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2512

Usually when I speculate about the future, I stick to two areas; either the really near future (within the next couple of decades), or the really far future (so far out that signs of continental drift should be glaringly obvious). But what about the medium term?

Parameters: I'm going to assume no alien invasions or total collapses of technological civilization or significant asteroid impacts, because all three of these are rare in the historical record.

I'm also going to ignore space colonization, because I want to focus on this planet.

I'm going to assume that we are sufficiently short-sighted and stupid that we keep burning fossil fuels. We're going to add at least 1000 GT of fossil carbon to the atmosphere, and while I don't expect us to binge all the way through the remaining 4000 GT of accessible reserves, we may get through another 1000 GT. So the climate is going to be rather ... different.

Sea levels will have risen by at least one, and possibly more than ten metres worldwide. Large chunks of sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, Brazil, and the US midwest and south are going to be uninhabitably hot — that is, too hot for non-GM plants and organisms to survive in during heat spikes, and with heat spikes over 44 celsius at night lasting at least two weeks every year (sufficient to kill off anyone without air conditioning). As 80% of today's human population live within 200Km of a coast, there will have been mass migrations and resettlements: many of today's great cities will be lost. London, New York, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Mumbai — they're all going to be submerged, or protected by heroic water defenses and at comparable risk to today's Venice and New Orleans (both of which will be long-since lost).

Energy and technology: I think there's a high probability (approaching certainty) that we'll be running on a de-carbonized energy cycle by then. Fusion: will be in widespread use, or proven to be economically non-viable. Fission: will be in widespread safe use or completely taboo. Solar, wind, tidal, OTEC: mature technologies, durable and optimally deployed for hundreds of years. The more variable environmental power sources will be used to generate hydrogen, and from there via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis to produce storable hydrocarbons from water and air: or they'll be used to compress air into exhausted underground gas deposits, to be released slowly for energy balancing. More likely, we'll have either "wet" nanotechnology — advanced biotech, in effect — giving us highly efficient algae-analogs that can continue to photosynthesize in the high temperature zones and produce useful energy-storing materials. Or we'll have full-on Drexlerian diamond/vacuum phase nanotechnology and paving the Sahara in self-organizing and self-wiring solar cell factories will be a high school project.

Political/demographic change ...

Five hundred years is a nearly unimaginable gulf from today's perspective. Five centuries ago, the Portuguese conquistadores were beginning their rampage through South America; Martin Luther was finishing his doctorate in theology and thinking about sin: the huge sequence of civil wars that racked Japan for over a century were raging: the Great Powers were still the Chinese empire and the Caliphate (although the latter was undergoing a shift in center of gravity towards Istanbul and the Ottoman empire). The great powers in Europe were Spain and Venice; the English speaking world was a few million barbarians occupying a handful of damp islands on the outer fringes of Europe. It's more than twice the historical existence of the USA to this date. Of our social institutions, very few survive from that long ago: the Catholic Church (and various orders and sub-groups within it), the Japanese Monarchy, and so on. A handful of universities, banks, and other institutions. The half-life of a public corporation today is about 30 years: ten half-lives out — 300 years hence — we may expect only one in a million to survive.

Looking forward 500 years requires us to make some assumptions. In the absence of breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, mind uploading, or longevity research (which it would be foolhardy to dismiss on this kind of timescale) none of us are going to be around in any form to observe it. We appear to be living close to the peak of a demographic bubble that will see our population max out or be in decline by 2100. Longevity breakthroughs (as in: a cure for the aging process, and all diseases that currently prevent us from reaching our maximum age) might smear out the descent, but unless old people suddenly start to have more children, it's not going to change it. Longevity breakthroughs would slow down the rate of change of demographic groups, but only in the medium term. 500 years is close to the human mean life expectancy if all medical causes of death are abolished: eventually an accident or violence will get you. So, demographically, the world of 2512 isn't going to resemble our world very closely at all, although it's anyone's guess at this stage as to who will prosper.

(It's fairly obvious at this point that some idiot is going to start shrieking about the teeming, breeding hordes of [people not like them]. It's also likely that we'll find a bigot or two in the comments, nattering about "Eurabia" or sha'ria law. I'd just like to point out that 500 years ago our ancestors mostly believed in the geocentric model of the universe, and witchcraft, and torturing heretics. We're descended from people who were arguably rather less enlightened than the Taliban in Afghanistan. 500 years is a long time, and today's ignorant fanatics are tomorrow's effete decadent intellectuals. And vice versa.)

One key issue is that during the age of cheap oil (i.e. right now) a whole lot of cultural mixing is going on, on an unprecedented, planetary scale. We have become an urban species, and I see no high probability of that state changing and the bulk of humanity reverting to a low-density agricultural (much less hunter-gatherer) lifestyle. Over the next century we're going to be doing a lot more cultural remixing; many niche languages are becoming endangered while 3-5 major languages are becoming global lingua francas — English, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic (although Arabic is balkanized), Spanish, Portuguese. Whatever culture looks like in 2512, it's unlikely to be broken up and diversified geographically (except in practical terms — igloos don't belong in central Africa, and so on), although there may be many subcultures distributed in balkanized linguistic and informational bubbles.

The age of the Westphalian nation state is ... well, it's less than 500 years old. And that model comes with huge contradictions and paradoxes if you consider the extent of travel and communication today. A model that evolved to handle territorial boundaries in an age when it took two days to cover 100Km is bizarrely inappropriate in an age when it takes two days to span the antipodes (which at that time were about 2-3 years apart — if you survived the adventure).

I'd like to believe in Steven Pinker's pacification hypothesis — that the history of humanity shows a continual progression towards peaceful means of social mediation, and a decline in violence, because we are developing better tools for dispute resolution and selecting at an individual and cultural level for less-violent people and belief systems. But even if he's right in the long term, there are regressions along the way. The 20th century was the most peaceful century in human history, in terms of probability of an individual dying violently (either in war or through murder): but it still sucked mightily if you were a conscript during the Battle of the Somme, or a Jew in a ghetto the SS had just cordoned off.

I suspect the hypothetical no-collapse-of-civilization world of 2512 will harbor a myriad of conflicts, but they'll be played out in ways incomprehensible or invisible to us. We're already living into an age when developed nations prefer to send drones instead of human soldiers where possible: and where information war is an actual thing, not just a bullshit marketing proposition. Go forward 500 years and extrapolate from today's Predator drone, analogizing it to a 1500s arquebus ... it's not pretty.

Speaking of regressions: racism and race politics as they exist today are largely a side-effect of the perceived need to find a moral basis from which to defend the African slave trade, followed by rationalisms based on a half-assed reading of evolution. Older strains of racism and intolerance hinge on religious absolutism. Sexism emerges from the defense of patriarchal status. I see none of these constructs as inevitable, and the status of women in particular is drastically affected by the demographic transition phenomenon, which seems in turn to be a side-effect of improved maternal childbirth survival rates and improved neonatal survival. Which is to say that, short of a complete collapse of civilization and the loss of key knowledge about hygiene, feminism (in the sense of, at a minimum, the end of patriarchy and the systematic subjugation of women as a class by men as a class) may be as much of a one-way shift as the transition from hunter-gatherer to settled agricultural lifestyles at the beginning of the neolithic.

The biosphere on 2512 Earth isn't going to look much like ours. That we're living through a great extinction event is obvious, and the level of climate change we can expect in five centuries means this will have run mostly to completion. On the other hand, it's almost a certainty that if we're still around in five centuries, we'll have extensive experience in synthetic biology, and not just at the single-celled level. Tools we're going to need include a better photosynthesis pathway (one that operates efficiently above 40 celsius, rather than shutting down), a more efficient mitochondrion, modified ribosomes that can assemble polypeptides using non-standard aminoacids (presumably coded for using four-base codons), lots of new and improved heat shock proteins, and some metaprogramming systems for handling epigenetic modification and cellular differentiation.

I'd expect to see lots of — to our eyes — odd vegetation. Freeman Dyson's suggestion of GM mangroves that can grow in salinated intertidal zones and synthesize gasoline, shipping it out via their root networks, is one option. Variant food crops that can grow in 50 celsius climates and still make stuff we can eat would be a bonus. Modified animal or bird pest species, re-purposed as agricultural stoop labour? It might be easier to work with the intelligences that nature's dropped all around us rather than trying to design artificial ones from scratch. (Think racoons. Think racoons programmed to come out at night to harvest and wash fruit because we've invented racoon Heroin™ and trained them to take their fix in payment for crop-picking. Or something like that.)

I'm unsure whether the non-urban environment is going to be curated, re-wilded wilderness. Or whether it's going to resemble a vast, robotized, semi-sentient farm, with every individual plant tagged with an RFID chip to monitor its growth and coordinate its nurture. But either way, it's going to look rather alien to our eyes.

Other neck-sticking-out projections?

I doubt the United States of America will exist in 2512. I doubt the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will exist in 2512. I doubt that the Peoples Republic of China will exist in 2512. (The Japanese monarchy ... maybe, if they haven't been inundated.) Our existing geopolitical boundaries are going to take a shoeing from rising sea levels and changing demographics. And our existing political arbitration mechanisms are already taking a shoeing from communication and data mining technologies. The legal, economic, and cultural frameworks of 2512 are going to be rather different, as are the dominant sociopolitical groups. Possibly South Africa (or some political grouping in that part of the continent) will be the dominant superpower. Or maybe it'll be Poland.

I don't expect off-planet trade to amount to much. There may be useful accessible sources of rare earth elements. And there may be bulk platinum or iron deposits on small asteroids that we can dump in the ocean without causing too much harm. But there's a hard floor under the energy cost of getting a canned ape into orbit — namely the mass constraint imposed by canned ape plus life support, and the reaction mass and energy needed to shove it up to around 7.5km/s — and we really don't want to be using excessively high energy power sources in a biosphere we have to live in. Even if we iron out the bugs in our space elevator designs, and work around the obstacles, a ticket into orbit isn't going to be significantly cheaper than a first-class subsonic airliner ticket to the opposite side of the planet, today. Which is cheap enough for emigration, but not necessarily for bulk trade: we might be exporting brains and importing insanely high-grade permanent magnets, but we won't be exporting water and importing corn.

Anyway, that's my blogging keystroke quota exceeded (I have a novel to write). Over to you ...

825 Comments

1:

I expect to still be here.

2:

What, commenting on this blog? That's a horrible thought! For both of us.

3:

Two predictions that seem totally obvious:

The vast majority of energy will be expended on computation, and most "stuff" will be happening in VR

Human genetic engineering will have triggered a multiple speciation, so there may well be far more racism than exists today.

4:

I suppose there'd have to be some boundaries as to what's possible. For instance :-

Today's laws or physics are right. No zipping about the universe at anywhere near the speed of light, let alone faster than it.

Advancement/increase (of pretty much anything you choose to measure) is on a sigmoidal, not exponential curve. I.E. no singularity.

Allowing for that sigmodal curve, our knowledge map would be getting pretty complete. I'd expect us to come up against the limits of the unknown. As in, our understanding of the universe would be such that we'd be in the 'known unknowns' stage. Sure, there'd be a lot of stuff we'd know we couldn't know; say for instance we've proved the Riemann hypothesis is unprovable.

Knowing that we may be approaching the end-point of our capabilities might have interesting social consequences... Apathy would be the final barrier to the long term continuance of the race!

5:

Your first point is, I think, unlikely -- improvements in energy efficiency (via Koomey's Law) will make in-roads into the computational energy budget.

The second point: if we've got sufficient GM chops to control human tissue differentiation, then by definition it's not a speciation event because different human sub-strains will be mutually fertile (with a bit of medical assistance). But I suspect ethics considerations will put a stop to most obvious germ-line modifications beyond the elimination of "undesirable" traits.

Of course, the definition of "undesirable" is a movable feast. Nobody would argue in favour of retaining the recessive trait for Tay-Sachs disease. But how about fixing the broken human metabolic pathway for synthesizing Vitamin D? Then we could also fix the melanin-deficiency trait in folks descended from northern Europeans which makes them so vulnerable to sunburn!

6:

Ten half-lives is a factor of a thousand, not a million.

7:

Knowing that we may be approaching the end-point of our capabilities might have interesting social consequences... Apathy would be the final barrier to the long term continuance of the race!

Disagree.

Rather, what we could expect would be a convergence of science with established knowledge -- you wouldn't go to a researcher for information, you'd go to an archivist -- and a reversion to the pre-rennaisance world view in which human knowledge of the physical world is viewed as essentially static received wisdom.

There'd still be stuff to argue over or research, but it wouldn't be in the fields of physics or astrophysics: the social sciences might still be in ferment, as well as biology (and some of the more arcane sections of chemistry).

But our origin story for the universe would be as frozen as Genesis (only based on reproducible, empirical research rather than divine revelation).

8:

Well, I'm going to disagree with you on the computation issue. I think ultimately the amount of computing power will be energy limited no matter how efficiently we eventually make the computers. It seems to be an infinitely desirable resource.

9:

Ten half-lives is a factor of a thousand, not a million.

* Rolls eyes *

I blame early morning caffeine deficiency!

10:

Farming could well disappear, all food could be cultured. There might be some farming specialised to providing rare product to the elite but in general it could by then be all grown in cultures and artificially flavoured.
I expect nanotech to be of the wet variety.
I doubt if there will be nay super power, it is also possible that any power or rich organisation will be able to project force over global distance. International affairs will be more constrained by global treaties and the committees that moniter them.
This will probalby come into being as a response to the wars that result from the disruption caused by global warming.

11:

I think energy scarcity is likely to be a larger problem than this (thoughtful) suggests. We've backed ourselves into a corner wrt energy supply; we don't have that much carbon left to burn (compared to our appetites), and replacement technologies will take decades to mature sufficiently to be applied at large scale. Given the economic crunch that will occur as carbon fuels dry up (cf various Arab/OPEC oil embargoes and the us economy), we're not going to have a lot of spare change around for the massive engineering needed to deploy civilization-scale energy systems.

12:

Actually, we've got a lot of carbon to burn. The trouble is, it's all the wrong kind -- dirty, filthy coal and oil shale.

13:

In the future your major political affiliation will not be the nation state or even the corporation. It will be your IT infrastructure provider IE Apple, Google, Microsoft or their 2512 counterparts.

14:

As water-level rises and surveillance increases seasteading will start to kick off.

Climate (and water-levels) might get back to todays levels through hydrocarbon synthesis but will not drive people back to living on land.

As life-expectancy increases dramatically our healthcare systems will change dramatically. I suspect we will get a model similar to the one in use in Singapore currently where a certain amount of your taxes go into a specified account that will only be used to pay your medical bills - if the accounts gets to zero you wont get any, unless you pay for it yourself. Very few people will be able to retire completely from work no matter their age.

Birthcontrol will be strictly enforced in most areas and in those lifeexpectancy should be counted in centuries. In others birthcontrol is more relaxed and those areas will either be poor or strictly following their own ideology (probably some low-tech variety like the Amish people).
As people get older they will be more and more specialized and the value of an individuals life will increase enourmously. Wars will no longer aim to kill (except for a few targeted individuals) but rather try to make the masses change their viewpoints - which could be done through a combination of wetware and propaganda. Military defense will primarily be concerned with spamfilters and wetware-vaccines.

Eventually most oceans will have a network of seasteadings spread across them and they will work like micronations which will cooperate in fastchanging diplomatic allegiances with continually ongoing memetic wars.

15:

Coal supplies are likely vastly overstated:
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5256
And oil shale supplies are very uncertain:
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9569
The pessimist in me thinks this is just enough carbon to fully cook us, and not enough to power us into something better.

16:

People like civilisational collapse. This is hard.

17:

Implicit in your suggestions is that idea that work as we know it today even exists.

The structure of work in the developed world today is very unlike work in the pre-industrial revolution world. (Which was mostly agricultural labour, either on your own patch to feed your own family, or as a tax or corvee on behalf of the landowner who owned the plot in question. If you were lucky enough not to be a serf or slave!)

Right now employment (as opposed to unemployment) rates in developed countries are down between 20% and 40% -- yes, even the USA. This is the rate of full-time employment in jobs for which the worker isn't drastically overqualified, from the 15-65 demographic: once you subtract prisoners, the disabled, and students you find that the employment rate is much lower than you'd expect if all you ever look at is the unemployment rate. And the employment rate has been shrinking for the past fifty years.

Ultimately the shrinking employment rate runs into a hard floor imposed by the number of jobs that can't be automated -- currently these are mostly personal services, from cooking and grooming to nursing and dentistry. Because the number of jobs required in the high-tech manufacturing sector is vanishingly small compared to the older smokestack industrial model.

But it looks as if machine vision and robotics are going to begin eating into the service sectors soon, probably starting with self-driving trucks and taxis and buses and cars. And then, who knows?

Update: A key insight I forgot to put in that think-piece is that the 19th-21st century capitalist model will be dead. As dead as the mediaeval guild system, or Leninism, or the divine right of kings. It's inherently unstable and requires unlimited growth and differentials in income and capital distribution. Over time, the scope for growth and the income and capital differentials are going to go away. Which makes life very difficult for a company that tries to follow the industrial age paradigm.

18:

The world population in 500 years is anybodies guess. Average yields in developed countries are roughly twice of the world average, with developing countries getting no more than half the average. Populations on the order of 20billion people seem to be entirely possible with modest improvements of potential agricultural yields, though perhaps not necessarily desirable.

The tropics, however, will remain very habitable no matter what happens - due to the simple fact that the greenhouse effect is dominated by water vapor in those areas and temperatures are lowered substantially by evaporation of rainwater and high albedo of the clouds above. That's why the deserts north and south of the rainforests are so much hotter than the equatorial areas that nominally get more sunshine.

There will be a large rise in the proportional world population on the American continent(s), which is currently very sparsely populated. Eurasia has 4.5x the population density of the Americas, despite the vast stretches of Siberia, the steppes and deserts like the Gobi and so on.

There is no reason, other than its history and recent policies, why the area of the current USA shouldn't have a population comparable to or larger than either China or India. If the US had the average population density of Eurasia, it would have about 900mio inhabitants - but North Americas Siberia is Canada. The US has much more favorable climate and soil than the average of Eurasia.

The use of bulk materials like steel or aluminum will probably reach a steady state, with comparably small additions from raw ores. Having provided this much raw material will likely be seen as a great deed by the ancients and a monumental achievement.

There will also be a steady state in the inventory of nuclear waste - this is already true for fission products, which are produced roughly at the same rate as they decay. Activation products will be taken care of, both to get rid of them and to produce energy. We're pretty stupid not to use the plutonium we have as fuel.

19:

Wot no hover-cars?!

20:

Sorry that was rude- really thought provoking Mr Stross

21:

Most estimates on population have it peaking at around 12 billion in 2050 and thereafter declining. The real problem might be population collapse, which is happening in the developed world and also places like Iran where fertility rate is around 1.3

22:

I wonder if the automation of transportation would change that factor regarding human life and violence/accident.

I wonder if the increase in temperature will lead to more underground housing. You can blame reading Heinlein as a kid, but I kinda love that idea a little. A little underground Maybury might be just right.

Don't know if you noticed a recent report saying avg global temp will be more likely to be up by 8 degrees (f) by 2100 than lower temperatures also predicted: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121108-climate-change-clouds-science-model-relative-humidity/

With the skills to improve mitochondria, would we be able to modify ourselves to require less food? (could that backfire into obesity, or is that just another problem to solve?)

I fall in line with the idea that looking back 500 years for anything but possible magnitude of changes just won't work - the changes we have made in the past 100 years are incomparable to anything we've known before.

23:

Industries like mining will focus to some extent on re-extraction from landfill.

I disagree about interplanetary trade, because extreme automation will mean a mere handful of canned apes will be able to mine millions of tonnes. Sure, we'll minimize climbing out of the gravity well, but I expect human ingenuity to come up with a workaround for chucking stuff in from the top (e.g. Nanomachines diamondize the leading edges of the inbound carbon chunks, and riddle the rest with vacuum filled holes so that once in-atmosphere they drift down feather-like).

I expect to see Greg Egan style self-modding on the personality front, so that to it becomes the norm for kids to decide the personality and drives they'd like to have, then install them.

24:
breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, mind uploading, ... (which it would be foolhardy to dismiss on this kind of timescale)
You don't exactly dismiss these, but your scenario also doesn't seem to reflect such developments. Do you implicitly assume they don't happen, or instead think they won't make much difference?
25:

They make so much difference that it becomes virtually impossible to make any kind of useful predictions in their presence. See also "the singularity".

26:

A million sq km of solar panels working at an overall spacial efficiency of 10% in N Africa with an average insolation of 200W could provide a generating capacity:
10^12 x 200 x 0.1 = 2 x 10^13W which is 10x higher than world electricity generating capacity today.
I am assuming that in 500 years the battery problem is solved. Add that to a possible population of under a billion and it's good times for all.

27:

The 20th century was the most peaceful century in human history, in terms of probability of an individual dying violently (either in war or through murder): but it still sucked mightily if you were a conscript during the Battle of the Somme, or a Jew in a ghetto the SS had just cordoned off.
Is there a source? Strikes me as odd.

racism and race politics as they exist today are largely a side-effect of the perceived need to find a moral basis from which to defend the African slave trade, followed by rationalisms based on a half-assed reading of evolution.
In mainland europe at least, and elsewhere too, racism is part of nationalisms (like the ius sanguinis in german approach to citizienship, Sarkozys plans for genetically testing immigrants wether they are french enough, antisemitism/antiziganism almos all over middle and eastern europe with it's construction of out-groups). As long as there's a state that dispenses rights according to citizenship, people will argue against others gaining said citizenship with whatever arguments they find. I don't see racism end that soon.

A key insight I forgot to put in that think-piece is that the 19th-21st century capitalist model will be dead. As dead as the mediaeval guild system, or Leninism, or the divine right of kings. It's inherently unstable and requires unlimited growth and differentials in income and capital distribution. Over time, the scope for growth and the income and capital differentials are going to go away.
There's the argument that crises lead to destruction of capital - war - that create the space for a new cycle of accumulation. Nasty. But I surely hope we come up with something better til 2512!

28:

@dirk.bruere: While the specifics of your post have some problems -- energy transportation is a big deal, 10x current world electricity production is not enough to sustain everybody at first-world levels, etc -- I'll accept the general point that the sun provides plenty of energy. That's not the problem. The problem is that building the systems to harness that is a civilization-scale -- or at least superpower nation scale -- task. Carbon energy is as cheap as it is ever going to be right now. As prices go up and economies start to complain about the cost of energy (and the general state of the economy), how do we get the political and financial resources lined up to build the infrastructure we need to survive?

29:

I have seen estimates that the probability of violent death in most primitive tribal societies, both now and in the past, exceeded 20% if you were male.
That's higher than the worst fighting on the Eastern Front in WW2. Even Poland lost "only" 10% of its population. Russia less percentagewise. Germany about 10% as well.

30:

I would not be too optimistic about democracy as a form of government surviving in a scenario like this--or for that matter about Pinker's hypothesis of declining violence. Sometime around the 18th/19th/20th century, depending on where you lived, the expectation of economic growth became the new normal (and thus, the average person could assume that life would be better in 20 years, or better for their kids, than it was today). I don't think it's a coincidence that democracy took off around the same time frame--politics without the assumption of growth is much more zero-sum. And when that growth gets taken away (e.g. 1930s) politics gets a lot uglier and more destructive. If we had to live in a scenario like that permanently, it could change the way we approach interaction pretty significantly.

31:

What puzzles me is how little housing has changed in the past 500 years (or at all). 500 years ago we had houses, some us didn't have glass in the windows, we had worse insulation, some materials improved since then, but basically we still build our houses from bricks, wood, iron (steel) and split them into walled rooms. They might be taller and have more comfort, but are built to last shorter than buildings from 500 years ago. I doubt many of the constructions we built in the past 100 years will be around in 500 years (especially in the US where private houses are made of wood many times), whereas the Notre Dame still might be.

On the other hand, even though human society went throught tremendous changes, the way of living and seeking shelter hasn't much since the stone age. We still seek warm places with a roof on top and some room for privacy. A cozy corner behind a rock inside a cave is not so much different from any apartment room. On one side it is just the necessity to protect our bodies from a hostile environment (weather, aggression) and on the other it's our social interaction and need for privacy with each other.

The latter could change a lot due to the ongoing shift of how we perceive privacy in a world of big data. Midterm this is going to affect how we seek shelter and I think it could lead to less walls between us and more shared space, because today we are learning to share our lifes in VR and it will tip into our RR (real reality, what a nice distinction) in the future. I am curious what architects have in mind for the next 500 years.

32:

I suspect a number of countries will still be around, at least in name. I don't know that we will necessarily recognize them as "countries" or states in the same sense as today. Much of the world 500 years ago was not organized into what we would consider a nation state. There will probably still be a Scotland and and England. "United States" might not be around, but there will certainly be Americans. And there will probably be some weird old fashioned hold outs, who is anyone's guess.

I think there will be a new form of government too. Something evolved from the nascent data mining and consumer prediction algorithms today, along with the stock market algorithms developed by quants, google search results, and other similar things. Basically, it will be possible to predict what people want and why before they can, and even to degrees that they aren't aware of. We will be governed (in an archaic, mechanical sense) by something that at times would appear to those of us in 2012 as complete anarchy or abject tyranny. This thing will give people what they want, while also directing them away from socially irresponsible things and toward socially useful things without their awareness.

33:

You might want to do some research into just how much maintenance goes into one of our "monumental medievil buildings" every year. I suspect that some of them are like grandpappy's axe, which has had 6 new heads and 5 new handles since he bought it.

34:

Dirk:

@21 Most current predictions are on the order of 9-9.5bn people in the year 2050. The prediction used to be 12bn in the 1960-70ies.

@26 Solar farms in Germany using panels with 10% efficiency in an area with about 120W/m^2 average 4 Watts per square meter of real estate over the year. Hint: Solar panels don't cover all of the area.

35:

Using the term work might have been wrong, since I dont think it will take the same shape as it does (mostly) today. Rather, anything others consider interesting would qualify as work - maybe you wont be paid in money, but rather in some equivalent to likes on Facebook, or some other kudos system.

36:

I know, but I am assuming the "ultimate" PV panel will top out at about 60-70% conversion efficiency

37:

I'm confused about something. Your scenario assumes both major global warming and serious genetic engineering. Why wouldn't we make sure Dyson's mangroves then soak up our excess atmospheric carbon? (Refreezing the icecaps, dropping the oceans back to 20th century levels... maybe there's a story there of mangroves run amok, and global cooling.)

I'd posit that violence correlates with life being cheap. So I'd expect that lengthening lifespans is going to automatically bring less violent societies.

38:

I think that if there is serious ecological damage in the 21st and 22nd centuries, that by the 26th we'll be doing some form of geoengineering to correct it.

We could even see pleistocene restoration being put into effect. If the population drops down to a billion or so, and energy and food technology requires much less land, then why not restore things to how they were before the advent of agriculture? Turn the Sahara back into grasslands, bring back mammoths, etc. Restoring forests alone could take a lot of carbon from the air.

39:

Going the full hitech route for food, with aeroponics and hydroponics plus synthetic meat and the amount of farmland could be cut by over 90%

40:

We will very probably see attempts at using biotech for atmospheric carbon remediation. The problem is, it's already gone too far -- whatever we do in the short term, we're going to be stuck with a hotter, wetter, windier world for a while.

41:

Bringing in these "famous" buildings was bit of a misleading example because I was actually aiming at buildings made for living and how little they changed over the course of time.

42:

Human genetic engineering will have triggered a multiple speciation, so there may well be far more racism than exists today.

That would only be true if racism had anything to do with races (as in biological difference). But human "races" are a social construct, and the true cause of racism is the psychological mechanism were on projects one's own shortcomings on someone else (scapegoats).

See the movie "The Wave" based on this experiment where it is shown that you can use about any attribute to create racism.

43:

What, no ideas on what will replace employment?

As a professional software developer, I can't help but feel a little guilty about what I'm doing to employment. I'm sitting here in my office actually replacing my colleague with bits of software; he's actually okay with this and helping out, but I can't help but wonder what that'll mean for the near future (about 25 years out is probably enough to see some large changes here?).

I've talked about this a bit with my friends, but I'm not really sure what will replace employment. I guess a form of socialism is the easiest answer, but I'm not sure if that would actually work this time around.

44:

If we get cheap energy from other sources (fusion for example) synthetic hydrocarbon production _could_ reverse the current climatic effects. Such tech could be available pretty soon:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/company-that-made-petrol-from-air-breakthrough-shudders-at-prospect-of-oil-industry-approaches-8218812.html

45:

Yeah, but by 2512 that hotter wetter world could have come and gone. Since 1512 we've basically seen the deforestation and then reforestation of eastern North America. New England probably has more trees than it did before the Pilgrims arrived...

46:

Well, a quick wander through the Wikipedia articles on Edinburgh and Glasgow (both Scotland, and picked as being the 2 cities I thought I'd easiest spot article hacking on) suggests that, even considering stone-builds only, most domestic property is actually under 250 years old.
The position in the UK tends to be obscured by the relative fame of the comparitively few real Tudor buildings, and Provand's Lordship in Glasgow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provand%27s_Lordship

47:

What about "soft" AI, such as REALLY good automation & planning systems? Stochastic systems that leverage the massive parallelism of very small, very power efficient processors?

It seems like such things could be on the 50-100 year horizon, and their existence could make large scale, long term (greater than human life-span) projects feasible such that by 2512 those systems, and their projects, could be core feature of society.

48:

I sort of picture the future like that in Paolo Bacigalupi's The Wind-up Girl...food production is controlled by conglomerates.

49:

Actually no. The solution is to resequester carbon dioxide in the form of solid carbon and a growing living forest of trees is only in equilibrium with respect to carbon. Sequestration would mean growing the trees (diesel mangroves, hazel bushes, whatever), cutting them down and burying them somewhere to recover the land to grow more trees and repeating this process ad infinitum. It's basically what happened over geological ages as carbon-based plants were buried by alluvial deposits, removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

You could also take the diesel from the genengineered mangroves and pump it directly into depleted oil domes underground -- instead of burying coal precursors you'd simply bury oil directly. It would still take centuries or millenia of doing this to get the CO2 load in the atmosphere down to, say, 350 ppm or about what it was fifty years ago (it's now about 400ppm and rising) and of course you'd be sequestering an important energy resource...

50:

Also, the rise of highly complex and highly non-deterministic systems could/would create a major problem: When things go wrong (or right, for that matter) no one really knows WHY. No one knows how they work.

Heck, we already see this with extremely complex systems today, e.g., the Global Economy. Much of politics in the last 5 years has been arguing over the appropriate opcode necessary to debug the current sluggish performance of the system. (At least, when not arguing over whether or not an integer subject to bit rot has an inherent right to parity checks, both preventative and reactive... but perhaps that's taking the metaphor too far.)

51:

Hmmm. My first reaction is that Freeman Dyson has his head up his ass when it comes to those mangroves, but whichever. That could be because I've actually had classes in plant physiology and anatomy, and what he's describing makes about as much sense as shitting gasoline out your mouth (or eyes) and eating with your anus, both in terms of reversing polarities and the amount of energy he seems to think a plant can shed and still exist. Hint to engineers: go actually take a class or two in how plants work before trying to improve the design. They're miracles of tradeoffs and decentralized design.

My confident prediction is that the glamorous predictions of synthetic biology will join the 1990s nanotech fairy dust on the compost bin of history next to clockwork men and vacuum tube God Computers. What we actually do with synthetic biology will be more practical and less interesting. Cutting edge tech has always been Magic Fairy Land, and the most crucial changes have always been Black Swans, not Fairy Dust. With regards to synthetic biology, the problem as I see it is that genomes and cells are 4.5 billion years of undocumented spaghetti programming that's gone through 4.5 billion years of Darwinian tinkering. While I'm sure some dufus is going to try to create a rational genome, I'm also pretty sure it's going to be big, bulky, clunky, and virus and mutation prone, compared with that annoyingly compact spaghetti programming that actually works.

Unfortunately, according to this Washington Post article, it looks like the higher-end carbon emission predictions are more accurate. Right now, I'm predicting a 3000 GT emission, not 1000 GT. Call this the first intrusion of the Noosphere into the Biosphere, otherwise known as Human Stupidity becoming a significant biogeochemical force.

As for the unsustainability of the tropics, there's this weird ecosystem from the Paleocene that may come back, a super-wet, super-hot, tropical forest (there are lots of weird paleocene biomes, actually). Not something we'd like, but if we do get the conditions of the PETM, it's worth reading up on that. There's something about palms in Alaska and tropical rainforests in Colorado and London that really should get people's attention. While I respect the climate models, I'm not sure where all that atmospheric water is going to go after it's evaporated off the oceans. Heat plus lots of rain could start growing rainforests in all sorts of interesting places.

I'll leave it with that. I'm skeptical about fusion, mostly because it seems to involve precisely the kind of megascale precision engineering that's going to be hard to sustain in a world of rapid changes. Unless it can be scaled down and simplified, I'm not hopeful.

Still, I'll leave on a note of hope. As I've told other conservationists, it's still possible to save most of the species we have. The ecosystems of the future won't look that much like those of the past did, but most people forget that many of the ecosystems we have now are quite different than the ones we had 500 or 1000 years ago (go read 1491 and 1493 for the popular science versions). However, the species that comprised those systems are still mostly around. The point is that extinction is not preordained. It's an outgrowth of ignorance, laziness, and greed, all of which can be beaten with a totally doable effort.

52:

Wrong. Racism is simply the result of a behavioral adapatation which treats bad experiences from people you percieve as 'other' differently. The bad impression lasts longer and is more powerful. Scapegoating..

Not sure how scapegoating explains the very high levels of anti-gypsy hatred in central/eastern Europe.

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/d3hax/why_does_europe_hate_the_roma_so_much/

About 2512:

I believe any extrapolation, save maybe about physics constrained stuff like energy generation methods is completely useless.

Same with global warming: catastrophic sea level rise and temperature spikes would no doubt push forward hairy geo-engineering proposals .. which will likely fuck it all up even more.
________________________________________________

Dominant powers? Probably the one that'll increase it's human capital the most, by widespread pre-natal genetic modification, behavorial tweaks against cheating that will increase trust in-group.

Trust is the basis of cooperation, so a group that'll have more capable members and will be less hindered by infighting and selfishness..

Add in technological telepathy, and old-style God-fearing societies will be left in the dust.

Or maybe exchange techlepathy for thought-control. There's a fuckton of strength in unity of purpose, and a totalitarian regime that could *really* mess with it's subjects heads in addition to curbing corruption could be really efficient...

Especially if other societies would be busy wallowing in enviromentalism or hedonism.

53:

While I'll be glad to see the end of "geoponics" (sterilizing soil and then dumping water and synthetic nutrients into it), I'm skeptical about the end of dirt farming. We've been doing that a long time.

500 years is certainly enough time to develop some decent soil out of all that rocky stuff closer to the poles, where we'll be huddling.

We'll have plenty of time to develop crops that can handle the extreme daylight cycle, along with the monsoon cycle that we'll get once we can no longer store irrigation water as mountain snow.

Hm. OTOH:

  • We'll have time to develop a sunshine -> protein* process that's more efficient than Managed Intensive Rotational Grazing. No more livestock.
  • Hydroponics are pretty effective for growing veggies and such. No more truck farms.
  • We'll have figured out that we don't want to live on cereals anymore. No more grain farms.
  • * Not everyone thrives on soy protein.

    54:

    So the climate is going to be rather ... different.

    Sea levels will have risen by at least one, and possibly more than ten metres worldwide. Large chunks of sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, Brazil, and the US midwest and south are going to be uninhabitably hot — that is, too hot for non-GM plants and organisms to survive in during heat spikes, and with heat spikes over 44 celsius at night lasting at least two weeks every year (sufficient to kill off anyone without air conditioning). As 80% of today's human population live within 200Km of a coast, there will have been mass migrations and resettlements: many of today's great cities will be lost.

    Do you have references for that >44°C at night scenario?

    I'm not sure if current science can fully forecast the effect of more water in the air. It will definitely rain more, but will more water stay in the air as vapor as well? How much rain will be kept in underground reservoirs rather than flowing back into the oceans? Will we see growth of new vegetation in the Sahara or other now arid areas?

    I don't think we will need GM plants to cope with the weather change, just moving to other areas might be enough to adapt. The worst danger in my view is the acidification of the oceans since that is capable to kill off large parts from the base of the global food chain.

    55:

    More thoughts about wet nanotech, since I built a world (Ghosts of Deep Time) that was built around it: Yes, I used "power vines" (think kudzu), but there's a huge difference between those and gasoline-producing mangroves. The point about using vines is that relatively little of the carbon they produce goes into structural tissue. Instead, most of it goes into the roots. From the roots, you can use a mycorrhizal fungus (thin pipe) or a parasitic plant (slightly bigger pipe) to move carbohydrates.

    That's what I posited: a sugar-based society. The idea was that one could use that sugar to power things like lights and information technology (algae-based semi-quantum computers, for example). The sugar could also be used to grow bacteria to make anything else we need, including metal tools and machine parts. Certainly, some of that sugar could be converted into more energy-dense sources, but most of it was used, unaltered, in a society that had adapted to a much lower level of energy density.

    That's the tradeoff with biotech: complexity vs. time. Right now, we trying to maximize energy density and speed everything up. Contrast that with the idea of ubiquitous biotech: you could grow a supercomputer in your basement, if you have the proper culturing skillset and a year to grow it. This kind of green world is a world that goes much more slowly, that runs on much less energy than we use now. However, it could be equally as complex, both technically and socially.

    56:

    The source for the comment about the 20th Century being (on average) the least violent is cited in the main article - it's Steven Pinker's new book. Which is still on my too-read pile. I've heard him talk about it several times and he makes a decent case that the chances of violent death per century are going down. Even with all the deaths of the two world wars.

    I don't know I agree with Neal Stephenson's suggested outcome, but I think the concept of nationhood will change dramatically, possibly to the point that the concept of being American, British, Welsh, French etc. will be as hard for them to understand as whatever they've got will be for us. In the middlish term, as we virtualise more and more, I imagine defining our identity more by our interest groups (Google Circles maybe) than our geographical location. This might be fun of course, in my house smoking pot is legal. In yours, it's not and shooting law breakers is legal. Can you shoot me, or more precisely what happens when you do? But I'd expect at least one more, possibly two, revolutions of society and culture in that period.

    There's a BBC article on their news pages about the rise of artisan crafters making... well whether you think it's tat or collectibles depends on precisely what they're making. I suspect we'll see that rising as automation takes over. People will come to value hand-crafted items even more as machines make perfect whatever cheaply and efficiently. The other area, probably, if we don't get strong AI, will be research (of all kinds). People will probably drop in and out of research teams more than they do now, but they'll look for new things to do and researching new ideas and applications will be one of them. Researching better AI to do the research might be one of the areas! Things like SETI being distributed, protein folding problems to gamers and the search for exoplanets, are already proving successful, I think that will be expanded and become closer to a "job."

    57:

    "That would only be true if racism had anything to do with races (as in biological difference). But human "races" are a social construct..."

    But what when they are not a social construct but actually separate species that can no longer interbreed? When they have radically different capabilities and looks?

    58:

    Language is an interesting one: English is about to be overtaken by Mandarin in number of web pages, but I suspect Mandarin is a long way down the list in terms of audio and video content (yay Youtube!). Arabic as a spoken language is fractured, but written Arabic is much more of a monoculture.

    It's a bit of personal bias, but my gut feeling is that a Latin-based character set has potential benefits: it's going to be pronounceable (if badly) by cross cultural groups, and it's more straightforward to create or import words.

    But languages are getting relatively static, for all the extinction events. Gutenberg and Webster caused huge normalizations in spelling (hmm, you'd use an "s" in normalization, though -- gotta fix that one). Significant changes in formal grammar get harder and harder to accomplish (I totes think it's not going to happen), but informal word usage changes will continue. What's written conversationally in 500 years will certainly be quite different.

    My other hobby could be summed up as "what's for lunch?" Large mammals as a food source are increasingly under pressure in an economic and ethical stance. But if you take a look at the cuisine of the pre-Columbus old world, try to picture:
    * Asian cuisines without chiles
    * Italy without tomatoes and polenta
    * Ireland, Germany or Belgium without potatoes
    * A world without chocolate and vanilla

    What crops today will be a major part of our economy and cuisine? Likely bananas (currently the #5 source of calories in the world after the grains and potatoes). Tropical fruits will replace our temperate apples and stone fruits. Perhaps yuca and similar taproots will be the primary starches. But what flavors haven't been explored?

    Let's hope we keep garlic, ginger and chiles, if nothing else.

    59:

    For non-reversible computing the brain comes within a factor of 10,000 of maximal efficiency. Currently computers come within a factor of 10,000 of the brain.

    60:

    I believe the sea would have risen and fallen in that time. If we assume everyone has a 3d nanobio printer then abundance might be an issue. However if all printers were networked and designed to do social printing during downtimes we could:

    a) print enough weather detectors to accurately plot the worlds weather in realtime
    b) print solutions for global warming e.g. high level 'dust' reflectors that bio degrade when required. Reflective roofing, carbon sink building materials etc etc
    c) automated robo boats could spray/transport water back into the global ice caps.
    d) Solar energy systems will be much more efficient in 500 years if fusion hasn't solved that issue.

    The question in my mind is the speed at which we become more socialist as opposed capitalist. If we can't work how could a capitalist society work but when would the changeover happen? Before or after a mass rising of the people versus those few that own the patents and copyrights??

    61:

    Another point about looking back to look forward: it's worth looking at the Bronze Age Collapse, which was arguably more severe than the Dark Ages.

    I don't know what entirely caused the Collapse, but it looks like a confluence of environmental and social issues, which may sound familiar. One thing I'd like to point out is the shift from bronze to iron that happened during the collapse. I'd also like to point to the social consequences.

    The thing about bronze is that it requires long supply lines. To make a bronze sword in Greece, you might need tin from Cornwall and copper from Cyprus. Except for a small area in Asia Minor, tin and copper deposits don't co-occur. The Bronze Age was therefore an time of international trade and travel. Art from the Middle East turned up in Norway and Afghanistan, that sort of thing.

    During the Collapse, the trade routes disappeared, and people apparently turned to iron as a substitute. I say apparently because it's also possible that spreading iron technology contributed to the Collapse. Thing is, iron is much more common that either copper or tin. It requires hotter fires to work, but the spread of ironworking seems to have kept trade networks for reforming for centuries.

    According to some linguistic evidence, our European language patterns date more from the Iron Age than from the Bronze Age, because the early Iron Age was far more isolationist than the international Bronze Age before it. Languages split up into dialects, just as (a 1000 years later) Latin split into the modern Romance languages.

    How does that apply today? We're in the same position as the late Bronze Age: all of our core technologies depend on global trade routes, and many of these can be substituted (at less efficiency to be sure) using local resources. If we get a nanotech revolution of any sort, where people can cobble everything they need within a township, it's going to be much harder to keep global civilization together. Throw in massive environmental pressures, and we could easily see the Oil Age Collapse. During that collapse, we could also see a technological revolution that shifts us away from depending on any international technology.

    62:

    Wrong. Racism is simply the result of a behavioral adaptation which treats bad experiences from people you percieve as 'other' differently. The bad impression lasts longer and is more powerful. Scapegoating..

    Not sure how scapegoating explains the very high levels of anti-gypsy hatred in central/eastern Europe.

    Well, in Germany we have more racism where there are less foreigners, so it doesn't look like it's caused by bad experiences. The mechanism you describe exists, but it can't explain racism on its own.

    About anti-gypsi hatred: a) it's traditional in Europe
    b) people like to demonize their victims c) there are not enough people speaking up for gypsies, instead politicians use them to distract from the real problems.
    (and that's not only in central/eastern Europe, Germany and France and Italy are just as bad)

    63:

    But what when they are not a social construct but actually separate species that can no longer interbreed? When they have radically different capabilities and looks?

    I don't see that happening. If there's artificial genetic change it would be to give one's offspring some advantage; and then it's just a question of social status if you get the upgrade or not.

    64:

    My predictions/extrapolations for 2512:

    It won't make a very good subject for fiction written now, simply because their concerns and values are not our concerns and values. It would be like writing fiction set in the sixteenth century's religious wars, except without the crutch of having a protagonist whose values are completely modern, and the audiences' actual RL beliefs are considered hopelessly primitive by the characters.

    Earth continues to be big. There are still nice places and still shitholes. Thanks to the lack of fossil fuels, the nice places aren't quite as nice. The shitholes are almost exactly as bad, because whenever they get worse people die.

    Modern society divides up duties between governments, corporations, churches, and families. These same duties will be redivided several times, resulting in new types of institution (rather like how the corporation is the old medieval guild minus some family-type functions and plus some government-type functions).

    The concept of technological progress is long gone; it's all been done before. The social utility of freethinking is accordingly diminished. Society is more conformist.

    Human genetic engineering has come and gone. Overall human diversity has gone up, but baseline humanity proves to be remarkably good at what it does best, which is survival. Almost everyone has inherited some modified genes, but in general every benefit comes with a trade-off.

    Practical fusion power is thirty years away. Brazil is still the country of the future.

    If Dilbert has been translated to future languages, at least 50% of the strips are still funny to future audiences.

    65:

    Well, one suggestion might be to alter the DNA so that they are no longer subject to mundane ecologically generated diseases. In other words, their DNA is no longer compatible with the biosphere but they are still able to live within it. Another very big change might be an adaptation to ocean living, at least up to the levels seen in whales and dolphins.

    Apart from that, these musings have been triggered by a discussion in ZS on Transhumanism and racism. The outcome is a statement of ZS on the matter:
    http://transhumanpraxis.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/transhumanism-anti-racism-identity/

    66:

    You can get tin in Cornwall, and copper in Snowdonia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Orme#The_Copper_Mines . Analysis of on site casting waste at the Great Orme has confirmed that bronze artifacts were produced there.

    67:

    You've left out something I came up with (Although certainly didn't invent) when trying to pick out the future a mere 200 years from now.

    Truly intelligent assistant software. Not an 'AI' per se, I have no idea how likely those are, and aren't what I mean, anyway.

    But a computer program that can _understand basically what is going on around it_. It can decode speech well enough to pipe it into the semantic processors we _already_ have, it knows where someone is and who else is with them (Perhaps assisted by everyone broadcasting their location.)

    And everyone has their own, which pays attention to you and tries to predict your behavior so you don't have to do things. It uses something you wear or carry, like a watch or a headset, but all that does is communicate with a program somewhere else. (Hopefully a server in your own house, although I suspect a lot of people are going to use commercial rentals.)

    In the world I was considering writing, I had that sort of software use the word 'secretary', to the point where it no longer refers to humans, just like the computers took the word 'computer'. Either that or 'assistant'.

    Basically, you get one of these as a kid, and it starts training itself to figure out what you want to do. (With a lot of stuff built in, of course. I'm not talking one of those neural nets that do random things at the start.)

    This would have all sorts of changes. For example, no one would ever pay for things against. You would walk into a store, pick something up, walk out, and your secretary would transfer the money. Granted, some people would reprogram their secretaries to steal...except that, of course the _store_ would have a secretary.

    Likewise, no one ever has to wonder about anything. A person wonders who stars in what movie, and, bam, there's the information. You eat always order a pizza when Frank is over, you start getting a prompt for that, and eventually it just _happens_ without your interaction at all. (And it's possible sometimes the things will reveal unconscious biases you don't even know you have. Aka, 'Why is my secretary lying to my mother?')

    ...and why do you need sensors on electronic doors when they'll just get _asked_ to open?

    Of course, there's a huge privacy issue with this...except there's not really, if law enforcement is actually correctly resized. Why? Because almost all crimes have _victims_...which means, in a would where everyone, and every location, has their own computer program to watch over that and will report a crime instantly, most crime has vanished. (You can even imagine an 'emergency' broadcast that causes everyone to nearby to become involved in stopping, or at least recording, the crime.)

    So, yes, there's a privacy issue if the recordings of people start getting subpoenaed, but in reality there shouldn't be any reason to do that.

    Oh, and everyone, feel free to steal this idea. I probably didn't think of it anyway. I give it 20 years before we start having such a thing (Note it requires speech and video processing advancements.), and in 50 years everyone will have versions of it, although I don't know when we'll start trusting them enough to actually do things without prompting us first.

    68:

    Thanks Paws. You're right. Still, people came out of the eastern Mediterranean to get Cornish tin.

    The bigger point is that the Bronze Age is a better analog for our age than the Romans are for technology, because of the international trade routes that enabled their technology. Rome is a better analogy for what happens when long-distance trade in food breaks down, come to think of it.

    Anyway, we can learn from the past, and one of the central lessons is that technological innovation can happen despite (or even because of) societal collapse.

    Charlie seems to assume that high tech automatically will keep us integrated into a global culture and thereby prevent a collapse. Based on what has happened in previous collapses, I don't think this will automatically happen. I think it *could* happen, especially if ham radio operators and such make it a point to keep talking across continents. That doesn't mean it will happen. As with species conservation, it will take dedicated effort by people who care.

    69:

    "eventually an accident or violence will get you."

    Our ever-increasing sensitivity to accidents and mishaps is probably correlated not only to technological improvements that make higher safety standards possible, but I think it is also correlated to increasing life expectancy.

    In the "500 year" life-span predicated upon near elimination of non-medical means of death, we will see a Bubble Wrap culture, as obsessed with environmental risks and product failures as the US/Europe are obsessed with kidnapping/pedophilia now.

    We already nostalgically talk about "Free Range Kids" -- in a future where accidents are a main cause of deaths, they'll become nostalgic for "Free Range People" in general.

    70:

    I would like to - with all politeness - differ on the total collapses of technological civilization. There have been a number of these in the last two thousand years and quite a lot in the last 500 years. Some by military action, mostly by "barbarians" - the Roman empire comes to mind, for example. Some by environmental issues like the Khmer Kingdom, the Maya and the Easter Islands. And some by a combination of these - like the Aztec. And that is leaving out all the African societies and kingdoms we know so little about. And of course the US. Back then these societies for the people living in them encompassed the whole known world - and surly they even shortly before their demise would have never dreamt that their world would come to an end. But then again it was only the end of the world as they knew it, as we know now :-)

    71:

    even considering stone-builds only, most domestic property is actually under 250 years old.

    Yes, there's an attrition rate among the older buildings. But I will cop to living in a 190-year-old apartment, and to having read somewhere that the average age of the UK's housing stock is around 75 years. And that's after rebuilding the stuff that was leveled by the Luftwaffe in 1939-45, and the rookeries that were flattened by town planners in the 1830s-1890s, and the slum clearances of the 1945-75 period.

    In general the good dwellings are repaired and last a long time; the slums are bulldozed and few people shed tears for them.

    72:

    Today:
    " By 2025, it says the combined GDP of China and India will be bigger than that of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US and Canada put together. "

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/nov/09/china-overtake-us-four-years-oecd

    73:

    I would like to - with all politeness - differ on the total collapses of technological civilization.

    You fell into the bear pit I dug; there have been no prior total collapses of technological civilization because there have been no prior technological civilizations to collapse.

    Hint: I'm talking about high-energy post-industrial technologies here, not bronze or iron age empires.

    74:

    Lets talk about demographic transition. How do we even know what is going to happen in Stage 5-6-7? What if humanity stays below replacement level fertility?

    75:

    And what if we overcome Nature's genetic programming and come to the rational conclusion that non-existence is the best all round option?

    76:

    "Holy Fire" by Bruce Sterling predicts just such a bubble-wrap society

    77:

    Re "Bubblewrap society" - a finite list of issues form most of the accidental death risk profile, much of which can be reengineered muchly away.

    75% roughly in the US are falls, motor vehicle accidents, or accidental poisoning.

    Falls are a mixture of young / foolish, old / frail, and just bad luck. Old / frail risk goes down if aging becomes less destructive. Building construction, ladder use (airbag blanket under you) can reduce random bad luck. If you live 500+ years young / foolish is a much smaller portion of the lifespan and population.

    Motor vehicles are designed to safety standards subject to long term negotiation and mass production engineering and value / cost of life tradeoffs. Cars ( road cars ) designed to be more highly survivable protect people in 100+ mph accidents. Ferrari cockpits are notoriously tough for example. The cost of that protection falls over time; the value of life rises over time. Active computer emergency management will avoid or lessen the severity if accidents. Timescale is hard to predict but even if car use stays high death rates should plummet.

    Accidental poisoning should fall as less toxic cleaning materials are available, and a little biomedical monitoring and faster ambulance response will go a lobg way.

    Perhaps 10x reductions in all these are hopeful, but 4x is pessimistic, and more than 10x is entirely possible WITHOUT swaddling people in horrible boring lifestyle changes.

    78:

    I agree the world will have higher sea levels, but I don't expect it to be hotter. I would hope that space based sunshades will be the solution to keep the world cool. What may be at issue is how it is constructed, and the compromises made to ensure that most people get the most equatable temperatures.

    I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that most living areas will be tented/enclosed and A/C controlled. This will have the benefit of controlling weather problems so that people are not "fearful of the sky". If CO2 can be directly piped from power stations to tented farms, we may get the benefits of superior plant growth, and the solid concentrations of waste carbon that can be easily sequestered. The oceans will be the problem, huge sources of CO2 and largely dead.

    Yes, biotech will seem almost like magic to us. Maybe we can even make organisms that can fix oceanic carbon to replace the calcareous shelled animals that have disappeared with the high acidity. I also think machines with very sophisticated programming will seem like AI even though they may not pass any sort of Turing test.

    I think the most interesting changes will be the social and institutional ones, not the technology. I have no idea where that goes, although I hope that we see more local democracy in action that people can feel engaged in. My biggest fear is that so much potentially destructive technology can be wielded by anyone, that we may need good systems to control this, and that this control will be very authoritarian.

    79:

    lol oK, point taken. :-)

    80:

    And what if we overcome Nature's genetic programming and come to the rational conclusion that non-existence is the best all round option?

    You are being ironic, but you shouldn't. Evolution is not a perfect mechanism of survival. Need I to remind you that the vast majority of species is already extinct? And human brain is an unprecedented evolutionary move, so there is nothing to compare us to. Humanity could be a dead end.

    81:

    If you were to allow uploading, then zipping around the universe at the speed of light would be reasonable. But you'd need a VERY robust error correction code.

    82:

    But you'd need a VERY robust error correction code.

    First you need to convince people that uploading is not suicide. :-)

    83:

    Well, if it can be done nondestructively it's just weird and disturbing, but if your copy is going to go live in Gliese 51 it's not that strange.

    Huw's parents in Rapture were implied to have been nondestructively uploaded until they decided to make it final eventually. I guess the brain coring scene just made too much dramatic sense.

    Antinatalism is my personal choice but it's a hard sell, not that I'm interested in proselitism. Most meme complexes (religion, political ideologies) help with fecundity rather than hinder it. I don't see humanity as a whole ever falling to non-reproduction.

    84:

    I'll have to take issue with the space mining thing. It might only be used for heavy metals, but it could be the only way to get them and it will definitely be economically feasible.

    First, working wet nano, photosynthesis++, and genetic tweaking for high radiation resistance mean that life support will be a lot easier than it is now. Not only will this reduce the mass of "canned ape plus life support", but it'll make large-population moonbases feasible - large enough for the place to not require manpower from Earth. Even without a mass driver, future us will have space travel a lot easier.

    Second, 500 years may not bring singularity-level AI, but incremental advances (graphene GPUs and existing algorithms) will almost certainly be able to handle autonomous asteroid harvesting and mining. The biggest difficulty with the AI on modern space probes is actually software engineering, and anybody that can safely deploy wet nanotech has obviously solved that problem. They won't be sending any canned apes into deep space, sure, but they also won't need to.

    Third, rare earths really are incredibly rare. Let's use neodymium for an example. World production of neodymium is about 20000 tons per year. Estimated reserves are on the order of 10 million tons. And neodymium is, to quote Wikipedia, actually not rare at all. By 2512 they'll be completely out of rare earths and most other heavy metals. That makes asteroid mining a lot more attractive.

    Finally, remember that in 500 years they'll be willing to play the long game. Asteroid mining wouldn't work very well with current techniques because we want our investment back in two years flat. These people would be more than willing to use solar sails, white paint, and orbital mechanics to make things easier. They'd have latencies on the order of fifty years, but once that's done they'd have perfectly adequate throughput with significantly lower costs.

    85:

    You dug a bear trap for yourself inside, I think.

    As you probably know, "this time is different" has been the clarion call of bubble markets for the last 800 years, according to one widely-read reference. In my opinion, "this time is different" should be a laugh line, not a authoritative rebuttal of arguments using comparisons with the past.

    Basically, the choices are:
    a) you're right, but what you then say about the future is pointless fantasy, because we're ramming forward into an unknowable future and whatever happens will be a flock of black swans, or

    b) there are similarities between what's happening now and what has happened in other regional collapses going back to the Stone Age, in which case we can look at what's gone before and spot the crises.

    It's pretty clear you're arguing as if a) was true but modeling b), so why complain when we talk about what happens when bad politics, technological limitations, climate changes, and population migrations have collided in the past?

    Obviously, it's not going to be a precise repeat. However, it is entirely possible that we drop from the web to ham radio, from oil to barnyard gas, and from Wall Street to water districts. Each town may have a drone wing to its local militia, and their may be a Nitrogen Master who deals out which part of the local excreta goes to the farms and which part goes to the explosives.

    Despite this, we can still argue that technical advances do not guarantee survival of a global society (it hasn't in the past), that trade networks disappear when things get bad (they have in the past), that people move *a lot* when things get bad (they have in the past), that people often innovate on the craft level when things get bad (they have in the past), and that peoples rarely disappear entirely during collapses, despite all the shit that happens (they have in the past--they disappear more often through massacres and forced assimilation).

    Admittedly I tend to favor a crash scenario, because we've got crappy politics, technical limitations, societies dependent on international trade, and climate change all sitting here again. Still, a crash isn't guaranteed either. The only future I'm pretty sure won't happen is where we all live in the Sparkly City on the Hill that our God-like Technology has prepared for the True Believers. There's no past precedent for that one, outside of certain minority religious beliefs. Anyway, I'm not a True Believer, so I'll be in the ghetto with the rest of my kind.

    86:

    Regarding languages, we could end up seeing a divergence rather than convergence, as dialects grow more and more apart. Consider the advances being made in automatic translation. By 2512 it is quite likely that any language can be translated into any other in real time, using the person's voice - remodulated to account for different tonal meanings. Even culture specific references and idioms could be reworked for the listener.

    The technology is already being worked on, we'll probably see it widely available by 2050...

    87:

    Why assume that the demographic transition is the last word on population growth? There could easily be a tiny fraction of the population that is "immune" to the demographic transition and continues to reproduce at high fertility rates. Assuming such a group doubles every generation, given 500 years (20ish generations), it would grow by a factor on the order of a million.

    Current population projections are probably good over the next 50 years or so, but I suspect that on the 500 year time frame, anything could happen from extinction to horrific malthusian cycles. Projections of the population stabilizing at a level somewhat similar to the current levels strikes me as wishful thinking rather than a true projection.

    88:

    While I'll accept your definition of a speciation event. (With reservations. Cultural backsliding may cause us to periodically lose GM skills.) I think the "ethical considerations" with respect to genetic modifications is a cultural thing, and is subject to changes over periods of 20 years, much less 500. And won't be the same world-wide even at any one time. (If there are space colonies, this is even more-so.)

    Also, I definitely don't rule out people modified to live in the ocean. Probably under air filled domes (because of electricity, etc.), but modified so that they don't need diving suits to survive trips from dome to dome. Possibly more along the lines of seal oxygenation than gills, but I'm not sure. If gills turn out to be practical, then that will probably be the preferred option.

    And I expect there to be periodic populaiton pressures at least as great as currently. Contol will be possible, but nobody will like it. (Sort of like China today.) As a result I don't expect ANY wild areas to survive. As technology improves the ability of people to live in an area, they will move into it faster than evolution adapts wild species to move into it (bacteria excepted).

    While I accept that you don't want to consider space colonies, they WILL be present. Probably not very significant to dwellers on Earth (barring a Singularity-ish advancement), but a consistent background will require them.

    Also, robots will be widespread. Very widespread. The raccoon scenario that you mention I don't find plausible, mainly because raccoons eat the same foods that people do, and require a livable environment. Robot bodies can just be turned off and stored (with minimal degradation) while not in use...unless bacteria evolve to eat them.

    Many plastics will have become edible by bacteria. (This has already started.) But they won't be able to establish a flourishing colony within most bulk plastics. They'll need to live on them as a film, or dissolve pits of liquid into them. Of course lubricants, being already liquid, will be a favored dietary matter. (Which means we'll need to keep changing which plastics and lubricants we use. ... Unless we choose to consider being biodegradable as a benefit. But see jet fuel and dehydration.)

    As I expect inexpensive computer power to equal the power of a human brain well within this century (actually considerably before 2040, though probably not by 2030) I'm expecting LOTS of robots. Please note, however, that raw computing power doesn't equal intelligence. Software development always lags behind, because it can't be developed until the developers get their hands on the equipment, and even then finding good approaches is a tremendously vast search space. (I tend to see intelligence as a means of doing a heuristic search.) So I run into lots of problems when trying to project beyond 2050.

    OTOH, current governmental policies cause me to expect tremendous pressure for a violent revolution as more and more jobs are automated out of existence. And even many technical people don't realize that we are already very close to the edge of automating most currently existing jobs...with no new jobs replacing them. Few jobs really require much intelligence. What they require is language understanding, a few simple tricks, and a bit of job redesign. (Like supermarkets that have customers checkout their own purchases.) But that's NOT a long term prediction. Just when it will come to a head depends heavily on governmental policies. E.g., if going to school were reclassified as a job, then there would be much less unrest (if there were enough school slots open). Lots of ways details of that could work out, but again, that's short term.

    If, as you suggest, we assume no major technological regression, and continued modest progress (HAH! Modest! The places that go in for heavy progress will export social unrest to the rest of the world, while they become wealthier.) Then there won't be any jobs that a person can do better than a machine can. And the machine won't be uppity. I expect computers to run the world, though quite likely there will be human figure-heads. But if they make a wrong decision (i.e., if they don't do what the machines tell them to), one of their competitors will have unexplained favorable happenstances, and will replace them. Quite likely nobody will be able to prove that humans aren't running things. (N.B.: This doesn't require anything any more advanced than ATHENA. It would, however, require something more advanced to get it into position. I suspect a collaboration between a machine and a human. Or it could just be a more advanced computer program.)

    And I'm still making short term predictions. I just can't manage 500 years.

    89:

    Most technology will be biologically based

    90:

    I'm not sure about self-driving taxis. It's a tempting idea, but how does one deal with the vandalism problem? And inspection after every ride? Internal cameras with passenger recognition?

    I think that's more of an "eventually". (Well within 500 years though.) But short term robot truck drivers are more likely. And chaffeurs. And bus drivers. (You'd still have a human bus steward, but he wouldn't be driving, and wouldn't need a special driving license. So he'd be much cheaper. His public relations job would be to assist the elderly and handicapped, but the real reason would be to prevent vandalism.)

    91:

    that trade networks disappear when things get bad (they have in the past),

    Indeed they have. But in today's world, there are many alternative sources for all but a few commodities and technology has proven fairly adept with substitutes.
    Having said that, I don't expect total collapse unless something gets really bad, but I do expect disruptions with a power law frequency for their sizes. And look what a mess NY is in after Sandy, and they have the whole country to support them.

    92:

    500 years is tough. It is more likely that you get A)the more or less unimaginable or B) if you can predict things then they are not going very well.

    My cheap guess is that we have two or three space civilizations in that time frame, none of which take on a full time basis. But we might eventually get some probes out to near stars and hear some of the data.

    If climate change gets that extreme, we die out or shrink to a really small, less advanced presence or retreat into a speciation/AI bubble, i.e. one that is too opaque for us to understand from today's perspective. I don't feel comfortable calling that a "singularity," necessarily, but it might be.

    PrivateIron (late of this parish)

    93:

    Sorry, but there have been periods in the Earth's past when the tropics got too hot for tropical vegetation to live there. I think the Triassic was (or contained?) such a period. So we can't depend on anything natural being able to live in tropical regions. Not with the scenario CO2 levels.

    Also, and not mentioned in the scenario, if the oceans warm sufficiently, we can expect the off-shore methal-cathlates to destabilize and release a large but unmeasured quantity of methane into the atmosphere. Over decades this turns into CO2, but methane is even more of a greenhouse gas than CO2 is. These cathlates are already so unstable that nobody has dared to try to tap them for methane, even though they would be a rich source, and as the ocean warms they become less stable. (Well, they're also in fairly deep water, which has so far isolated them from most of the ocean warming. AND made attempts to use them more difficult.)

    So... this is another of those feedback effects. Warming is causing the permafrost to melt, which is causing the arctic bogs to ferment, which is releasing lots of methane, which in increasing the global warming. Which is making the oceans warmer. Etc. When the bogs have fermented to peat, then they'll pretty much stop releasing methand. But then they'll be an easily accessible fuel source for peat. Which will release yet more Carbon as CO2.

    I'm rather certain that we have enough Carbon lying around in various forms to carry us into a Triassic or warmer climate. (The sun's a bit hotter now than it was during the Triassic.)

    But as to how much of this will happen within 500 years? The arctic bogs are already melting. There's no evidence that the methal-cathlates won't go next week, but there's also none that says they won't hold out for a few centuries. It depends partially on just how touchy they really are (people being nervous and extrapolating isn't proof) and partially on how much mixing the ocean does. If the Great Conveyor shuts down, the Atlantic will stop much of it's mixing. (It's also possible that Europe and the Eastern US will have a STRONG cold snap. [Cf. the Older Dryas and the Younger Dryas.] while South of the Equator continues to warm, only faster. It's happened before.) In that case 500 years from now could see Europe and the Eastern US in a mini-ice age, complete with glaciers. This would be caused by a rapid melting of Greenland shutting down the Great conveyor. (Gores' film wasn't TOTALLY fictional, but he got the time scale way off. This would happen over around a century or so. Still lightning fast for the geological record. And I'm fairly sure he exaggerated the extent of the plausible glaciation.)

    Caution: I'm not a climate modeler. If a real one contradicts me, listen to him. I just read popularizations.

    94:

    Charlie: "in general the good dwellings are repaired and last a long time; the slums are bulldozed and few people shed tears for them."

    This was brought home to me when I passed through York and Manchester in 2004, revisiting old haunts.

    I was at school in York, and looking down Bootham (which is the street as well as the name of the school) towards town you see some Georgian domestic buildings that have been there 250 years, with St Mary's Tower (built 1324) on one side, and the vista ends with Bootham Bar (the arch of which is a smidge over 1,000 years old, though most is 14thC) overlooked by York Minster (built 1220-1472). So the view has looked broadly the same for hundreds of years and almost certainly will for another 150 and quite possibly 500 years. (Except that York is already prone to serious flooding, come to think of it).

    I went on to Manchester, where I'd been a student in the late 1970s and lived in a prefab concrete deck access block of council flats built only a few years before. To build them streets of low-rise Victorian terraces had been demolished (leaving only the odd corner pub standing). They were declared unfit for families pretty sharpish, which is why students were moving in, and they were knocked down in their turn sometime in the late 1990s, to be replaced by a massive ASDA and some low rise houses. So within 30 years that whole urban landscape had been transformed twice over.

    95:

    My Manchester location was Moss Side, btw... kind of a byword for drug gang violence, but also only about ten minutes' walk from Manchester University's main buildings.

    96:

    My expectation is that batteries are nearing their limits. Capacitors, however, don't appear to be even close to theirs. This is one area in which I expect "vacuum nanotechnology" to be significant, but it might be doable with other means.

    FWIW, I expect BOTH "wet nanotechnology" and "vacuum technology". Also MEMs. Electronics didn't obsolete the hammer. And I expect that the visionaries underestimate the problems and overestimate the capabilities of both. And that there will be new technologies that are basically different in nature, as genetic modification is different from agriculture. Because the world is complex.

    But with that said, a wet nanotechnology that depends on atoms not used within the human body (or not intentionally, strontium, perhaps) should have capabilities that biotechnology doesn't match. And if it depends on atoms not normally present, it would be easy to limit it's presence. (Caution, though. My first thought for a limiting atom was Cobalt, but that actually IS used in the body. So you need to be careful.)

    Part of the problem is that we think about things the wrong way. Nanotechnology isn't a single thing, the way electronics is. Electronics covers a wide scale of sizes. Nanotech is defined in terms of size. This is convenient now, but I feel it's basically wrong, and causes us to think about it incorrectly. Why should MEMs be separated from nanotechnology? They're a bit larger (micrometer scale), but they have the initial stages of the problems that become dominant in nanotechnology. Friction is extremely important to MEMs, but not as important as it is at nano-scale. In fact there's a continuum of sizes, with friction, e.g., becoming steadily more significant as the size decreases. (I believe that as you contiue shrinking the scale it becomes less important as quantum effects begin to dominate. That's a real, as opposed to a linguistic, boundary. And, if I'm correct, we call our current version of that level of technology electronics. And it, too, comes in wet and "vacuum" varieties.)

    97:

    One thing gets ignored is that much of the landmass of the Northern hemisphere is largely uninhabited because its too cold

    98:

    "My expectation is that batteries are nearing their limits."

    They are about 10x away from limits if considering Li/Air secondaries

    99:

    In this case, I think TP1024 is more right than you are.

    While it is possible that we'll f*ck up the tropics so much that they'll be growing kunai grass and little else, the last time we had it this hot (the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, aka PETM), there are fossils of tropical plants from within 5 degrees of what was the equator at that point, both in India and Colombia (at the Cerrejon site, where they also found Titanoboa). It's useful to search terms like "PETM rain forest" and see what google coughs up.

    Part of the thing here is that angiosperms really do run differently than conifers in terms of water emissions, and we didn't really get a tropical rain forest in the modern sense until angiosperms started getting dominant in the late Cretaceous (where there were tropical palm forests on the equator). This is one of the ways in which the Triassic is a false analogy to the modern system. The other way is that the Triassic was when Pangaea was splitting up, and even Eurasia isn't big enough to give us a good sense of what the interior of a supercontinent looks like (think the Russian steppe on steroids and you start to get an idea). It *is* possible to put a desert on the equator when you have big enough mountains and huge distances from the sea (as in the Triassic), but that's certainly not the case now, anywhere in our current tropics.

    For those who aren't into climate change, the PETM is the best model we have for what happens next, especially if we go in for the 5000 GT SuperFart of carbon emissions. It's sucktastic if you don't like tropical rain forests, and merely bugalicious if you do. While I do think we'll see expanding deserts in many regions in the short run, the hard part to model seems to be what happens to storms. More heat energy caught in the air means more evaporation off the water, and lots of water and heat in the air usually combine to make big-ass storms. The counter feedback is that hot bare ground (something we enjoy making) makes heat islands that can be difficult to storm on, and we seem to think that scraping the desert to bare hot ground to build shit is a good thing.

    From my limited understanding, that sure looks like a set-up for monsoon-type storms wandering much further into the temperate zone than they used to. As others have noted, superstorms like Sandy are indeed more likely to become the norm, and Midwest farmers may start praying for hurricanes to water the corn and sugar cane. As I said, the future is somewhere between sucktastic and bugalicious.

    100:

    " There's no evidence that the methal-cathlates won't go next week, but there's also none that says they won't hold out for a few centuries."

    Actually, the methane clathrates started going around 2008.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_methane_release

    101:

    You get tin from Dartmoor in Devon right down to the tip of Cornwall and probably beyond. You also get copper in the same region, no need to go to North Wales for it, but it's not quite as easy to get at. Devon Great Consols on the Devon side of the Tamar was the biggest copper mine in Europe at one time, it was also one of the biggest arsenic producers at the same time, and in an example of mining rubbish dumps a lot of tin was extracted from the spoil heaps in the 1970's that hadn't been worth extracting in Victorian times. Where you find one of the metals the others tend not to be far away, though accessibility varies.

    The arsenic was extracted by roasting the ore in a furnace and leading the gases up a very long flue to a chimney at the top of the hill. Once a week the fire was allowed to go out and small boys equipped with dustpan and brush swept up the metallic arsenic that had condensed out. In the right weather conditions aerial photographs still show the fallout pattern to the east of the chimney.

    102:

    I used to be one of those guys working on machine translation. Trust me, it's really hard. It might be one of those technologies that remains "40 years in the future" for an indefinite period of time.

    Anything smart enough to correctly translate (say) English to Mandarin is probably approaching a "magic-wand" level of AI.

    103:

    Hi Charlie! I like the new system.

    In five hundred years, I'd expect the composition of the atmosphere to be closely managed. Most likely the climate will be tweaked to open up more of North American and North Eurasia's marginal landmass, but that will be a political decision. Not to be a pollyanna about industrial growth, but five hundred years is a very long time -- you have to assume a lot of stagnation to conclude otherwise. (Which I see many of your posters have already assumed.)

    Corporation survival rates are very contingent. There used to be many more older companies in the world, until the events of 1949 et seq: they didn't fit under the new Chinese regime. A lot like houses, actually. If you assume a stable environment, you get more survivals, and vice versa.

    But regions, once they develop an identity, last for a very long time. There might not be a United States of America (although I note that the Roman Empire stuck around for a much longer time on a much more hostile continent), but almost certainly there will be a Texas of some sort. How it will define itself in relation to other regions is very contingent, though. (The great bastion of desert communalism! After all, "Texas" means "friends".)

    104:

    Aggression - agree that overall human aggression is on the downswing - better maternal health means better ability to focus on positive/non-stressful pregnancy and parenting which means reduced stress fight/flight hormones (esp. among male progeny).

    Kudzu vine (Heteromeles) - like this idea and have been thinking along similar lines particularly in terms of hybridizing with succulents to grow in deserts, and also about moving food production from energy/resource inefficient fruit trees to vines. Vines are also easier to grow indoors, so could be used at home.

    Desalination - While adding more water vapour into the atmosphere may add to global warming, desalination/hydro dam cogeneration would produce potable water from seawater or brackish groundwater to help provide energy. This would involve use a reverse dam direction to pump from the sea through several filters into fresh-water reservoirs with the now-sweet water used for irrigation.

    Scale -- 500 years hence, our descendents will have had to come to terms with scaling, opting for 'optimal' vs. our on-going fatal fixation with 'bigger/faster/stronger'. An optimal-scale translates into more diversity and complexity (niches). If our descendents are bright and want to stay bright -- and atmospheric oxygen levels keep going down -- this also means physically downsized human beings and/or more efficient means of using oxygen. Smaller humans means a smaller per capita energy requirement - in food, clothing (less yardage), smaller vehicles requiring less fuel, etc. This in turn means that total energy demand will diminish. (Apparently, one of the reasons dinosaurs grew so large was the abundance of oxygen.) One of the barriers to get the species to 2512 will be to inoculate humans against obesity - and this is looking feasible at least at the lab rat level.)

    Work/leisure - there's nothing written into our genome that says that we MUST earn 90% of our living by working for someone else (corporatism). We do/will however need a universal means of exchange though --- whether a currency or some type of electronic voucher system or ... Anyways, increasingly, I think our society is heading toward a 'your work is my leisure/hobby' economy.

    Rats, under-rated co-survivors -- just saw a very warm-and-fuzzy documentary about training/using rats in Africa to smell out land mines. Humans then tag and dig the landmines out and the land is once again (safely) arable. Given that rats have also been shown to feel empathy, maybe we should team up with them for other ventures. [See http://www.apopo.org/home.php]

    105:

    Funny you should mention machine translation. Microsoft yesterday demoed real-time English to Chinese speech:

    http://www.core77.com/blog/technology/must-see_video_real-time_english-to-mandarin_speech_translation_via_microsoft_research_23815.asp

    106:

    While higher ocean levels are a good bet because once the Greenland ice cap starts melting (and it has), it is impossible to reverse short inducing a full scale ice age in the Northern Hemisphere. I don't think there will be the global warming to the degree you suggest though. It is too easy to geo engineer through, for example, reflective particles in the stratosphere, planetary cooling. I think that desperate attempts to stop stop further global warming will eventually segue into global climate control. (Now there's a source of conflict.)

    107:

    Third, rare earths really are incredibly rare. Let's use neodymium for an example. World production of neodymium is about 20000 tons per year. Estimated reserves are on the order of 10 million tons. And neodymium is, to quote Wikipedia, actually not rare at all. By 2512 they'll be completely out of rare earths and most other heavy metals. That makes asteroid mining a lot more attractive.

    Don't confuse limited/expensive production with rarity. Titanium is about 100 times as common as copper, for example, but production of the metal is less than 1% as much and it's significantly more expensive per kilogram. It is in a position roughly analogous to aluminum before the development of electrolysis: expensive due to complicated and energy-intensive production processes rather than rarity.

    Rare earths are relatively common in the Earth's crust, but there are few conditions under which they are usefully concentrated by geochemical processes. Neodymium is more than 10 times as terrestrially abundant as tin, for example, but "neodymium ore" is much rarer than tin ores because neodymium behaves a lot like the other rare earths (and titanium and aluminum compounds) in rocks, so it stays diluted with a lot of lower-value materials. "Estimated reserves" just means something roughly equivalent to "amounts that could be extracted from today's estimated sources at today's prices with today's technology." I would guess that those estimated neodymium reserves will go up sharply in the next 10 years, since there's now much more interest in new sources and extraction processes than there was 10 years ago.

    If you're willing to spend enough effort you can of course concentrate rare earth elements (or any other element) from dilute sources; this is the basis of all classical quantitative analysis in chemistry. But why would you do it in space? Asteroids aren't going to have any higher concentrations of rare earth elements than terrestrial rocks. The asteroids have an advantage over Earth for platinum group metals precisely because geochemical processes don't operate there; on Earth the PGMs have tended to segregate out of the crust into deeps we can't reach. If you have the AI, cheap solar power, etc. to do automated space extraction of rare earth elements you can probably do it even cheaper on Earth's surface.

    And for that matter, the same AI and cheap energy that lets you separate 100 ppm of rare earth elements from bulk rock should also let you recycle at extremely high efficiency. Electronic trash is a richer source for many rare metals than the best ores currently mined today. It's labor intensive to recycle though; replace human labor with AI and the virgin mined material required each year could shrink to a tiny fraction of its present value. The only metals lost in any permanent sense are nuclear fuels and materials that leave Earth orbit.

    108:

    Do the math http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/

    Is asking how likely people think various futurist technologies are going to be, with in a 50/500/5000/eventually/never timescale. The tecnologies are things like self driving cars, flying cars, fusion, off-world colonies, FTL.

    https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2ZC6RD9

    His first write up was from asking physics students vs faculty what was likely to be possible. http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/10/futuristic-physicists/

    Though he's now looking for a larger swath of the population. http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/11/survey-the-people/

    109:

    Very nice, but Microsoft is still claiming a translation error of at least "1 word in 7 or 8".

    The low-hanging fruit of machine translation have been picked, and I'm sure we will continue to see incremental improvements like the one you link to. But I'm skeptical as to whether that is enough to bring us flawless automated translation.

    110:

    Still vastly better than my ability to translate english-chinese and vice versa, which is nil.

    111:

    Google Translate uses some reasonably clever algorithms. Pass one of my sentences to Japanese and back and you get:

    "We are confident that the low hanging fruit harvested machine translation, and we take a look at incremental improvements, such as those linked to you."

    Clearly the state of the art has a long way to go before it can accurately translate idiomatic sentences...

    112:

    I can't speak Chinese either. So what?

    The question is whether machine translation will become so good that it makes linguistic differences irrelevant. From where I'm standing that seems unlikely, unless we develop "magic wand" AI, in which case all bets are off for a whole lot of things.

    113:

    I have a strong suspicion that the statistic on company duration is highly misleading. Some companies are intentionally short term, for example each Glastonbury festival is run as a new limited company which is liquidated afterwards and the proceeds distributed. Giving a specific project legal personality is rather useful from a contractual point of view, it does result in a lot of very short lived companies. Then you get the situation that a very high proportion of new businesses fail within the first year or so, which also reduces the average sharply.

    England and Scotland both emerged as organised states over 1000 years ago and merged over 300 years ago, I wouldn't be at all surprised at it surviving 500 years.

    114:

    As usual, we need to separate "conceptually feasible" from "realistic." Also as usual with geoengineering, the big issues are political in nature: who pays, who monitors, dealing with different demands, and so forth.

    For example, I have no idea how the Greenlanders feel about potentially being able to grow trees and corn within two generations. Sure, it looks like it sucks right now, but compared to how marginal their land is, it could be a godsend. For them.

    That's a point that Charlie's probably sick of me making: the fact that we have the technical means to solve these problems now IN NO WAY means that we actually have the ability to solve any of them. At this time, politics is the major barrier, not technical know how. A lot of good tech innovations die dues to politics, not physical infeasibility. If you want to truly innovate and help the world, go into politics and figure out how to make it work better.

    115:

    The question is whether machine translation will become so good that it makes linguistic differences irrelevant. From where I'm standing that seems unlikely, unless we develop "magic wand" AI, in which case all bets are off for a whole lot of things.

    It seems to me that "irrelevant enough for many purposes" might be achievable without magic AI. Can it become irrelevant enough that non-Chinese speakers can accurately understand Chinese scientific papers or engineering specifications, for example? Or go the other way from English to Chinese?

    I have one of those "Amazing world of COMPUTERS" books from the 1960s where they predicted that machine translation would soon be good enough for many uses -- starting with easy stuff like short stories, of course! Complicated scientific and engineering documents would await further advancement. It's a prediction as badly off as assuming that programming a child's level of language comprehension would be easier than programming a chess champion.

    Google's translation service is good enough for me to understand experimental procedures for chemistry originally written in German, despite my total lack of German comprehension. I don't know how Google fares with similar Chinese documents. It is interesting because there are fewer tricky idioms, slang terms, and metaphors in technical documents and yet the economic payoff from translating technical documents is higher than that from translating fiction. A world where everyone can understand everyone's patents but not everyone's jokes seems possible.

    116:

    I agree that a lot of companies are short-lived by intention (or can barely be said to exist as all, as with shell companies concocted for tax avoidance), but it's pretty unusual for a major corporation to keep going for more than a few decades before it fails or is absorbed into something else. Management needs to be on the ball forever, the forces of entropy only need to get lucky once.

    The Bank of Scotland is a case in point: Founded 1695 and built up over 300 years, then pissed away in about a decade, followed by a merger with the much larger Halifax.

    Wikipedia has a rather interesting article on this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_companies

    It claims that 21,000 companies worldwide have existed for more than 100 years, and that most of them are small enterprises with fewer than 200 employees. (Skimming the list of pre-1700 companies, most seem to be food or drink related, for some reason.)

    A lot of the very long-lived companies may be more curiosities than anything else. It's great that Ede and Ravenscroft have been tailors for 323 years, and they might still be around in another 500, but you can't really argue that they have a major influence on wider society.

    117:

    "racism and race politics as they exist today are largely a side-effect of the perceived need to find a moral basis from which to defend the African slave trade, followed by rationalisms based on a half-assed reading of evolution."
    Perhaps discussions about this in Europe and British-settled world are, but having spent serious time in India and Japan (not to mention the wars in Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, plus what's under the sheets in the Arab Spring) it is clear to me that the discovery and exploitation of differences is quite hard-wired into humans. Not to mention the continued existence of the slave trade in Africa.

    118:

    Oh, and I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a non-trivial chance that the England-Scotland union will dissolve less than 2 years from now:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-20256108

    119:

    I agree. Machine translation might well be good enough for technical documents, but walking up to a native speaker and having a conversation is a totally different order of challenge.

    120:

    Is that a very good definition of “employment” though? After all, it implies that adults should have only one way of making a good living. I suspect it would include you, on the grounds that you are neither a pharmacist nor a software developer.

    121:

    Hey Charlie,

    I tend to agree with Doug Blair above that an energy crunch is likely to define events earlier than the advanced global warming scenario that you describe. Oil is already running out and a vast military expense is required to constrain its price. Although there's much oil left, its future value as a chemical material will at some point jump past its present value as a fuel, and that probably before we get too old.

    A massive global energy crunch isn't going to be pretty, but it'll be ugly in different ways than climate change. Wars of migration and over resources will happen earlier than rising sea levels would otherwise suggest. Wealth will shift radically according to preparedness and adaptability to switch energy patterns. Things like automobiles will move to judicious electric use relatively painlessly, but long-range travel and shipping less so, and with that there will be massive food and supply chain problems. Populations will fell left out and turn to mass exodus or revolt. There will be a perilous and unequal time, in the context of which even unsafe fission power will look like a boon.

    All this in the 21st century. But I think the result will be that we stop a lot shorter of the climate scenario you describe, and that stop will be very messy and violent.

    122:

    >Pass one of my sentences to Japanese and back and you get

    People are always using that telephone game to discredit machine translation. Speaking as someone who while not a professional translator is bilingual has done the job for pay in the relevant languages, I don't see how it proves anything.

    A human translator handed out of context sentences would hardly do any better.

    For what it's worth, the last time I did a technical translation I used google translate and corrected it manually. While there was a lot of work involved still, I was impressed with how the system correctly translated technical terms as used by relevant professionals. I found many of it's choices questionable but actually researching them I found that it usually did indeed pick the terms as used by the engineers.

    I figured the system is in fact capable of generalizing the subject of the text from the terms it encounters and applying the relevant slang, so to speak.

    In face to face communication, where body language and nonverbal cues are 80% of the message, a smartphone that can give you the right cue words in real time is pretty much all you need for effective translation

    123:

    Got to pick your language, I think.
    "The low-hanging fruit of machine translation have been picked, and I'm sure we will continue to see incremental improvements like the one you link to. But I'm skeptical as to whether that is enough to bring us flawless automated translation."

    In Korean back-translated, is:
    "Receipt machine translation of low-hanging fruit, and we you will see a link, such as incremental improvements is I'm sure. But to us is to avoid a complete automatic translation is skeptical about whether."

    In both simplified and traditional Chinese, back-translated, is:
    "Low hanging fruit machine translation are picked up, I'm sure we will continue to see incremental improvements, such as you link to a. But I doubt whether this is enough to bring us the perfect automatic translation."

    In Japanese back-translated is:
    "But I'm sure hanging low, it is fruit picking machine translation, and we take a look at incremental improvements, such as those linked to you, I will bring to us the perfect automatic translation it has been skeptical about whether it is sufficient."

    in back-translated French is:
    "The ripe fruit of machine translation have been made, and I am sure we will continue to see incremental improvements, such as the link. But I'm skeptical as to whether this is sufficient to bring us perfect machine translation."

    The point here is that it's possible to create a serviceable translation, especially in related languages (like French), but each language is unique, as shown by translation into three fairly closely related languages (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) that are far from English. The words get translated, but some (or much) of the sense gets lost.

    Hopefully parsing sentence structure will be one of the medium-hanging fruit that gets picked next.

    124:
    Hopefully parsing sentence structure will be one of the medium-hanging fruit that gets picked next.

    Hope all you want. I certainly can't rule out some kind of amazing breakthrough in machine translation. My point is that for a machine to handle fuzzy concepts like "context" and "sentence structure" is a lot more difficult than a dictionary lookup algorithm.

    It is plausible that, 500 years from now, we still won't have worked out how to crack this one.

    125:

    Well, the "telephone game" clearly demonstrates that machine translation will not handle idiomatic sentences correctly. I realise it's a hard job for human translators too -- that only reinforces my point that it's unrealistic to expect a perfect Universal Translator in the near future.

    126:

    Going to an archivist... Interesting.

    The scientific knowledge in settled certainty in most engineering problems: but we still have engineers, and engineering is still a challenging discipline. Mostly.

    I can, however, foresee a century where the materials technology and off-the-peg structural analysis is so good, so much of a 'done deal', that you can make almost anything you damn' well please out of carbon, silicon, and common metals. If you have the energy budget.

    Leaning buildings and bridges over the Strait of Gibraltar? Definitely. Mile-high walls of fibresteel holding in the Greenland ice cap? Less likely: too much matter, too much energy.

    I can't quite foresee 'scrith' - an engineering material with a tensile strength of the order of the Strong Nuclear Force - but I can't rule it out entirely. I would point out that nucleii exist in nature, so it's science rather than fantasy, but a full solution to the problems of the Standard Model may well rule out macro-scale nucleonic engineering.

    If I'm wrong, and we advance to an ability to manipulate nuclear forces (rather than the chemical bonds we work with today) in real-world engineering, then fusion is a done deal. As in: there's energy like there's water, everyone knows how to turn the taps on and off and we never think about it.

    You might find that everyday people are baffled by the idea of batteries and plugs and cables - what's energy? Everything's got mitochondria, they're made with a fixed amount of deuterium for the service life, and everything is made of stuff that works.

    "What do you mean, people used to die because their brains starved of oxygen? Injury, circulatory failure, whatever... Is that like, the factory refuses to renew your deuterium?"

    Actually, that level of mastery-of-matter is a kind of 'singularity' on its own: maybe an SF author had better stick to a world that engineers chemical bonds and leaves the Strong Nuclear Force to femtoscale objects that fly apart in a shower of alpha particles when you poke them in the lab.

    Even there, or here in the world of electromagnetic phenomena that you can drop on your foot, I have trouble grasping the extent of the manufacturing revolution over five more centuries. Remember that an Elizabethan craftsman had to *make* fastenings and staples: the idea of a nut-and-bolt or of woodscrews would've astonished him - they would be comprehensible and usable, but he would be staggered by the days and weeks of exquisitely-precise craftsmanship that went into making them.

    The idea that he could walk into a shop and buy a bag of screws, of whatever size he needed, for the price of his beer, would have been beyond his comprehension and his sanity.

    What of a world in which replacement eyes are beer-money objects off the shelf, or out-of-the-printer on demand? What if the 2512 Screwfix Catalogue includes a miniature chip fab, ICI Runcorn in a matchbox, and thirty man-hour-equivalents of Terence Conran design input? Five hundred years is difficult to imagine!

    Running out of new things to make and do won't be a problem.


    127:

    So what?

    It makes all the difference between communicating, however haltingly, and waving your hands in utter frustration, hoping you can find someone to translate for you. I think even a basic voice translator, however poor, would be a benefit in a lot of situations.

    128:

    500 years isn't what it used to be. It was 20 to 30 generations, depending how you count and where you lived.

    If gains in longevity are retained, 500 years will be 15 generations. (Today at the supermarket I saw a magazine cover featuring a woman who had had a baby at 55, and suggesting that this was going to be normal. Maybe 10 generations.)

    129:

    Everything's got mitochondria, they're made with a fixed amount of deuterium for the service life, and everything is made of stuff that works.

    Wait, what?

    Fusion energy and biology just don't work well together. For starters, nuclear radiation has roughly the same relationship to proteins and nucleic acids that cannonballs have to architecture. Secondly, the energies needed for fusion are not compatible with liquid water. Thirdly, the neutron flux from fusion would turn everything nearby into toxic waste.

    BTW, we've had tabletop fusion reactors for years now. The details have been published in credible, peer-reviewed journals and replicated in other labs. Unfortunately, they're more a source of neutrons than a source of energy.

    see http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v434/n7037/abs/nature03575.html

    130:

    The trend (if it exists) of having children later will put persistent downward pressure on population, by stretching the time between generations.

    This creates a headwind for entrepreneurs: when the population was growing at 2% per year, people could start businesses in an enviroment where the market was going to double in size every 35 years -- even if people weren't getting richer individually. Soon that will be gone: there's an additional 2% risk premium that has to be factored into business plans. This will tend to favour established firms over newcomers.

    Another aspect of this shift: generalising furiously, old people are risk-averse and prone to nimbyism. And richer: wealth tends to concentrate unless deliberately broken up.

    So the incentives for entrepreneurs now are different from those prevailing fifty or a hundred years ago. Then, the big money was in providing mass-market services to an expanding and increasingly wealthy general population. Today, and into the foreseeable future, the opportunities are in selling insurance (and security in general) and elaborate, highly labour-intensive services and products to an elite.

    The thing is ... the thing is that these services don't require much technological innovation.

    So for a time between now and 2512, there will be both greater resistance to technological innovation and smaller incentives pushing it.

    Before we get to the promised land of everything being too cheap to meter, we may stall out, and land back in a static feudalist state.

    For the rest, I think Charlie has summed things up admirably.

    132:

    _"...but each language is unique, as shown by translation into three fairly closely related languages (Chinese, Japanese, and Korean) that are far from English."_

    Japanese is not closely related -- genetically speaking, though there's lots of lexical borrowing -- to Chinese, and its relationship to Korean is unclear (probably not especially closely related to Korean either).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classification_of_Japonic

    133:

    OK, we have at least two different styles of tabletop fusion device to choose from.

    134:

    Then again, I live at 4200 feet, and we rather like the small taste of warming we've had so far. All right, we still get the occasional snowstorm in May, but it melts lots faster than it used to (not joking). I still had to scrape ice off the car in September, but at least it wasn't August, as it has been some years. Some of us are enjoying the ride thus far.

    135:

    If the world warms as Charlie suggests and significant parts of the currently inhabited world are flooded by rising sea levels, and fresh water becomes rarer due to over-extraction of acquifiers and other misuses, would we expect some fairly large-scale violence? Perhaps not another world war but a lot of localised wars?

    These will probably all be resolved by 2512 but what effect will they have on civilisations and psyches? Will they be as forgotten as the Thirty Years War, or still resonate like World War One?

    136:

    Yeah, I used to buy into the "Korean is so unique" thing too, and I'm trying to learn Korean, which is a freaking hard language, incidentally, especially for someone as linguistically handicapped as myself (I'm an American white dude who speaks English).

    I don't any more, and I just deleted a very long and very boring reason why. In general, it boils down to the fact that, different as they sound, Korean and Japanese can be written in Chinese characters, and they can use those characters to communicate successfully, when neither party can understand their spoken language (this was one of the common modes for Chinese-Korean diplomacy and trade, a few centuries ago).

    However, you can't write English with Chinese characters.

    Because of that, I'm willing to say they're fairly closely related to each other, especially relative to English.

    137:

    All of your predictions are basically a straight-line extrapolation from today. Nothing actually new or disruptive. Stated another way, you've fallen into the trap of believing "as things have always been, so will they always be".

    Such may be possible, but it's not the way to bet.

    That said, I did enjoy the read.

    138:

    I also think that just as rabbis are likely evaluating genetically modified food for kosher-ness, that they will have opinions on genetically-modified people (and there are likely to be four opinions for every three rabbis). The Jewish body of opinion has lasted this long--500 years, meh!

    There will also be *new* religious fanatics, probably a sect that we don't normally hear of in that context (for instance, the Church Militant might be quite a bit more militant--going to the catacombs, so to speak, rather than the mattresses).

    And even if we have longer lifespans, there will still be a small proportion of people who will do Extraordinarily Stupid Things because it sounded like fun at the time--if there is a part of human society where the lifespan fixes don't work, well, the high-risk seeking types will seek immortality by say, climbing Mt. Everest in the nude (some body mods might work on them even if the lifespan one doesn't).

    We might even see the return of BatBoy...

    139:

    The odd thing about computers screwing up syntax is that sea lions, to pick on one animal, can apparently understand some forms of syntax. This seems to indicate that it's not quite as hard a problem as the translation programs currently make it out to be.

    The thing that fascinated me is how variable the sentence structures were in those languages. Is verb placement an issue? English is Subject-Verb-Object, while Korean is Subject-Object-Verb. Let's try some other SOV langauges: German and Latin. Again, the English is:
    "The low-hanging fruit of machine translation have been picked, and I'm sure we will continue to see incremental improvements like the one you link to. But I'm skeptical as to whether that is enough to bring us flawless automated translation."

    Back-translated from German:
    "The low hanging fruit has been picked up by the machine translation, and I'm sure we will. Further gradual improvement as you link to see them. But I am skeptical that this is enough to make us perfect automatic translation"

    Back-translated from Latin:
    "The low-hanging fruit has been gathered, machine translation, and I'm sure we will continue to see incremental improvements like the one you link to. But I'm skeptical as to whether that is enough to bring us flawless automated translation."

    Interesting.

    140:

    Good post, Charlie. Assuming no transhuman weirdness or collapse, I believe that

    1. Warfare is going to look surprisingly retro by modern standards. We're testing solid-state laser platforms that can be mounted on vehicles (one on a jeep shot down a drone in a test a couple of years back), as well as microwave weapons - and both could be huge game-changers. As in "combat aircraft are driven from anywhere lower than the stratosphere, missiles are largely gone and artillery much less effective, limited ability to use sophisticated electronics that aren't heavily shielded" game-changing.

    2. It's questionable whether or not our descendants (or us in 2512) will want to change the world back to what we would consider the normal. Think about it- they'll have spent centuries living in a "Hothouse Earth" type of climate that Heteromeles mentioned existed in the Paleocene and early Eocene. All the flora and fauna living in that world will have gone through some pretty intense selection pressure for it. I think it's very likely that they'll decide they want to keep the settled areas on the Arctic Basin rim habitable, and so they'll try to maintain temperatures at that level instead.

    3. Medical technology is probably going to proceed slower than you think it will. When a machine fails horrendously in testing, you usually just lose money and time. But if a drug tested on people fails, people die. For ethical reasons, it's much harder to test and trial anything medical.

    4. I don't think capitalism will die barring some form of 3D printing hyperlocalistic economies or Desire Modification, but you could see an era where profits are almost non-existent for most companies. Massive profits usually only happen when a company has some type of "corner", be it the patent rights to new, valuable technology, regulatory rules protecting them from competition, or some form of information about a market that others don't have. Take those away, and competition tends to drive profits down to the level where they're just enough to keep a certain amount of companies from leaving the business.

    141:

    EDIT: Make that "upper" stratosphere.

    142:

    I like the idea of raccoons as agricultural labourers. They're so cute, and their opposable thumbs are so handy! Also, when they become troublesome we can always turn them into hamburger meat and wear their skins:

    http://www.kaufmanfurs.net/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=1999

    143:

    There seems to be an implicit assumption in this post and most of the responses that there will be no major upheavals in physics over the next 500 years.

    That might be the case but it bears keeping in mind that almost all modern physics - nuclear, quantum, and relativity - date from 1905 and later. A span of just over 100 years is not that long. Even Newtonian mechanics fits comfortably within the 500 year window with almost 200 years to spare.

    Physics is still unfinished - we lack a theory that unifies the quantum world with the relativistic one. As long as it remains unfinished, there remains the possibility of yet another upheaval in physics and with it significant significant changes in the technological prospects of the next 500 years.

    144:

    Don't confuse limited/expensive production with rarity.

    Fair enough; I think that I got rare earths and the platinum group consufed during a rewrite of that post and didn't notice. I still stand by my original statement and the rest of my reasoning: getting mass into the asteroid belt and back will be a lot easier than assumed, and may be easy enough for asteroid mining to be viable. Remember, asteroid mining looks like it's worth it using modern technology. The advances that we're assuming here (primarily the moonbase) will only make it better.

    145:

    Saying that it "looks like it's worth it" is stretching what Planetary Resources can realistically do a lot. Right now, virtually all of it except their time-share telescopes is speculative, along with their pathway to actually making a profit off of mining.

    146:

    _"Yeah, I used to buy into the "Korean is so unique" thing too, and I'm trying to learn Korean, which is a freaking hard language, incidentally, especially for someone as linguistically handicapped as myself (I'm an American white dude who speaks English)."_

    First, I really don't have any unusual ideas about Korean or Japanese linguistic uniqueness.

    Also, I can sympathize -- being a white USer bloke and someone who spent a few years having a go at Nihingo. Best of luck to you.

    _"I don't any more, and I just deleted a very long and very boring reason why. In general, it boils down to the fact that, different as they sound, Korean and Japanese can be written in Chinese characters, and they can use those characters to communicate successfully, when neither party can understand their spoken language (this was one of the common modes for Chinese-Korean diplomacy and trade, a few centuries ago)."_

    Amounts to an interesting fact about ideographic orthographies -- more so than saying much about language "relatedness." I suppose a well-educated "native" Japanese speaker could follow a Beijing newspaper article a bit (quite difficult), but one of the nice things about Kana is that one can express the morpho-syntactic features of Japanese that are very darn different than Putonghua (and do keep in mind that Kanji is not identical to either of the Chinese character sets); Sino-Tibetan languages are isolating, Japanese, not so much -- considerably inflected. And Hangul was a neat invention, eh?

    _"Because of that, I'm willing to say they're fairly closely related to each other, especially relative to English."_-

    OK, but, FWIW, keep in mind that anyone with any background in linguistics will make a funny face if they read something about Chinese, Japanese, and Korean being "closely related." If something is said to be "related," we think genetically so. But maybe I'm just making a fuss about jargon.

    For my part, I've a not-entirely-wild-arsed hypothesis that proto-Japonic was an extinct Korean peninsula language lexifier with some sort of just-so-happens-to-be-similar Austronesian grammar...a creolization of an expanded pidgin. Would explain the genuine fact that Japanese is damn difficult to trace.

    147:

    _"But languages are getting relatively static, for all the extinction events. Gutenberg and Webster caused huge normalizations in spelling (hmm, you'd use an "s" in normalization, though -- gotta fix that one). Significant changes in formal grammar get harder and harder to accomplish (I totes think it's not going to happen), but informal word usage changes will continue. What's written conversationally in 500 years will certainly be quite different."_

    Phonological changes (among others) will continue to bust up grammar. "English" used to have much more explicit case marking (other than pronouns); phonological change roughed that up, and there's no good evidence to suggest that those sorts of processes are coming to a halt -- there just isn't the sort of intra-language homogenisation and stasis you might expect from mass media and what-not.

    148:

    But the folk linguistics here is just adorable. ;-)

    149:

    Regarding "race," I've no doubt that that constructed saliency will be obliterated eventually. The deep monkey ingroup-outgroup stuff that gives rise to it will be more difficult to destroy. Good culture goes a long damn ways...

    150:

    Sorry for being flippant -- I meant that your inability to speak Chinese isn't really relevant to the question of whether a machine translator can do it.

    even a basic voice translator, however poor, would be a benefit in a lot of situations

    If the situation is trying to ask for directions or order in a restaurant, then maybe. For anything more complicated, current automated voice translation is not really fit for purpose.

    IIRC the American army in Iraq experimented with automated "translator boxes", and they were a complete failure. Instead they had to hurriedly recruit whatever Iraqi translators they could find. (Needless to say, the consequences of a misunderstanding were a lot worse than ordering soup instead of salad.)

    151:

    Yeah, a bad translation can get you into a lot of trouble. When the police were called to a domestic dispute here, my Ukranian monoglot flatmate tried using google translate to talk to the police. I'm not sure what he was trying to say, but I'm pretty sure google got it wrong when it claimed he was saying "show me your tits".

    Luckily the (male) police officer wasn't offended and soon he had a translator on the phone.

    ___________________

    On the subject of language, will languages change quite so much in the future, now that there's so much written down and recorded on film, etc? There's bound to be some change - as anyone who watches Ealing comedies will note - but perhaps a speaker in 500 years time will be more comprehensible to a present-day listener than someone from 500 years ago.

    152:

    Only if the people involved are very stupid. Wars are enormously expensive, and while desalination is not cheap, it is a minimum of one order of magnitude cheaper than engaging in warfare. Also, much safer.
    Time horizon is a tad short, as well.

    153:

    My point in my previous post is that "back translating" doesn't really tell you how accurate the first translation was because the second translation can introduce errors.

    Google translate does have some context awareness capabilities a desktop translation program lacks, if you give it a 20 page document on breweries, it's unlikely it will give you ghosts for spirits.

    With search personalization, location awareness ("User is at an airport, query is not likely to be about mathematical planes"), etc I don't think turing completeness is going to be necessary for useful results.

    154:

    Vandalism is a non-issue. Right now, my local bus company, Lothian and Borders, has about eight cameras inside every bus. Tickets are still sold for cash, but a contactless card system is being rolled out. A shift to a self-driving vehicle implies also a shift towards cashless payment systems -- which could be used to identify riders, subject to legal safeguards. Again, RFID-fingerprinting could be built, relatively cheaply, into each seat. So if someone rips up a bus seat, you run the camera footage, go to the Sheriff's court for a warrant, look up their payment card and use it to pull their credit/bank details, and send the cops round to their house to arrest them.

    Same goes for taxis.

    (It hasn't caught on with the official licensed cabs in Edinburgh yet, but private hire cars frequently have CCTV cameras recording the passengers, on a loop, in case of violence.)

    The takeaway is that such vehicles will be, in effect, "public space", and will provide exactly as much privacy to engage in nefarious activities as any other public space. Which is to say, less and less as time goes by.

    155:

    "back translating" doesn't really tell you how accurate the first translation was because the second translation can introduce errors.

    True as far as it goes. But it's still a useful rough and ready indicator, on the (reasonable) assumption that Japanese-English is not significantly more error-prone than English-Japanese.

    Don't get me wrong -- machine translation is already useful, and it will become more so. It might become reliable for factual instructions like "baggage reclaim is that way" or "put down that chainsaw". But the Star Trek scenario of a device that lets you reliably have an idiomatic conversation, on an arbitrary subject, with a native speaker, is verging on "magic wand" AI.

    BTW "Turing complete" has nothing to do with AI, it refers to the ability to simulate an idealised theoretical computing machine. You might be thinking of "AI complete".
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_completeness
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AI-complete

    156:

    I've recently read "The Crash Course" by Chris Martenson, "The Singularity is Near" by Kurzweil, and "After America" by Mark Steyn - all with very different takes on the future.

    500 years is a long way out - I might as well suggest flying finned cars that can pack into suitcases + robot butlers!

    I do have one prediction - any out of bounds thought-crime consisting of the conceptual nomenclature "Eurabia" will be immediately detected and redacted !

    157:

    I don't know if printing and widespread literacy slow down or speed up the space of linguistic change. On the one hand, you can have a shared dictionary and standard if you want one; on the other, any change in vocabulary or grammar can spread very quickly.

    You could end up with a situation where the "offical" language drifts away from the language that is actually spoken. This is happening to some extent with French, and more so with Arabic. For an extreme case, look at the divide between Latin and Italian.

    I think the pace of language change is primarily driven by change in the underlying society. In Icelandic, sagas written 1000 years ago are still intelligible to modern speakers... I don't think it's a coincidence that Iceland is an isolated island nation with few drastic social upheavals.

    As Charlie notes, we can expect some pretty radical social and technological changes and population movements in the next 500 years, so language change could be equally extreme. Perhaps it would be exacerbated if human beings are two separate populations in the far north and south, divided by the uninhabitably hot tropics. USA/UK English and South African/Australian English might diverge quite considerably.

    158:

    Birthcontrol will be strictly enforced in most areas [...]

    Seriously, that's not at all necessary. Pregnancy and birth are not exactly fun, and if you add punishing women for having children, by, oh, making sure that they are their families serfs for the rest of their lives because they can't return to the qualified (and satisfying) jobs they had before, and can't comfortably live off the McJobs they can get thereafter, it regulates itself quite handily. So basically all you have to do is make sure that child care is not readily available, and child care duties remain with women. Germany f.e. is doing great at that.

    159:

    Actually, if I were writing a 2512AD novel and wanted to tweak racist noses ...

    One of the quirks that underly much of the ideology of western exceptionalism and white racism is, ahem, white skin/blond hair. It's actually a relatively recent mutation (i.e. it emerged after proto-sapiens made it out of Africa and spread north into Eurasia).

    The current explanation is this: we require Vitamin D, a group of fat-soluble steroids, to regulate calcium and phosphorus metabolism. Now, interestingly, we can photosynthesize Vitamin D from cholesterol. And it doesn't take much sunlight to do it -- the recommendation that stuck in my mind was to spend the equivalent of 15 minutes a day with bare forearms exposed to sunlight.

    However, folks who wrap up against the cold and who live in the far north, where we don't get much sunlight in the winter months, may begin to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. With symptoms like rickets in children, this is non-optimal. Melanin in the skin absorbs sunlight and reduces the efficiency of Vitamin D photosynthesis: so a mutation that reduces melanism makes it easier for wrapped-up folks in the sub-arctic to make enough of the stuff.

    But white skin comes with a price -- you burn easily if exposed to intense sunlight. Wouldn't it be so much better all round, therefore, if we could tweak the Vitamin D synthesis pathway so that it could be driven directly by ATP reduction, and then fix the broken melanism trait? That way, the future of the habitable regions of the post-warming earth would be full of happy, rickets-free dark-skinned people who could cope if the ozone layer broke again for whatever reason.

    Add this (the abolition of white skin on grounds of its impracticality) on top of those Texan communists and I am certain I could instantly shed a few fans who I didn't really want in the first place ...

    160:

    "Only if the people involved are very stupid."

    Ah, well, then we have nothing to worry about.

    161:

    Spaghetti code -- I've been hammering at this point since the 1970s, and wish you more luck than I've had. Metaphors of genetic "code" and "blueprint" are extraordinarily powerful in encouraging a tinkering/engineering mindset... with about as much success as one would have had c. 1850 in redesigning the body's boiler, or c. 1930 in optimizing its relays and solenoids.

    Back in the day, when I learned how little nitrogenase there actually is out there doing all that nitrogen fixation (ISTR that Vaclav Smil estimates 20-30 kg in the world), I first thought: kewl! We'll just synthesize it, plate it in monolayers, run warm moist air over it, and shut down all that wasteful Haber-Bosch techne. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize how much the enzyme needs the elaborately configured microenvironment in which it's found.

    Then, of course, the NanoMagic gang showed up to tell me that we'll just mass-produce the microenvironments, too. Wake me up when we're as smart as a root nodule.

    163:

    The polling evidence is that the Scots are going to reject independence by a fairly large margin. It is possible that opinion might shift, but it seems unlikely.

    164:

    Wars are enormously expensive

    The Taliban seem to be doing reasonably well on a shoestring.

    while desalination is not cheap, it is a minimum of one order of magnitude cheaper than engaging in warfare

    OGH is talking about large parts of India and China being uninhabitable, leading to mass migrations. Is this really going to happen without conflict? Will these countries have the space for the people, to grow their food, to get or make the water they need, ...? Where there are shortages on this scale, it seems likely to me that there will be conflict.

    165:

    There's an old joke about white folks calling black folks "colored," because our (white) skins change color all the time (blue when cold, red when burned, tan when brown, green when nauseated, etc.). Conversely, they're always "black" (except they aren't--two months ago, my trucker's tan is about as dark as Obama's face is now).

    The real irony is that my Korean friends, whose skin color (away from the sun) is exactly the same as mine, don't tan as much, nor do they burn as much. They envy my deep tans, but laugh at my sunburns.

    It's deeply ironic that "white" people are actually the chameleons of the human world. Too bad we can't call ourselves "colored." Oh well.

    As for the future, there's a place for white folks, in the raw frontier forests up beyond the Arctic and Antarctic circle. More to the point, if we really do get tropical forests up to London, we'll see a total disintermediation between "tropical" and "ethnically brown or black." Tarzan will be far more adaptive in coming millennia than he was a century ago, swinging around the Appalachians on wild grape vines.

    The thing about global warming is that sunlight doesn't change with global warming, but the climatic zones do. Since skin color is an adaptation to ranges of sunlight, not ranges of temperature, the skin color most endangered by climate shifts is that beautiful deep ebony seen in tropical sunlit Africa, southern India, and similar places.

    Anyway, I'm white, they're yellow or black, and the sky's blue. That's culture for you. People see language, not reality.

    166:

    Regarding Korean and Japanese diplomatic communication in the past using Chinese characters: I don't have any specific knowledge of the historical situation, but I find it much more likely that educated people in Japan and Korea had studied reading and writing classical Chinese, and not that they were writing their own languages using Chinese characters (although both did use Chinese characters in their language).

    This is similar to the way Hong Kong people can read and write modern Chinese: even if their native language is Cantonese and they have only poor spoken Mandarin, what they call written Chinese (and were taught in school) is actually written colloquial Mandarin.

    Of course, there is a written colloquial Cantonese, but newspapers don't use its grammar and only use some of its words.

    As for the prospect of fluent machine translation, I believe it is nearly equivalent to general strong AI, which puts us back in singularity territory.

    167:

    My point in my previous post is that "back translating" doesn't really tell you how accurate the first translation was because the second translation can introduce errors.

    Google translate does have some context awareness capabilities a desktop translation program lacks, if you give it a 20 page document on breweries, it's unlikely it will give you ghosts for spirits.

    With search personalization, location awareness ("User is at an airport, query is not likely to be about mathematical planes"), etc I don't think turing completeness is going to be necessary for useful results.

    168:

    doink. Came back, found the post in the comment field, figured I never actually posted and pressed submit. But then I guess I did. Deletions, pleeze?

    (Watts' blog has a nice feature allowing editing and deletion, and since we're all logged in users now... might be nice)

    169:

    @142: We don't have a fully complete answer for how relativity and quantum mechanics interact, but we have a very good practical answer to that question. The practical answer is that they don't interact noticeably at all because the mass, distance, and energy scales are too different. Ignoring some mathematical corrections to energies of heavy atom core electron states, there's very little overlap.

    @151: One prediction that I have utter confidence in: in 2512, humans will still be a pack of assholes, though they may have shinier toys.

    170:

    A couple of points. Racism is about a lot more than skin colour even from a physiology only POV. You think Indians can't recognize Africans if they have the same skin colour?

    Also, the recommended dose of Vit D is around 400 units a day. Which is probably grossly inadequate, except to prevent rickets. I take 5000 units a day and it makes a BIG difference, especially with regard to arthritis.

    171:

    This is not the racism thread. However, before I bring the lid down on it, I suggest you google "kyriarchy".

    172:

    Actually, until the 20th Century, Korean was written in Chinese characters. South Korean papers still use a mix of Chinese characters and hangeul geuljas.

    A bit of history: Hangeul was invented in 1443 to bring literacy to the masses. The Yangban (scholar-noble) class opposed it fiercely, because mass literacy would deprive them of their status as people who had either passed the national examinations, or at least had a grandfather who had passed. As a result, hangeul languished for centuries. Hangeul didn't start to become popular until the 20th Century. It was popularized in opposition to Japanese (especially from 1910-1935 and after 1945) and by Christian missionaries, who espoused the radical idea that all people are equal before God, and thus everyone deserved an education. Hangeul is much easier to master than Chinese characters, and that's what they used.

    The old Korean scholars wrote Chinese, even if they spoke Korean. Even though Korea was a vassal state of China, very few Koreans actually spoke Chinese. Rather more could communicate with their Chinese counterparts in writing, though.

    173:

    Sounds like archetypal Human behaviour of the type we Transhumanists are always accused of wanting to destroy.

    174:

    All people are equal before God in the same way all ants are equal before Humans. However, the ants probably don't see it that way.

    175:

    Trying reading the latest issue of Jupiter - no. 38... there's a climate change story in there and then work out the extrapolations... I'm not going to say the future is rosier than you paint, but you've not taken into account all the factors and the way humans tend to act in their best interests... the crystal ball power with you is not.

    176:

    Of course you're right about back-translation. I was more interested in how Google was handling the frame shift from SOV to SVO and back to SOV.

    On the surface, you'd think that moving the verb around and adding or subtracting the various particles wouldn't be that hard. Thus it was interesting to see how much trouble the machine had correctly attaching the clauses to the structures they modified. I was even more interested to see that the machine lost track of the subject of one verb in the English-Japanese loop.

    Then again, it takes some effort to teach this kind of writing to children, so it's obviously not as easy as I thought it might be.

    177:

    At the risk of stepping on a really big landmine, history and language are both intensely politicized in the area around Japan, Korea, and northern China.

    Given Korea's history over the last 120 years, they're going to stress how unique they are, and it might be harder to see and talk about the commonalities they share with their neighbors than one might expect objectively. Remember that, not very long ago, such commonalities were used by Japan as an excuse to annex them as part of its western-inspired Empire. And then there's the Cold War, which is still very active on the Korean peninsula.

    I agree that Korean, Japanese, and Chinese are superficially very different. The place where we differ is that I strongly suspect that politics have encouraged work that points out how different they are, at least in the last 70 years.

    And I won't even begin the discussion about how "Chinese," with its dialects, is a language like "European," with its dialects of English, German, and French...

    178:

    Isn't "politics" a simpler word for the same thing?

    179:

    I haven't read the 177 comments thoroughly, apologies if this has already come up-

    I think that long before we get to the sort of climate change impacts you describe, we'll attempt massive climate engineering. Maybe a coalition of many nations, maybe one or a few nations working together or independently, maybe rogue non-nation entities.

    Maybe that climate engineering will make things better, maybe worse, maybe just different. But I think it's safe to assume it will happen and it will be a Big Deal in history one way or another.

    180:

    Certainly it's very politicized. And the Japanese probably go even further than the Koreans in thinking themselves a special snowflake, linguistically and otherwise.

    It's been said that languages are dialects with an army.

    Points taken, but they don't change the actual, real _fact_ that Japonic and Sino-Tibetan languages do not have a recent common ancestor.

    181:

    On the surface, you'd think that moving the verb around and adding or subtracting the various particles wouldn't be that hard.

    I though Google had largely abandoned the basic language structure approach and used word phrases based on statistical matching?

    182:

    I don't think you need a magic wand here. There are lots of approaches to nitrogen fixation from purely chemical to purely natural biological. I would be very surprised if we don't get a number of economically viable, low energy approaches to work. Worst case, we fall back on multi-cropping with nitrogen fixing plants as part of the mix.

    Don't forget, we have a lot of fixed nitrogen available, it is just that we keep it very separated from our agriculture.

    183:

    _"I though Google had largely abandoned the basic language structure approach and used word phrases based on statistical matching?"_

    I believe that's largely correct. It's my understanding that fancier machine translation approaches don't scale so well in terms of speed.

    184:

    So I think everyone is pretty agreed that language translation is HARD, even for humans - why else do we keep seen books published "with a new translation by...". Literature, with its rich vocabulary (and made up terms in SF), plus historical and cultural references (how do they translate OGN's Laundry novels' jokes?) is particularly hard, compared to say, a business letter.

    But suppose we get surprised and we see good literary translations by machines of the 'Watson' approach? Can we accept that achievement as strong AI and allow for the potential for full AGI (probably better than human level I)? I would be surprised if that didn't happen well before 500 years.

    The reason I think this is that we already have ongoing projects to simulate brains. Even 100 years out these approaches will probably show the strengths and weaknesses of brain simulation with the hardware constraints removed. Even specialist, Watson style machines will be ubiquitous, probably with spoken language translation at some level built in.

    I expect our machine intelligences will be as similar to ours, as aircraft are to birds, but so what? They may even have so much processing power that they could simulate humans as an interface to allow us to interact with them.

    185:

    I didn't mean that we can't or won't come up with nifty nitrogen fixation techniques. I was reflecting on my own earlier naivete in thinking that we could just pluck that enzyme out of its evolved settings and use it like a simple industrial reagent... and, by extension, on a lot of the speculation I see about genetic engineering and bio-engineering in general.

    186:

    Sorry guys but some of the comments on this (excepting our gracious host of course) are so... SHORT SIGHTED that even though it's 1:45 AM here in Vietnam, it drove me to register, sign in and comment.

    500 Years is a LONG TIME

    Technology and science are not slowing down they are getting FASTER and are driving history both faster and in totally new directions.

    Look, it would have to take a total world catastrophe to wipe out, for example, the Internet (and it would probably require something of that magnitude to knock out Google and all of its competitors). Unless that happens (and I think we ruled out asteroids and such mega-disasters), we can count on basically ALL OF HUMANITY will have almost the sum total of all human knowledge at its fingertips anywhere at anytime. FROM THIS POINT ON.

    When the average day laborer in Vietnam (where I live) can start to think about getting a cheap android tablet on his salary, you know that day is not centuries, decades but maybe only years away.

    Now maybe that won't TREMENDOUSLY change his life (it'll just make paying his bills, finding a good doctor, getting to work easier, maybe learning a new skill that's all) but for the .1% who are REAL GENIUSES, it WILL. As Bill Gates once said "It used to be better to be a mediocre person in America than a genius in India, then the Internet came along". That is not an exact quote but you can Google it yourself thus proving my point.

    There have been studies showing that when people move to a city, their productivity (and income) goes way up (that's why they move). It's because interacting with other people make people much more efficient/creative/specialized. Now imagine: the Internet is making the WHOLE WORLD a giant city.

    Of course the Internet is just one (important) trend in science and technology. Look at robotics, genetics, large scale computing, carbon nano-tubes, graphene, self-assembling systems, protein modeling, synthetic biology etc. These fields are EXPLODING. (I read a LOT of science articles, you should too: sciencedaily.com).

    Anyway, for an example of how wrong some comments have been, one comment claimed that by 2512 we should have simultaneous translation. Then someone else mentioned MS was already working on it. Then someone else mentioned it already works (between Chinese and English).

    Did you realize that not only is it working but that when it speaks the translated phrase it does so in your voice? Sure, it is only about 80% "correct" but it isn't 2512 now is it? So what if it take s server farm to process; in 20 years you'll probably have that in your hearing aid.

    That prediction is about 500 years off (does anyone really expect it can't be completely solved in a few decades?) By then you'll probably be able to store EVERY ENGLISH SENTENCE EVER SPOKEN WITH ITS TRANSLATION on a sugar cube sized computer and just find the appropriate phrase by brute force search (a la Google).

    The impact of just this one field (computers) extends very very far. Think of warfare. How much better was a navy from, say 1500 than one was from 1400? Slightly bigger ships, better compasses, longer cannons. Now look at various battles between technological combatants in the late 20th century.

    For example the U.S. utterly destroyed a very well equipped (by the soviets) Iraqi air force in the first gulf war. (I believe, at the time that their air force was the 4th largest in the world.) Remember the U.S. was fighting them literally on the other side of the world, whereas they were fighting from dug in defenses FOR THEIR OWN COUNTRY. The main difference? Maybe a decade or two of technology, mainly in the form of (much) better electronics and stealth. The same thing happened when the Syrians fought the Israelis, I think the score was 79 Syrian jets lost to 0 Israelis.

    And I think it's getting worse (that's why the Chinese are so desperate to catch up to the U.S. in the military; being #2 still means you lose).

    What I'm saying is that most of these predictions, even without positing a "Major" technological advance are incredibly short-sighted when projecting 500(!) years. Again, short of an almost extinction level event, humanity is just not going to forget all that has learned; history on a global scale WILL NOT be repeated. For example just take ONE extrapolation of existing technology like quantum encryption to its logical progression (an extrapolation isn't a "breakthrough" like a warp drive or teleporter right?). If/when we get quantum computers working it will change the world, first by giving its creator the ability to crack any non-quantum encrypted code and next by solving many "unsolvable" problems.

    Or, for another example, how about REALLY cheap solar power from spray on solar films (with efficiency in the double digits from nano-dots). Within a generation (within a decade?) you could see almost ALL fossil fuels being abandoned (except from niche or specialized markets) with liquid fuels (hydrogen, LNG, synthetic fuels) made instead from abundant electricity.

    Anyway, you'd be surprised how quickly people will adopt new things if it will save them money or be markedly better; look at the quickening rate of change for technology used for entertainment. (vinyl->cassette->CD->mp3player->cloud).

    If you think that the measure of technological change is in jet packs and space travel then maybe the world doesn't seem to be changing so fast. I, on the other hand, try to see how it affects the world (container ships->trade, washing machines->females in the workforce, green revolution->urbanization, facebook->democracy), and see it accelerating us to an unknown, frightening perhaps but exciting future. Finally, if you thought that was a lot of change, it is because of three basic technologies born in the 20th century (genetics, semiconductors, nano-fabrication) which are not coincidentally grounded in the science of the small (thanks Dr. Feynman!), that we really are headed toward the "unknown country".

    Sorry for the poor writing, it is now 3am. Goodnight!

    187:

    Actually, all approaches to fixing nitrogen are energy intensive, because you have to crack that N-N triple bond, and then bond the N to something else. Absent some amazing chemical breakthrough (aka a magic wand), there's no cheap way to break that bond.

    This is one reason why redwoods don't fix nitrogen (they need the energy for respiration), and why nitrogen-fixing corn's a stupid idea (it would be make fewer corn kernels even as it fertilized itself, and it would still need a dozen-odd elements from the soil).

    Montedavis' point about the special environment is that N-fixation requires the absence of free oxygen, so biological N fixation takes place in cells where the oxygen levels are kept artificially low. Legumes even have hemoglobin in their root nodules to help keep the oxygen out.

    Unfortunately, if we go to multicropping, away from industrial fertilizers, we're back where we were in 1900, when the great powers of the world were worried that the looming nitrogen shortage would trigger mass starvation and mass political upheaval. That's what started the race for artificially fixed nitrogen that pretty much ended with the horror of WWI, when we first realized (as a species) just how much destruction we can cause with huge amounts of cheap nitrogen explosives. Up to that point, warfare had been nitrogen limited. Currently it is not, which is why the AK-47 is such a devastating weapon.

    Now, at least 30% of all human population is supported entirely by artificially fixed nitrogen, and it's pretty clear that, even if we farmed nothing but legumes, we couldn't fix all the nitrogen we'd need to feed the current population. At present, we're stuck with artificial nitrogen fixation, unless we really want to lower human populations the hard way.

    That doesn't mean we can't be a lot more nitrogen efficient. It does mean that when we're designing our HappyFuturePlace, we need to realize that a lot of energy has to go towards nitrogen fixation, regardless of where that energy comes from.

    188:

    Thank you for that excellent presentation of the magic fairy dust approach.

    I think what a lot of us are trying is the so-called "constraints" approach. The previous post, for example, was about the N-N triple bond, which requires a lot of energy to break. It doesn't matter where that energy comes from, nor what does the cracking, it's still energy-intensive. We can deduce, therefore, that we're always going to need to set aside a lot of energy if we want people to get adequate nitrogen in the form of proteins. If we want explosives and machine guns, we're going to need even more fixed nitrogen.

    Similarly, only so much sunlight hits us per square meter, even if we're in space. No technological miracle will increase the amount of solar energy there is to be harvested. Indeed, we do lose a lot of solar energy that could be used to make machines work, but without that energy, our atmosphere would be liquid and we'd be frozen solid. Seems like a dumb tradeoff. Therefore, if we evolve to a society that's powered by the sun, we're going to have to live on a lot less energy than we currently have.

    Less energy also means that, if we depend on solar-powered nitrogen fixation, we're going to have a lot less fixed nitrogen to go around. This in turn means we'll have fewer people, and that means a lot of people will die, and rather fewer will be born. Those people can die of natural senescence and accidents, or starvation, but we're going to have a population of at most a few billion if we go all solar.

    Notice the technology is irrelevant here? We're still stuck with those strong constraints, whatever technology is available. Technology may make us more efficient, but technology may be inefficient (cf the Bugatti Veyron), just as politics and human nature sometimes help us and just as often make us more inefficient too.

    Yes, it's fun to assume that technology will solve all our problems. Unfortunately, that assumption is also naive to the point of uselessness. Reality demonstrates, quite vividly, that we have huge numbers of problems that technology can't solve. Look at Washington DC, for example, and the so-called "Budget Cliff." Worse, technology even enables some problems. For example, look at the last US election, where technology and money enabled candidates to spam us to the point where many of us voluntarily turned off all media, just to get a break from the noise.

    Anyway, if you want to figure out where the technology is going, just look at our strong constraints. If we're lucky, technology will push us up against them, and that's something that's easy to predict.

    189:

    How about a few more predictions:

    - At least three regional nuclear wars will occur over the next 500 years. Almost certainly India v. Pakistan, possibly a nuclear civil war in the US, possibly American Confederacy v. Muslims (and France, for no reason except fuck France), probably at least two between states that do not yet exist.

    - Two or three bioweapons releases that result in Black Plague-level fatalities. Popov viruses, Ebolapox, that sort of thing.

    - The increasing level of destructive power that individuals and small groups can manage leads societies toward two attractors. One is the Orwellian States of Paranoia; the other is the Anarchic States of Mad Max. Anything in between proves to be unstable.

    - Kittens are available in every color of the rainbow.

    190:

    Bad use of words on my part. I was trying to invoke the idea of room temperature nitrogen fixation in a box, compared to the hot, industrial scale Haber process.

    But consider, we are going through all this nitrogen fixing because bacteria are denitrifying fixed nitrogen. Human and animal sewage treatment is one path. At any given moment, the biosphere has all the fixed nitrogen it needs. It is the recycling into the atmosphere that requires us to keep producing more for plant growth.

    Now I am not suggesting we try to totally short circuit the cycle, but we can reuse fixed nitrogen to offset the demand. To do that will require more integrated farming. While at first glance this seems to imply a reverse from industrial scale farming, I don't see that this must necessarily be true.

    191:

    If we cannot engineer plants to fix their own nitrogen in 500 years we might as well give up on science and technology.

    192:

    Err, actually, both the synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process

    and the oxidation of ammonia to nitrates

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostwald_process

    are exothermic, though that does not necessarily mean exergonic

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exergonic_reaction

    AFAIR the main problem is, as you mentioned, the high activation of elemental nitrogen, which means you either have to use lots of energy to start the reaction, some catalysator, or both. For the first we have the Birkeland-Eyde process, AKA "electrode welding, the wrong way",

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birkeland–Eyde_process

    for the third, there are the already mentioned processes.

    Catalysts are also used in biochemical nitrogen fixation, though that one is quite energy hungry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_fixation

    Now enzyme catalyst are astonishing, but constrained both by historical constraints, AKA evolutionary history, one of the key structures in nitrogenases is an Fe-S cluster, which might say more about prebiotic chemistry than efficiency

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron-sulfur_protein

    and biology, ever wondered why platinum and palladium are quite hot in synthetic catalysts, but virtually absent in enzymes, and the already mentioned iron and sulfur are quite easy to sideline in vanilaa biochemistry, so engineering better biocatalysts might be a realistic and worthwhile enterprise; though then, some of the latest breakthroughs in the wiki article were molybdenum catalysts, the same element used in some nitrogenase enzymes,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogenase

    which either mean nature already knows best thanks to trial-and-error, lazy chemists looking for good candidates or maybe both.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organometallic_chemistry#Applications

    Jsut some musings, I'm just a biologist, no chemists...

    193:

    Similarly, only so much sunlight hits us per square meter, even if we're in space. No technological miracle will increase the amount of solar energy there is to be harvested.

    You are conflating energy density with total energy. We could theoretically harvest the total output of the sun, even at the intensity at the earth's surface.

    OK, so we couldn't use it on the planet, but we could easily increase the energy use on earth as long as we removed the GHG component of energy production.

    Having said that, it is clear we cannot go on increasing the per capita use of energy for 500 years, and efficiency has its limits. Still, we could be a lot more energy affluent than we are now and still have a nice planet to live on.

    194:

    I think your military metaphor wrt. the Iraq invasion is a bit faulty; the Iraqi military was actually quite pathetically backward in one vital respect -- tactical and strategic doctrine. They were basically prepared to re-fight the Iran-Iraq war, static trench warfare against an enemy who had deployed human wave suicide tactics. A good chunk of the Iraqi's best equipment was in the hands of the Republican Guard, basically a Ba'athist Waffen-SS equivalent -- except their primary task was to keep the army's guns pointed at the external enemy. The generals were generally terrified -- both of the USA (the 500Kg military gorilla, which currently out-spends every other nation on the planet, combined), and of their own dictator, who had a charming habit in the 1980s of summoning successful generals back to Baghdad, giving them a medal, then shooting them (to prevent them becoming a popular rival). And the troops were conscripts who mostly didn't want to be there in the first place.

    (This is an example of the problem with most facile metaphors: on close examination, the cracks begin to show up. I'm going to leave Heteromeles to finish the demolition on the biological sciences, and just note that progress is a series of overlapping sigmoid curves; I see no sign of a curve going true-exponential in the current signal.)

    195:

    Having said that, it is clear we cannot go on increasing the per capita use of energy for 500 years, and efficiency has its limits. Still, we could be a lot more energy affluent than we are now and still have a nice planet to live on.

    Germany uses about one-third the energy per-capita as the USA. Germany is not notably lacking in manufacturing, so it's not all accounted for by a lack of industry. I've been to Germany and to the USA, and I would say that for the vast majority of people (the 99%, basically) Germany is a much nicer place to live, with a higher standard of living. It's also not as mega-densely populated as the UK -- it has triple the land area and maybe 10% more people -- so the "Germans aren't spread out so they don't need as much energy for transportation" argument doesn't hold much water, either.

    (Actually, drivers in the UK average 12,000 miles a year, to US drivers' 15,000 miles. Living in a smaller, more compact country does not correspond to less commuting.)

    The real issue is efficiency standards. A chunk is down to air conditioning -- Germans don't need it anything like as much -- but they still have harsh winters to deal with. Those American homes I've visited have been ... well, the phrase "badly made from cheap wet cardboard" springs to mind.

    So there's a lot of room for decreasing energy consumption without hitting standard of living, in the USA ... or for increasing standard of living without increasing energy consumption. It's an attitude thing, frankly, and as long as folks like the Koch brothers are lobbying against environmental efficiency standards, you're not going to reap the benefits.

    196:

    Your comparison of annual mileage should be qualified by the number of drivers in each country -- in the UK about 70% of adults have driving licences whereas in the US it's 88% according to some figures.

    197:

    The house I spent much of my childhood in dates back at least to 1859; can't be traced back farther because that's when the courthouse burned and the records were lost.

    But it had been extensively remodeled over the decades. And is probably still undergoing change.

    198:

    I think what a lot of us are trying is the so-called "constraints" approach...[...]..only so much sunlight hits us per square meter, even if we're in space. No technological miracle will increase the amount of solar energy there is to be harvested....[...]...if we evolve to a society that's powered by the sun, we're going to have to live on a lot less energy than we currently have.

    That is taking constraints too far. You are setting very tight constraints based on implicit assumptions.

    Even on planet earth, the oceans have low productivity away from the continental shelves, so you could harvest solar energy across much of the Pacific with little loss to human welfare, or even to oceanic ecosystems.

    Even simple technology could increase surface insolation - space based mirrors. Thin, foil mirrors could add a lot of extra energy to selected areas of the earth's surface - in extremis - creating a solar concentrator with its focus on the ground. Certainly no magical technology. Space based solar PV is more likely, with as much expansion of area as you want.

    Indeed, we do lose a lot of solar energy that could be used to make machines work, but without that energy, our atmosphere would be liquid and we'd be frozen solid.

    Nonsense. All the energy harvested will end up as heat. Solar panels would not magically remove energy from the earth's surface. As for turning the atmosphere to liquid - pure hyperbole. You would need to shade the earth from the sun to do that.

    One can argue where the constraints lay, but assuming tight constraints is just putting everything in a very small box. Breaking assumed constraints is what we should be thinking about.

    199:

    Err, sorry for going for the *r* words again, but...

    While I guess projecting the old white-vs.-black-vs.-brown-vs.-yellow racism is somewhat futile and lazy, though thinking about the implications of China vs. India in the next century might be interesting.
    But then, there is the somewhat broader issue of stereotypes associated with certain physical attributes and discrimination of certain physical attributes (see: looks-like-anorectic, obesity, chinless-wonder etc.).

    The interesting things for the future might be:

    - Biomedical research proving some of these ideas
    correct, e.g. there are some reports red heads
    react differently to some opioids

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15994880

    no idea if this translates to other behavioural
    differences, though some melanocortin agonists
    have interesting side effects:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bremelanotide

    Please abstain from horny blonde/sensual brunette
    jokes.

    - Better ways to manipulate said effects, e.g. some
    modulators of melanocortin function, and the fun
    their use entails; compare to racial transformation

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_transformation

    Might generalize to other debatable regional
    traditions.There are some urban myths Bavarians
    didn't like iodinized salt because they though
    goiter was part of theirs.

    Or melanocortin blockers for non-redheads.

    200:

    The real issue is efficiency standards. A chunk is down to air conditioning -- Germans don't need it anything like as much -- but they still have harsh winters to deal with. Those American homes I've visited have been ... well, the phrase "badly made from cheap wet cardboard" springs to mind.

    Wet cardboard does not apply to to stone and brick homes in the older US cities. But while you are so dismissive of stick and gypsum board housing bear in mind that:
    1. They use much less energy to manufacture than brick buildings.
    2. The energy efficiency can be easily added using insulation. Much more so than much UK housing, especially older Victorians with single skin brick walls.
    3. Remodeling and rebuilding is much easier, so the housing stock can be upgraded or replaced at much lower cost than brick construction.

    So there's a lot of room for decreasing energy consumption without hitting standard of living, in the USA ... or for increasing standard of living without increasing energy consumption. It's an attitude thing, frankly, and as long as folks like the Koch brothers are lobbying against environmental efficiency standards, you're not going to reap the benefits.

    Absolutely agree. I'm encouraged that the bigger is better attitude seems to be waning a little. My Prius has a lot of company on the road these days.

    But, even assuming that energy efficiency could result in 1/10th of total energy consumption, if we assume just 1% per annum per capita energy growth, that is 150x the current consumption in 500 years. Starting at 1/10th current consumption, that is 15x. Completely unsustainable on the earth's surface, even with solar shades and factory food. Which implies that the standard of living from an energy perspective is probably going to be much higher in 500 years, but not 150x higher, for residents of earth.

    We can argue about what is an appropriate standard of living, but I would hope that it improves for the bulk of humanity, including those in the most economically prosperous nations.

    201:

    Indeed. When the USA wargamed plans for an invasion of Iraq in 2002, they put retired Marine General Paul Van Riper in charge of the simulated Iraqi forces. The result was a series of horrifying defeats for the simulated USA:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/sep/06/usa.iraq

    If Saddam's commanders had been half as clever and well-motivated as Van Riper, the invasion in 2003 might have gone very differently. (To be clear, I'm not saying this would have been a good thing, it likely would have made the war even more destructive than it already was.)

    202:

    If those cardboard houses (not wet cardboard, dry cardboard - they burn like it, as you could see in NY) would require so much less energy in building them that it could in any way compensate the heating and air-conditioning requirements, the US would consume less energy than it does.

    It's that simple.

    203:

    Residential use is just 20% of US energy usage. Of that, 40% is used for heating and cooling. So just 8% of total US energy usage is for keeping "wet cardboard" homes comfortable.

    So it isn't even close to "simple".

    Conversely, cement manufacture for concrete is one of the largest global energy uses.

    204:

    Technology and science are not slowing down they are getting FASTER and are driving history both faster and in totally new directions.

    If you think technology is accelerating and will continue to accelerate indefinitely, you wind up predicting some kind of singularity. That's a point of view, but it's not one I agree with.

    Another point of view is that engineering itself is subject to the law of diminishing returns. A lot of progress was made in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in a lot of ways it looks like we've picked the low hanging fruit and further inventions are likely to take much more work for less result.

    For example, about 110 years ago the light bulb was invented. It changed the world, but it was inefficient (under 20%). A century later, modern LED lighting is over 90% efficient. A century from now ... there's no way for lights to be more than 100% energy efficient.

    So when we think about what happens in 500 years, we're guessing at how technology levels off. Is fusion a safe, reliable source of power like coal today, or is it like flying cars, a seemingly good idea that just doesn't work out in implementation?

    205:

    If you think technology is accelerating and will continue to accelerate indefinitely, you wind up predicting some kind of singularity. That's a point of view, but it's not one I agree with.

    Another point of view is that engineering itself is subject to the law of diminishing returns. A lot of progress was made in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in a lot of ways it looks like we've picked the low hanging fruit and further inventions are likely to take much more work for less result.

    OTOH, we may still be in accelerating change and haven't reached the inflexion point when it all slows down. Or maybe change is not smoothly continuous.

    Using mature technologies as examples is not an appropriate argument. We need to know where new technologies are going and presumably non-existent ones that will emerge in the future.

    If we take Brian Arthur's view of technology, then it accelerates as the number of technologies increases, simply because there are more possible rearrangements.

    206:

    Biotechnology is in its infancy. It may well be another fifty to one hundred years before it becomes as mature as (say) computer tech.

    207:

    We need to know where new technologies are going and presumably non-existent ones that will emerge in the future.

    Sure, but we've limited ourselves to what we consider (today) basically realistic physics. So quantum computing and genetic engineering are OK to posit, but FTL or Limitless Energy From Nowhere are forbidden.

    208:

    A couple of quick comments on the short/medium term here.

    On Languages, North American English is already diferentiating into (Mutually) unintelligible dialects; ever hear Ebonics? Hollywood does us a real diservice by showing it as more like "Network Standard English" than it be spoke.

    BTW, Canada is included in "North America", with the Maritimes already having a distinctive dialect.

    There was an interesting article in National Geographic about this a few years ago. My netbook won't let me open separate windows...

    We already have a standardized writen form (NATO Standard English?), or written "Mid-Atlantic" version. And American (US) residential geography is increasingly segregated economically. So if current trends continue, the Peasants will probably speak (Multiple) mutually incomprehensible dialects in 500 years. In North America (Including most of Mexico) the Elites will continue to speak a recognizable standard version of Mid-Atlantic English.

    No need to speak to the grocery clerk if you are checking yourself out, or your smart phone bills your as soon as you put merchandize in your cart.

    209:

    Similarly, only so much sunlight hits us per square meter, even if we're in space. No technological miracle will increase the amount of solar energy there is to be harvested. Indeed, we do lose a lot of solar energy that could be used to make machines work, but without that energy, our atmosphere would be liquid and we'd be frozen solid. Seems like a dumb tradeoff. Therefore, if we evolve to a society that's powered by the sun, we're going to have to live on a lot less energy than we currently have.

    Less energy also means that, if we depend on solar-powered nitrogen fixation, we're going to have a lot less fixed nitrogen to go around. This in turn means we'll have fewer people, and that means a lot of people will die, and rather fewer will be born. Those people can die of natural senescence and accidents, or starvation, but we're going to have a population of at most a few billion if we go all solar.

    Let's do the math. It takes about 12 kilowatt hours to make a kilogram of ammonia by electrolyzing water and using the hydrogen in a conventional Haber-Bosch plant. Corn grown in a conventional intensive way takes quite a bit of nitrogen fertilizer -- perhaps 180 kg of ammonia per hectare. Dubuque, Iowa has average daily insolation of 3.77 kilowatt hours per square meter. Current solar modules made without any rare materials (silicon semiconductor, copper conductors) can achieve a bit over 18% efficiency.

    In order to annually supply 180 kg of ammonia, assuming that you locate the solar modules in Iowa, you need:

    (180 * 12) / (0.18 * 3.77 * 365) = 8.72 square meters of solar modules.

    Or to put it another way, you'd need repurpose up to 0.087% of cultivated land to supply its own nitrogen from solar energy, if you can't find any non-crop land nearby. Maybe add another factor of 5 to account for the fact that solar arrays occupy more land than the active surface -- now you're up to almost 0.5% of the land. You'd also consume 286 liters of water via electrolysis to supply the nitrogen for a hectare of corn, compared with the 8-10 million liters of water typically needed by a hectare of corn over its growing season.

    The sun supplies the Earth's surface with roughly 6000 times as much energy as humans now produce/capture artificially. The manufacturing cost of PV modules has come down dramatically in the last couple of decades. Over most of the world's populated surface it is already a cheaper source of energy than burning petroleum products. There are credible improvements in the pipeline to cut costs by at least another factor of 3 (in the USA, you could get a factor of 2 merely by standardizing/streamlining installation like the Germans). Using current 18% efficient modules, you could provide 9 billion people with as much energy as the average Swiss citizen with less than 1% of Earth's land area. The last missing link is seasonal energy storage; there are large fluctuations between summer and winter insolation as you get far from the equator. So either you can suppose that people will develop large scale energy storage in the next 500 years, match their energy-intensive activities to the seasons, use non-solar resources where seasonal differences are large, or migrate to regions where seasonal solar differences are smaller.

    210:

    Interesting that you didn't mention religion. Given the decline of membership in traditional organized religions in the developed world, and the growth of "nones" or "brights" or whatever euphemism you want to use for agnostics and atheists, I'd guess the world of 2512 will be a rather non-religious place, at least as we define traditional religion.

    211:

    In addition, Wikipedia estimates about 2% of global energy use is used for inorganic nitrogen fertilizer production.

    Clearly not a major energy use compared to manufacturing and transport.

    While one doesn't want to coat the planet in solar cells, it is clear that a wholly solar world is possible, especially if space based systems augment ground based ones. The main issue will be storage and transport of energy to areas with low insolation. My guess is that the de novo production of fuels, from water and CO2, for combustion will be the preferred method.

    212:

    Climate, climate, climate. Gosh, people really love their doom wanking!

    Okay, I'll buy climate change problems for a 2062 story; that's 50 years hence and the problems may have gotten ahead of the solutions. I do NOT buy it as a problem in 2512. One way or another, it's going to be a historical footnote. Yes, we may have solved the problem (probably by 2112); or we may have demonstrated that climate control is unfeasible (remember the weather control predictions from the 1950s?), or maybe the Planetary Climate Authority got eaten by feral lawyers. Whatever. The current climate change fuss is going to look like the end of the Medieval Warm Period: the humanoid on the street will give you a blank look if asked about it. There doesn't seem to be a way to stop folks from doom wanking, but let's find another excuse.

    What problems MIGHT we face? There must be some, since humans don't build utopias very well, and it's darned hard to write stories in settings without problems. So let me toss out a few ideas for challenges:

    Energy production should be a set of solved problems; we've got a pretty good idea how to make a lot of technologies work, and while our solution set will evolve it's pretty clear that overall humanity has a whole bunch of options. I'll remind you all that whale depletion did not, in fact, lead to the collapse of civilization when the oil ran out... Waste heat has been offered as a future problem, and it might be - we might, at least, move people and/or industry towards the poles for optimal heat distribution. Darned if I know where there's personal drama in that, as it should be routine long before 2512. Sure, maybe some Old Fart is being kept awake by the space mirrors - but that's an isolated crank, not a problem for humanity. And yes, by 2512 I'm sure we will have hung as many collectors in space as the economy needs, whether that's zero or thousands; we've got the time. However it's produced, humanity has as much energy as it thinks it needs.

    That's energy production, of course; energy storage is a different set of questions. Maybe we'll still have trouble with this, although I suspect we'll have settled on a satisfactory set of answers.

    One under-represented problem is biological anomalies. We've discussed the super-city versus the re-greening, but I don't see it; I think 2512 will see sprawling urbanization and restorative planting and large-scale gardening to turn 'ugly' land into 'beautiful' land and genetically engineered plants in specialized farm (too many of which escape into the wild eventually, and some of which become weeds like kudzu) and entirely new micro-ecosystems not seen before genetic engineering became a low-cost hobby (some of them are intentional, as an art form; others Just Happened; a few were thought up by griefers and are damned nuisances).

    Racism, in the sense of ethnic division, is almost certainly still with us. It may not map onto what we think of as race now, but humans are cranky and stubborn; we'll think of something. (You'll probably be able to change your hair, eye, and skin color with one trip to the corner store, more easily than dying your hair today If you're a red haired Irish man and want to be a dark skinned African woman, that's probably just more expensive. I can't guess how that change might affect your social life in the 26th century.) Maybe Antarcticans don't get along with Atlanteans, the details are unpredictable. How serious this is depends on history and environmental stresses; it could be nothing more serious than rival sports fans today - but that can get pretty serious after an important game.

    Economics...will almost certainly be very different. No, I can't predict how, but it might look reasonably normal at the buying-a-beer level (except that nobody carries cash or visibly pays at all) and yet get seriously weird at the high finance layer. Or not? This is something for a whole new thread; I suspect that by 2512 the idea of wealth measurable by a single scalar number might be long obsolete, the way we're beginning to view intelligence as not very well measured by an IQ number, but I can't even guess how many dimensions 26th century finance would need to use or how they could be assessed. Vector sums? Area? We're not even ready to formulate the questions...

    Since climate change is so loved in this thread, how about geoengineering as a problem? Yes, by 2112 our current questions will be long solved - but what about potential agents in 2512 who want to fiddle with the climate to suit THEIR needs? Presumably they'd not all agree on the same goals; the Wet Australians might ally with the Alaskan Kalifate (they just want it warmer) against the Plains Preservationists (who want grasslands across central North America) and both sides can try to recruit the United Clans of Scotland (actually united only six non-consecutive years of the last 40, thank you, but most of them want the damned glaciers gone). In the meantime some home hobbyist with a space mirror array is getting up to something less well thought out...

    Warfare? I'm going to pass on that question. Yes, we can prognosticate: 3D printing and its descendants will make production easier; robot drones will be within the reach of small nations, individual cities, companies, and home hobbyists; cruise missiles with multi-hundred-kilometer ranges, ditto. Tiny rat-bots already in R&D can be programmed with facial recognition and poison stingers to go after individual targets. That's not 2512, that's 2062; we can't begin to guess what the 500 year fight will be like, except that it'll probably be very deadly and therefore very rare.

    Okay, that's a Packet of Problems for folks to chew over. Things that aren't problems can be in another post.

    213:

    1. They use much less energy to manufacture than brick buildings.

    If they don't last as long, however, that's a major trade-off. If the mean life expectancy of a sheetrock-and-wood building is 30 years and that of a well-made stone building is 150 years, then even if you can build the flimsy sheetrock unit for $30,000 against the $150,000 cost of stone, it's more sensible to build in stone because you waste less time re-building the dwelling in question.

    2. The energy efficiency can be easily added using insulation. Much more so than much UK housing, especially older Victorians with single skin brick walls.

    Yes, but this runs into my earlier "bad old buildings are demolished and replaced; good old buildings are retained" issue. (Plus, modern brick buildings generally have hollow walls suitable for insulation. And by "modern" I mean built in the 20th century.)

    3. Remodeling and rebuilding is much easier, so the housing stock can be upgraded or replaced at much lower cost than brick construction.

    True for some designs, but it's still possible to upgrade/modify brick or stone. This 190-year-old apartment I live in didn't have indoor plumbing or a bathroom when it was built. Nor did it have electricity, natural gas, or central heading, or under-roof insulation. I'm pretty certain that at some point in the not-too-distant future they'll relax the planning regulations enough to permit efficient insulated glazing as well.

    There's a trade-off between designing buildings for durability with upgrade-in-place, and designing them to be knocked down and replaced every few decades. I tend to lean towards the former. (Especially as, after some home shopping that involved touring show homes on new-build estates and rolling on the floor laughing, I concluded that much of the new-build housing in the UK from the 1980s through 2000s is rubbish compared to the surviving 19th century stock.)

    214:

    You're assuming a straight-line extrapolation of a social trend, and furthermore, extrapolating it across cultural boundaries. I'd be very wary of that.

    For example: the upswing in religious fundamentalism in the middle east in the past few decades seems to be connected to the suppression of non-religious opposition to enrentched military-backed dictatorships, which in turn were the emergent power structures (with western backing) in the wreckage of the Ottoman empire. The fundamentalists also benefit from a rejection of western mores which in turn is rooted in resentment about the long-term geopolitical eclipse of the islamic world by the west (who, just four centuries ago, were the uneducated and poor barbarians on the fringe of their sophisticated, rich empire). If/when we see resurgent development and industrialization in the muslim world -- and ironically Iran may be the second-best hope for this right now after Indonesia -- then we can expect a long-term damping-down of the religiosity and increased tolerance.

    For another example: the words "bible belt" spring to mind. There is some danger that, if the USA goes into long-term relative decline, the decline will be followed by an upswing in intolerant religious fundamentalism.

    In the long term I'm hoping for a decline in superstition and an increase in tolerance. But I'm not holding my breath for it in any given country at any given time.

    215:

    My guess is that the de novo production of fuels, from water and CO2, for combustion will be the preferred method.

    Or just use solar power during daylight hours to condense and compress CO2 into tanks, and let it warm up and expand at night to provide working force for turbines. For added lulz improve the efficiency of your cold trap and use LN2 instead -- you can also bottle it and use it to drive cars. It's not extremely efficient but it's easy and flexible and the reduced number of stages in the process may make it overall more efficient than using solar electricity to drive Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

    216:

    *However, folks who wrap up against the cold and who live in the far north, where we don't get much sunlight in the winter months, may begin to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. With symptoms like rickets in children, this is non-optimal. Melanin in the skin absorbs sunlight and reduces the efficiency of Vitamin D photosynthesis: so a mutation that reduces melanism makes it easier for wrapped-up folks in the sub-arctic to make enough of the stuff.*

    I was reading recently that it wasn't just the move north. It was a combination of the move north, and a diet change from Vitamin D rich foods like fish (in mostly hunter/gatherer societies) to relatively Vitamin D poor foods like grains (in mostly agrarian societies). My Google Foo is failing me and I can't find the article right now.

    Even more interesting a 2010 study shows that Vitamin D production is pretty much independent of skin colour http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19812604 - so the lattitude differences in skin colour may be down to things like skin cancer no longer weeding out lighter skins where the sunlight is stronger.

    217:

    If the world does opt for full solar all the problems could be solved with a global grid.

    218:

    By 2512, I predict with 73% certainty that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved. :-P

    219:

    ... with a single nuclear weapon, probably.

    220:

    Storing and regenerating electricity costs in terms of energy losses as well as in money to build, maintain and operate the storage systems involved. It's the golden benefit of baseload generation (including hydro along with thermal fossil fuel and nuclear systems) that it converts a fuel source into electricity once, accepting those conversion losses as the only penalty.

    Renewables are not baseload as they depend on intermittent winds, cyclical tides, diurnal-cycle sunlight etc. to provide electricity when it is available and not necessarily when it is needed. At the moment renewables freeride on the baseload generation fleet supplemented by rapid-start thermal stations usually fuelled by gas; if they ever make up a majority share of a grid's generating capacity then they must be supplemented by lossy and expensive storage or rationing and blackouts are inevitable.

    221:

    I'm with the group who here who think that climate change won't be an 'issue' at this point. It will be the way things are - and people will be coping with what has by this point become the norm. Nobody will likely be thinking in terms of 'changing things back'. Although some, at least, will be looking to 'make things better'. No idea what 'better' would be by that point of course.

    Unless we get magic physics we've probably had at least a couple of centuries of Moore's Law no longer applying. We'll have explored the space where we can do useful new stuff with computing pretty thoroughly. The shallow computing-as-engineering metaphor will finally have some relation to reality as we have enough of a box of tools and rules to work with. Computing substrates everywhere doing pretty much the same kind of thing will be generations old.

    At this point anything that can be automated will, potentially, be automatable. Those humans still doing jobs that can be automated will only be there because we build a shitty society that requires it, or because they want to (e.g. I know an old guy - ex-engineer- who became a part time street cleaner after he retired. He says it's great for meeting people, forces him to go outside and exercise, and he likes making things tidy ;-)

    Failing some major unforeseen problems we'd have had quantum computers for a while. So problems in BQP are going to be trivially solvable - and have been for a while. Outside of the issue with large number factorisation and encryption I'm really not sure what impact that'll have on things we can do. Anybody? I've no idea if physics lets QC become ubiquitous - or whether they're going to be the equivalent of the stuff you find in data centres these days.

    Unfortunately I think racism is a bigger problem that skin colour. Witness the local BNP/EDL/UKIP asshats ranting about the Polish and East European workers in the UK. To my, uneducated, eyes it's driven as much by the need to find somebody to blame in times of economic hardship as it is historical issues. Humans are very good at finding an 'other' to blame.

    Unless we change what humans are, or hardship is pretty much an issue for the past, racism will be with us. Of course, by this point, we might be bigoted against those darn racoons.

    If any current countries still exist they'll bear about as much relation to today's political boundaries as the current County of Cornwall does the 8th Century Kingdom of Dumnonia

    Not sure about the space trade thing. Agreed that canned apes seem unlikely/foolish - but automation and Von Neumann style machines may make it very, very, very cheap.

    Given 500 years of computing advancement and biological / cog sci research I think we'll be able to build a human equivalent AI from scratch (at the very least by copying human brain structures). Whether anybody will generally think this is useful or a good idea is another matter. More interestingly this knowledge, in combination with advances in personalised medicine, will allow us to deal with mental illnesses with something a tad more elegant than the current stone axes we have available. That knowledge may have an interesting societal effect too - think how much evolution has affected our view of where humanity fits into the world. I'd be willing to bet quite a lot that the current singularity mob will be viewed in roughly the same way as 'firing cannon to the moon' ideas are now.

    Mass manufacturing is going to be interestingly different. I'm not in the 3d-print-in-every-home crowd - but I think that the ongoing domination of lean manufacturing, further advances in 3D printing, supply chain management, etc. will mean that the last hundred or so years will be that really weird time in history where lots of people had *exactly* the same stuff. They'll still be factories and production lines - but the things that pop off the end will already have been sold and will have been tweaked and customised for that individual.

    If I was going to guess I'd say that the thing closest to the 'company' space is going to look much more like workers co-operatives. The traditional company structure and mechanisms seem too tied to capitalism to work in a post-capitalist society.

    A mild guess - but I suspect that the world diet is going to have a lot less animal in it. Both because of changing ethical standards, and because a societal shift away from meat protein makes a lot of sense during the hard times during the post-warming population/agriculture shifts.

    222:

    For a while there might be a few versions of English that don't change substantially - air traffic control English, UNIX manpage English, etc. I don't expect UNIX to last 500 years, but I expect it'll have a good enough run to become the Church Latin of coders.

    223:

    I agree that you're right, Nojay, assuming business as usual. Right now, it's looking pretty difficult to engineer the power grid we have to run a baseline generation only with renewables.

    The odd thing is, on the scale of individual homes, people get by pretty well with things like earthships. I'm pretty sure earthships also have local generator backup, but they don't often use it.

    The basic point is that when the grid gets rescaled to the size of a community, power storage becomes less of a problem. It's a huge problem in our current grid system, but it might not be in the future.

    I'm not worried about the so-called smart grid, because we're working towards it in a variety of ways right now. I suspect 500 years will see it solved.

    However (here's the drum-beat again), the problem with smart grids is political, in the broad sense. Power companies currently don't have much of a clue how to "crowd-source" their power through rooftop solar, micro-wind, neighborhood storage, and similar. Where I am, they're not even doing a good job of dealing with ordinary solar. Partly this is a property rights issue (if your solar roof is tied to the town grid, do you own your own roof?), but it's also a liability issue, and there's also the unsolved issues of dealing with slackers and freeloaders (if 75% of the town has to have solar roofs to make it work, what do you do about the other 25%, or about the 10% of dudes who let their solar arrays deteriorate). The power companies know how to import power from big plants, but they aren't community organizers, and it looks like they don't particularly want to be just yet. That will change when some community, somewhere, demonstrates a good working model, but until that happens, I'm guessing will be stuck with power plants and a dumb grid.

    As for earthships, the standing joke in my home is that I get my earthship when I win the lottery, and then it will be our second house (presumably for me to live in). It's not that they're expensive (on a per-square-foot, they cost the same as an ordinary house), but they're weird enough to freak out ordinary people, even those who, like my family, like every single element that goes into earthships (big windows, indoor plants, etc). That's another aspect of politics--community norms. As with the old Eco-City Berkeley idea, it's easy for designers to design an environmentally friendly city, even based on what's there already, and almost impossible to get people to buy into that concept, even in left-leaning places like Berkeley. Most people would rather be normal, thank you very much.

    Ultimately, I think that most of our "sustainable society" toolkit will come from the current third world, and from first world designers who are working for the third-world market. These people will embrace weird sustainable tech because it's decisively better than what they have. They won't be trading down or (worse) getting weird to show off their idealism. They'll be getting a better life, and the tech will diffuse out from them into our culture.

    224:

    About 1 gigatonne should be enough.

    (NB: not every viable solution is also desirable.)

    225:

    I agree, about bigotry and superstition. Given what I saw in grad school, I don't think there's any perfect antidote to either of those issues. It's always, and unfortunately, a dynamic situation.

    As for religion, my personal take is that we've already seen the third great religious wave, counting the Christian/Islamic/Buddhist efflorescence as the second wave, and the great temples as the flowering of the first wave of local polytheism.

    That third wave? Science. It's as great a break from the past as the monotheistic religions were from local polytheism. And just as monotheism didn't really sweep away the local polytheisms (the local deities became saints), science hasn't swept away churches, mosques, or temples. Indeed, science has allowed a resurgence of local polytheisms under the guise of paganism.

    While science has transformed the world as much or more than Christianity and Islam did when they got rolling, it is still struggling with telling us how to live a meaningful life. Indeed, the major criticism of science is that it makes life meaningless. If science ever fills that particular void (and there are ways this can happen), I think it will really become dominant. I'd point to the fight over climate change as (in part) a fight over how people live right through science. This is one reason why (IMHO) there's so much vicious blowback on the issue. Similarly, battles over evolution are in part battles about humanity's place in the world.

    I should note that, assuming science does become dominant, monotheistic religion definitely won't go away, any more than local polytheisms will. The shrines to Charles Darwin in England will assure that, if nothing else. I'm also pretty sure that bigotry and superstition will be as much of a problem in the sciences as they are now.

    Makes me wonder whether there's a fourth wave out there? We should be able to see it now--there were early scientists in Alexandria at the same time as Jesus was doing his thing, after all.

    226:

    re religion: Science is (maybe) one wave, I'd say the whole hoist of esoteric belief systems is another. Since esoterics are more of a individual approach vs the big monotheistic religions (improve yourself via meditation vs. congregattion of the flock) they fit to demands placed on the individauls by the way labor is organzied now.
    So, what unanswered questions will there be in 500 years, what demands will be placed on each one and what questions will arise from that?

    Re the other irational believ system (bigotry) - people will find rationalisations to defend privileges, wehter those rationalisations are racist, sexist or whatever. Will there be less, or more privileges to defend in a post work society (assuming we manage a social revolution to end the boom-bust cycle of capitalism till then)?
    One axis along which to organize exclusion and privilege is age, but I'm sure there will be others.

    227:

    You might be right. I keep tripping over the current mess of "hallucinogenics" and neuroscience. While we think we know how the brain works from the outside, it doesn't match well with how we perceive ourselves to work from the inside. I wouldn't be surprised if a "fourth wave" comes out of this ferment.

    That said, new religions are always rising (IMHO). Most of them are confined to one or a few people, and die out when those people pass away. I'm willing to bet this is simply part of being human--there are always a few mystics out who start hacking their own reality to see if there's something better out there. Most of these hacks don't work very well, but some occasionally catch on. I suspect that you could draw a nice power curve for religions, with Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha at the huge end, and a myriad of shamans at the individual end. There are a bunch in the middle too (Judaism, Mormonism, Zoroastrianism, Bahaism Sikhism, etc). You get the picture--it's another J-shaped, long tail curve, from religion to magic.

    To me, the big innovation of the "second wave" wasn't coming up with a single god and joining the individual to that Big Unknown, it was figuring out a good way to proselytize and send out missionaries to spread the good news. They got into marketing, in other words. Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam all did that decisively. This isn't sufficient though: The Isian religion (worship of Isis) sent out missionaries, as did the Nestorians, and they're all gone. Even Buddhism, though it's pretty good at spreading, isn't nearly as good at colonizing governments the way Christianity and Islam do.

    Science is something very different, which is why I'm calling it a different wave, but it deals with the same issues that religion does, in the broad sense.

    So we'll see. All these waves deal with the way humans relate to the world. If you can figure out where we have the most trouble with that, and which ways we haven't really tried, that's where a fourth wave may be lurking. Whatever it is, though, it has to do things that science fails to do, just as science fills gaps left by religion's lapses.

    228:

    Nah, you could resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict with a tiny bomb of only 10 kilotons or so. The trick is to use the nuke on the Kaaba in Mecca; the conflict will be resolved within a week.

    229:

    I don't think there would be a post work society everywhere in 2512. Post-scarcity, yes, but if you choose then to live in a city where new types of social scarcities exist you will still have to work for a living.

    And there's the matter of land. You'll always have people, like me, who want more than one acre.

    230:

    As for religion, my personal take is that we've already seen the third great religious wave, counting the Christian/Islamic/Buddhist efflorescence as the second wave, and the great temples as the flowering of the first wave of local polytheism.


    That third wave? Science. It's as great a break from the past as the monotheistic religions were from local polytheism. And just as monotheism didn't really sweep away the local polytheisms (the local deities became saints), science hasn't swept away churches, mosques, or temples. Indeed, science has allowed a resurgence of local polytheisms under the guise of paganism.


    While science has transformed the world as much or more than Christianity and Islam did when they got rolling, it is still struggling with telling us how to live a meaningful life.

    Argh, Science is NOT a religion. Science is a set of game rules that boils down to "I state something and invite you to prove me wrong." Whoever states the most outlandish things without being proved wrong wins. This is totally different to the game rules of any religion which basically say "Here's the truth, accept it, don't worry, be happy." Usually accompanied with "Don't forget to pay church taxes and follow any rules our priests make up."

    BTW, one of the major "transformations" Christianity forced on the world was destruction of science. People who still marvel at all the cool stuff we came up with since Enlightenment forget that it's extraordinary how LITTLE we came up in the 1000 years before. And half the stuff from the Enlightenment was digging up the science treasures from the Antique.

    Happily, with advances in genetics, religiosity will soon be curable: http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/2011-03-12/religiosity-genes-again-confirmed-by-another-twin-study

    231:

    There's a trade-off between designing buildings for durability with upgrade-in-place, and designing them to be knocked down and replaced every few decades. I tend to lean towards the former.

    That is a matter of personal taste. I now find that the ranks of cookie cutter English homes that stretch for miles and miles look rather awful to me now, compared to the more custom home approach of California's suburbs. Perceptions change. Remodeling, as in changing room layouts, adding exterior doors and windows, adding extra rooms, etc, are much easier with stick built houses. I recently added 2 french doors to my house. The total cost of labor was $1000 and was done over a weekend. Try doing that with a brick house!

    As for energy costs of manufacture, the lumber just needs cuttings and transport and only represents the frame. The main energy cost is the sheet rock. Compare that to fired brick. Personally I would like more steel and glass buildings for style.

    (Especially as, after some home shopping that involved touring show homes on new-build estates and rolling on the floor laughing, I concluded that much of the new-build housing in the UK from the 1980s through 2000s is rubbish compared to the surviving 19th century stock.)

    Well I had a C19th Victorian in Manchester. A town house in Whalley Range (hi to the commenter upthread who lived up the road in Moss Side). The outer skin was single layer and had persistent damp problems, probably because the mortar needed repointing. I think the only thing keeping that 3 story town house upright was the wallpaper. I was living there when we had the little earthquake out in the Irish Sea. A gentle California quake would have left it as rubble. The retrofits for the bathroom and toilet were tolerable, but hardly modern.

    Overall, I am not impressed by old houses. The few exceptions tend to be very expensive and have had a lot of money sunk into them for modernization. For most people, that represents a costly mortgage burden.

    I think there is a place for old buildings, especially those in places like the center of Paris that have their interiors built as modern shells to preserve the historic nature of the building. And I do understand the feeling of "solidity" that a masonry building offers, but that illusion is fairly easily achieved with the added benefit that the building is contributing as a carbon sink as long as the structure is not burned or decomposed.

    232:

    For added lulz improve the efficiency of your cold trap and use LN2 instead -- you can also bottle it and use it to drive cars. It's not extremely efficient but it's easy and flexible and the reduced number of stages in the process may make it overall more efficient than using solar electricity to drive Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

    When you can show me that it has a decent range and is easy to replace at a "gas" station, then maybe. How might that work for air transport :)

    I expect to see an electric aircraft before I see a compressed gas one.

    233:

    That's why I think there will be a stable mutual deterrent armistice if Iran or any Arabic nation should develop nuclear weapons. Attacking Israel and risking a backlash that would ensure that no moslem will ever be able to complete the hajj should be a no-no for any muslim leader.

    And nuking Jerusalem would outrage Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, so I don't see that happen. If there is any solution to this conflict, it will be political, not military.

    234:

    I think he was referring more to systems of belief, the voices in your head that tell you what is true -- evolution versus Biblical creationism, the Big Bang versus Genesis, that sort of thing. Of course evolution and the Big Bang are obviously true and those other beliefs are axiomatically false. Or so I believe.

    What the core "voices in our heads" beliefs will be 500 years hence is unknowable -- I would still expect a lot of biblical theism to be running around, accompanied by belief systems like Scientology or Mormonism although I expect them to have changed (or rather evolved) to the point where practitioners today would not easily recognise them.

    It's worth noting that many scientists in the past were churchmen or true believers in their Deity of choice even as they pulled the Universe apart and measured it to their satisfaction. Sometimes they also held to odd belief systems as well, like Newton and his alchemical studies which he kept carefully hidden from his scientific and Church contemporaries.

    235:

    It isn't about science replacing religion. The issue is how people find meaning and purpose in their lives. That is more about the approach to living, which science can offer a solution, albeit a different one from religion.

    What might be a pathological variant is the singularity, an example of "science" offering eternal life to replace the religious variety.

    I personally see science as offering a non-authoritarian view of the world. One that offers a cornucopia of phenomena that can be understood and integrated into one's worldview. And if you are into awe, well the vastness and complexity of the universe far exceeds any religious doctrine I am familiar with.

    236:

    What you're describing sounds more like 18th century Natural Philosophy than 21st century Science.

    Note that I think that both have their qualities.

    237:

    Nah, you could resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict with a tiny bomb of only 10 kilotons or so. The trick is to use the nuke on the Kaaba in Mecca; the conflict will be resolved within a week.

    Erm... what? How is nuking Mecca going to solve any problem?

    238:

    It isn't about science replacing religion. The issue is how people find meaning and purpose in their lives. That is more about the approach to living, which science can offer a solution, albeit a different one from religion.

    Science can not provide answers for the meaning of live. It can offer an occupation that can become the purpose in your live, as can gardening, raising children, sports or crafting. Everyone still has to answer to themselves why they are doing something. Religions offer a shrink-wrapped solution for that, but it's just as possible to come up with individual answers.

    239:

    The precedent set by the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE suggests otherwise, very strongly indeed. Or don't you think Islam is strong enough to survive the obvious and deliberate destruction of its holiest shrine by an enemy?

    (Don't answer that question: any answer you're likely to give is also likely to annoy me enough to hand you your yellow -- or red -- card.)

    240:

    I think he was referring more to systems of belief, the voices in your head that tell you what is true -- evolution versus Biblical creationism, the Big Bang versus Genesis, that sort of thing. Of course evolution and the Big Bang are obviously true and those other beliefs are axiomatically false. Or so I believe.

    When you decide what to believe you should base that decision on what makes sense. If you subscribe to a believe system, you should make sure the system itself makes sense. If instead you hear voices in your head, you should see a doctor. ;-)

    241:

    No, I think Islam would survive. It's the strategy known as "watching tigers fight from across the river" or more informally "let's you and him fight".

    242:

    The unprovoked destruction of the Kaaba is more likely to start a global religious war, crushing any hope to find reasonable solutions to any other problems mankind currently has. Probably the most direct path to a global collapse of civilization.

    As a MAD threat it could stabilize Israel against aggression of muslim countries. Won't help against Intifadas or anonymous attacks, though.

    243:

    No, I think Islam would survive. It's the strategy known as "watching tigers fight from across the river" or more informally "let's you and him fight".

    Why do you think that conflict would be contained in any way? China and South America might have a chance to stand aside and watch, but even China would be hit by the economic implications of a global war.

    245:

    Look, you can't "just nuke" Mecca. Nukes don't pop out of nowhere, they can be identified. So, who did it? And why?

    246:

    Carbon and climate are likely to be serious problems 50 years out, but not 500. The technologies Charlie describes would be more than sufficient to remove as much carbon as desired from the atmosphere. This leaves the political problems of how to spread the costs of climate engineering worldwide, and how to agree on what kind of climate is desirable.

    Which is still easier than the political problems of trying to get enough countries on board with reducing carbon emissions. Since the costs of reducing emissions are borne locally, while the benefits are felt only globally. If we're serious about dealing with the climate change problem, we need to think about geoengineering.

    @Heteromeles: "Indeed, we do lose a lot of solar energy that could be used to make machines work, but without that energy, our atmosphere would be liquid and we'd be frozen solid." A basic physics error, if I understand you right. Using solar or other energy does not destroy that energy as you seem to think - that would violate conservation of energy. It changes it to a less available form - the least available form is heat. (Thermodynamics)

    Collapse of technological civilization: it is unknown in the record, and not just in the dodgy way Charlie defines it. Looking at the overall tech and economic level of the world - not just local areas - it has had some serious down-drops, including the Bronze Age collapse others have mentioned. None have been to the point of everything being lost. This has enabled the next rise has been higher, and the overall trend continues up....one good book with numbers and graphs on this is "Why the West Rules - For Now". The title's a bit misleading, kind of a marketing gimmick.

    All of Jared Diamond's examples of this were from local Stone Age cultures, plus the Greenland Norse who were almost as technologically primitive. So the record suggests that cultures are more vulnerable to collapse, the poorer and more primitive they are. There is simply no evidence for the argument that more complex and interconnected societies are more vulnerable. Experience so far indicates the opposite.

    I'd suggest this is for the simple reason that they have a smaller margin of production over survival, and smaller reserves. So when they suffer an injury, it is more likely to be fatal. A current illustration is how the poorer, worse-infrastructure regions of the Gulf Coast had more lasting trouble from Katrina than the northeast Atlantic coast is so far having from Sandy. Even though rural southern people may be less interconnected and therefore less vulnerable to collapse according to a widespread theory.

    247:

    Additionally, cooling things off rapidly while the oceans are warm is a recepie for a global ice age. (OTOH, Greenland melting may lead to a mini-ice age around the northern Atlantic.)

    248:

    > ...modified ribosomes that can assemble polypeptides
    > using non-standard aminoacids (presumably coded for
    > using four-base codons)...

    Biologist here: But that means re-writing every single protein in the genome, completely re-engineering the ribosome (and associated parts of the translation apparatus), a really difficult engineering problem, and probably also dealing with a host of unexpected and difficult-to-fix genetic-control issues (e.g. of genes that are controlled by pseudogene paralogs).

    It might be easier to start with engineering some currently synonymous nucleotide triplets to be different, so that they code for new amino acids (the genetic code is partly 'degenerate,' so different triplets currently code for the same amino acid -- some of these synonymous triplets are potentially available as distinct ones for new amino acids).

    This still means re-writing much of the current genome (to sort out degeneracy/non-degeneracy issues), though this would be a less radical change than a switch to a quadruplet system.

    Making the triplet genetic code less degenerate may cause its own set of long-term problems. Although the current code does vary slightly across organisms, there's good evidence that its level of degeneracy has evolved as an optimal solution to minimize errors in mistranslation and mutation (at least for the current set of amino acids). This may in turn require careful re-optimization of DNA/RNA replication fidelity. There would be many unintended and hard-to-predict consequences like this.

    A 4-base code would also be more error prone...

    249:

    No. The first rational genomes will be extremely small. In fact, IIRC, it's already being worked on. The entity will be a procaryote, sort of, but it will have a differrent gene coding system. (OTOH, I think it's still basically CHON..but using some different amino acids..

    Now as to whether the current effort will be successful, I have my doubts. And it's utility will be limited to "proof of principle". But it's genome will be as small as any existing protozoa (well, that's the goal).

    If you are predicting what artificial metazoa would look like... I think that's too far away for decent predictions. I expect that it will be designed to require some elements that aren't required by normal life forms, to aid in controling it's spread. (I also expect that this precaution won't be needed...that it will need to be protected from normal life forms rather than vice-versa.)

    P.S.: I'm not counting genetic modification as an artificial life form. Only either "built from scratch" or "built from organisms whose ancestors were built from scratch", but I'll admit I'm allowing scratch to include proteins, nucleic acids, ribosomes, etc. I'm undecided about mitochondira and chloroplasts, but we aren't near that stage yet.

    250:

    Look, you can't "just nuke" Mecca. Nukes don't pop out of nowhere, they can be identified. So, who did it? And why?

    I don't know who would do it. Whoever thought it was in their interests might do it. Possibly China, since the fallout would mostly land on India and the US (metaphorically) (also literally). Maybe somebody new. The Kaaba and the hajj are one of the very few great levers of the world where a small action could have world-historical consequences, and they're by necessity poorly secured. I seriously doubt that nobody over the next 500 years will take a shot at it.

    As for the other part, hijackers can also be identified. The 9/11 team was mostly Saudis; we invaded Iraq. When people are pissed enough, facts don't matter until it's much too late.

    251:

    What makes sense? People are not frictionless spherical beings of unit radius and negligible mass when it comes to making sense of the world or indeed themselves.

    I believe in Science, I do not believe in the God of Abraham or the revelations of the Angel Moroni or the FSM, ramen! but I am very conscious that there are a lot of folks who truly believe, as in they are certain that they walk every day with their God who will listen and respond to their prayers. I do not think their beliefs make sense but I have to accept they believe what they profess to believe.

    Basically we go through life having constructed an internal model of the world and the people around us -- hot things burn, dropped objects fall, some folks are deadly serious when they claim that God talks to them and instructs them how to live their daily lives. Pretending those folks are not serious is a recipe for disaster, up to and including the point where they try to kill you because you insult their beliefs. For example the true believers of the great god Free Speech go around poking various other religionists with a sharp stick and then complain that those religionists don't believe in Free Speech when those religionists go berserk. Free Speechists have voices in their heads that tell them Free Speech is always a good thing and must always be exercised and they can't comprehend that other folks don't hear the same voices in their head telling them the same thing and they may react differently.

    252:

    "500 years is close to the human mean life expectancy if all medical causes of death are abolished: eventually an accident or violence will get you."

    Uh, show your work, Charlie? I think you're blindly passing on someone else's bad numbers.
    http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html
    all US deaths by injurty, including accident and violence, are under 59/100,000. The inverse of that is 1695 years. The half-life is 1175 years. And of course this is with modern medicine, and American homicide and traffic death rates, and 'falls' which might be enhanced by fragile old people, I don't know.

    253:

    No mention of world government or the European Union? Charlie says the Westphalian model isn't that old but doesn't say what might replace it.

    Government's core justifications are to keep the peace, including defense, and manage commons. Obvious commons especially in this scenario: the atmosphere and oceans. We already have fragments of global governance regarding the environment, species, copyright, and finance, and a model for nations coming together and giving up sovereignty (one that Africa and South America have embryonic imitations of.) I don't think Earth 2512 being a world state is an unlikely outcome, not through conquest but through voluntary (advantages) and 'voluntary' (economic pressure) mergers.

    Possible downers: the end of the antibiotic age. Vaccines won't stop working, but bacterial illnesses may revive as a deadly threat.

    Genetics: Charlie thinks ethics will prevent much human work. But if you don't have a world state, enforcing those ethics gets harder. And if you get good enough in animal work to show you know what you're doing, you can plausibly argue that the ethical barrier goes away. Even without that, at minimum there's a Gattaca future, where embryos get made shotgun style, then scanned via advanced genomics for selection. To be grown in exowombs, if the women are lucky. Human evolution can accelerate even if we don't stick genes in embryos. I'd predict a smarter and healthier world.

    254:

    Agreed, Nojay. Most people don't think about the definition of the words "God" or "religion," because they were introduced to them when they were young. I'd suggest that it is worth thinking about the phenomena behind those problematic words.

    In one of the few anthropological studies of religious I saw, the researcher struggled with various definitions of "religion" and finally decided that "religion is whatever they do religiously," getting back to the presumed Latin roots of "religio." His problem was dealing with all the belief systems of New Guinea tribes, a few of which contained no recognizable gods at all (their religion was concerned with keeping people healthy through their lives. They did not believe in an afterlife).

    Science is a religion in that it seeks to explain the world, and it is definitely a religion in that scientists practice it religiously. It is certainly not Christianity. This fact doesn't make it not a religion, because, oddly enough, most things we call religions aren't Christianity, and have little in common with Christianity. For that matter, most sects of Christianity are different enough to be considered separate religions (a common usage in the US). Then again, perhaps a religion is a sect with a militia behind it.

    I'm suggesting science is religion 3.0, and it's probably more different from the 2.0 religions than they were from the 1.0 religions before them. I'm also suggesting that, just as 2.0 religions didn't wipe the 1.0 religions from the planet, despite earnest efforts to do so, science won't succeed in getting rid of its predecessors either. We'll all just keep bumbling and bickering along.

    255:

    "I don't think Earth 2512 being a world state is an unlikely outcome, not through conquest but through voluntary (advantages) and 'voluntary' (economic pressure) mergers."

    Multinational governments and organizations tend to come undone by nationalistic forces. German and French nationalism, for example, were obstacles to overcome in building a bailout package for Greece in order to maintain the EU. Likewise there are existing self-determination movements within the EU that may serve, over a long enough timeline, to further fracture the EU even as it works to entrench itself in European politics. It's an open question as to whether nationalistic forces might undo the EU in the next couple of years -- although that's looking less likely right now than it was this time last year -- let alone within the next century or so.

    Rather than a world state, I think it's more likely we'll have a set of global organizations because the more specialized & limited such a construction is the less likely it is to self-destruct to the competing interests of its member states or become a target of popular hatred. There are more issues that could potentially undermine a world state than there are that would undermine something like the WHO.

    256:

    First, the mines will have run out. I grew up in a mining town, and in the 1960's they relabelled the waste dump "stockpiled ore". Yeah, right. Basically, all the cheap extraction will be behind us, except extraction from garbage dumps, scavenging and recycling.

    Expect batteries to be 4 to 15 times better than they are now. A mishandled battery will release a dangerous amount of energy.

    Lasers will be better. CW fiber optic lasers are already the good way to cut steel. I expect that ability will be portable, to the point where bank vaults are carefully made of mixed materials that can't all be cut with a single color. Err, colour.

    The new housing will be dense, so taxis can be pretty much "people movers", ie glorified golf carts. We won't invest as much in highways, since freight carriage will be by rail.

    Conventional nuclear power won't spread, because it depends on cooling towers, and (a) cooling won't work as well in a hot future, and (b) water will have gone through periods of high value. Fusion reactors will face the same problem and will not be used unless a technical solution is found, eg direct magnetic extraction of electricity from charged particles. In which case, expect laser driven fusion powering our space colonies, if we have any.

    The Internet will continue to be a force for communication across political boundaries, so we will continue to see less-widespread languages die out. It will also be force for spreading new slang. (Notice that "ginger" is suddenly in use in the USA.) Global collaboration will be so habitual (and commodification will be so common) that only historians will remember the idea of proprietary software. Phones won't be hand held.

    Energy from solar and wind will reliably have periods when the electric supply exceeds demand. A way to store the surplus as a liquid chemical will exist, because liquid chemicals are energy-dense and portable and geography-agnostic. There will be isolated areas whose economy is founded on exporting said chemical. It will be a chemical that doesn't rot pipelines/tankers, and doesn't absorb water.

    The oceans aren't going to be productive unless you assume that we have successfully scrubbed most of the carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. The cryosphere won't have had time to re-form, though.

    Due to droughts and storms, the global food supply will have been through at least one persistent bottleneck, reducing the world population below five billion, *before* the ocean rose.

    257:

    Sure, the eurozone -- not so much the EU proper -- has hit speed bumps. But we're talking on a scale of 500 years. Even if the current EU balks, what will the next generation, grown up in an even more integrated Europe, think?

    Everything I've seen has put the various regional movements as seeing themselves within an EU context. Secession from Spain or Britain, but being part of the EU. Or wanting to be, at least, apart from recent doubts about the euro as it is.

    Thing about specialized organizations that are filled by member government appointees is that they're undemocratic. Representative democracy is one thing, but indirect democracy doesn't seem to work well. For the WHO this doesn't matter, it doesn't make law. The WTO does, the European Commission does, some hypothetical atmosphere regulator would, and there's been concern about the democratic deficit of both. Small rich countries are reluctant to enter "one person one vote" with big poor countries, but if economies converge, and the countries merge first into big units of comparable size, then I think the logic of equality will grind forward.

    Plus we've seen from both the US Articles and from the EU and others that veto-based organization don't work well for long, but if you want majority rules I think it'd best be rooted in a majority of voters, not a majority of governments.

    I wouldn't be surprised if by 2050 the European Parliament was the supreme power in the EU.

    258:

    A full longevity solution probably will require substantial messing around with our own germ lines. Our genomes are terribly messy evolved hacks, with poorly understood 'metaprogramming' as Charlie puts it (the analogy to programming is interesting but imprecise: for a start, genomes can't be divided easily into metalanguage and object language).

    Cancer may become largely avoidable if we can modify our cells to behave somewhat like those of naked mole rats, for example. That'd require some pretty hefty simulation before it moves out of beta into real human beings (experimentation being unethical, and all that), so may or may not be 'easy' to do in the near to long future. But aging (a diffuse genetic break-down?) may be much harder to solve.

    ...Comments from hairyears

    > Everything's got mitochondria, they're made with a
    > fixed amount of deuterium for the service life, and
    > everything is made of stuff that works.

    What? Deuterium has nothing to do with mitochondrial function. They're not little fusion reactors, those it's a nice analogy.

    Also, not everything has mitochondria, in fact, most organisms lack them (prokaryotes, archaea, some eukaryotes).

    259:

    Late to the thread as usual - family stuff - but maybe a few points that haven't been covered yet: expect an explosion of granfaloons. And holidays. It'll make the Catholic calendar for saints look like the Pentecostal schedule of annual events. Further, you won't be able to ring through them on an annual cycle. That will be more like twenty or fifty years of officially recognized holidays.

    If people live longer, expect a corresponding increase in the longevity of buildings (no one will live in house that falls apart in sixty years if they live to be two hundred) as well as an overall extension of what's considered long term. In particular, climate considerations will make burial of all supply lines a matter of course instead of the current slow-rolling disaster we have here with Sandy and above-ground power lines. Underground construction and underground tunnel-boring will be a thoroughly mastered high art that has long since become largely automated. And there will be unused tunnels and underground chambers going back for centuries. Tales of high adventure will take place not in space, but in those lost and fabulous underground warrens.

    Space is still not the final frontier (but there will be thousands of people living in NEO and beyond); that's reserved for the newly-opened Antarctica where the disaffected flock to make their fortunes or otherwise Live Free (as they see it of course.)

    260:

    It's not about what will happen, it's about what might happen. The warming response to a given trajectory of GHG emissions depends on a host of factors, resulting in a probability distribution for the likely warming. Now, you can just take an average and plan around that, but the warming that you will get in actuality will have a 50% chance of being higher than average. And then there's the long tail of the probability distribution, the 5% chance of "we're fucked" or the 1% chance of "we're really fucked". What the "we're fucked" and "we're really fucked" scenarios will be varies depending upon which climate researchers you want to talk with, but it's a pretty credible statement to say that the unlikely but high impact possibilities are anything but terrifying.

    And if your description of warming above is the average outcome, then the extreme end of the probability distribution starts to look like a civilisation-ending outcome. If we're assuming that isn't going to happen (on account of being boring), then we'll be looking at a need to go beyond a decarbonised economy and into a negative carbon economy, where we are actively sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. We have the first glimmerings of this right now, with biofuel-fired generating stations combined with carbon capture and storage to give us negative carbon emissions while still generating electricity and money. Whatever technology we use for getting carbon out of the air and back underground, we'll have to have cracked it within one or two hundred years.

    In five hundred years' time, we'll have to be actively controlling the atmosphere, resulting in arguments between various nations over what kind of weather they'd each like to have this season, with the People's Free Republic of Siberia in strong disagreement with the United Amalgamated Corporations of Ghana.

    And then there's what happens when those massive underground stores of highly pressurised carbon dioxide start to leak...

    261:

    A lot about 2512 will depend on how the next 50-75 years play out. Like Cortez & The Aztecs, what happens in the next two generations or so will materially shape the next half millenia.

    World Government? See "The Case for Leviathan", you already have it (Sort of...), as in "Let's talk aboout something else day." Will we abdicate the role to China (Or fight a nasty war or four?), or just revert to a cold war ish stable system.

    With multiple fringe players waving their nuclear arsenals for attention.

    Ocassionaly Right Wing Ideologues get it right, you'll miss us when we're gone.

    Actually, our current industrialized economy and hyper urbanized social patterns are relativly new. The first "Industrial" revolution was based in the UK, about two centuries ago, and only became self-sustaining after 1830/40; Our curent big box hyperabbundance (Complete with surplus T-Shirts traded on to the developing world) a generation and a half or so.

    The Auto Centered American Pattern Suburb only emerges after WW II, enabled by cheap hydrocarbons and the empty space. And GI Bill Home Loans. I think it has passed it's peak, certainly any near term dystopian future swould include a reference to the looting of the Walmarts. American gasoline at $5 a gallon (Locally, $3.32) might push it over the edge.

    262:

    > Possibly South Africa (or some political grouping in
    > that part of the continent) will be the dominant
    > superpower.

    As a South African resident of an age too young to have been able to vote in the first democratic election, I find that hilariously funny. But, in 500 years, there might be some differences.

    We might not have the South African equivalent of Mitt Romney (i.e. someone that ran on a platform of corruption with no political convictions other than building his own little kingdom) in the future.

    We might not have the mentality that adding more red tape to processes will prevent corruption in stead of creating opportunities for it. (It's literally easier and more legal to wait until you need a new power station, than to authorize maintenance on an existing one to extend its life at a fraction of the cost.)

    We might have found a better balance between the rights of workers and the needs of businesses without resorting to crippling strikes and mass firings.

    My point is: the South Africa in 500 years will have gone through some very radical changes. If it carries on like it currently does, there's not a whelk's chance in a supernova that it will be any kind of powerhouse. However, the imp of the perverse in me thinks that there might still be some tricks it might pull.

    To be honest, I think the best way to predict future superpowers would be to extrapolate from the climate, and pick geographically idyllic spots. Human politics and social structure rarely last past one or two generations.

    263:

    This might be fun of course, in my house smoking pot is legal. In yours, it's not and shooting law breakers is legal. Can you shoot me, or more precisely what happens when you do?

    Assuming you're in the EU and the other person is somewhere in the US.

    Private citizens shooting law breakers in the US without an expectation of imminent harm will typically land you with a manslaughter charge at a minimum. Stand your ground laws want to make this easier but they are still based on an expectation of harm. (And seem to be stupid to most of us not matter what political stripe as they seem to get used.) About the only way to shoot someone without being charged is if they are in your house uninvited. And that one is still problematic for the shooter in many cases.

    264:

    #71 - I think we're agreeing here. Ok, I've never lived in anything as old as the "New Town", but my present late 1970s accomodation is the only post-WW2 house I've ever lived in for years rather than months.

    265:

    the slums are bulldozed and few people shed tears for them.

    A counter point to that thought.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/stewart_brand_on_squatter_cities.html

    266:

    #90 - Ever hear of the "Docklands Light Railway" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Docklands_Light_Railway ?

    As noted, it's not totally unmanned, but the trains are driven automatically.

    267:

    I picked on the Great Orme copper mine because I knew it to have been active in the Bronze Age, and to have traded tin with Cornwall, which shows that the trading links need not all have been over thousands of miles. Do you know of any BA copper mining in Devon or Cornwall?

    268:

    Free Speechists have voices in their heads that tell them Free Speech is always a good thing and must always be exercised and they can't comprehend that other folks don't hear the same voices in their head telling them the same thing and they may react differently.

    I'm pretty sure 99% of all people do not hear voices in their heads. If you do, you should see a doctor.

    I meant "making sense" subjectively; if it makes sense for yourself it doesn't need to make sense for someone else. But you shouldn't subscribe to a belief system just because someone tells you to.

    269:

    I'm suggesting science is religion 3.0, and it's probably more different from the 2.0 religions than they were from the 1.0 religions before them.

    If you are doing science like you would do a religion, you are NOT doing science.

    270:

    A secondary note wrt. religion -- which Nojay should get -- is that it is possible to follow more than one religion simultaneously -- especially if you have a Religion 1.0 practice coexisting with Religion 2.0. The obvious example (and I know Nojay's seen it) is the coexistence of Shinto shrines with Buddhist temples in Japan -- in the same premises, with pilgrims/worshipers going to attend both, more or less simultaneously.

    A more obscure example might be Roman Catholicism, with its array of saints who bear a striking resemblance to earlier indigenous deities or spirits, although Catholicism's syncretistic and centralizing tendencies make it a bit harder to identify them as separate religions.

    Science is, if not a meta-religion, then at least open to the possibility of refutation -- it's not an absolutist creed that claims explanatory completeness and final authority has been achieved. But to the extent that we consider it to have explanatory power if practiced in accordance with certain guidelines (themselves subject to refinement over time) then it's rather hard to say that it doesn't fit that broadest definition of religion.

    271:

    Ocassionaly Right Wing Ideologues get it right, you'll miss us when we're gone.

    Actually, you are gone. Unless you're advocating a return to the Monarchical system, the divine right of kings, and what amounts to a hereditary dictatorship a la North Korea, you're not a right wing ideologue in the way the term was applied 200 years ago.

    We're living in the wake of the 18th century Enlightenment. Go back to 1660, and the most radical progressive political platform you could find in the English speaking world has by 2012 become global orthodoxy -- adult males have the vote, even if they're not landowners! We're allowed to publish stuff without prior censorship as long as it doesn't offend against public decency! Nobles aren't allowed to put us on trial and execute us without a jury! Shocking, I know, but even modern conservatives generally agree that the Leveler platform from the 1660s is, shall we say, bedrock-solid. Even though the Levelers were considered to be the swivel-eyed bomb-throwing radical loons of the day.

    272:

    Coming to this debate VERY late (been very busy Thurs/Fri/Sat – catching up @ home Sunday …..) let’s see shall we?

    Kim Stanley Robinson has written a novel entitled 2312 has he not? Not read it yet … any comments relevant therein?

    5 metre sea-level rise? Um 2, maybe 3, though, of course there are still huge numbers who go on about the “GW scam” - & I hate to say it, but they have a point, because although GW is real, the response of guvmints has been to enlarge the profits of the power & utility companies, whilst actually doing nothing at all about GW.
    [ The real, short-term answer is nuclear power, of course …]
    Longer term, the next 100 years, will see a reasonable artificial photosynthesis set of processes, which will really change energy & fuel requirements 7 usage.

    One effect that is spoken of, but not mentioned is that a warmer world, means more energy in the system, so more extremes @ both ends, & much more violent weather….
    See also @ 99.

    As for Fischer-Tropf & other syntheses of liquid fuels, that is coming between now & 2025 –see www.airfuelsynthesis.com for more information.
    [ @44 – yes, that’s them …]

    I doubt the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will exist in 2512. but the United Federation of the Isles might well be here ….

    As for orbit, you are not betting on beanstalks? Clarke & the much-lamented Sheffield notwithstanding?

    World population?
    probably under 5 “billion”, quite possibly under 1 billion, given the demographic transition model. [ So @ 18 isn’t even wrong, I’m afraid, or rather good! ]

    Discussion below on translations, esp “Chinese”.
    ONE Written language, but 4 (or more) completely mutually-incomprehensible spoken ones.
    Which is why a lot of them are learning, errr, “English” & the “Roman” script.

    @ 11/12 re carbon & burning it.
    NOT dirty IF you put your air-fuel plant (see above) inside the coal-burning power station & scrub the stacks thoroughly.

    Charlie @ 17A key insight I forgot to put in that think-piece is that the 19th-21st century capitalist model will be dead. As dead as the mediaeval guild system, or Leninism, or the divine right of kings. It's inherently unstable and requires unlimited growth and differentials in income and capital distribution. Over time, the scope for growth and the income and capital differentials are going to go away. Which makes life very difficult for a company that tries to follow the industrial age paradigm.

    Very true, but what replacement model? How organised? This might actually be the most important question here, since the rest is “merely” technology & science, whereas this is human organisational systems, which are a lot trickier to manage (pun intended).

    @37
    maybe there's a story there of mangroves run amok,…. Oh dear.
    Already been written.
    Brian Aldiss … “Hothouse” 1962

    Heteromeles @ 51
    and the most crucial changes have always been Black Swans, not Fairy Dust.
    No
    I suggest you read some recent history, especially the development of the steam engine(s), both stationary & moving ….
    Unfortunately, you may be correct about GW – yet there are still many who believe & shout that it is a scam – see my earlier comment.

    @ 52
    You touched a very raw nerve there, be careful!
    At the risk of being thought racist (Charlie knows I am not) the Roma have a problem, because of their own internal culture, I’m afraid. They tend (note “tend”) to regard non-Roma as to be lived off, and things do seem (again note “seem”) to disappear when they are around. Because of the scapegoating effect mentioned above, what then happens is that all Roma get tarred with the same brush, even if their criminal element is only, say, 4% as opposed to our 2.5% [ I just made those numbers up, so please don’t take them as true in any sense, except as a comparator.]
    A very, very dangerous & sensitive subject indeed.
    Also Andreas Vox @ 62 - & here, also – people are getting very twitchy about this very tricky subject. Incidentally, fully-assimilated people here, whose ancestors came from what are now India, Pakistan & Kashmir are very, very suspicious of the Roma (whose native language/dialect originated form somewhere near the Rann of Kutch, I believe?)
    Note to moderators, if really unhappy with this segment, feel free to delete just this section, please?

    @ 59
    SO according to your numbers, computing-power crosses brain capacity in 2^11 doublings, with a doubling every 18 months, so we will have at least a weak AI by 2018/2020, which means ALL bets are off, I presume ?
    Um, I don’t think we are supposed to be discussing “THE” singularity on this thread?

    @ 87
    I call strawman on that one, I’m afraid.

    Charles H @ 90
    We are already there … see the “train captain/assistant/conductor” on the DLR in London.

    @ 118
    Forget it!
    IF “Devo-Max” had been on the agenda, it would have won an overall majority.
    As it is, Salmond’s wonderful full member of the EU imitating Iceland model is terminally broken, & people know this. The EU have already said ANY new member must start from scratch, no exceptions …. [ So that the EU bureaucrats can control with no democratic accountability, of course, or am I paranoid? ]
    Agree with Brett @ 163, for the same reasons.

    hiaryears @ 126
    but a full solution to the problems of the Standard Model…
    Errr … ummm … I thought the “Standard Model still had slight irrecoverable problems, like the renormalisation one & its’ incompatibility with General Relativity.
    See also @ 143
    Yes, Angela, there are still serious scientific problems to solve, as well as engineering ones, such as the utilisation of bi-engineered mitochondria that others have been discussing indirectly.
    Mind you, elsewhere, someone was enthusing over their newly-fabbed Shawm!

    @ 151
    but perhaps a speaker in 500 years time will be more comprehensible to a present-day listener than someone from 500 years ago.
    Oh, really, don’t believe you, because … err, 400 years ago:
    Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
    Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
    I cried to dream again.

    Perfectly understandable, is it not?

    Dave Berry @ 164
    The Taliban seem to be doing reasonably well on a shoestring.
    WRONG
    1] They are religious fanatics
    2] Every attack they make gets some of them killed, at a very disadvantageous rate
    3] They have finally managed to annoy everyone, by trying to waste a girl who just wanted an education.

    Heteromeles @ 165
    Actually we ARE “coloured” – PINK.
    Pretty, isn’t it? Especially with freckles…..

    Jay @ 189
    NOT some religious nutters trying to waste “the jews” (Israel) ??
    Actually ONE regional nuclear war would probably finish it, because everyone will dump on the aggressor. The example, with modern communications would be really effective at stopping that insanity ever again.
    Unfortunately, I think you are correct, in that some one state will be insane enough to try it.
    & also Jay @ 219 – yes, I’m afraid some idiot will nuke Tel Aviv, followed by the Israelis going kill-crazy.
    Not a nice prospect.
    @ 227 Euwww……
    That might be the second bomb, actually? Also Charlie @ 238 … yes, well, but where religious fanaticism is in play, almost anything can happen, unfortunately.

    Charlie @ 195
    I didn’t realise that the USSA was in that bad a state, in terms of domestic environments efficiency & even comfort”

    Adrian @ 221
    If any current countries still exist they'll bear about as much relation to today's political boundaries as the current County of Cornwall does the 8th Century Kingdom of Dumnonia
    NO, not even wrong.
    500 years ago, at least the following countries existed:
    England (& Wales) Scotland, Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands (dukedom of Burgandy) Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Austria, Swiss Federation, Turkey, Persia.

    Andreas Vox @ 229
    So very true.
    Also: Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what you are told.
    Religion is doing what you are told, regardless of whether it is right, or not.
    Ahem.

    Mindstalk @ 252
    The Westphalian model is admittedly not that old (1648 in fact), but recognisable Nation-states existed in 1148, with international relations and ambassadors. So maybe there might NOT be that much change, perhaps?

    Donlindsay333 @ 255
    No polywell fusors/fusion, then? I suspect this prediction is off-beam.

    Sasquatch @ 260
    Incorrect date.
    The industrial revolution in the UK was certainly self-sustaining past 1775/84 … the formation of Boulton & Watt as a company & the invention of the Parallel motion. Downhill bicycle race, all the way from there on.

    273:

    Speaking of US housing.

    If the mean life expectancy of a sheetrock-and-wood building is 30 years

    I think you're off here by 30 or more years. Based on my experiences with the housing trades going back to the early 60s. There are multiple categories here. Much of the 45 to 55 1000 sqft stuff built is now gone. Good riddance. It was thrown up to deal with the early days of the housing shortage. Housing built in the late 50s and early 60s in being torn down. But only about 1/2 or less of it. From what I can see much of it due to changing demographics as much as it was no longer viable. But yes there was and is still some junk being built. The rest likely has another 20 to 40 year of life left in it.

    There are vast areas in major cities, (Chicago, LA, Las Vegas come to mind as I have seen it there and in many smaller cities), where 1200 square foot (110 sq meter) housing from the 60s will likely be around for another 50 years. Of course if you visit such area it no longer has the white middle class plumbers and factory workers living there. Now these areas are inhabited by people with on average darker skin maybe speaking a Hispanic or Asian dialect. But they are still mostly what we call blue collar. Plumbers, carpenters, painters, etc...

    274:

    Look, you can't "just nuke" Mecca. Nukes don't pop out of nowhere, they can be identified. So, who did it? And why?

    But why do you think most people would believe the answer?

    This ties back to the recent nonsense about the stupid movie made by a wacko in California that was used as a pretext for various things.

    Much of the world does not understand the US or EU concept of free speech. At all.

    275:

    #271 ref #118 - Er, if Scotland would need to apply to the EU as a "new accession", surely the same thing would also apply to "EnglandAndWales", since the "United Kingdom" entity that signed the original treeaties no longer exists?

    276:

    http://www.fightaging.org/archives/2008/11/deuterium-again.php
    "He found that water enriched with deuterium, which is twice as heavy as normal hydrogen, extends the lifespan of worms by 10 per cent. And fruitflies fed the 'water of life' lived up to 30 per cent longer."

    277:

    There is a lot of smoke and spin going on over the whole independence referendum.

    Me, I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that Scottish independence not only makes good financial sense (for Scotland) but that failure to launch would result in Scotland being dragged willy-nilly down the path of total privatisation that England is embarked on, despite it being wildly unpopular up here. (The formula used to allocate public spending in Scotland takes as its input per-capital public spending in England. Trouble is, as stuff is sold off to the private sector, public sector spending in England falls, thus forcing Scottish authorities to make heavy and unpopular cuts, even if the public sector trough-gobbling contractors are less efficient than the local-authority run services up here. For example, my water bill is rather lower than the equivalent in England, and our infrastructure is better maintained, because the water boards are still under municipal control and are not run on a for-profit basis.)

    278:

    Transhumanism ticks all the boxes for being a scientific religion.

    279:

    What would it take to convince you that 1000 square feet is perfectly acceptable, even average, to accommodate a family of three or four outside of the USA? And I'm not talking about Japan either.

    280:

    Over the next 500 years I wonder if we might see a significant rise in the number and potency of charitable trusts and other non-governmental organisations.

    My logic runs like this.

    People appear to be motivated to give to charities and some of this giving is capital in nature i.e. the donation is expected to be invested in some form in perpetuity and income harvested from this investment. I am unsure whether a growth in income inequality increases the amount of capital charitable donation. I think it might. Even if only 1 in 100 billionaires cash out and leave their fortunes to charitable foundations that is still a fair accumulation of capital in the third sector over the coming few hundred years.

    Charities etc seem to be better at holding on to wealth than the successions of individuals found in families. They have in built bias towards financial (and perhaps operational) conservatism and they are usually required to safeguard capital.

    As a model of this accumulation in action I offer churches, not just the Catholic Church and universities.

    So I wonder then if we end up with much more of the world’s stock of financial capital under the control of charitable and NGO actors. Consequentially, they are a lot more politically important and a lot of important politic discussions happen within them or between them.

    281:

    Do large parts of the world become uninhabitable deserts? Or rather, when they become uninhabitable do they remain so?

    I am wondering at the geo-engineering effect of deliberate attempts to re-green deserts.

    The motivation for the re-greening might be to simply to avoid large deserts. It might be to find new ways to use agriculturally and financially marginal land. It might just be for fun and frolics.


    This might involve some genetically modified plants. If you could “build” a number of plant species that could cope on the edge of deserts with high temperatures, big temperature swings, scarce water and lots of sun do they become invasive of deserts – on their own or with human intervention. And does the introduction of large amounts of plant life have a sufficient impact on the local climate to make other plants able to return.

    282:

    On Charlie’s point about Scottish Independence above my view from Edinburgh is I tend to agree him that Scottish Independence makes financial sense for Scotland and it likely avoids a significant attempt by the UK government to shrink the public sector. YMMV on whether you think this is going to be a good thing or a bad thing. I think it will prove unpopular in Scotland.

    I also think that the Yes campaign will fail to convince people of this and the referendum on Yes / No will be a No vote.

    So I think those of us who live in Scotland who wish to avoid becoming collateral damage in other people’s politics should start preparing for some form of significant additional devolution which would have to include large elements of fiscal autonomy.

    Whether this is at the level of Scotland through Devo Max or through enhanced powers for local authorities or both I’m not sure. (Gut feel says both.)

    For those of you who live in Scotland and can get to Edinburgh for tea time on the 4th December the Electoral Reform Society have been thinking about this issue recently and will be hosting a public talk on what a Good Scottish Democracy looks like as part of their Democracy to the Max workstream. (I’ve been part of some of the working groups.)


    http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/democracy-max

    283:

    Scotland
    The real problem is that Salmoind is about as trustworthy as Charles I ......

    284:

    I'd add that if Devo Max was on the ballot I'd go for it like a greased whippet. Alas, it isn't. As the UK-wide Labour Party seems to be turning into a mini-me version of the Conservatives at a policy level, the only way they've left open for escape is outright independence.

    285:

    A colleague of mine who is a much more gifted technical analyst of the way voting systems work has suggested to me that the best way to conduct a referendum with three options where one of the options is sort of nested inside one of the others, like the Independence, Status Quo, Devo Max is to have the referendum in two parts. Part one is between the two extreme points. Part two between which ever is the winner and the middle case.

    I’m only part way through reading his paper on it so I’m not sure how he works this out but I’m happy to take his word for it for the time being.

    This looks a bit what I think we’ll end up with in practise with a two option referendum in 2014 with a Devo Max option waiting in the wings if sufficient people care about it to demand that it happens. Which they might if the public sector gets the shoeing it looks like it might from the current government.

    Although whether the Labour Party’s response could be any different I am not so sure.

    Anyway this is beside the point of your thought provoking OP so I shall drop chat on the domestic politics of process unless prompted by you.

    286:

    Permanently subtract all the Scottish Labour MPs from Westminster and things will look interesting in England.

    287:

    I got thinking, and if I were a writer of occult superspy fiction, it would be very tempting to use Mecca as a setting. The enemies could be cultists trying to use the psychic energy of the hajj to unbind some djinn. Having a Black Chamber- controlled Predator drone on standby with orders to launch a Hellfire air-to-surface missile if the job isn't done one minute before moonrise is entirely optional.

    As exotic superspy settings go, it sure beats Colorado.

    288:

    Perhaps naively I hope that Scottish independence will be good for England too. If Scotland can get off the privatised for-profit roadmap that England seems to be following people can look to our neighbour, see how much better it is and demand change. Whilst it's rare for the general public to be aware of how other countries do things better (not their fault most of the time) it will be hard to ignore an adjoining anglophone one that everyone will be watching to see how independence has suited it.

    289:

    I am not sure that I agree with those poster who think that by 2512 we will be post global warming and in a new status quo.

    A recent Canadian study on the persistence of climate change (rather than the persistence of the changed climate) indicated that we might be seeing changes from our current activities still happening in 1000 years.

    I do a bit of summary of it here.


    http://danieldwilliam.livejournal.com/67648.html

    That’s before we see reversals in the levels of greenhouse gasses.

    290:

    Well within that time frame we survived the Medieval warm period, and its demise, not to mention the "Little Ice Age" in Europe.

    291:

    The problem with calling science a religion is that it maps handily with a popular fundie argument. I'll stick to Gervais' "Atheism is a religion like not stamp collecting is a hobby".

    Charlie, if Scotland secedes, are you suddenly a foreigner in your home? Or do they plan to grant citicenship indiscriminately?

    292:

    1439: just outside your 500 year limit, Johannes Gutenberg popularizes the printing press. The First Information Revolution begins.

    1708: Abraham Darby's cheap iron touches off the Industrial Revolution.

    1958: Jack Kilby invents the integrated circuit, boostrapping the Second Information Revolution.

    Few things are invented ab initio. There were movable type, commercial iron, and electronics before then, but those dates are when they took off.

    A hundred, two hundred, three hundred years from now, something else may become a world-changer. Right now, the subsidiary technologies derived from Kilby's integrated circuit is still shaking up the status quo; it's the underlying technology of the internet and most of our communication infrastructure, cheap medical diagnostic equipment, trivially cheap computers, even Charlie's self-driving cars, though I expect the lawyers will turn that into a techological dead end before it gets anywhere.

    What's next? Many people assume it will have something to do with biology, but down at the gene splicing level, that's still Kilby's chips doing all the work.

    293:

    #290 Para 2 - As a resident born in another Country, Charlie would be automatically offered citizenship. It's his business whether or not he discusses whether he'd accept.

    294:

    back-translation:

    As an aside, I have a languages book written in the 1950s by a professor who spent several hundred tedious pages decisively proving (to himself) that A) modern Romanian is practically indistinguishable from classical Latin, and B) Romanian is the language that most closely resembles English.

    His educational credentials were impressive, but I failed to be persuaded...

    295:

    @195:
    (Actually, drivers in the UK average 12,000 miles a year, to US drivers' 15,000 miles. Living in a smaller, more compact country does not correspond to less commuting.)
    --
    In the USA, much of this is driven by city and county zoning regulations, which tend to insist that people all live in one place, shop in a different place miles away, and work in a third place even further away. The current trend is to "gate" these areas to one or two access points to the main road system, apparently for social status in the case of residences. I can't think of any sane reason for doing it to shopping areas or business parks, but it happens.

    Zoning boards and their decisions are generally absolute and unquestionable, and have the force of law. Changes in zoning classifications are major politics, since large amounts of money are usually involved.

    This sort of thing, played out in 30 to 30 thousand different legal and political jurisdictions, jealously guarded and righteously defended, isn' something easily fixed.

    296:

    AIUI the plan for citizenship in event of an independent Scotland is:

    * Anyone born in Scotland qualifies for Scottish citizenship

    * Anyone resident in Scotland at the time of independence qualifies for Scottish citizenship

    ... There may also be a Scottish-by-descent qualification as with Ireland (if you have one Irish grandparent you can apply for an Irish passport).

    There may also be reciprocal residence rights, as there are between the Republic of Ireland and the UK -- Brits can simply move to Ireland and live there, even voting in elections (although they have to be resident for 3 years before they can get an Irish passport), and vice versa.

    And it's extremely likely that an independent Scotland would ask for EU membership on the grounds that all its citizens were EU citizens previously and it's a spin-off of an EU member state. It's not obvious to see how this could legally be avoided (although the Spanish government is rather upset by the precedent it would set for Catalonia).

    297:

    196:
    in the UK about 70% of adults have driving licences whereas in the US it's 88% according to some figures.
    --
    A lot of Americans have licenses, but do not drive. In the USA, a driver's license is your default document of identification. Anything *other* than a driver's license is considered to be a special case.

    There's a sign at the local motor vehicle office listing the forms of ID required in order to get a driver's license. Two or three, depending on what they are. I was interested to see that "sex change documents" and "prison records" were acceptable ID. Given the USA's incarceration rate, a good number of that 12% of non-licensed adults are probably doing time.

    There's also an official state ID card you can purchase. It's a driver's license with an overstamp telling you it's not really a driver's license.

    298:

    I grew up in a 1910s house in Chicago. Wooden frame and stucco walls, as far as I know. 1100 square feet of living space by the plans, which surprised me went I learned of it, it felt bigger. 3 bedrooms, large living room, dining room, kitchen, extra room. Plus a couple of semi-enclosed porches and an unfinished basement, probably not counted.

    Don't think we ever needed to replace the roof; good thing, because we couldn't have afforded it. Was leaky, until my father has insulation blown into the attic.

    A new family is living in it now, unless something happened since 2007. Maybe not the world's best building, but trucking along.

    299:

    Absolutely.

    One of the biggest problems with an uncritical definition of the word "religion" is that it tends to be exclusionist. "Thou shalt have no gods before me," is true for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and therefore people assume it's part of the basic definition of all religions. It's not. To pick one counterexample, it's not true of Buddhism.

    In the little cartoon I constructed here, of Religions 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, they interpenetrate. It's entirely possible for a 1.0 religion to exist inside a 2.0 religion, and 2.0 religions seem to spontaneously spawn (or incorporate) 1.0 practices as they spread. People often get steamed about treating Catholicism that way, so I'll point instead to Tibetan Buddhism, which contains a large chunk of the old (and still extant) Bon religion inside it. Or one can point to the voudoun and the other religions of the African Diaspora, which use the language of a 2.0 religion as cover for 1.0 religious practices. Or one can look at various newer sects of Buddhism, which idolize the Buddha and pray to him (or chant some mantra), because his practices are seen as too difficult for mere mortals, and they pray for his compassion instead.

    This is also true for science. I've seen several "Altars to the gel gods" in molecular biology labs. Because getting PCR reactions to work used to be a real pain, grad students created goofy little altars near the machines to encourage them to work properly. While they were meant in fun and to deal with the frustration of repeated failures, they certainly looked like a Religion 1.0 practice arising spontaneously in science.

    Also, being a scientist does not automatically preclude one from practicing an old-line religion. Two of the best scientists I know happen to be elders in their local churches, and one (who teaches evolution at a major institution) is the son of missionary parents.

    Ultimately, realize that this idea of Religion 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 is a cartoon. I'm pitching it because futurists want to know what the Next Big Thing In Religion will be: some form of Mormonism, The Church of Science? I'm making the point that this is Religion 2.0 thinking. Instead, I'm suggesting that the biggest revolution in religious thought (Religion 3.0) was the advent of science as a major social institution that can successfully engage with older belief systems. Just as the 2.0 religions were qualitatively and quantitatively different from their predecessors, science is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the 2.0 religions. All three, 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0, coexist and interpenetrate today. While I know that religions die and disappear, I suspect that the underlying memes are much harder to kill. Even if we defund all our universities, there will still be a lot of industrial and citizen science out there.

    The fun question is whether Religion 4.0 is possible. If it exists, it should be out there already in primitive form. Remember, Hero of Alexandria was in his 20s when Jesus was crucified, and he was working with steam, pneumatics, optics, and imaginary numbers. Thing was, he built some of his gadgets for temples, and while they were seen as extraordinary, they weren't seen as revolutionary until much later. For people playing with the future of religions, I'd suggest that finding a good Religion 4.0 candidate is worthy challenge.

    300:

    Americans who don't drive overwhelmingly live in a few cities, mainly in the Northeast, that have decent public transit (NY, Boston, DC, and San Francisco are the only ones that come to mind). In most of the country, driving isn't optional. It's the only way to get to work, go shopping, etc because American zoning laws put residential areas, commercial areas, and industrial areas miles apart.

    Some people use bicycles or motorcycles, but that's seasonal and rather dangerous.

    I vaguely recall a study in which 98% of American drivers whose licenses were suspended continued to drive, despite the risk of prison.

    301:

    Given the incoming Great Climate Kerbloopsie, geoengineering is so close to inevitable that I take them as a gimme. Since I also suspect that international consensus about what needs to done is unlikely, AND that whatever is tried probably won't be very well understood, there is going to be some interesting thrashing going on there.

    In fact, I suspect it will be Very Bad, and possibly worse than the original problem. On the bright side, bad old SF involving mad scientists and weather machines is going to gain a brief surge in popularity...

    302:

    Daniel Suarez already used the Hellfire-attack-in-Mecca idea in "Kill Decision". No djinn / psychic energy / cultists though.

    303:

    Sigh. Science is not a "belief system". The scientific method calls for you to try very hard to disprove what other scientists present as facts. This makes it fundamentally different to religions, where members are supposed accept the beliefs that are handed to them.

    I know that some "scientists" try to preach their theories, but that's not the nature of science.

    "altars to the gel gods": I'd call that a spontaneous 1.0 religion in a setting that's dominated by science. It is not part of science of course.

    Btw, roman and greek heathens really where into science. Science used to be big at that time, but then came the Catholic church with their burning stakes. So if you really want to put in numbers, it would be heathens 1.0, science 2.0, christianity 3.0, enlightenment 4.0 (or 2.1). Without christianity our science would be 500 years or more ahead.

    304:

    Charlie @ 283
    YES
    A devo-max option would be best for everyone, but that is not available, more's the pity.
    However an "independant" Scotland would be anything but ...
    If you think the EU is bad, & getting worse, now, wait until then...
    Also the place will be flat broke.

    Ryan @ 287
    Unfortunately that won't work either.
    One the "privatised-for-profit" supposed drive is NOT as bad as many people are painting it, because a lot of it isn't happening (note) and, Two .. the alternative in Scotland is the SNP becoming a smothering, nannying mock-socilist control-freak statelet, like Blair only worse.
    Note: IF the p-f-profit drive were as bad as it is painted, I'd be agin it too - there is a lot of scare talk about "cuts" that haven't happened & a lot of rhetoric, on both sides.
    They are all lying.

    Charlie @ 295
    THIS is the problem.
    I was under the impression that the EU was demanding a completely fresh EU application, under their newer "get down & grovel & give us all your money" rules.
    Is this the case, or not, or undecided?

    I'm not touching the religion 3.0 idea with someone else's!
    Remember all religions have certain characteristics, which can be expressed as a set of testable / falsifyable propositions, which, at this time of writing seem to still be standing:

    1. No “god” can be detected - OR - "god" is not detectable. ( & therefore irrelevant )
    2. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    2a: Marxism is a religion
    3. All religions have been made by men.
    4. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    4a: There is no such ting as "psi"
    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.

    305:

    See also "Quantico" by Greg Bear (first volume in one of his usual double-whammy duologies, the second being "Mariposa" -- this time near-future thrillers rather than far-future hard SF).

    306:

    I was under the impression that the EU was demanding a completely fresh EU application, under their newer "get down & grovel & give us all your money" rules. Is this the case, or not, or undecided?

    It's undecided, but there's an awful lot of spin and FUD going on about how difficult it would be for Scotland to simply be grandfathered into all the treaty obligations of its parent nation (which is what usually happens at the time of independence). It's not just the Tories who don't want Scotland to secede; the Spanish and Belgian governments are terrified of the precedent it would set for their own fractious minorities.

    307:
    Ocassionaly Right Wing Ideologues get it right, you'll miss us when we're gone.

    Actually, given the general chaos you get into when sorting out what right wing politics includes and what not, the first is hardly a surprise.

    Hint: I just listened to my good ol' German Roman Catholic Social Conservative mother waxing about why the USSians don't want compulsive health insurance. Which, in Germany, is one of the hallmarks of Old Style Social Conservatism

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welfare_state#Germany

    Where most of those still vote for our Conservative parties, though those are lately more of what you'd call Fiscal Conservatives.

    Which might be interesting for the future, since party politics somewhat depends on obfuscating internal differences; will the old group labels still be with us, though likely to be changed beyond recognition? Or will we go for content over label?

    Personally, being disgusted by the intellectual dishonesty of what most "third-positionism" amounts to

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Position

    I hope for the latter...

    308:

    2512 strikes me as well after the point where we might be obtaining very few resources from mining, instead getting almost all of them from recyling.

    Would the natural world have adapted to climate change, assuming it stopped in 2200 or so? I vaguely recall northwestern fir forest succession taking around 200 years before plateauing.

    309:

    The Levellers were actually the second most radical faction around 1650 the Diggers were the most left wing. The Diggers were agrarian communists and as such significantly to the left of modern politics.

    310:

    You left out Chicago. There's also older small towns that are dense and small enough to walk or bike in, and places within bigger car-centric cities that support such lifestyles, or transit lifestyles, even if the whole city doesn't; several cities have metro lines that don't cover the area, but if you can arrange your life along the lines, you're golden. (Actually, Boston's kind of a glorified version of that; the transit system isn't that good, IMO.) Plus of course poor (sometimes young) people who'd like a car but have to put up with the crappy buses for lack of money.

    311:

    "Science is a religion in that it seeks to explain the world, and it is definitely a religion in that scientists practice it religiously."

    What does "practice it religiously" mean? We've replaced one vague term with another.

    I'd agree that science fills much of the social role of a religion, though not all; to laypeople, scientists kind of are priests who can make sense of the world and describe one's place in it. The fact that they draw on experiment rather than revelation is a minor detail. Whether science as practiced is a religion, mu.

    And even broadly speaking, science lacks moral instruction of what to do, or rituals to mark coming of age or to bind society together. (No, getting your PhD doesn't count, I'm talking coming of age rituals for everyone.)

    312:

    Your mention of Hero of Alexandria gave me an idea, which, for lack of a better word, I'll call "Togapunk". Has anyone written stories set in a fictionalized classical world, where the inventions of people like Hero and Archimedes figure prominently, and the classical philosophies and culture are the backdrop for grand adventures? I think this would be an absolute hoot, and has a lot of potential. What do you think?

    313:

    The Kessler Syndrome (space debris pollution) will already have occurred and the cleanup methods will have already been effective. But during that period, global communication returns to surface methods, and manned spacecraft becomes obsolete.

    314:

    The Kessler Syndrome (space debris pollution) will already have occurred and the cleanup methods will have already been effective. But during that period, global communication returns to surface methods, and manned spacecraft becomes obsolete.

    Perhaps stratospheric airships will have replaced enough satellite based communication (or at least be on hand in event of emergency) to render this problem largely moot with regards to communication.

    315:

    Exactly. And if we are looking out for religion 3.0, capitalism is a much better candidate: it explains the world (everything has a price), gives moral guidance (make profit), arcane rituals and a priesthood (stock exchange). It even has all those irregularities and contradictions and bigotry that normal religions show, too.

    316:

    But during that period, global communication returns to surface methods, and manned spacecraft becomes obsolete.

    I don't think manned spacecraft will become obsolete, unless we are still stuck in LEO space stations. It's not like Kessler Syndorme will cover the Earth with a solid field of debris. Going out to the Moon and beyond will remain safe.

    317:

    I don't think manned spacecraft will become obsolete

    It's possible they already are becoming obsolete at anything other than transporting humans in space. Advances in robotics (specifically robonautics) could result in most-all missions in space being capable of running without humans on site, though perhaps still in a support role from Earth in issuing instructions and troubleshooting.

    318:

    "...even Charlie's self-driving cars, though I expect the lawyers will turn that into a techological dead end before it gets anywhere."

    Yes, I used to think that. Then he discussed (without mentioning cars) the possibility of having small interconnected sensors everywhere, and I mean everywhere, given the gradual drop in the price.

    This means that self-driven cars would have eyes in other cars, in lampposts, in sewer grates, in children's tricycles etc. etc.

    The USA's ambulance-chasing lawyers would not be interested in self-driven cars as a source of revenue in that case. The cars would be incredibly, astronomically more efficient at avoiding injury than any human driver.

    319:

    Yes I think such a religion already exists, and it's called Objectivism.

    320:

    The speed of light lag imposed by distance suggests there'll still be a role for humans in planetary exploration until we get at least mouse-equivalent AI for controlling surface vehicles. And if we send humans in cans to control robots at ground level we can get around the problem of having to land humans on another body alive and bring them back. Pop-sci explanation here.

    321:

    The future will be a voluntary matrix of VR fantasies. Human experience will be limited only by our imaginations.

    322:

    Charlie @ 305
    It's not just the Tories who don't want Scotland to secede
    Indeed, lots of liberals, Liberals & Labour people don't want Scotland to wreck itself by seceding, including me ....
    In the same way that being anti-EU is no longer (only) a tory right-wing stance, because the EU has changed, and much for the worse, it is emphatically not what we voted for in 1973(?) which is a great pity.

    @ 311
    Already been done by Sprague de Camp ....
    Getting an elephant, from Alexander's conquests to Athens, to show to Aristotle (Alexander's ex-tutor)
    Called "An elephant for Aristotle" ....

    323:

    Cheers for the cool article. I've read of similar proposals before. I guess it really depends on what comes first: drones intelligent enough to perform complex tasks without moment-by-moment supervision or the social/political/economic will for exploration that will require a human in the loop. Not really sure what to bet on there.

    324:

    Re: "Togapunk" - first thing I thought of was "Lest Darkness Fall" by L. Sprague de Camp (written in 1939, so not such a cutting edge idea!)

    Back to the OP though (slighty late to the conversation, so if I repeat what others have covered in the last 300+ comments please forgive me!).

    I personally quail at the thought of trying to "predict" 500 years hence. What things are commonplace now that could have been speculated about 500 years ago? "Horseless carriages" undoubtedly. Flight, well birds do it. Leonardo da Vinci managed those two. But the internet and the atom bomb? Electricity, radio, lasers, computers? The impact of the contraceptive pill? Those all required step changes and discoveries of fundamental principles that no one could have predicted in 1512. Ask yourself what Leonardo da Vinci DID get right as opposed to things even he hadn't thought about.

    And then there's the change in the rate of change. A time traveller from 1012 to 1512 would have seen relatively few changes. People are using gunpowder, but kings are still in charge and although everything is bigger and there's more of it, people are still using single horsepower transport and there are few things that would be unrecognisable or outright incomprehensible.

    For the time traveller from 1512 to 2012 though......

    We've had an ever increasing number of step changes in technology and understanding accelerating sharply over the last 150 years that have had results that could not possibly have been predicted even by Leonardo. If this acceleration continues then life in 2512 will be so utterly different that there's no way our poor little 21st century minds could conceive of what the world will be like then.

    In a perverse way global catastrophe is in some ways a useful brake on runaway technological change so that we have some sort of fighting chance to make meaningful speculations about the future.

    It may also be that there aren't (m)any fundamental new priciples left to discover and from here on out it's all engineering. I'm personally sceptical of this, there are far too many unexplained holes in our understanding of the universe for surprises not to be just around the corner.

    I do feel though that this last is an unspoken assumption of a great deal of SF, albeit for sensible reasons. It's kind of neat to for readers to be able to undersyand what the bloody hell you are writing about......

    I'd submit though that positing technological contraction or the slowing of growth could be viewed as a form of "cheating" by limiting technological growth to that of 2212 or 2312 rather than unrestrained 2512 weirdness!

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that 500 years is a sod of a long tme and anything could happen. (Which on reflection probably isn't much help - but bugger it, I've written it now!)

    325:

    I do agree that one of the major shortcomings of science is that there are not a good set of general knowledge for how to lead a good life as a good member of a good society. Science has quite a lot to say about how to have a long life, but scientists are not, in general, talking about what defines a good life or a good society.

    That's where the fight over climate change gets so interesting. Because of the blowback from the change deniers, climate scientists are being forced into an advocacy role, just as many ecologists and environmental scientists have been forced to abandon their objective neutrality to work at saving the things they value.

    While I'm not sure whether science will ever grow a moral backbone to match the preachings of the churches and the mosques, I expect that, if one does grow, it will come out of ecology, environmental science, climate science, and similar low-prestige fields. I'd also expect it will come when physics and chemistry finally lose their high status position in the scientific hierarchy. Another pathway is if medicine (also a high-status science) adopts many of the issues ecologists have dealt with, and makes them part of the next wave of public health care. From personal experience, I'd say that medicine (at least in US hospitals) is pretty primitive in its understanding of ecological effects. There's quite a lot of room for growth in that regard.

    As always, we'll see what happens.

    326:

    Andreas, please go back and note that religion does not require belief. For example, Buddha asked his followers to test his teachings in their own lives and prove they were true, rather than taking his teachings on faith. That has not stopped Buddhist sects from making a faith out of his teachings, but that's not what he taught.

    Similarly, there is at least one (probably now extinct) primitive religion where the beliefs were limited to how to be healthy. It did not apparently include a belief in spirits.

    I'll also point out that, as a scientist, I take most of science on faith. I have neither the time, the money, the interest, nor the training to test all the thousands of assertions in the scientific literature before I take them to be true or not. I have to either believe what I read (or not) based on what I think to be true. That is an act of faith, pure and simple. This is true for every scientist and science minded person on the planet. When you go to your local, scientifically trained doctor to be treated for an ailment, you don't ask to see the studies and set up your own double-blind study to see if his treatment is valid, you get your prescription, take your pills, and give thanks when you get better. This despite the fact that many illnesses would resolve themselves with absolutely no medical care.

    Keep trying to understand, please. You're still assuming religion requires belief and science does not. Both of these assumptions are incorrect.

    327:

    I love the concept of Religion 1.0/2.0/3.0! That is such a useful tool.

    One thing I need to point out is that you are making a category error by thinking Religion 1.0/2.0/3.0 and thus 4.0. Think instead of -1/0/+1. It is useful to think 1.0/2.0/3.0 for your cartoon labels, but don't extend it beyond that. 2.0/0 is that baseline that we want to consider "Normal", or "Catholic", i.e. "universal"(HA!), with a fluctuation plus or minus from that norm.

    - The Titanic was a 3.0/+1 design, with the owners not wasting money on frills like lifeboats, since after all, it was "unsinkable". The ship sinking was 1.0/-1 forces reaching out to tear the hull open.

    - 2.0/0 Religions are there to co-opt and contain the 1.0/-1 events. Explaining away 1.0/-1 events as part of the "Mysteries", thus everything is "normal" and under control.

    - When you have a 3.0/+1 lab(construction site, factory) you will always have 1.0/-1 events intruding on the norm, thus your 1.0/-1 altars sitting on the work bench. The 1.0/-1 events increase when you have some bean counter take over control of the lab(construction site, factory) and insisting on reducing costs by eliminating "unnecessary" things like safety procedures, or the "personal" things like the 1.0/-1 altars. I refer you to the Titanic example above.

    Reality(whatever that really means) is only stable in that -1/0/+1 range.

    CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, along with the movie _Cabin in the Woods_, are perfect examples of what happens when religion 4.0/+2 is attempted. The Giant Evil Gods show up to eat our brains. HA!

    The other example is going to the minus side, -2(Yikes!), is Clive Barker's "Book of the Art" sequence, or almost anything by King.

    Fun stuff!

    328:

    heteromeles @ 325
    You're still assuming religion requires belief and science does not
    Really?
    IFF someone else has done it, & reported on it & you have to trust that they were telling the truth -if that is "faith/belief" then OK.
    But religion makes unproveable, untestable declarations about the world(s) & also makes assertions that consistently fail any test (Such as the existence of BigSkyFairy)

    329:

    It may be helpful here to distinguish between scientific methodology (controlled experiment, rigorous empiricism, etc.) and scientific theory (what is taught in physics, chemistry, biology, etc.). The methodology requires little faith in anything, while believing in the theories involves faith in other peoples' ability to do the methodology properly.

    330:

    "I do agree that one of the major shortcomings of science is that there are not a good set of general knowledge for how to lead a good life as a good member of a good society."

    Actually, it does.
    Evolutionary Psychology + Game Theory

    331:

    Ahem: I'm not sure science requires faith at all, at least not in the religious sense.

    What it does require is trust -- that is, you trust other scientists to understand and confirm the accuracy of yet other scientists' findings. The basis of peer review is a transitive web of trust, so that we can be reasonably certain that someone trustworthy will vouch for the accuracy/meaningfulness of the newly reporting findings. And we use the reviewers as proxies for our own willingness to put in the years of skull-sweat and toil that would be necessary in order to understand what's going on for ourselves.

    At no point does a peer reviewer say, "I know this doesn't make sense, but you gotta have faith". The moment they do that, you've stepped off the deep end into religious belief.

    Rather, what they're saying is, "I have studied field [x] for [y] years, and what Joe reports about [x] appears to be correct. You can take this on trust, or study it for yourself if you've got the time."

    332:

    There are certain articles of faith. In no particular order:
    Occam's Razor
    Beauty = Truth
    The universal applicability of mathematics
    The unity of Nature

    333:

    What would it take to convince you that 1000 square feet is perfectly acceptable, even average, to accommodate a family of three or four outside of the USA? And I'm not talking about Japan either.

    Why do you ask? I never said it wasn't. I was just posting information about housing stock in the US that contradict Charlie's statements on it. My point was that all those 1200 sf or so houses built in the 50s and 60s (and 20s) are mostly intact and functional.

    I grew up in a 1400 SF house. I currently live in one that has 1850 but I have a home office.

    But housing size is a function of social status and implied wealth with the later taking a real beating over the last 5 years. Could people live in smaller houses. Sure. But you have to convince them it isn't a step down to do so. (As I watch the very large house being build next to mine. Foundation and block in place so far.)

    Now to join in with your comment a friend who's an architect recently interviewed a family that was moving to the area. It was a couple who was expecting a child. To be their only one they stated. Currently they had a 4000 sf house and with the one child they knew they'd be fine building a 6000 sf house. :) BTW the architect lives with one other person in a 900 sf house that he recently remodeled into a single room with his office in it. Not for everyone but it works for some.

    334:

    Well, I dunno about that. We're currently living in 1500+ square feet of housing that was constructed for university faculty some time in the 20's or 30's.

    Needless to say, despite my best (and amateurish) householder skills, my daughter hates me with a burning white-hot passion for forcing her to live in a cruddy two-story house without a built-in dishwasher, wifi, etc.

    Yeah, all other things being equal, I'll grant you that size is important. But all other things not being equal, size is not the most important difference.

    335:

    > Why do you ask? I never said it wasn't.

    Let me put it this way. Your way of saying:

    "Much of the 45 to 55 1000 sqft stuff built is now gone. Good riddance. It was thrown up to deal with the early days of the housing shortage. Housing built in the late 50s and early 60s in being torn down. But only about 1/2 or less of it. From what I can see much of it due to changing demographics as much as it was no longer viable. But yes there was and is still some junk being built."

    Certainly doesn't imply that you find such housing to be acceptable accommodation, at all.

    336:

    I mistrust Beauty = Truth.

    It's too damn close to an earlier antecedent, embedded deep in the bronze-age ancestors of Western culture:

    Beauty = Virtue

    This was deduced because it was totally obvious (to bronze-age polytheists) that if you were beautiful, it was because the Gods had blessed you with beauty, which they would obviously only do if you were virtuous (where virtue was defined as "pleasing to the Gods").

    That's no foundation stone to build an empirically sound scientific revolution on top of, is it?

    As for the unity of nature, get back to me when we finally figure out how to hook up relativity with quantum mechanics.

    337:

    That sort of square footage only works if land is cheap and, more importantly, you don't want to be able to walk places but have access to cheap fuel and automobiles (or equivalent).

    Those of us who like cities face a certain trade-off. Which is why a 1000 square foot apartment in the right part of London may easily be worth more than a genuine no-shit castle with a dozen bedrooms and several acres of grounds in the Scottish borders.

    339:

    Andreas, please go back and note that religion does not require belief. For example, Buddha asked his followers to test his teachings in their own lives and prove they were true, rather than taking his teachings on faith. That has not stopped Buddhist sects from making a faith out of his teachings, but that's not what he taught.
    Ok, didn't know that about Buddha. Still, he didn't set up a system of peer review to allow evolution of Buddhism.

    I think we need to make clear what functions a religion has:
    a) explain the world
    b) provide moral guidance
    c) act as a political tool to control people

    I see b) as central to religions or similar belief systems. AFAIK all religions also (try to) do a) and most do c)

    Science only does a). It does not and can not provide moral guidance; all it can do is provide insight into the consequences of one's actions.

    Btw, science also has a blind spot when doing a): science can only explain events that are repeatable and universal in space and time. So any events that happen spontaneously, only sporadically or only at a certain place or time can not be examined with scientific methods. Thus, should e.g. wonders exist, then science can not verify those by definition.

    340:

    These "articles of faith" may provide guidance when looking for truth, but they do not provide truths themselves. Any scientific theory is still falsifiable.

    And beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, so if beauty = truth, then maybe that's because scientists belief that truth is beautiful? :-)

    341:

    From my book The Praxis:
    http://www.neopax.com/praxis/index.html

    A religion needs to satisfy as many of these conditions as possible:

    It must provide a doctrine
    It must have canonical texts that expound upon that doctrine
    It must offer an ethical framework
    It must offer an explanation of the world around us and the world within
    It must offer hope and comfort in adversity
    It must offer community, fellowship, mutual support and a better way to live
    It must empower the individual
    It must offer a mission in life beyond the mundane
    It must offer a vision of a life beyond this one
    It must offer transcendence

    342:

    Two ideas got merged.

    There was a lot of crap housing built in the US 1945 to about 1955. Much of it 1000 sf or less. Just a step above WWII army barracks standards. Size wasn't the issue. Just an indicator. And most of that is now gone and good riddance. Looking back it was basically disposable housing b

    Once folks realized they had enough money they wanted better. The next wave was a lot of decently built 1200 to 1400 sf housing built from the mid 50s through the late 60s or a little longer. And much of that still exists. Some of the neighborhoods have gone downhill but much of it has just changed with the demographics. I've even owned one of these as a landlord.

    Size is a different arguement than quality of the stock. A very different argument. Personally I prefer much of the housing built before about 1985 when OSB took off. I, and others, think this is a time bomb waiting to go off as the OSB absorbs moisture over time.

    343:

    There are certain articles of faith. In no particular order:

    Beauty = Truth

    In my experience, beauty is almost always a sign of artifice, and ugliness is far more likely to be honest

    The universal applicability of mathematics

    Math is just a formalism for keeping track of things and comparing things. No matter what the laws of physics happened to be, we'd need such a formalism to make predictions.

    The unity of Nature

    We define "nature" to include everything, so it can't help but be a unity.

    344:

    If maths is just a formalism why isn't pi=3 in flat space?

    345:

    Those of us who like cities face a certain trade-off. Which is why a 1000 square foot apartment in the right part of London may easily be worth more than a genuine no-shit castle with a dozen bedrooms and several acres of grounds in the Scottish borders.

    True, and it leads to another thing about 2512 that hasn't come up. What will humans still have in 2512? London! Not only a city in that place, but probably one that's recognizably London - at least if you squint a bit. Likewise Jerusalem, Paris, and many other places that are worth visiting for cultural reasons even for people who don't care to live there.

    Whatever transportation and industrial options we have in 500 years, and I expect the selection to be much richer than today, some features of cities will still be useful. Maybe you can get an ordinary gardening robot or rejuvenation treatment at the corner shop, but to see Shakespeare performed at the Globe you'll have to go to London.

    I suspect 2512 will see a spread of population densities, for reasons not entirely the same as 2012's reasons. We'll see densities from near zero (in uninviting areas such as underwater and space) up through small towns to great cities. There might be fewer mega-metropoli in 2512, but any population estimates that far out are useless; a decent longevity treatment could come along by 2062. It wouldn't surprise me to see some big arcologies, though.

    346:

    If maths is just a formalism why isn't pi=3 in flat space?

    Don't look at me, man. I didn't do it.

    347:

    David L wrote:
    Once folks realized they had enough money they wanted better. The next wave was a lot of decently built 1200 to 1400 sf housing built from the mid 50s through the late 60s or a little longer. And much of that still exists. Some of the neighborhoods have gone downhill but much of it has just changed with the demographics. I've even owned one of these as a landlord.

    I live in a San Francisco Bay Area 1350 square foot home dating to 1956; it's entirely serviceable right now, other than needing new electrical wiring finally, and some minor oopsies from the remodel that the old owners did right before they decided to sell it, 8 years ago. It has some interesting character, and needs the poke-holes-in-walls-and-blow-insulation-in done one of these years, but it works, is not significantly degrading as far as I can tell (roof's aging and will need a redo but that's expected every 20 or so years). It could use central air conditioning, and running the natural gas line out to the back yard for gas heat for the now-deactivated hot tub (which costs several hundred $/month to run...).

    Of course, it rarely (once a decade) snows where I am, only freezes intermittently, and 100 degree summer days are not unheard of but rare. Moderate / Mediterranean climates on the west coast give us a lot of slack.

    348:

    Forgive my earlier comment; I was raised to believe that silly questions deserve silly answers.

    I said that math is a formalism for keeping track of things and comparing them to other things. Pi is the name we give to the comparison of a circle's circumference to its diameter, with the terms "circle", "circumference", and "diameter" defined by the formalism. This comparison turns out consistently to be an irrational number just over 3.14, instead of 3 or 47, but that's a property of flat space that was discovered, not defined as part of the formalism.

    349:

    Civilization collapse should not be ignored. You have previously discussed the population required to support our technological culture. If the population were to shrink to "only" three or four billion, do you think that current technology levels could be sustained? A slow subsidence of the technology level, accompanied by a resurgence of religious fanaticism could result in some very interesting societies. You could easily have a culture still more technologically advanced than our own, but where most of the technical knowledge was received wisdom, rather than engineered from first principles as is currently the case. From my experience in the IT field, I'd say that we are not too far from that situation today, sad to say.

    350:

    I notice you don't mention the Catholic Church. What is your opinion of religion, i.e. man's perception of God, sense of his purpose in life, etc? I imagine none of that will change.

    351:

    Civilization collapse should not be ignored.

    Well...yes and no. Yes, I expect that we'll see some nations wane in importance and even disappear; likewise, various other social groups that seem very strong now will certainly go away in the next 500 years. On the other hand, I don't see all of civilization falling apart; read Charlie's comments on this above. It's never happened before and there are many reasons not to expect it in the foreseeable future.

    As for population and technology, I'm pretty sure we can manage with a billion people. We had about that many c.1800, and got to two billion around 1935; we're currently using our abilities much more efficiently than in previous eras and there's plenty of room for improvement. Much less grunt labor has to be done by humans, and we're working on the grunt thinking front today.

    As for folks who don't understand technology, yes; all of us have met those folks. I've complained about them, too. But they have been around as far back as the mechanically inclined have been complaining about them, as have jokes about them. As a percentage of the population they seem to be declining, even as the increased number of gadgets means we get more clueless user jokes. As for received wisdom - really? More than today? Anyone who cares can look up as much information on why something works as they care to, often as easily as pulling up Wikipedia on their smartphone. Mostly we don't bother. The theory is there if we need it, but more often people just need to know what to do, not why. Honestly, how often do you think about chip voltages or asynchronous signal error correction these days? Most of the IT field has moved on.

    Quite a lot of what used to be challenging engineering has moved into the 'solved problem' category. I expect people in 2512 will be working on questions we can't even ask yet.

    352:

    I notice you don't mention the Catholic Church. What is your opinion of religion, i.e. man's perception of God, sense of his purpose in life, etc? I imagine none of that will change.

    That's an excellent example of something we should expect to see in 2512. Catholicism will certainly be obviously changed from 2012, when Vatican II is still within living memory. The smart money is on the church still existing, still based out of Rome (unless something takes out the whole city of Rome), and still led by a Pope. In other words, it will be recognizably Catholicism.

    What changes? Who can tell? Yes, maybe the Pope will be female, or uploaded, or a robot; that kind of thing is cosmetic and not important. Catholicism, and other major religions, will still be giving people a sense of purpose in life and guiding them to be better that they'd otherwise be.

    353:

    As Charlie alluded to, 500 years ago the Protestant Reformation hadn't happend yet. Sikhism had just been created. Mormonism, Ba'hai, and Scientology were all in the future. Conservative and Reform Judaism didn't exist. Bhakti movements were just stating to spread in India, under Mughal rule.

    A lot of religious change isn't unreasonable to predict. Exactly what change... we'd be basically making stuff up.

    "It may also be that there aren't (m)any fundamental new priciples left to discover and from here on out it's all engineering. I'm personally sceptical of this, there are far too many unexplained holes in our understanding of the universe for surprises not to be just around the corner."

    No. There's certainly room for surprises: quantum gravity, dark matter and energy. There's no particular reason to think they'll be just around the corner. There's definitely stuff we don't know... but it's stuff we can barely observe; conversely, stuff that barely affects our life. Meanwhile the immediately observable universe is governed by forces we understand pretty well. I don't think it's unreasonable to imagine that fundamental physics is basically done for the next few thousand years, until 'we' can get out and do astrophysical-level experiments like observing black holes up close.

    And relatedly, we've picked most if not all of the low-hanging fruit from mastering electromagnetism and thermodynamics and the periodic table. Relatedly, we can state the limits of on lots of things, and we're close to many of them. Communication is probably as fast as it'll ever be. Heat engines are within a factor of 2 of their theoretical efficiency for the temperatures they run at, or a factor of 3 if you could dump to deep space. Artifical light via LED is about 20-25% efficient, having improved by orders of magnitude over campfires and candles. Gasoline may not be the best energy carrier ever, but it's definitely near the top of the list in density and convenience. If we ever get fusion, it'll only be a few times better than fission -- irrelevant for anything but very high speed space travel. Fuel's more abundant but Earth probably has fissionables millions if not billions of years.

    As mentioned, computational energy efficiency is nowhere near limits, and there's plenty of room for computatoinal and biological complexity, specialization, automation, and maybe robustness. But that way lies various forms of Singularity.

    354:

    Dirk @ 331
    Beauty = Truth.
    REALLY?
    Got ANY evidence of that?
    Remember, beauty can change with time & mores.
    & 340
    Yup, communism's a religion, then!

    Charlie @ 335
    Yup Beauty != Truth ...
    As for Gen Relty /= QM ...
    Apparently a variation on the "standard" model,supersymmetry has recieved serious, possibly fatal damage
    Warning, account seems a little garbled.

    Andreas Vox @ 338
    But, science/scientists is/are trying to get a handle on "short-lived phenomena" - there was a Smithsonian (?) institute doing just this.
    Prime candidate: "ball lightning", and similar odd-balls.

    Jay @ 347
    Pi is much deeper than that.
    It appears to be built into the actual structure of our universe, as well as being the ratio of circular dimanesions.
    "e" is the other one, of course.

    Justin @ 349
    Obsolete & defunct, I hope, but I'm not holding my breath.
    & s-s @ 351
    "Pope uploaded"?
    Well, that opens the can of worms we are not discussing.

    I note that Kurzweil is saying that we will have human-brain-capacity computing by 2020 & reverse-engineering of the functions by 2030, which means a real AI take-off, hard or soft by that date.
    All bets off, or not if true?
    How realistic IS Kurzweil?
    Or is this millenarianism again?

    Housing - just calculated mine ... TOTAL (including store-roomlets & bog & kitchen ... 1152 (sq ft)
    Badly utilsed @ present, as we need money for expensive underpinning ...
    But, even so (Charlie @ 336) it is worth more than double a similar house, 2 or 3 miles away, bacause of our location.

    355:

    Andreas Vox @ 338
    But, science/scientists is/are trying to get a handle on "short-lived phenomena" - there was a Smithsonian (?) institute doing just this.
    Prime candidate: "ball lightning", and similar odd-balls.

    Did they so? I bet they first try to make it somewhat repeatable, preferably in a controlled environment. If it's really spontaneous, i.e. having no detectable cause, all science can do is throw statistics at it. If it's also very rare, statistics will "prove" it never happens.

    356:

    I note that Kurzweil is saying that we will have human-brain-capacity computing by 2020 & reverse-engineering of the functions by 2030, which means a real AI take-off, hard or soft by that date.
    All bets off, or not if true?
    How realistic IS Kurzweil?
    Or is this millenarianism again?

    Kurzweil is a crank. Anyone who thinks it's reasonable to plot entirely arbitrary historical events (e.g. the evolution of language, adoption of writing and invention of the microprocessor) on a graph to make a hockey stick and then extrapolate AI from it is a loon. His estimations on reverse-engineering the brain are often based on assumptions on how to measure the brain in terms of a computer plotted against Moore's law (tap dancing past whether or not the assumptions hold true and the fact that suitable hardware does not equal the ability to code the software) and a severe lack of understanding on exactly how biology works.

    I could go on but PZ Myers has addressed it better in the past

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/08/17/ray-kurzweil-does-not-understa/

    (Searching "pharyngula kurzweil" will bring up other articles of a similar nature)

    357:

    #321 "lots of people don't want Scotland to wreck itself by seceding, including me ..."

    Why is there this presumption that an independant Scotland would be doomed to failure? Please don't say "banking collapse" because that presumes that we would have made the same mistakes as Alan Greenspan, Billy Bob Clinton, Greedy Gordon Brown, Tony B Liar and the English treasury civil servants who advised the second pair.
    Given that at least one Republican senator (who voted against the repeal) correctly predicted the US collapse almost to the day on the repeal of Glass-Steagal, the collapse was entirely forseeable to the competent.

    358:

    Given that at least one Republican senator (who voted against the repeal) correctly predicted the US collapse almost to the day on the repeal of Glass-Steagal, the collapse was entirely forseeable to the competent.

    Just playing devils advocate here but in matters like this it's important to remember a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters could write anything and everything. In other words there are so many commentators on economic and political issues that some of them are bound to be spot on even by accident.

    359:

    Even some of us who live in places where a car is a near essential would chearfully swap ownership for a city place and the right to hire something for the odd long trips like Eastercon and a couple of model shows per year.

    360:

    If you know the Church from the inside out you would know that the chances of a female or automated pope range from zip to zero.

    Sure, individual opinions may be in favour (of the female option), but the Church's doctrinal structure - the Magisterium - transcends individual opinions in a way you don't find elsewhere. It's a central belief in Catholicism that doctrine can develop in a linear fashion, but it can't be changed, and the nearer you get to the mechanisms that govern the Magisterium, the stronger that belief becomes.

    I tend to think on the lines of A Canticle for Liebowitz, in which the Church keeps its identity intact but finds itself out of sync in differing ways and degrees with the world around it. Being out of sync, paradoxically, suits the Church to the ground.

    If I can crack the problem of altering the gene that handles cell reproduction in my body and discover immortality, I'll wager 12 months salary (not much) that in 500 years I'll be seeing a male priesthood supplying male bishops who will elect a male pope.

    The rest of the world by then may have asked itself why it is technologically chasing its tail...

    361:

    I see what you're saying; my points are:-
    1) The political affiliation of the senator in question. He's scarely the sort of person you would expect to favour "more government regulation".
    2) If he missed the actual date in question, he was off by at most 2 days, in 10 years. I'm not inclined to dismiss that sort of accuracy as "infinite number of monkeys".

    362:

    Justin: What is your opinion of religion, i.e. man's perception of God, sense of his purpose in life, etc?

    My opinion of religion is rather low: I'm an atheist, for Richard Dawkins values of atheist. But I try to be more polite about my neighbours, and so I didn't see any need in this particular essay to whack that particular hornets' nest with a stick in passing.

    363:

    Jeff, I believe current tech levels can be sustained on a fraction of the world's population. Peasant farmers in rural India and China aren't contributing to the technosphere (except indirectly, insofar as they produce food for the rest of us -- and they're pretty bad at that). In fact, the proportion of us who are at the coal face at any time is pretty small. We need the bulk activities of education and academia to keep supplying new brains for the intelligence-driven technology mines, but I'm taking that as a given: and in any case, much of our current higher education output goes on stupid things -- notably folks who want to get a university degree that will help them get a high-paid job in marketing or management or something else that pays off their student loans faster, rather than folks who want to get the research and cognitive skills that constitute an education.

    But the real problem I see is that shrinking populations are inherently deflationary, in economic terms. Less consumers buying stuff, less producers making stuff. We can see this in Japan right now; their economic stagnation is largely a side-effect of population shrinkage -- per an Economist study, if they were maintaining a total fertility rate of 2.1 instead of 1.3, they'd have also been maintaining 3-4% economic growth throughout the 1990s and 2010s.

    Flip side: there is sucking demand for human labour in the care and geriatric medical fields as an aging population require nurses are carers. (Japan, for cultural reasons, doesn't address this need by permitting mass immigration. Hence their low unemployment rate in the middle of what ought to be a deflationary depression.)

    It was Bruce Sterling who described the second half of the 2000s as "a world full of old people who are afraid of the sky". To which I should add, "and complaining about the economy. And how expensive it is to hire a home help." Even though the home helps won't be laughing all the way to the bank.

    364:

    If I can crack the problem of altering the gene that handles cell reproduction in my body and discover immortality, I'll wager 12 months salary (not much) that in 500 years I'll be seeing a male priesthood supplying male bishops who will elect a male pope.

    The rest of the world by then may have asked itself why it is technologically chasing its tail...

    I agree. With the caveat that if the Catholic Church is that inflexible, it's likely to have a much smaller congregation by then. Religions wax and wane over time; you can still find Zoroastrians, Stoics, or followers of the Norse gods, but they're relatively rare.

    365:

    Warning: almost-OT, connecting only to @271 "beanstalk" and OGH's passing reference to space elevators.

    In 2001, Brad Edwards' "The Space Elevator" (http://www.amazon.com/Space-Elevator-Earth-Space-Transportation/dp/0974651710) renewed interest in an old idea -- in my case, so much that for a while I forgot/ignored what I know about physical chemistry and process engineering.

    Look: carbon nanotubes are really really strong because they are closer than anything else we know to "perfect": one sp2 carbon bond after another, in principle to macroscopic lengths, without the flaws and dislocations that make all bulk materials much weaker than their atomic/molecular bonds. Edwards was confident that "in principle" could be brought into practice, and updated Artsutanov's 1960 classic (http://www.spaceelevator.com/docs/Artsutanov_Pravda_SE.pdf) -- which had inspired Clarke, Robinson et al -- with an ingenious "bootstrap" deployment that would require just a few heavy launches rather than pushing carbonaceous asteroids around. Much geek excitement ensued: conferences, LiftPort etc.

    Keep in mind: a ground-to-geosync SE demands just about all the theoretical strength of nanotubes -- not just (bignumbillions) of bonds for a mm or two, but (bigbignumtrillions) for thousands of km. You can't finesse that with shorter nanotubes in composites: any matrix material is inevitably much weaker, and the nanotubes themselves are inherently very slippery, so fiber-to-matrix binding would be... problematic.

    The salient fact of the ensuing decade is that there has been very little progress in growing longer zero-defect (or tolerably smallnum-defect) nanotubes. There are multiple unanswered basic-science obstacles w/r/t how nanotubes self-assemble from hot carbon atoms, and w/r/t the catalysts that foster that. Those may not be insoluble, but are certainly far from solution. Beyond those, there are obstacles no one has begun to tackle in nanotube ginning-and-spinning: getting from a tangle of angstroms-wide fibers to something you could fabricate as a ribbon or cable. I base this on long conversation with the late Rick Smalley, and on continuing exchanges with academic and industrial researchers.

    Bottom line: carbon nanotubes plus Edwards' deployment ideas made an earth-to-orbit SE much more plausible than it had been between 1960 and 2001... but not quite enough more plausible, not without invoking NanoMagic-level QC and process scaling.

    NB: the above has almost nothing to do with applications of the kewl quantum, microelectronic, photovoltaic, and thermal properties of nanotubes, graphene, or buckyballs. In this case it's all about tensile strength -- there are other open questions, but without enough GPa in bulk they don't matter.

    Nor does it rule out lunar or Mars SEs or various orbital tethers, many of which look do-able with existing high-strength fibers or less-than-perfect nanotube composites. But AFAIC the Big Casino, the earth-to-orbit SE, still requires breakthroughs at least as daunting (and expensive and not-yet-schedulable) as those required for nuclear rockets, laser launch, and other alternatives. I wish that were not so, but I'm pretty sure it is.

    366:

    I'm inclined to take a positive view of orbital tethers, pinwheels, and lunar and martian SEs.

    A terrestrial one is really pushing hard against physical limits, yes. But it has one thing going for it:

    There are no "application deserts" on the way to a perfect nanotube cable capable of supporting a terrestrial space elevator.

    That is: if you can make a better carbon nanotube than is currently available, then you can sell it and make money. And this is a recursive function, all the way out to "flawless nanotube cables 36,000Km long". There's no such thing as a higher-tensile-strength rope or cable with no applications (as long as you bear in mind that its cost, in bulk, will limit the applications -- for example, we have incredibly strong spider silk right now, but due to the cost of milking it from Black Widow spiders it's mostly confined to weird niche apps like marking sighting graticules on sniper scopes).

    367:

    "Beauty = Truth.
    REALLY?
    Got ANY evidence of that?"

    See the link to the Murray Gell-Mann talk.
    It's a *very* common belief in fundamental physics.

    368:

    Carrying on along these lines of reasoning. Several of the currently popular (military for the most part) series that feature some sort of mature beanstalk technology also use something called spidersilk for making ballistic garments. Accordingly, applications for these "novel materials" clearly exist, and the main problems we have to solve are production engineering.

    369:

    Civil engineers would love flawless cables 36 km long - you could build a Channel Bridge with those (even a classic suspension would need but a single join, which you'd put at the centre where the catenary had dipped to the road deck level).

    So yes, useful at lots of different scales.

    370:

    My last harmless comment got held for moderation for some reason.
    Anyway, on the topic of machine translation some things can never be translated, only explained

    371:

    "...but to see Shakespeare performed at the Globe you'll have to go to London."

    How good does telepresence and/or immersive virtual reality need to be before that argument falls over?

    372:

    How good does a copy of the Mona Lisa have to be before people no longer travel to see the original?

    373:

    More awkwardly, how about Dali's "Christ of St John of the Cross"? I picked this piece because it's about 8 feet by 4 feet!

    374:

    One of my worries about the Scottish independence debate is down to the lack of realistic policy coming out of the "yes" campaign. Every time the SNP have been called on (say) legal advice on the EU, foreign policy, defence policy, fiscal policy, things have gone pear-shaped. In each case, it has become obvious that these problems are messy and complicated, and a response of "oh, that won't be a problem, we haven't thought about it properly yet, but we'll solve it when we come to it" attitude is positively scary.

    It rather smacks of an emotional desire for independence and an associated search for justification, than of a reasoned decision from a basis of "this is genuinely best for everyone, following on from the following economic and political analysis".

    This applies particularly to the politicians involved. I really worry about politicians who seek power on a nationalist agenda - because they are deliberately appealing to the "us" versus "them" argument - "we're different, we're better". That's the argument that Milosevic and Karadic used; and there are plenty of morons who are willing to use the "us and them" argument as justification for uncivilised behaviour. Just look at the treatment of BBC Scotland journalists who dare to offer any comment on Rangers Football Club; it doesn't take much to twist that level of ignorance, stupidity, and hatred to other purposes. Every time I hear Salmond use words like "Toffs" and "Lord Snooty", I know that he's playing the man not the ball.

    There also appears to be a level of "I can't hear you, lalalalala" within the SNP when it comes to debate over the economic numbers, roughly summarized as either "we'll be OK, we've got fish and oil" or "we would have been as rich as Norway if the English hadn't stolen all of our oil and given away our fish". Neither of these arguments fares well after the suggestion that if independence is good enough for the Faroe Islands, it's good enough for the Shetland Islands (watch the SNP argue that the Shetlands are an indisputable part of Scotland if you want to see dissociation in action)...

    375:

    OTOH we have the parting of the Czechs and Slovaks in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. All very civilized.

    376:

    Charlie @365: Carbon nanotubes are not robust to certain types of radiation, especially ion bombardment or alphas, so their use in a space elevator could be limited.

    Justin @359: I'm sure the cardinals will come around when they see all the features in Microsoft Theocrat.

    377:

    "How good does a copy of the Mona Lisa have to be before people no longer travel to see the original?"

    That's an interesting question and an interesting example...

    Given the conditions which La Gioconda is neccesarily displayed under these days (in a climate controlled environment behind bullet proof glass with impatient crowds shuffling past behind a barrier well out of touching range) I'd have to say that the level of contemplation and interaction allowed is such that a bit of quality time up close and personal with a really good reproduction (or a virtual encounter of the quality which a few hundred years of technological progress would lead me to expect) is probably a rather more meaningful and satisfying experience.

    I've seen the original and found the experience utterly lacking, if I'd been allowed to get as close and linger for as long as I managed and enjoyed with "lesser" Leonardo's at the National Gallery last year (and that was a somewhat frustrating, sub-optimal experience...) it might (in fact I sincerely believe it would!) have been very different, but as it was, beyond being able to metaphorically tick the "seen the Mona Lisa" box it didn't really do much for me. We might be able to do better in 500 years but while there's only one precious, delicate original and millions of people who'd like to experience it there's always going to be a problem and if the technology (replicator, VR, or telepresence) is good enough then an expensive, time consuming trip to Paris might not have anything like the appeal it does now...

    378:

    OTOH, every time the "no" lobby are called on what they believe Scotland would need, they roll out the Rolls-Royce options of a credible blue water navy, an army and airforce capable of deploying about 25% of their strength to, say "AHardPlace" for years at a stretch, your own embassies or consulates in every foreign capital and other major cities in places like, say, the USA... without having more justification than "the UK had them".

    379:

    I'm not so sure PZM is as correct as he thinks. Basically he is arguing that you cannot create an artificial bird, so artificial means of flying won't come for a long time. He is correct if Kurzweil is really saying we will be able to completely reverse engineer a human brain in order to understand it. But is Kurzweil really saying that?

    Similarly for his dismissal of the genome as being the design. Yes he is correct, it is not the design. But equally obviously, if we can simulate development, a human like brain could be generated from relatively little data.

    One problem we have is that we really don't know whether the brain's computational capabilities requires the complexity of the biology we see. It could go either way. Kurzweil is betting on the answer being no, that simulations require much less underlying complexity than is evident at the neural level. But the biologists arguing from the opposite POV don't know that either, they just see the complexity.

    What Kurzweil has going for his position is that we can model neural systems with sufficient fidelity [Blue Brain Project], and there any number of engineering approaches to mimicking particular pieces of human cognition, from simple code to artificial neural networks.

    380:

    "Science only does a). It does not and can not provide moral guidance; all it can do is provide insight into the consequences of one's actions."

    Absolutely science provides moral guidance. Take the efforts to have homosexuality described as a disorder by the psychiatric community (rather than as a crime) and, eventually, as something normal and natural. This happened not because uninvolved scientists came to appropriate conclusions, but because a collection of scientists took a moral stance and reinforced that stance with research and advocacy. Science is not detached and sober where its scientists are public advocates for causes they want the public to take notice of.

    381:

    Yes, this.

    Before you can come up with a Scottish military, you need to know what you're going to use them for. Obvious roles are:

    * Support of foreign policy goals

    * Defense against invasion (by whom? Note: SNP have dropped their opposition to NATO memership)

    * Support for civil authorities in event of disaster or civil disorder

    * Coast guard, fisheries patrol, oil/gas asset security, offshore wind farm security

    * Nuclear deterrence (precisely who is threatening to nuke Edinburgh and can be deterred by a one-tenth share of a fractional reserve Trident submarine?)

    * Anti-terrorism

    ... We don't know what SCO's foreign policy goals will be, but my guess is they'll have about as big an element of overseas adventurism to them as the Republic of Ireland.

    The SNP have a long-standing anti-nuclear-weapons policy; a SCO that isn't interested in or aspiring to be a front-rank player has no need for such expensive and arguably useless and dangerous toys.

    Terrorism is (a) best handled by intelligence-led policing, and (b) more of a problem for aspiring front-rank players. Arguably the UK and US are targets precisely because they dick around in other peoples' back yards.

    So what I see SCO as needing is:

    * Roughly the same size and mix of army as the Republic of Ireland, with a mix of domestic support and overseas UN-led peacekeeping duties,

    * A significantly bigger navy than the RofI, because of a bigger coastline, more off-shore assets to protect ... but nothing huge. Maybe 2-3 frigates, 2-3 destroyers, some minesweepers, and 1-2 diesel-electric subs.

    * Air force: logistics, transport, maritime surveillance, enough fighters/AWACS to protect the maritime surveillance/transport roles and intercept hijacked airliners. A single squadron of [decomissioned, alas] F.4 Tornados would do a gold-plated job of it, never mind shiny new Typhoon IIs, plus a squadron of Hawks for training/airfield defense.

    TL:DR; unless an independent SCO wanted to pursue the sort of global foreign-policy initiatives of the UK, it could make do with a military that's significantly less than 10% of the current UK force.

    382:

    Or they outlast any other human institution. Islam goes back to 600AD, Catholicism +/-4BC and Hinduism somewhere around 500BC, and none show any signs of exiting the stage just yet.

    Myself, I avoid religious arguments like the plague. Just on the subject of God/no God, my theology (if you can call it that) is that the evidence for God's existence is conclusive, but not compelling. One is always free to disregard him, which is the way he wants things. One can visit a place like the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers and still ignore what one sees.

    But back on the subject, I think technology has lost the sense of purpose it once gave. Dan Dare optimism is long gone. Something has to fill the void, and that can only be some form of religion.

    383:

    Yes, "a collection of scientists took a moral stance."

    That does not mean that science provided guidance which moral stance to take. When science finds the cause of homosexuality, a scientist can choose to
    A) accept homosexuality as normal
    B) put in efforts to "cure" homosexuality or even propose to euthanize the subjects
    C) don't care.

    384:

    Or they outlast any other human institution. Islam goes back to 600AD, Catholicism +/-4BC and Hinduism somewhere around 500BC, and none show any signs of exiting the stage just yet.

    Make that 325 CE for Catholicism (Council of Nicaea, that's the one that settled the iota),
    1000 BCE for Hinduism and 500 BCE for Buddhism.

    385:

    Seconded:-
    I think we might need a similar number of fast jets to Austria, and possibly more SAR birds than we presently have (although I note that HMS Gannet's responsibilities for Cumbria and Morecombe Bay would no longer exist unless actively contracted out to Prestwick by a London Government).

    Similarly, unless you actively plan overseas deployments or anticipate an invasion by EnglandAndWales, just why do you need tanks for defence?

    Navywise, I think modern diesel-electric subs and fisheries protection type vessels are adequate for a navy that doesn't plan force projection.

    As for consulates, many nations accept representation by someone else in some jurisdictions and/or (hopefully with better selection procedures) contractor consuls similarly to the role Anwar takes on in Rule 34.

    386:

    On the subject of Scotland's independence, I think it's worth re-iterating that it's stupid and/or malicious when unionists claim SNP can't provide detailed answers on this issue or that. It's not a referendum on perpetual SNP rule.

    Should the independece side win, it will be up to the Scottish political parties - old and new (and new ones will rise up) - to shape the future of Scotland. SNP is one of those parties, but there'll be others, and SNP may well lose enough seats that they'll find themselves outside government.

    387:

    Almost certainly the brains complexity is beyond what is needed for computation since most of the cellular machinery is there to keep it alive and metabolising. Anyway, we should know within a decade since Human scale whole brain emulations will be possible based on the simpler models.

    388:

    I think you're being disingenuous with a distinction. What is science except the collective work of scientists? When scientists focus their research and experimentation on a moral issue then science takes a turn towards moral guidance.

    For the record, though, your interpretation of how a scientist can respond to science regarding homosexuality is shockingly misanthropic: (b) a scientist can propose to cure homosexuality or murder/sterilize homosexual people? I literally don't understand how this is even reasoning. A scientist can study insects, but that doesn't leave them with the option of (a) accepting insects; (b) eliminating insects; or, (c) not caring about insects. I mean, am I missing something obvious here?

    389:

    The Catalan government already has unofficial embassies throughout the world*, probably one of the reasons they're in economic trouble despite being technically the rich part of the country.

    *34 in toto with plans to open more, but the Spanish government and EU are asking them to close them as condition to receiving bailout money

    390:

    Make that 325 CE for Catholicism (Council of Nicaea, that's the one that settled the iota),

    Not really. Homoiousion fine-tuned a dogma, it didn't start a religion.

    1000 BCE for Hinduism and 500 BCE for Buddhism.

    So it is. Got them mixed up.

    391:

    Regarding 2512, I'd expect to see a significantly smaller human population, with all-cultivated food (e.g. lab-grown meat, synthesised dairy etc).

    Hunting/fishing wild animals will be a niche hobby, and actually killing for real, and eating the meat, will be seen as rather disturbing (like drinking mare's blood is among modern westerners).

    Seeing how wooden building techniques have improved in the last 30 years (well, in Scandinavia at least...), I would expect the notion of building dwellings out of bricks and cement will be considered outlandish. (As for the longevity of wooden houses, well, I grew up in a wooden house built in 1882. While we were renovating that to modern standards, we lived for half a year in another wooden house, built 1681.)

    392:

    Well, at least arguably, the SNP will have fulfilled its function and should quietly disband on the passage of the "Repeal of the 'Act of Union With England (1707)' Act".

    393:

    'Homoiousia' for those who noticed the error. ;-)

    394:

    I'm with you that normal people would choose a). Unfortunately I live in a country where 70 years ago many scientists opted for c). My argument is that science itself does not tell you how to choose, you need proper morals for that. And you can't construct morals by scientific method, either.

    395:

    Charlie (and @366, @367): I couldn't agree more on the continuum of applications for progressively stronger/longer CNT materials -- and should they come along in bulk at reasonable cost, they'd enable a revolution in terrestrial engineering that would dwarf the impact of SE space access for quite a while. (Think not just cables, but fiber-reinforced materials with really stiff fibers...)

    But a depressingly large fraction of SE enthusiasts that I encountered in 2004-2007 (and still see in cyberSPAAAACE) accepted too readily Brad Edwards' assurance that 100-Gpa-or-better materials were coming RSN. Edwards is a fine physicist and space mission scientist, but he's not a materials scientist or process engineer -- and it showed.

    As a corollary, the true believers also tended to see the SE tail wagging the CNT dog. They thought that the demand for cheap access to space would naturally be the driver of progress -- rather than IBM research's interest in CNTs for microelectronics, or DuPont's and Mitsubishi's interest in stronger fibers for everything, or Siemens' interest in both, or everybody and his brother looking into graphene sheets and CNT connectors for solar panels, superdupercapacitors...

    @374: Radiation resistance is a genuine issue that needs work. So is the management of oscillations in a taut, low-mass, hardly-damped 100,000-km "string. Steve Patamia has looked into it, and the dynamics are amazingly hairy to model, let alone control.

    396:

    Andreas V @ 354
    They actiually got a start on Ball-lightning, especially when one managed in the middle of a fen thunderstorm, to appear INSIDE the Cavendish!

    paws4thot @ 376
    BRITAIN doesn't have a credible blue-ater navy right now!
    & your supposed point was?
    Apart from the crash effect on employment in Alba, as soon as the (English) defence plug is pulled - & it will be.
    & Charlie @ 379
    Actually, Alba needs a navy fractionally smaller than the whole present UK one, but much differently constructed.
    Fast frigates / minesweepers/ destroyers with heli & drone capability.
    Perhaps a small air-carrier (are they becoming obsolete?)
    Maybe 2-5 non-strateg subs???
    Remember, anyone want in to attack England, will immediately go for Scotland (weaker) first - been done MANY times before.....

    Justin @ 380
    "No god is detectable"
    & therefore all gods are irrelevant.
    To prove me wrong, and make it worthwhile taking any god seriously, all you have to do is detect him/her/it/them
    SIMPLES!

    ss@ 384
    BUT
    It ISN'T ABOUT independance for Scotland, actually. It's about more power for lying slime-bag Salmond!
    A man who makes Anthony Blair look straight & honest!

    397:

    Justin @ 380
    "No god is detectable"
    & therefore all gods are irrelevant.
    To prove me wrong, and make it worthwhile taking any god seriously, all you have to do is detect him/her/it/them
    SIMPLES!

    Detectable, yes. In a way that hits you in the face, forcing assent and submission, no.

    Proofs: among others, my previous post; the Shroud (try refuting it); biological micro-engineering (try making random chance stick); the origin of the universe in time, and more. These are examples that a lot of ink has been spilt over but that have not gone away, like the flat earth and the gods on Olympus have gone away.

    398:

    No termites in your location then!

    We do have a number of wood buildings from the mid 1800's in California, although they are not common and I am not clear how well constructed they are, what modifications were made and what maintenance is required.

    To some extent, much of the wood in a stick built California style ranch house could be replaced by steel, although at a cost of making the structure more difficult to remodel. That's probably why steel has been mostly restricted to commercial buildings.

    Apart from cost, I'm surprised that we still use simple lumber for framing, rather than engineered box sections [of plywood?] that could be very strong and lightweight. I do see prefabricated wood roof trusses for some projects, so there is some attempt to use newer approaches to materials and structures.

    399:

    biological micro-engineering (try making random chance stick)

    This sounds like Behe's "irreducible complexity" argument. It's been shown to be incorrect. Or perhaps you are referring to the "wind blowing through a scrapyard cannot male a Boeing 747" argument? Again, wrong because evolution does solve the problem. But perhaps you have something else in mind?

    400:

    You're a young-earth creationist trolling this forum. Admit it.

    401:

    #394 - Cite to 376 and 379 - Cites needed please. In particular, I'd like to see cites to the claim that "England has been invaded via Scotland many times before".

    Cite to 384 - Are you trolling, unaware of the history of the SNP, or just libelling a man you don't like? The SNP is decades older than Wee Eck.

    402:

    From his other comments today, I'd guess that Silly Swordsman is from Scotland too.

    403:

    Usually I find proofs for the non-existence of god more convincing than the other kind. Maybe you want to elaborate on how the Shroud is a proof so I can pick it apart?

    404:

    justin @ 395
    Oh dear:
    "Detectable" by ANY scientific means.
    We can go from massless particles up through neutrinoes atoms molecules, life, planets all the way to super-galaxy clusters in deep space & time ... no BigSkyFaiy anywhere.
    Show please?
    Not "in a way that hits you in the face" at all, just ... detectable.
    PLEASE DON'T try to put words into my mouth, you really won't like my response if you try that trick again.

    paws4thot
    1745?
    1715?
    For starters ....

    405:

    Sorry about being a little late to the party.

    Just some initial comments....

    "Large chunks of sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, Brazil, and the US midwest and south are going to be uninhabitably hot"

    The opposite could also occur with global warming preceding another ice age (see "The Great Climate Flip Flop", Atlantic Monthly, http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/98jan/climate.htm ) and large areas of Eurasia being rendered unihabitable by ice sheets.

    Or ... we geohack the planet to prevent global warming and find out that global warming was keeping another ice age at bay since the start of the industrial age (IIRC we are about 1,000 years overdue for an ice age).

    I'm not a AGW denier, I firmly believe that human activity is causing the Earth to warm up. However, I also believe that our understanding of Earth's climate is still in its infancy, which greatly increases the odds of screwing things up. No matter what our level of knowledge, and no matter how sophisticated our computer models, it will always be extremely difficult to achieve that perfect climate balance.

    For a good description of how easy it is to throw the Earth's climate out of whack, even without industry burning massive amounts of fossil fuels, see "1493" by Charles Mann, describing how discovery of the New World altered the climate and environment of the world as a whole.

    For example, there is Richard Nevle's theory that prior to being nearly wiped out by diseases brought by the European colonists, Native Americans extensively used slash and burn agriculture across North America. This greatly added to the atmosphere's carbon load while reducing the vegetation that could have reabsorbed the carbon. Early settler described forests sparse enough to drive carraiges through. Eliminate the Native Americans with disease and eliminate their slash and burn agriculture, then you reduce the Earth's CO2 levels to the point where the Little Ice Age really starts.

    My guess is that over the next 500 years, we will screw with the climate and then screw it up even further trying to fix the environment until some sort of new equilibirum is established - a new state that could be either hotter or colder, wetter or dryer than it is now.

    [[ Mod: fixed link. Be careful about trailing brackets ]]

    406:

    "I think there's a high probability (approaching certainty) that we'll be running on a de-carbonized energy cycle by then"

    Nothing beats hydrocarbons in terms of energy density, ease of storage and simplicity of use. Not hydrogen, not even the best lithium batteries, nothing can match good old fashioned diesel and gasoline. Which is why you don't see electric cars and never will. Its not a conspiracy of the oil companies, its a conspiracy of physics.

    But the fossil fuels won't come from fossils. They'll come from genetically modified algea, bacteria and plants that convert sewage and sunshine into fuel.

    407:

    So attempts by the House of Stewart to overthrow the (to them anyway) usurping House of Hanover are invasions then? A fast skim of Wikipedia suggests that the French and Spanish committed something like 6_000 soldiers and sailors between the 15, the 19 and the 45. If the clans had chosen to do so, they could have put your "invasion force" back into the sea using farmers and militia alone.

    408:

    I think there's a high probability (approaching certainty) that we'll be running on a de-carbonized energy cycle by then

    Bad phrasing on my part. Not de-carbonized, but de-fossil-carbonized. (Renewable carbon combustibles that don't inject additional CO2 into the biosphere aren't really a problem.)

    409:

    Never see electric cars? Luckily thats So Not True.

    Because the hybrids in my neighbourhood are so silent when running on electric, if they were also invisible I'd never know what had hit me! ;-)

    410:

    All it needs for electric cars to take over is a range of 300 miles and a charge time of less than 1 hour. We are almost there now.

    411:

    You're a young-earth creationist trolling this forum. Admit it.

    I admit I'm a bit naive, internet-wise. I had to go to Wiki to get a definition of trolling:

    In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory,[3] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[4] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.i

    Hoo boy!

    I'm not a young-earthie. Creationism - it's the last 15 minutes of 12 Angry Men and the majority like the design arguments. But really, I'm here because I liked your assessment of the impracticalities of space colonisation, having reached the same conclusion myself. Your mention of the Catholic Church sparked an interesting side issue that was a bit off-topic, I admit.

    No agenda, but I do have an RC point of view. However sci-fi's the reason I came to this blog in the first place.

    412:

    By the shroud you mean the shroud of Turin? I thought that was carbon dated to the 15th century or thereabouts.

    I saw a documentary that described a dark room photo imprinting process that could explain the shroud's markings, they suggested Leonardo as the probable culprit (Then again he's sort of an attractor for that kind of thing, given he's the biggest name in that era for anything science related).

    Regarding science and rare events, that's pretty much what astrophysics are all about, a supernova is something that happens once in a billion years. Fortunately we have billions of stars to look at, so we can expect to see them happen regularly. Ditto with atomic level stuff.

    Desiging experiments to capture similarly rare phenomena in human scale environments does sound like a challenge but there's those precedents to work from. Perhaps high quality simulations will allow us to make educated guesses.

    413:

    I think it could lead to less walls between us and more shared space, because today we are learning to share our lifes in VR and it will tip into our RR (real reality, what a nice distinction) in the future.

    As far as I know, the most commonly accepted term for "opposite of VR" is RL -- "Real Life".

    414:

    By the shroud you mean the shroud of Turin? I thought that was carbon dated to the 15th century or thereabouts.

    Yes, that's the one. The 1988 C14 test is under the spotlight. See this BBC documentary.

    I saw a documentary that described a dark room photo imprinting process that could explain the shroud's markings, they suggested Leonardo as the probable culprit (Then again he's sort of an attractor for that kind of thing, given he's the biggest name in that era for anything science related).

    The bottom line is that there's no natural explanation for the shroud markings that explains every aspect of them. No trace of chemicals, discolourations too superficial to have been caused by any kind of heated statue technique, and so on. A slew of scientific detail that I can't begin to summarise here (wrong place anyhow).

    415:

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguisable from magic (and hence from supersticion and religion)>

    416:

    Why assume that the demographic transition is the last word on population growth? There could easily be a tiny fraction of the population that is "immune" to the demographic transition and continues to reproduce at high fertility rates. Assuming such a group doubles every generation, given 500 years (20ish generations), it would grow by a factor on the order of a million.

    Immune how? There are very good economic reasons for demographic transition, which is why it occurs everywhere in the world, pretty much regardless of religion or culture. To put it simply -- in modern technological society, to have many children is to condemn them to poverty. (Unless you are already very rich, and even then it means diluting the wealth.) Any group which does that -- their children look around, see how much better they could have been if their parents were not stupidly prolific, and DO NOT have as many children themselves. This is already true worldwide -- look up how many Amish drop out of being Amish. The only high-reproduction group which so far has largely escaped this "bleed" are Orthodox Jews in Israel -- and only because Israeli government subsidizes them. That won't last forever.

    417:

    We don't even need that: we just need convient hire options for a diesel generator pack in a trailer, and a standard for in-drive charging.

    (In other words: it's a pure electric car about town or for short road trips. Want to ferry it a long way, rent a trailer that turns it into a hybrid.)

    418:

    Just a heads-up: Byron Dorgan, one of the few Senators who voted against the repeal of Glass-Steagall, is actually a liberal Democrat rather than a Republican, who voted en bloc for repeal.

    As for blaming Clinton, there was no way he could veto the thing since the Senate had way more than the necessary supermajority needed for a veto override.

    419:

    If you know the Church from the inside out you would know that the chances of a female or automated pope range from zip to zero.

    Today, yes. Back when Vatican II was going on, that wasn't so clear - ordination of women was a hot topic for a few years. As it turned out, the church didn't go that way. There are good reasons why priests are men, and the current thinking seems to be that maintaining that tradition is best. This could change again in a few generations; maybe female ordination will be a popular cause again in 2062.

    For those who find this unlikely, I'll remind them that priestly celibacy is relatively recent, in the form it's usually thought of. (Not entirely: a prohibition on priests castrating themselves goes back to the Council of Nicea.) Even today one can be a legitimately married and sexually active Catholic priest via a few routes. Since we're looking at a 500 year period I'll note that we're almost 500 years away from Martin Luthor getting married (to Katharina von Bora in 1525) and Edward VI changing the rules for Anglican priests in 1547, after which they could marry.

    Of course, the question of female ordination becomes less meaningful once medicine advances enough that sex changes are safe, effective, and routine. Maybe it's just the custom that you have to wear a penis for church services.

    The religious reaction to uploaded personalities is trickier, but Norman Spinrad already wrote Deus X.

    Genetically changed humans and uploaded animals will probably require only small and brief transitions in thinking; once something can speak and demonstrate reason, it's human enough to understand moral lessons.

    I tend to think on the lines of A Canticle for Liebowitz, in which the Church keeps its identity intact but finds itself out of sync in differing ways and degrees with the world around it. Being out of sync, paradoxically, suits the Church to the ground.

    In five hundred years I'd expect this cycle to go around several times. It will presumably drift out of relevancy, wake up to smell the coffee, have a big exciting round of reform and modernization, and after a while relax and become complacent. Repeatedly.

    I mentioned the Catholic Church more or less at random, as a good example of a long lived institution, but it seems plenty of folks have something to say about it. Great.

    420:

    All I'll say is that the person who fed me the quote was a Republican, and seemed a bit surprised by the quote's existance.

    421:

    "Nothing beats hydrocarbons in terms of energy density, ease of storage and simplicity of use."

    But there's also "cost". Fossil hydrocarbons have been nice and cheap. Ones we have to synthesize from the atmosphere might not be cheap enough for mass private automobiles like today. You need a lot of energy to make them from scratch, and then you remember that you're wasting 75% of that energy since mobile IC engines aren't that efficient. If you need 1 Joule to move a car, you need 4 Joules in the tank, and may need 8 or more Joules of solar input to fill that tank. Electric cars don't look so bad then. Deciding that you don't need a car at all, and going with public transit / bicycles / electric bicycles can look even better.

    422:

    GM will sell you a very nice car featuring something very much like that, except the engine isn't on a trailer. It's called a Volt stateside, Ampera on your side of the pond.

    As to Daniel.duffy20's notion that electric cars don't exist, these can run for 35 miles before switching to charge sustaining mode. Something like 75% of daily driving is less than that range, so the car can be called mostly electric.

    Besides, Tesla seems to be doing fairly well selling non-existent electric automobiles. A few of the mythical beasts even passed me on the highway.

    423:

    Catholicism does not go back to 4 BC. The alleged birth of Jesus does. The roots of Christianity start around 30 AD and developed over the next couple of centuries. The documents go back early -- just as the Vedas and the Torah do -- but the religions and institutions (if any) surrounding those documents have changed a lot. There's stuff we call Hinduism or Judaism or Christianity now and 2000 years ago, but if you look under the names they're not exactly the same things.

    424:

    As a historical artifact, the shroud is interesting, but as proof of divinity it's rather... embarrasing.

    The entity that allegedly began time, spun up the pulsars, seeded the myriad stars in the sky, from the small dwarf stars to the behemoth giants that dwarf our whole solar system... this being, powerful beyond imagination, left us a rag with a face on it as proof of its existence?

    Seriously?

    425:

    Is the Volt/Milliampera really anything more than an LA/London Con Tax friendly though? 35 miles might manage my commute, as long as it was dry and daylight (which it hasn't been at least one of more or less the last 3 weeks) except that the last mile is up a 1:12 hill and there's an unpredictable but almost certainly non-zero number of dead stops en route.

    So where does the electricity come from to refill the battery pack? If it's the onboard gennie set, then I've got a compromised petrol car. If it's the grid, we've got to get around the transmission losses that give a "pure electric" car effective CO2 of about 160g/km.

    426:

    Further, even assuming (despite evidence) that it is proof of something supernatural, there is absolutely no reason to conclude it's proof of the Christian deity, or of the Nazarene.

    I'm refraining from my honest opinion, because it's unnecessarily rude.

    427:

    Transmission losses will happen either from an internal combustion engine or a power plant, but the power plant is _much_ more efficient, with some well over 50% [1] as compared with 25% for an automobile engine -- and accumulated losses from plant alternator to battery out are nowhere near 50%. The grid doesn't solely rely on fossil fuels, either, with nuclear / hydro / wind / solar thrown into the mix, so the carbon load is reduced to the extent those contribute power.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil-fuel_power_station#Gas_turbine_plants

    Electric cars also use regenerative braking and shut down the motor when stopped, further conserving energy.

    As for the Volt being a "compromised" electric car, I prefer to think of it as a more versatile automobile which runs on electricity for my local runabouts and kicks in an auxiliary generator on the few occasions when I drive beyond the battery's range.

    428:

    "Immune how?"

    Religion. Those having large families are doing so indefiance of econom,ic logic because their faith promotes large families.

    http://moreintelligentlife.com/story/faith-equals-fertility

    Nobody knows exactly why religion and fertility tend to go together. Conventional wisdom says that female education, urbanisation, falling infant mortality, and the switch from agriculture to industry and services all tend to cause declines in both religiosity and birth rates. In other words, secularisation and smaller families are caused by the same things. Also, many religions enjoin believers to marry early, abjure abortion and sometimes even contraception, all of which leads to larger families. But there may be a quite different factor at work as well. Having a large family might itself sometimes make people more religious, or make them less likely to lose their religion. Perhaps religion and fertility are linked in several ways at the same time.

    The future belongs to religious conservatives.

    429:

    "As to Daniel.duffy20's notion that electric cars don't exist"

    I should have said, don't exist inlarge numbers. And this is a good thing.

    All batteries wear out. A warn out battery is a small clump of toxic waste. A warn out electical car battery array is a large pile of toxic waste. Millions of worn out electic car battery arrays are a massive toxic waste disposal problem.

    In terms of efficiency and cosgt per energy no electic battery can ever hope to compete with a gallon of gas.

    430:

    30 years? My erstwhile neighbourhood was built fifty years ago and everything still stands quite nicely thank you very much, even despite Canadian winters, and the older (yes, I know, bloody UKers) parts of town are doing well after eighty years. As another datum, The Boyfriend's place has over 100 years of surviving the usual California earthquakes. This brings us to another point -- stick construction is less likely than stone walls to leave a divot in your head when Gaia throws a bender.

    I won't speak to newer stuff, which looks like it's slapped together from piss & plaster, but lumber construction was well done within living memory.

    431:

    "All it needs for electric cars to take over is a range of 300 miles and a charge time of less than 1 hour."

    It also needs operational and capital costs lower than that of a fossil fuel powered internal combustion engine in order to compete in the market place.

    That will never happen unless you change the laws of physics OR peak oil becomes a reality and gas prices rise to the point that electric cars become cost competitive.

    With America becoming the new Saudi Arabia by 2020, peak oil is not going to happen in the forseeable future:

    http://www.businessinsider.com/iea-the-us-to-become-the-worlds-top-oil-producer-before-the-year-2020-2012-11

    432:

    paws4thot @ 405
    Oh "the house of Stuart" - backed by LOTS of French money, if not lots of men ....
    Nice wind-up try, though!

    justin @ 409
    " but I do have an RC point of view."
    CORRECTION
    You have an RC brainwashing.
    Please delete it NOW

    @ 426
    I hope & expect not
    Scary

    433:

    2512?

    You couldn't wait 13 more years and have all your questions answered by Zager and Evans?

    434:

    "Go forward 500 years and extrapolate from today's Predator drone, analogizing it to a 1500s arquebus ... it's not pretty."

    To quote Dr. Evil: "Frickin' laser beams!"

    The laser and other directed energy weapons will change warfare as much as gunpowder did.

    Truely effective and powerful "see the target and kill the target" lasers make satellites, spacecraft, aircraft, missiles, helicopters, and even artillery and mortar shells obsolete. They will do to any orbitting, airborne or unarmored object what machine guns did to infantry in the Great War.

    Armor evolves to becomes heat resitant ceramics insted of impact resistant plating. AFVs beimg armed with powerful lasers, individual soldiers will still use assault guns shooting bullets (still the most energy efficient form of individual firepower). The power plant for an effective laser would be too heavy for a soldier to carry himself even if he wears an exoskeleton. Robots and drones outnumber humans on the battle field by 10 or 100 to 1. Each soldier being effectively an NCO commanding dozens of robot grunts.

    Unable to deliver nukes by aircraft and missile, strategic weapons will be nanotech, cyber and bio weapons delivered by stealth.

    With aircraft obsolete, aircraft carriers will be too. The dominant naval vessel will be the submarine which can hide and use the water's depths to deflect a laser's energy and fight back with pop up lasers of their own. They will resemble sharks - sharks with frickin' laser beams!!!

    435:

    Actually, I'd say that science does all three:

    a) explain the world
    b) provide moral guidance
    c) act as a political tool to control people

    That is science as a monolithic institution, which, of course, it isn't, but we'll pretend for the sake of rhetoric.

    Moral guidance certainly shows up in the environmental sciences, ecology, conservation biology, and similar. It also shows up in fields such as public health and medicine ("first, do no harm," is part of the Hippocratic oath). Climate science started off apolitical, but it is rapidly becoming politicized, and all the sustainability talk is certainly moral. Looking back a few decades, eugenics and population control are also explicitly moral, although we disagree with their morality today.

    As for a political tool to control people...do you really believe that academia isn't politicized, and doesn't affect state and federal politics? To pick one of many examples, the Cold War was a tech race. One could say that it was science and technology subjugating itself to political goals, but one could equally say that science and technology encouraged the various arms races as a way to grow. It was truly a symbiosis.

    436:

    [A battery electric vehicle] needs operational and capital costs lower than that of a fossil fuel powered internal combustion engine in order to compete in the market place.

    That will never happen unless you change the laws of physics OR peak oil becomes a reality and gas prices rise to the point that electric cars become cost competitive.

    Electric vehicles already have much lower operational expenses than ICE vehicles. In Toronto, for example, a Nissan Leaf is about 7 times cheaper per kilometer to operate from residential electricity than a Nissan Sentra is to operate from petrol at the pump. But you might not even break even on lifetime costs due to higher capital costs for the Leaf, largely from batteries.

    What laws of physics would need to be broken to lower lithium ion battery costs to, say, $250 per kilowatt hour of capacity from $700? The most expensive/rarest material in Li-ion batteries is cobalt, and at most a battery needs 2.4 kg of Co per kilowatt hour of capacity. At current prices that comes to $55 of cobalt plus maybe $15 in other raw materials. $60 of raw materials is currently turning into nearly $700 for 1 kilowatt hour of finished battery. Is that an immutable ratio?

    Here's a provocative analogy: today, the best silicon-based PV manufacturers have about $0.60 per watt in manufacturing costs on top of $0.20 per watt for silicon. In 2004, silicon cost about $0.32 per watt but manufacturing costs added about $2.60 per watt. In 8 years the ratio of costs between bulk materials and finished devices fell from about 9:1 to 4:1. If battery manufacturers can achieve something comparable over the next 8 years, lifetime costs of EVs will be lower than those of ICEs for most of the world's car drivers, even without any greater divergence of costs between electricity and liquid fuels.

    437:

    You'd guess wrong then. He lives about a mile from here, in Royston to the south of Cambridge, and has done for the last decade or so. Before that (when we first knew him) he still resided in Sweden.

    So he comes from a country with a long tradition of well-built wooden housing, and not a lot of termites.

    438:

    There are very good economic reasons for demographic transition

    Those reasons may not be applicable in the near future, let alone 500 years from now. Increasing automation, let alone AI, may make the economic value of education negligible; most skills may be better implemented in software than in brains. The end of the Pax Americana may make having only one or two children seem unreasonably risky. Also, the last time we had a world with negligible economic growth (antiquity to 1600 AD, roughly), constant warfare made it necessary to generate a bigger cohort of military-aged males than competing nations/tribes could field.

    439:

    Greg@353: It's not entirely clear to me to what extent pi is fundamental, and to what extent it shows up as an artifact of our bias toward right triangles.

    440:

    The laser and other directed energy weapons will change warfare as much as gunpowder did.

    Truely effective and powerful "see the target and kill the target" lasers make satellites, spacecraft, aircraft, missiles, helicopters, and even artillery and mortar shells obsolete. They will do to any orbitting, airborne or unarmored object what machine guns did to infantry in the Great War.

    Alternatively, time of military action will be tied much more closely to atmospheric conditions. Fog, rain, snow, low clouds, and combustion haze will provide the atmospheric "terrain" that defends machines and soldiers from lasers. Artificial smoke screens become more about neutralizing laser weapons than about hiding movements.

    There's a sword of Damocles hanging above the battlefield even with current COTS lasers: blinding laser weapons. Current diode lasers costing less