum solar water heaters are extremely cost effective - if you buy direct from China and install them yourself. They are also very efficient and can deliver scalding hot water even in winter sunshine.

489:

I think you might have missed out the point that, even if energy costs are sharply higher than they are today, oceanic shipping is ridiculously cheap. Which in turn means that long range trade is likely to continue, especially as environmental degradation results in more areas of the world where the resident population can't live on the foodstuffs they can produce locally. It's been the case in the UK for around 70 years; it's much more widespread these days.

Canals are actually being recomissioned for freight transport in parts of the UK -- IIRC Tesco are using them for non-perishable goods in some areas. However, they require a steady and plentiful water supply, and the rights-of-way issue for constructing new ones is at least as thorny as for new railway or motorway construction.

490:

I have long felt that some of my associates fail to pass the Turing test.

491:

I've eaten jellyfish too, and while pickled jellyfish is a minor appetizer in Chinese cuisine, uses of it as a major food item are in their very early stages. It's useful to compare the use of jellyfish to the use of seaweeds, which also produce gels like agar agar.

Note that I'm not at all sure that you *can* substitute jellyfish for agarose, since I don't really know what jellyfish are built from, chemically. All I do know is that jellyfish are becoming more common, while many seaweeds are dying out.

The basic point is that I've spent a bit of time making media, admittedly for fungi rather than for vertebrate cells. Thing is, media take precise amounts of specialized chemicals that have to be purified. Contrast this with, say, a goat browsing on some weeds. Both take care, but tissue culture is a lot fussier and more dependent on both good supply chains and on high quality sterile technique.

I should point out that this same problem crops up with using algae as a biodiesel source. I've heard some interesting stories about trying to keep the algae tanks free of other species, and I think this is one of the biggest problems with the whole concept.

As for bias, my group of friends contains people of a bunch of races (as does my extended family). I really, truly wish I believed that racial discrimination was on its way out. Unfortunately, I don't. The fundamental conflict in a multiracial society is what it means to end discrimination. Does it mean that everyone forgets their ancestors and acts white? Isn't that a kind of discrimination of its own, cultural imperialism? But if you want to keep your own culture, then fundamentally you are discriminating, saying you want to be different, proud of how you are different from others. I don't think there is a good solution to this, but I think that honestly struggling with it builds a lot of character.

492:

A more interesting fault line in Europe is the one that John Erickson used to note - namely, the division between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Russia has some form of Revolution, or someone declares themself Tsar

Anyway, the real whine against auto-guided cars will come from Taxi firms; all you need is some way to book the journey and rendezvous with the cab using your smartphone, and you've cracked it. The next cute app would be one where your own car drops you off at the door of your destination, goes off to auto park somewhere, and returns to pick you up and take you home.

As for militaries, they shrink some more. The kit gets more expensive, and the fleets shrink. It matters less, because the most wasteful thing is a second-best military. Driving a single column of tanks to the Presidential Palace is sufficient, you don't need to make the rubble bounce quite so high. Hopefully, militaries get better at telling politicians not to be idiots, because they haven't been so good over the last decade. We have another decade or so of reluctance to take the direct military option, but increases in the support of credible "freedom" movements a la Libya, maybe Syria. The jury is out as to whether it thins out the angry young ideologues, or trains them. Then, in about fifteen years, someone with a short memory suggests that an invasion and occupation is the least bad solution...

493:

Yes, even in my country, where there is a lower population density and even more land available than in the US, building any kind of a dam is a political and social problem.

But when it comes to a hard choice between unproved "glow- in - the -dark" nuclear power technologies that kill everything at the drop of an accidental hat and the relatively benign displacing of ecosystems and relocating of villages I think that the dams / reservoirs combined with solar power are going to win.

Note that there are more sites available for building a reservoir for "battery" purposes than there are sites with suitable potential for generating hydro power. When you dam up a valley to serve as a battery you don't even need to have a river already flowing through it.

494:

It's worth remembering that dams are far from harmless. For example, I'm rabidly against any dam that goes across an earthquake fault (as one famous unbuilt dam in California did). Dam failure is one of those things that anyone downstream really doesn't want to deal with.

Even without dam failure, there are a bunch of other really important issues:
--siltation. Dams lose storage capacity to siltation, so you've got to keep cleaning them out. Where do you put the silt? It depends on how clean it is. It could fertilize your fields, or it could be hazardous waste. It all depends on what is upstream.
--Flooding. Too much water can be a real problem, scouring, moving sediment around, and flowing over the top of the dam. If too much water is going through, you may have to shut down power to keep the downstream flow under control.
--Drought. An even bigger problem. Note that, with climate change, both records storms and record droughts become more probable. Dams serve the critical function of evening out the water flow, but it's ultimately a stock-flow issue.
--Water rights. That water is likely already spoken for, likely has been for a century or more. You've got to be prepared to either buy out all the water rights (and kill the farms that depend on that water), deliver the water when and where the rights specify (whatever your power contract says, go through a horribly lengthy legal battle ("whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over"), bribe the government to get your way, and/or get weapons and kill or intimidate anyone who tries to stop you from taking their water and destroying their way of life.

Note that, while I'm an environmentalist, I haven't mentioned any of the environmental issues. These are the problems if you're simply a megalomaniac developer. If you're a rather more sophisticated and sane person, it gets more complicated.

Note that I'm not entirely against dams. I can't be, since all my water comes from them. Still, the water business is slow moving and incredibly complex, precisely because it is so important.

495:

I predict...
By 2030 computing power will be so universal that there won't be anything like a dedicated computer box. Computing power will be powerful, distributed and ubiquitous. And everything will be networked to everything else. Your underpants will have more processing power than a ca. 2000 Pentium. The urinal at work will report your weekend drug use to your boss. The GPS chip in your contact lenses will not only report where you are, but what you're looking at.

And the latest advance in silicon carbide photovoltaic cells will raise average efficiency to all of 22% and they will still take more energy to produce than will be collected over their useful life.

496:

I'm hoping that the LIBOR scandal is too big to sweep under the rug. The 2008 crash was bigger, but the LIBOR scandal has impacted millions of contracts that were based on it, including cities, states, and pension funds. Cities and states are big enough to sue the banks while mortgage holders are not. Already several cities in California are preparing law suits (the great American sport).

As an American i am appalled at the level of institutionalized corruption. It's not just the banks. It's the Supreme Court with its Citizens United decision that upheld corporations as people and gave them unlimited campaign spending under the guise of free speech. It's Justice Thomas, whose wife is a lobbyist on the cases he hears, who has committed other crimes. It's the Obama administration full of corrupt players from finance. The only thing worse would be a Romney administration.

Please Charlie, have ATHENA take them all down.

497:

You wont see the US breaking up. We have a strong national identity. We already fought a Civil War over secession. We have a mess but it is fixable. No mater how much money the right wing has, the pendulum will swing liberal. Russia and China also have strong ancient national identities. They too will survive, although there may be some upheaval along the way.

I'm not so sure about the EU. It has no history and the power structure is not democratic. Here's hoping that it can be straightened out.

498:

One of the biggest ways to save energy in California is to mandate that all roofs be white.

499:

>It's worth remembering that dams are far from harmless.

You can say that again, it seems 100000 corpses are ok, as long as none of them glow in the dark. It's fascinating to watch everything the tsunami (Water!) did turn into Fukushima in the media and public consciousness.

But we understand water, we know water. Water's safe, life giving!

Ban dyhidrogen monoxide! :)

500:

"may require anyone over the age of 40 dying off."

I wont go willingly. And you wont get any more books from our esteemed Host either.

501:

I object to your objection. :-)

I dont believe in rapture of the nerds, but I view as a singularity an event that so changes the social landscape that it cannot be seen before the event. Computers are such an event, so is the Internet. I think that you can even posit black swans. Immortality is too much, but an indefinite lifespan extension (indefinite from the perspective of 2030) not so much.

502:

Nobody is going to get immortality short of uploading to multiple Jupiter Brains. IIRC average lifespan omitting diseases of ageing would be about 1200 years. Something that, right now, I would be quite happy with.

503:

You're talking about dams and reservoirs that require water rights, new water each day. I'm talking about new build dams and reservoirs that use the same water over and over again, letting it flow through turbines to a lower holding area when the sun doesn't shine (or the winds don't blow if the electricity comes from the wind instead of solar panels) and then pumping it back up to the higher reservoir when the sun shines.

Dams are not suitable for every region, given earthquakes and other factors. But the region next door or the country next door can supply the dams needed to balance energy loads when the sun and the wind are temporarily not available in usually sunny or windy places.

That's what they do in Denmark. About 20% of their electricity comes from the wind, and by 2030 it will be more than 50%. But they couldn't balance their grid if it weren't for their exports of electricity to the grids in Norway and Sweden, where hydro power (dams!) counts for 100% and 50% of all electric power) and water flow control can be used to offset low wind periods in Denmark.

Just look at where the money is going.

They're investing large sums in developing software controlled smart grids that can balance loads coming from a variety of sources. They're building this with proven software packages and hardware. There are all kinds of serious project out there to build the "smart grid".

In contrast, how much investment do you see in future nuclear plant designs and development prototypes?

Companies aren't willing to risk money on new models of promising nuclear reactor designs but they're willing to put a lot of money in developing new software process control systems for other types of power generation and distribution.

504:

IIRC average lifespan omitting diseases of ageing would be about 1200 years

Based on ... what?

I'm sorry, but that's a fairly ludicrous statement.

505:

I think it was in a Vietnamese restaurant that I had fried jellyfish.

I was a boy in the 50's and I remember being shocked on a trip to Florida by a "colored" mens toilet. I was in college in the 60's and remember the anti-segregation and racial equality movements, women's rights, sex discrimination, equal employment, and equal housing. We arent perfect, but we have come very far.

Being proud of your race and heritage is not discrimination is the sense of prejudice against others. My children are mixed white and Brazilian-Japanese. When they were young they declared themselves to be white just like everyone else. When they became teenagers they became interested in their heritage, learned some Japanese and visited their relatives in Brazil. I believe being proud of who you are builds tolerance for others.

506:

Looking 18 years into the future; tough cookie, that.

Okay, how about

# In vitro meat (massively?) upsetting the food industry, increasing precarity in the process

# the effects of ACC costing the developed world double-digit numbers of their GDPs

# personal 3D printing turning out to be a wet squib (sorry, but I'm sceptical towards anything overhyped by Transcientologists)

507:

Maybe with slightly better robotics than what we have now, it makes more sense to redesign the food preparation zone for the specific capacities of a robot rather than try to fit the robot into something designed for human capacities.

508:

Hmmmm. I agree that reservoirs have been proposed as huge batteries to even out the load for renewables, especially solar.

In principle and in certain areas, I think it's a fine idea. In practice, the areas that have the best sun (deserts) tend to be short of water, and even when they're not, the issue is that the water can either evaporate or be required for things like agriculture.

The basic problem where I am is that the water rights were over-subscribed over a century ago, when the area was first settled, and I'm not sure it's different anywhere in the world that believes in property rights, although I could easily be wrong. Because of that, I'd suggest that the big issue with using hydropower for energy storage isn't the technical problem of engineering the system, it's the political problem of settling the vital property rights of a few rights holders for a perceived larger societal benefit, which is usually of a consumer group far away from where the water is.

Personally, I find true distributed systems more interesting. There's some really interesting politics in getting everyone to link their roof-top solar panels and basement batteries together to run a city's grid, because every home owner relinquishes some rights to their roofs and power for the common good.

One reason I think power companies are scared of distributed systems is that they don't understand how to deal with this type of politics. They know how to deal with wealthy power plant owners, but not with a large and divided group of homeowners. Some cities are testing it out (I think Gainesville Fl is one), and we'll see how it works out.

Personally, I hope the experiments work, because working together to maintain a power grid means that people have to get involved in local community politics, get to know their neighbors, and learn how to work with them like we did decades ago. On the flip side, it will become harder to move into or out of some well-grided communities...

509:

Thanks for letting me know about the fried jellyfish. I've only had it pickled. Still, some bright biochemist really should be studying jellyfish tissue with an eye towards using it as growth media.

As for prejudice, I'm glad your sons have had that experience. As a white guy, I'm supposedly ignorant about prejudice, and I can't honestly say whether the discrimination I've felt as a practitioner of "lower-class" sciences (botany and mycology) is anything like what people experience through discrimination. It certainly stings, especially when I'm told that I can't know something because I only work with plants, not with, well, physics, mammals, or birds, to stereotype the most class-conscious researchers I've met.

Still, I see a lot of racial discrimination. Most of it is trivial stereotyping, but knowing the old stories, especially from my older German relatives, I do know that politics can make these minor things grow out of hand very quickly. That's why I'm ultimately skeptical that racism is on its way out permanently. I certainly hope I'm wrong.

510:

Based on "non-medical causes of death" statistics. If that rate is 44.2 per 100,000 per annum, or ~1/2000 per annum, then life expectancy is ~2000 years.

Somewhat more or less depending on which statistics you take, which country and what year; certainly 1200 seems sensible and is by no means "ludicrous".

511:

That and safety and conservatism and I'd guess a kitchen robot (or laundry robot) will be a box, metal, enamelled white.

512:

You obviously have a different definition of ludicrous than I do.

513:

Ah, I thinking oceanic shipping will continue, just I think it's unlikely we'll see sailing ships take over.

Given the islands in which you live, as well as your general interests, you know that the weather is chaotic and unpredictable. If you watch sailing ever, you'll see it's a combination of skill and luck - transoceanic sailing the America's Cup etc. is that but moreso - more things to go unexpectedly wrong and if you're crossing the doldrums the potential for days of no wind.

I suspect we'll find that while wind-powered ships might be great for a rather limited number of routes - historically Japan - San Francisco was a good one - and might work for non-time-sensitivite non-perishables it's not likely to be reliable enough for general transport. Ironically one of the things it would work for would transporting cars - except we're discussing moving to sailing costs to offset extreme fuel charges, how many cars will be shipped around under those circumstances?

514:

Dam failures since 1945 have killed about 1-2 orders of magnitude more people than nuclear power, even if you uncritically take on the most pessimistic estimates from Greenpeace and other anti-nuclear campaigners. We're talking hundreds of thousands to millions dead; for example the Banqiao dam failure in 1975 in China killed 171,000 people; the Vajont dam in Italy is still there, but disused after the 1963 landslide that caused it to overflow, killing around 2000.

Dams are not intrinsically safe. Dams in an era of climate change and extreme weather may be even less so; we know more about how to build them, but less about the hazards they must be built to survive.

(As for coal/peat/charcoal/wood/fossil fuels: they kill around 2 million people a year via respiratory disease and cancer. That dwarfs any conceivable death toll from nuclear, even if we scale it up tenfold and insist on Chernobyl-like levels of un-safety.)

515:

Ah, I should have been reading more carefully. You want "mortality rate of 20 year olds" rather than "non-medical causes of death" as your starting point. After that, the calculation is similar; obviously it yields a different number, but 1200 isn't out of the ball-park.

How would you calculate life expectancy in the absence of age-related illness?

516:

I didn't have anything to say for this topic, so I threw the question to my brother, a molecular biologist for the CSIRO (Australian science agency). He's expecting that by 2030 you'll be able to custom order any strain of wheat to suit your purposes, such as drought resistance or stalk-length - if you're willing to pay for it (think patents and all that).

The dramatic fallout I could imagine regarding this is that Western countries which are able to design their crops to manage changing climates and shifting precipitation patterns ala GW are hesitant or unable to freely share this technology with the developing world due to corporate interests. Developed world stays fed while millions perish in the developing world as their breadbaskets become dustbowls. Not necessarily a recipe for international conflict, but it certainly makes for a moral issue for the world governments and print journalism to ignore.

517:

Replace "cars" with "bulk industrial product," and it still applies. Remember that the steel for a lot of nuclear reactors come out of a single Japanese foundry - and the components for solar power are overwhelmingly Chinese in origin.

518:

I don't think any power generation / storage technology is perfectly safe, but I'm convinced that mature technologies are safer than unproven, under-invested technologies.

Even the most mature of technologies, like dams, are not impervious to politicians who force their construction in geologically unstable areas and other unsuitable places.

But I'd like to point out that in my province (about 94% of electricity from dams) and also in Norway (100% of electricity from dams) the death rate from dams is close to zero. We have an awful lot of dams, big and small, all over the place. We know how to build them, and where not to build them.

Yes, in my province and in Norway the death rate from nuclear power power is even lower. But that's because we only have research reactors, and one laughable CANDU reactor at Gentilly.

In fact that's why the death rate from nuclear power is so low all over the globe. Nuclear power is simply not used that much, outside of France. And in France they have draconian security measures which would be refused in any Anglo-Saxon country or any other country obsessed with myths about personal liberties and corporate - person liberties and saddled with the decentralized, ineffective government controls that they engender.

For several decades now I've been arguing with my anti-nuclear friends that they were opposing old fashioned types of nuclear reactors, stupid steam things derived from the ancient Westinghouse designs. There were some well-designed, simple, passive-safety reactors on the drawing boards, ready to be built. In the first decades I would drag out Swedish designs, and then other, smaller, even more appealing and equally safe designs that came out from other countries.

The problem is that no company, no government has invested in these designs over the last decades. None of these passive - safety reactors have been built. They are still unproven, untested technologies after all this time. I had this faith in safe nuclear power but investors never had it, and governments even less.

When I look at present-day "risk" investors I don't see anyone risking their money in this. Bill Gates is supposed to be talking to China about a safe fourth gen Travelling Wave reactor. It would be built by 2030 they say. Since it relies on patents and companies controlled by Nathan Myhrvold I have very little faith in this.

Instead I see "risk" investors pouring money in software and hardware projects. I also see them putting their money in launch systems. Rockets to Mars, rockets to the asteroids, and yes, newer "mundane" commercial launch services on the side, to finance their interplanetary dreams.

So, for 2030 I see very little nuclear power and no nuclear ships. I think it's more likely that the ships will be running on coal again or possibly on LNG when they are not running on computer-controlled sails on computer-planned, satellite - coordinated routes of steady winds.

For prestige reasons governments are investing heavily in super computer hardware and software, instead of investing in nuclear electricity. The base of skilled programmers in this domain is growing and growing, while the hardware is getting better and better. This means that by 2030 simulations of oceanic currents and winds will have reached a point where they can be useful for establishing dependable sailing routes, if the data from newer satellites is correct.

The same satellite data (coming from new generation of cheaper satellites) will also be useful for balancing out smart grids which depend on predictable winds and predictable cloud covers.

I could say a lot about the implications of these arrays of cheaper satellites and cheaper super - computation from a military standpoint but I feel the topic has been overdone.

[P.S. my Firefox spell checker had Myhrvold underlined in red and it suggested using "Voldemort"]

519:

Whenever the expected date for a Big Project is 20 years away eg 2030, read that as "Never"

520:

I'm surprised that your friend thought this would happen in 2030, because you can basically do that now--in amounts of a few kilos. Ramping it up to the millions of tonnes required for industrial agriculture is the tricky part, but Big Ag is getting pretty good at it, if they get enough warning to start growing the seeds out and up.

Even 10 years ago, farmers could trade in their corn seed stock for another cultivar from the same company, if the weather predictions said they'd get more from the other variety. Considering how in debt they were to the seed companies (among others) it only made sense to help the farmer maximize their output.

Then we get little problems like this year. You may not have heard it, but 2012 was supposed to be a record corn year in the US. Instead, we've got the worst drought since the 1950s, and instead we're predicting massive corn shortages, with corresponding price hikes, and like political instability in poor countries that were depending on our corn surplus to keep their people fed.

In other words, it's hard to predict the weather, especially disastrous weather. Seeds are rather easier.

521:

It would help if the corn was not burned in cars.

522:

Absolutely. In fact, I think I even included that in one of my 2030 predictions back upstream, that corn biofuel would be in the dustbin of history by then.

Still, the basic issue is that crops fail due to small scale weather events, and it takes a while to ramp up the crop cultivars for a particular year. This strategy appears workable when your primary goal is producing as much corn as possible. Unfortunately, it's a system that's more vulnerable to disaster than systems that don't attempt to optimize output at all costs.

We're going into an era where we will need to simultaneously optimize output of farmland AND dealing with an increasingly unpredictable climate. I suspect we're going to see a lot of agricultural innovation in the next 50 years because of that.

Ultimately (as in a few centuries down the road, assuming the human population falls back towards one billion), our era may be seen as an object lesson about what happens when you try to eliminate famine by producing lots of artificial fertilizers. We haven't eliminated famine, just produced a huge population bubble that's causing all sorts of other problems. Granted, it's also resulted in an unprecedented burst of creativity and inventiveness, but the cost has been enormous and will be borne for millennia after us, as everyone adapts to the climate change we've caused.

523:

By 2030 the masks drops, revealing Israel as a jack booted fascistic theocracy that has completed ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians - most of whom now live in refugee camps outside of Greater Israel.

Secular Jews (who founded the state of Israel on enlightened liberal principles) have been out bred by extreme Orthodox sects and are now a tiny minority of the Israeli population.

Festung Israel, nuclear armed and safe behind its physical wall and laser anti-missile defenses, can defy the world.

And the world doesn't care. By this time American shale gas and Canadian tar sands have made OPEC and the Middle East obsolete. Nobody cares about the Middle East anymore.

524:

So far as sailing ships go, the currently interesting innovation are the kiteships, where they use a huge tractor kite, rather than a sail on a mast. One advantage to these kites is that you can put them way up in the air, where the winds are blowing harder and more predictably. The other advantage is that, to fly them, you need a winch and a boom, rather than a mast. It's less infrastructure on the ship itself, so it seems easy to retrofit a engine-powered ship to put a kite on. Note that the early generations of these beasts only cut fuel consumption by say 10-20% (if I recall right), so it's not a perfect solution.

In general, we assume that, as fossil fuels go away, technology will regress. That's not necessarily true, and kiteships show one way. The sailing ships of the future won't have the same rigging as those of the past, even though past ships could be quite efficient (see the banana boats, for example).

Another place where we're seeing enormous current innovation (mentioned above) is in wood burning cookstoves, and there are quite a few other areas.

The bottom line is that, if you're writing about a post peak oil world, it's not necessarily going to look like the 19th century. There's quite a lot of sophisticated physics, design, and engineering work that can go into making simple technologies more effective, and there's no reason not to expect this innovation to continue, in everything from cooking to gardening, to homebuilding, shipping, and urban design. Yes, it will be built on the ruins of what we have now, but it doesn't have to look primitive.

525:

And in France they have draconian security measures which would be refused in any Anglo-Saxon country

You'd be surprised. UKAEA have their own routinely-armed constabulary (like MoD Police, only without the limitations). Their powers extend to "someone mentioned nuclear". Anywhere in the UK, AIUI.

It would be a foolish soul who assumed that their training and attitudes were those of a typical constable...

526:

Yes doowooper, your prediction for Israel is fairly plausible, though it might take more than 18 years. My prediction for the world going forward is a return of empires and the failure of the liberal democratic model globally. Did anyone really believe that this nihilistic, directionless modern Western civilization represented some kind of end of history? The sun may be setting on the West (excluding Israel) in its current state of ideological, cultural and spiritual dissolution, but not everyone shares our lack of ambition. It's quite baffling to me why almost everyone here has such a knee-jerk dislike of displays of power, ambition and grandiosity; to me it's a symptom of a fallen civilization. The West has already collapsed ideologically, and the rest will follow in due course...

527:

But when it comes to a hard choice between unproved "glow- in - the -dark" nuclear power technologies that kill everything at the drop of an accidental hat and the relatively benign displacing of ecosystems and relocating of villages I think that the dams / reservoirs combined with solar power are going to win.

Alain...I'm a hydro fan, myself. As such I really want to make two points about your post. First, nothing like the nuclear plant you describe has been proposed in our lifetimes. Robert Heinlein's Blowups Happen is dramatic - but he was working from what was publicly known in 1940m, when much atomic science was being kept secret and before nuclear reactors actually existed; six years later he tinkered with it to try to keep the plot but fix some of the more obvious technical inaccuracies. People really do know how to make nuclear power work well, and engineers will if the money and legal-oversight people will let them. Secondly, don't compare nuclear plants and hydropower on safety grounds; we don't come out well if you actually look at accident fatality numbers. I like hydropower myself, but I live in a region with lots of water and a wide range of altitudes; much of the world is dry, flat, or both - and hydro isn't even on the table there.

I'm well aware that fighting against nuclear power by lying about it is a popular strategy. I'm just enough of a nerd not to like the practice.

528:

I think autonomous cars will become very big in 10 years, and yes, Zipcar and the like will be some of the first places they appear. I expect my 9&11 year old children to learn how to drive, but I suspect my 3 year old will not bother.

529:

Its not only about the safety of nuclear power, but about insurance costs if things go wrong. How many nuclear power plants are commercially insured, as opposed to the state picking up the bill?

530:

I wont go willingly.

Ahem. I was referring to natural or nearly so causes.

531:

I came in late, so my apologies if I am repeating something from 500 posts ago.

There's more solar, wind, and other sustainable power, but energy is still much more expensive than it is today, and crappy electrical infrastructure forces people to choose foods that can survive a day or three without power. Refrigeration is less common and less reliable all along the food supply line, so most of us take a step back foodwise. Fresh meat and vegetables are increasingly replaced with Spam-like canned meats, peanut butter, and other processed, long-shelf-life foods. Think London in 1930 and go from there, or order a few MREs for inspiration.

The lunar calendar pushes the Muslim pilgrimage (the hajj) into August while global warming makes it maybe 3 deg C hotter than otherwise. Thousands suffer heatstroke as they run around the Forbidden Mosque.

Partly due to global warming, but mostly due to increases in the expense of running an air conditioner, Spain and the American South become much less favored living areas. The modestly wealthy resume the custom of spending summers and winters in different residences. The masses can't afford it, and the truly rich needn't bother.

Take a look at the endangered species list, and cross them all off. They've gone the way of the dodo.

532:

A fascist Israel would NOT be a good thing.

533:

doowoper@277:Maybe I'm just a tired old man earning for his lost youthful idealism and pining for a golden past that never existed.

Just remember McCarthyism, Jim Crow, Vietnam, apartheid, The Day After, the Satanic Panic, and Donnie and Marie. It was always like this. Try to laugh about it, it helps a bit.

534:

I'm not talking about big - kaboom accidents, but "whoops, I dropped it" accidents. Sometimes normal humans drop things, and sometimes it's mother nature.

I'm certain that engineers have designed reactors that are both perfectly safe and cost-effective. I'm also certain that these designs are still on paper and have never been built yet.

Companies are simply not putting the money in it.

535:

Power reliability is already more of an issue in the US than many of us can remember it being. And we're already seeing a response: home generators and energy storage battery packs used to be for survivalists, paranoids, and eccentrics only, but they're increasingly widely available and mainstream.

The storage systems dovetail with another former province of eccentrics, now going mainstream: solar power. A lot of new construction, and some renovations, has solar panels on the roof, including Cambridge, MA low-income housing projects.

Then again, there are two underlying trends driving this that might not apply in other areas. First, the power utilities are increasingly skimping on maintenance, in part due to regulatory changes. Second, as the climate changes generally, we're getting more heavy weather events, which lead to branches and trees falling on exposed power lines. And roads; for some of these storms, crews have had to clear fallen trees all over the place to get to the downed power lines.

(BTW, in a lot of the US, there's natural gas piping to homes, used mainly for stoves and clothes dryers, though some of it was put in for lighting pre-electricity. You can get generators that run off those. You're still relying on utility infrastructure, but in places where the power grid is on poles and the pipes are in the ground, gas may be less vulnerable to weather. Not sure if there are similar remnants in Scotland, but if there are, they might get similar reuse.)

536:

The modestly wealthy resume the custom of spending summers and winters in different residences.

What makes you think this ever stopped?

537:

Just about every house in Britain has a gas supply.

538:

A "What If story” is this world kitted together with power lines. Like Buckminster Fuller wanted. The solar power from light chasing the dark that needs it around the world. Looking at a globe it seems there would be possible choke points that would be shorter and cheaper to run the power. No nukes, but they must have needed them. And must have some kind of power as a reserve.
Anybody read David Drake? "Lacey and His Friends" is one of the better outcomes I see coming. We had better get to work. I think most of the things posted are far to little to matter much.

Maybe I too am a old man. Wondering what happened to the golden future that was to be.

539:

re: natural gas and coal, it's really worth questioning any blithe assertions about proved assets. I've seen a situation where they wanted to lease some natural gas lands, but they got the owner's name wrong, got the leased parcels mapped wrong, and still threatened to sue if that person didn't sign the document. Until I see better evidence, this is what I'll take as their standard of accuracy.

I'd also point out that they can float much bigger loans if they promise more stuff coming out of the ground, so there's an incentive for them to be elastic with the truth. I've seen comments that the oil and coal reserve estimates are about as good as someone buying a lottery ticket and claiming to be a millionaire, based on their possible winnings. While I don't think it's that bad, I don't particularly trust their mapping skills, and in geology companies, that's not good.

540:

I'm not talking about big - kaboom accidents, but "whoops, I dropped it" accidents.

Ah, yes; that was the demon core, which killed two people (and which is known to our host). That's a lot, as far as nuclear accidents go. Not so much for dam failures or automobile accidents, but nuclear power is held to higher standards. But let's not take that as typical of today's nuclear power system; this was back in the 1940s, and it was a bomb core.

541:

BTW, in a lot of the US, there's natural gas piping to homes, used mainly for stoves and clothes dryers, ... Not sure if there are similar remnants in Scotland, but if there are, they might get similar reuse

Ahem: gas-fired central heating is the main form of climate control used in homes hereabouts; the alternative is cheap-rate electrical storage heaters charged overnight, which cost more and are less flexible to run. Probably 50-80% of homes in our cities rely on methane-fired central heating. Cut off natural gas from Norway/Russia without a few years to change a mass of infrastructure over, and Scotland will freeze. (Right now part of the road chaos in Edinburgh is being caused not by the trams fiasco but by the main city gas distribution mains being replaced in situ ...)

542:

In France, all major French cities, there is natural gas piping to almost all homes.

By the way, who care about 2030: CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN will be open us at that time ;)

But, if we dodge that then:
- USA economy has continued his way down the sink, only survival thanks to the militaro-industrial complex
- Europe has lost its last hope for re-industrialization and has embraced its fate as the world touristic destination for Chinese people spending buckets of money,
- Russia is the new paradise for entrepreneurship and business development thanks to low taxes, incentive regulations, and lot of ressources (mineral and human)

543:

AREVA is expected to build civil marine nuclear reactor in the years to come. French submariners working on marine nuclear reactor manintenance are very impatient about that so they can get a "more" easy life on a civil freighter than in a submarine.

An about energy source, LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) will be used everywhere to power individual house and property. The electric grid being used only for heavy-duty energy transportation.
The wind-power and solar-power scheme have failed (copper's price getting sky-high and climate change for windmill). Nevertheless, low power solar cells (organic electronic using inkjet technology for deposition) are use as a complementary power source in big warehouse.

About transportation: electric car everywhere, along with electric motorbike, electric train, nuclear boat, fossil fuel being used only for plane.

About military: human-free battlefield. Drone in the air, robot on the ground, submarine robot in the sea. Those are semi-autonomous: 1 human driving a swarm and being able to switch to a specific member for enquiry and action.

About space: micro-probes are used in swarm to explore, asses and exploit space ressources.
Long distance exploration ship are self-assembled from pieces built by swarmbot.
First study about how to use swarmbots for terraforming. Venus is expected to be the first fieldtest in 2050.