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Me, talking

I get to give talks. Here's one I gave to a seminar of engineering students at Olin College (south of Boston) last month, on the next thirty years:

121 Comments

1:

Thanks for the thought; I gave up after about 5 minutes due to the horrible rattle of loose heat shield that this object makes whenever I enable the speakers.

2:

I enjoyed this a lot, thanks for putting it up. I noticed that none of the students really asked you about the energy problem: how do we generate and distribute enough reliable electricity to do the non-processing things an economy at a "developed" level requires, and build it within the global capital budget? Do you have pointers to your thoughts on that subject?

Michael Cain

3:

Regarding the Japanese and South Korean fusion plans, have they come up with a plan for dealing with the neutron flux? Every analysis of fusion I've seen stalls on the realization of how large the neutron flux is, and what it does to anything nearby.

4:

They capture the neutron flux in specially designed capacitors.

That of course requires the purchase of large numbers of DeLoreans.....

5:

Thanks for that Charlie, excellent stuff as always.

Now, regarding Africa's slow-motion economic miracle. . . my basic response is "yes, but. . ."

The economic growth is real: I know because I've seen it with my own eyes. A few months ago I was based out of a town in northern Sierra Leone that was starting from less than zero even before the civil war of the 1990s. Barclays bank had pulled out of the town, and the wider region in the 1980s simply because there wasn't enough business there to make it worth their while.

Now there are no less than six banks in Makeni town, and they're all doing a roaring trade. This isn't just down to the local branches of the mining and biofuels multinationals that have moved into the area recently, or the Chinese interest either, though that is a big part of it. Ordinary people finally have some decent disposable income in their pockets, or some of them do at least. The town was finally connected to the hydroelectric plant at Bumbuna last year, which means that metalwork and carpentry workshops can now work around the clock, to supply a demand that seems to be growing for a while.

However, Salone still has some very big mountains to climb in terms of turning that real growth into equally real development. Death in childbirth is still a huge problem, for example, and education is still undergoing badly needed repair work (the country used to have one of the best ed. systems in Africa, but like a lot of things the civil war did enormous damage on that front).

I believe they will climb those mountains, but it will take a long, hard struggle lasting decades. One bright point on the horizon, though, is that a recurrence of civil conflict now seems highly unlikely. Last November's elections were essentially peaceful - which surprised a lot of people.

That's Sierra Leone, though, which is just one country of about 51 in the world's second biggest continent. Another insight into Africa's future is provided by Kenya, a real economic powerhouse which sources 95% of its state revenues internally (by comparison, about 50% of what the Sierra Leonean state spends comes from foreign aid). You might think that the economic growth Kenya is experiencing, and its determination to really move up several levels in technology terms would make conflict unlikely. Unfortunately, most of the stuff I've read about Kenya's upcoming elections suggests that people there are still afraid that cynical politicians will resort to ethnic warmongering in order to seize their own bits of the pie. Given what happened last time in Kenya that would be a real disaster. I hope it doesn't happen, but it's better to err on the side of pessimism in such matters (even if you get a case like Sierra Leone, which manages to surprise almost everybody).

The Kenyan case underscores one likely result of continued African economic growth: continued African conflict. The old sorts of extreme conflict represented by Rwanda, Sierra Leone or DRC will (touch wood) become obsolete, but the Kenya case shows the kinds of low-level conflict that can go on in spite of high growth. In spite of high growth - or because of it. When there's a lot of spare capital floating about, one possible outlet (as in Kenya) is to try and sink it into land. Where land tenure is by no means certain, this can bring about the conditions for conflict and strife, and can even drive people to consider the secessionist option - as some in Kenya's Mombasa are doing.

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/d4fa81da-8191-11e2-ae78-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2MhD4eUF7

6:

It's a shame to watch a classic car melt into a puddle of radioactive, stinking goo.

7:

"a puddle of radioactive, stinking goo."

Ironically, that's pretty much the same state the bold Mr. Delorean was after a night on the marching powder.

8:

The DeLorean is just a Renault 20 with a bit of movie fairydust sprinkled on it. Go ahead and engage the flux capacitors, I say. Of the 1980s parts-bin specials, I always thought Ford's RS200 a much more elegant beast. When I was 8 years old, I swore I would get my hands on one when I was older. These days, they don't go for much less than £150k, so no chance of that...

9:

The JET in Culham is being reengineered as a fusion materials testbed to support the work at ITER, with the ability to expose blanket materials to fusion plasmas over long periods. Neutron activation is a known problem and ITER will be used to test remote handling systems to rebuild the blankets in the proposed DEMO and PROTO reactors on the drawing boards.

10:

Regarding the neutron problem...

Fluxes are lower than those in fission reactors. The energy is higher (14 MeV rather than fission spectrum) but the problem is understood.

The panic of "ZOMG NEUTRONS UNCLEAN!" is a bit premature. The hope of fusion was aneutronic and therefore clean. That it eventually irradiates the reactor itself is of secondary concern, compared to a fuel waste stream (fission). Decommissioning processes and materials selection for adequate lifetime of core components are doable.

You just have to stop yelling UNCLEAN when the neutrons start flying, and deal with them, like responsible fission engineers have for 75 years now...

11:

A friend of mine, who is a nuclear physicist by trade, did the math for a hypothetical fusion reactor a few years ago. I forget what his assumptions were, but he calculated that the average atomic nucleus of the container (presumably steel, mostly 56Fe) absorbed about 10 neutrons in a shortish amount of time. He's a nuclear physicist and I'm an inorganic chemist, but we found it hard to estimate the impact of a neutron flux like that on the physical properties of the material were. A "puddle of radioactive, stinking goo" is actually a better guess than you'd think, as you might see significant transmutation into isotopes of arsenic (smelly, also toxic), gallium (liquid near room temperature), zinc (relatively low melting and relatively high vapor pressure), helium (from alpha decay of unstable isotopes), and what have you.

The fission reactors that I've seen mainly use liquid water to thermalize and absorb the neutrons, but that's not easily implemented in a fusion design for vapor pressure reasons.

12:

The assumptions I have seen either use stuff which absorbs neutrons without ill effects, or which is relatively low cross section, for the most intense flux areas. Reinforced carbon-carbon, etc.

Metal only in the outer layers, past the Lithium breeder circulation layers.

Iron is not much used for fusion systems, or as the inner core for fission ones. Zirconium is the most widely used fuel rod tube material for LWRs for example.

13:

Good talk, Charlie. Not much new, for those of us who read the blog, but it was nice to see it all put together.

14:

The problem with these types of prognostication are they tend to ignore the system interconnections and fixed scenario effects that shape developments.

We've rehearsed here in the past that we will be well past peak oil by that point, and that battery technology is nowhere near the power densities necessary for the cheap, fast, long distance travel that Charlie references. We also know that climate change will be having major effects on habitability as the runaway gets away - food, water, disaster level events, etc.

That's the background for any future changes - not much point carpeting an existing city in Vingian localisers if it's uninhabitable 4 months of the year.

Hell, even if you wave hands and invent the 'Acme New Transportation energy source' you still have massive dislocation associated with what that new technology does to everything else.

Otherwise, if you are realistic, you have to assume that physical travel will be curtailed significantly, and that many people will have to relocate (you have to consider WHERE they move to, and how they organise there).

My guess is the reaction against privacy invasion will play out between now and then - probably with Zuckerberg dangling from a lamppost. Things will localise, walls will go up, migrants will be kept out (Stephenson maybe more right that we thought).

Just because something is technologically possible, doesn't mean it will practically happen - after all, how many people dictate memos via speech recognition today? Compare the 1980s predictions with the 'why' we don't actually do it.

15:

I think you mean "Olin College" -- one L.

16:

Charlie

I really enjoyed this.
Bonus points for translating it into American on the fly.
Additionally pointing out the infrastructure deficit in the US was masterfully done, it is the biggest issue the US faces ( apart from being able to deliver healthcare at a reasonable cost)
Did you mention it was a Steven Pinker class at the beginning, if you did, those young adults are getting a quality education

Best regards

Rex

17:

I can't help noticing what seem to be game boards for Settlers of Catan behind you. Did anyone mention what that was on the whiteboard?

18:

Any thoughts about the possibilities of intelligence augmentation?

19:

I think the world of 2043 will look drab and plain to anyone not wearing their attachable augmented reality glasses/skin stimulant pads/hearing plugs. You won't have the flashy, neon colorfulness of cyber-punk cities, because it will be all virtual - it's cheaper that way if everyone's wearing the hardware for it. Lots of plainly colored buildings and empty former signs.

In fact, I think the world will seem like the "magical world" of spirits, gods, and devils that our far-off ancestors dwelt in, in some ways. We will live immersed in colorful virtual layers of generated content that overlay reality, and interact with a vast range of people and programs who will show up as customized creatures and entities. If a child is walking somewhere, the guide program will show up as a friendly dinosaur or animal friend image that they can interact with and follow.

@IanS

We've rehearsed here in the past that we will be well past peak oil by that point, and that battery technology is nowhere near the power densities necessary for the cheap, fast, long distance travel that Charlie references.

We may not need drastically better batteries. One of the good ideas that the (unfortunately failing) Better Place company figured out for their set-up in Israel was the idea of swapping out batteries every so often, mixed in with fast charging stations. As I mentioned, the company is failing, but not because of mismanagement or customer dissatisfaction - it's because of issues with getting local officials to play ball on installing new replacement and charging stations.

But even if we don't have there, there are alternatives to oil. You can power cars with natural gas, or with liquid fuels made from coal (South Africa gets a decent chunk of its liquid fuels from this). You can use biofuels, or even just various kinds of vegetable and plant oils in diesel engines. You can even do some weird stuff, like potentially powering your cars with ammonia, although I doubt that will be necessary.

@nancyleb

Any thoughts about the possibilities of intelligence augmentation?

It's hard to say. Invasive implants tend to have long-term issues, particularly the "rejection" issue wherein the body builds up scar tissue around the foreign object.

Drugs are a possibility, although I've often wondered if we're getting close to the point where "effective without serious side-effects" drugs are peaking out in potential for discovery.

20:

Waste heat & energy storage are the biggies ....
What are the possibilities of guvmints actually getting a hold on this? Because of vested interests in not changing.

Smartphones ... please don't!
I have just changed to a BlackBerry - & I can't access the internet, properly, because phone company (Orange/EE) can't/won't get a proper connection arranged - I've been back to the shop 6 times.
Bastards.

This is, on a wider scale, going to be a problem - corporate swamping of the individual users & just not caring.
[ E.G. A mobile phone company that does not have a e-mail connection, really! ]

Yes, my cynical take is that the potential systems are going to be superb, totally let-down by the suppliers, whether state or "private" (meaning corporate)

Not too good.

21:

One option for cars would be compressed air/liquid nitrogen. Your vehicle is moving; as it moves you run a heat exchanger with the ambient air to boil the LN2, either via a heat engine of some kind (Stirling engine? Turbine? Diesel-like high compression ratio pump?) to make wheels turn (again: via a generator/battery combo, or directly).

Sure you won't get more than 50-100 miles on a tank. But the stuff's much easier to store and pump than hydrogen, and garages can generate the stuff on site from electricity and store it in big Dewars -- unlike LH2 which requires much more serious refrigeration/storage logistics (and is bulkier and more hazardous to handle). More to the point, stopping every hour or two to "gas" up on LN2 should take no longer than filling up with diesel or petroleum products, and doesn't involve swapping out heavy solid batteries.

22:

I think the world of 2043 will look drab and plain to anyone not wearing their attachable augmented reality glasses/skin stimulant pads/hearing plugs. You won't have the flashy, neon colorfulness of cyber-punk cities, because it will be all virtual - it's cheaper that way if everyone's wearing the hardware for it. Lots of plainly colored buildings and empty former signs.

Very much like in some of Vernor Vinge's tales, among others. One thing to keep in mind is that only the first generation of this will have only one virtual layer. (This is already in the concept stage for Google Glasses.) For example, those 'empty' signs will bear words in the viewer's preferred language. Very shortly thereafter the ads can be targeted to products you might want, as websites already do.

As you note, we can expect to see helping spirits popping up to guide us. Unfortunately, some will be created by the same pointy-haired managers who gave us Clippy, that damned MS Office talking paperclip. For a preview of how this might look to the end user, see the anime Dennou Coil - and notice that cel phones have disappeared in that setting; instead the user just makes the 'phone' gesture and talks.

What other secondary effects should we expect with ubiquitous augmented reality?

Clothes could be tagged; a T-shirt that changed its slogan every few minutes would sell millions; how much more for a version that supports video? Tacky nerd T-shirts will start the trend, but we can expect programmable image wear to catch on with everyone.

Consensus reality layers, if supported, could be popular. Some people would pay to see a Star Trek overlay on reality, or to have everyone in ornate Regency costumes. (I can see downsides if this catches on.) Hopefully there would be some feedback about what other people are seeing.

Intelligence augmentation will definitely happen, but it won't look much like the cyberpunk brain implants. When your glasses will do realtime google searches for you, you don't need any electronics in your brain.

That's for 2033 or 2043, of course. By 2093 we'll be somewhere even more exotic and harder to see.

23:

I'd suggest that the "John Zackary" is more like a less ept version of tha Alpine A310 (V6). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_A310

24:

Moore's Law ...
No take on QC (Quantum Computing) re-overtaking Moore's Law?

25:

At the ~100 miles end, provided the refuelling stations are convenient, I could live with stops that are sort of "comfort break and stretch legs" duration.

26:

Ghmm, but what's about the energy density of liquid nitrogen as storage? From here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density
its 0.77 MJ/kg , which matches current lithium-ion but is very well below lithium-air which has 9 MJ/kg . (Most of the battery weight is the oxidizer)

27:

That is why ITER will be using Beryllium and Tungsten for its walls and not steel. Just as the most recent upgrade of JET.

28:

Some of that looked semi memorized, some from reminder notes, and some completely thought up on the spot.

Wrote down some thoughts while listening.

Carpeting everything with ultra microchips
Right after they fix the potholes and decaying bridges. Even at very low cost, public infrastructure stuff is likely to follow personal at a distance. Think of the expected panopticon: private security cameras and phone cameras are here now, not a big central project to put cameras everywhere. That's a microcosm of how things will go.

Self driving vehicles
Initially it will be like cruise control, something you can turn on or off at will. The law will require a human operator to be in the vehicle and will hold that human operator responsible, regardless of who or what is actually driving. People will slowly get used to the technology by means of initially just turning it on for particularly boring driving tasks, like long distance. Then they will just do it the easy way more and more. When I was stationed in Japan I lived 6 miles from where I worked, and initially I resolved to ride my bicycle to work every day for exercise. But sometimes I had to carry more than my bike could, and a friend sold me a car for a steal, so I started driving to work when I had cargo. Or when it rained. Or when I didn't feel like it. Or when I put off departing too long. Or because it was Thursday. Oh, what the hell, I eventually decided, I'll drive almost all the time. Though I kept my bicycle and continued to ride it once in a while if the stars were aligned. It was a gradual process. Similarly, the driver who cuts the autodriver on only on the interstate, may start letting it drive on long straight stretches of city roads, then in low traffic situations, or let it do the parking, then gradually add more and more occasions to let the car driver itself. As confidence and laziness conspire, use of the autodriver becomes routine and use of the steering wheel becomes rare.

Also, expect some incidents that spoil the reputation of the technology, people going to sleep with an early version doing the driving and then
the horrific accident getting splashed all over the news to the detriment of the computer driver.

Resistance to international labor as racism
I don't think resistance to labor from other countries is usually motivated by racism, but by nationalism. The fear is that people loyal to another nation will take over. "We don't mind the Bulgarians or Mexicans or whatever coming here so much as we mind them bringing Bulgaria or Mexico with them." It's the same sort of issue as unilateral disarmament: it's not even that people are aggressively nationalistic, just that they're afraid of the nationalism of others.

I've experienced the situation behind this attitude first hand working as a laborer in Texas. Anything that can be done behind the scenes by Mexicans IS. If you try to compete with them in the job market for anything that they can do then you are competing with people who can work for an illegally low wage because they sleep twelve to an apartment and live on beans. They are willing to live that way because they can go home and live like kings after a while. Or they are willing to live that way indefinitely to support families back home. All the respect, but I can't go home to Mexico, I'm already home. This isn't some racist stuff I'm parroting from Fox, it's personal experience.

If all countries were the same, getting rid of borders would make sense. But they aren't, for whatever reason. Sure, getting rid of borders will make them the same, but the stronger and more unpleasant flavors in the new homogeneous mix might overwhelm rather than be overwhelmed.

29:

Charlie,

the problem with hydrogen isn't storage. You make methane from hydrogen and storage kind of works (much better than
the alternatives anyway).

The problem is hydrogen is high entropy. You take low-entropy electricity, make hydrogen (or some derivate like methane) with some losses. But the efficiency is still on the order of 85%. But then you go ahead and turn it into high-entropy heat.

Unfortunately, you are only able to then turn a part of the heat back into low-entropy kinetic energy (and then virtually lossless into electricity). Fuel-cells don't work any better either. In the end, you lose on the order of 70% of the energy originally generated.

If you want to run an economy on this kind of storage, you can expect to take more than half the energy directly from storage - if you use intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power. (The amount of solar power you can get peaks at noon, it is very small in the morning and evening. The sun hanging low in the sky is almost useless for power generation. So it's not just the night when you consume stored energy.)

It is bad, but the best we have for large scale and longterm applications (such as getting through the winter). It also means that a solar power plant generating an annual average of 6W/m^2 (e.g. in Japan) effectively only accounts for 3W/m^2 after storage losses.

This also means you need to pave the whole original ~1000km^2 evacuation area around the Fukushima power plant with PV farms to generate as much energy as the power plant did before the accident.

There is some merit in thermal storage for solar-thermal power plants for short-term storage. There, you store heat before turning it into electricity. Unfortunately, the heat storage is at a very low temperature (thus high entropy), which limits the overall efficiency. Higher temperature heat storage means trading more heat losses in storage against more losses in electricity generation. But at least in short term storage the efficiency is similar to that of average PV (~15%) without storage.

30:

"Resistance to international labor as racism"

I fear you're putting the equine before the vehicle. IIRC from Chaz's talk, he didn't say that people who were opposed to movements of international labour were racist. He said that politics of exclusion, ethnic chauvinism and so on were produced by a global economic system that permitted free movement of capital but not of people. Either capital leapfrogs over borders, or brings in new low-wage workers (either legally or illegally): in either case workers from different countries are set against each other, put in competition with each other, and driven into a race to the bottom.

Given that workers of all nationalities, ethnicities and races can only lose in such a scenario, it might be better for them to play a different game altogether. I appreciate, though, that as an American you may find this a difficult proposition to support.

31:

@Scott-Sanford

Intelligence augmentation will definitely happen, but it won't look much like the cyberpunk brain implants. When your glasses will do realtime google searches for you, you don't need any electronics in your brain.

Especially if it's cheaper and easier, and (as you said) the glass/headware are connected to some decent AI programs.

Advertising is trickier, and depends on how much leeway companies have to "track" people and individualize advertisements. It never bothered me too much, because if I'm going to get ads, I want them for stuff I might want. But we're seeing a backlash of sorts against this, with a couple of court cases in the EU, and a push for a Do-Not-Track law in the US Congress.

One weird possibility is that direct advertising (as opposed to indirectly advertising stuff through product placement) could die off. Companies might want to layer ads on open building space, and customers respond with the latest AdBlocker update erasing it.

@RDSouth

Also, expect some incidents that spoil the reputation of the technology, people going to sleep with an early version doing the driving and then
the horrific accident getting splashed all over the news to the detriment of the computer driver.

This is why I think it will be more gradual, coming in pieces - which also gives us the time to work out the liability issues. You'll eventually see the spread of full-auto cars after a period down the line when people are used to letting the auto-driving systems handle the car 90+% of the time, at which point no one will care.

I'd also expect the military to be using full-auto vehicles long before that, in drones and in trucks.

32:

don't think resistance to labor from other countries is usually motivated by racism, but by nationalism.

Often there's no difference between the two. Look at the current right-wing nationalist party in Greece, Golden Dawn. Of course they take their inspiration from that other big, nationalist party in Germany several decades ago.
And it's not just groups like that. I recently heard a story on NPR about Greek-born members-of-society (can't necessarily call them citizens--it's not automatic at birth), whose parents are from elsewhere, and face prejudice because they aren't considered to be Greek.

Then there's the BNP, which others here would have plenty to say about, I'm sure.

33:

The big problem with Better Place (and the stated reason they were given their marching orders when they attempted to move into Ireland) is that you need a Better Place-compatible car to use a Better Place battery-changing station, and they retain ownership of the battery. If they establish their infrastructure first, they become a local monopoly on EV batteries. And another prospective Iron Law is the behaviour of monopoly rentiers...

34:

Also note that right-wing parties that are more "very free market" use social pretexts to stage anti-immigration politics, while quite some, err, *cough*, "leftists" are not above using racism to foster their opposition to immigration of cheap labor.

As for nationalism vs. racism, if we go with the ius sanguis definition of nation, nationalism is a form of racism.

As for the workers themselves, well, "poor pigs are pigs nonetheless".

35:


@Trottelreiner

The best argument for mass immigration is to compare ethnically and culturally homogenous countries( Finland, Czech Republic, Norway, Poland)
with those that are heterogenous, like the United States, Russia, Malaysia or past countries (19th century Turkey, Austria-Hungaria.)

The former have far higher levels of social tension, higher inequality, worse political climate, higher crime and so on.

36:

Re: 35

Once most of the world is at parity socio-economically (specifically, near-equal opportunities and resources to attain education/training, a job/livelihood and amass wealth), culture (specifically shared personal values) will become the basis of determining which countries/regions grow and prosper. In the 20th century, socio-economic opportunity made the U.S. a desirable country to immigrate to, in the mid-21st century, unless US political rhetoric mellows, xenophobia will be a reason to emigrate.

The relatively open/porous borders such as exist in the European Union in about 20-30 years will provide us with a pretty good idea of what the key population attractors are when the socio-economics are controlled for.


Charlie:

Enjoyed your talk, thanks for sharing... have a comment/question: It seems that if energy "storage" is the barrier, it's time to invest in a better distribution infrastructure to move energy where it's needed, as it's needed.... sort of a just-in-time energy. Then again, as devices/appliances become more energy-efficient, and more people build-in some form of energy production into their dwellings/autos, won't we be past any energy crisis in 30 years' time? (Climate change notwithstanding)

And -- an open question if you don't mind:
Do homes in the Western world have more or less "stuff" in them now versus 30 years ago. "Stuff" includes clothing, food, entertainment, furniture, appliances, etc. My feeling is that while we're still purchasing/consuming, we're not hanging onto as many things as we used to.

37:

I rather suspect your argument is ruined by your giving examples which directly contradict it.

38:

Very interesting and broad talk, and you even mentioned Poland and Hungary (I find it very funny that for many people somehow anything west of Germany kind of doesn't exist, until their finger-on-the-globus reaches India or China).

Also I agree that the times ahead will be 'strange', just as they've always been.

39:

For that matter, you could compare heterogenous Switzerland, 4 languages from 2 quite distinct subgroupings of IE languages, more than 2 religions where this division was at the root of a violent conflict in the last 200 years, compared to, say, homogenous Greece after WWII.

Well, OK, Switzerland recently invaded Lichtenstein,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/mar/02/markoliver

still, that's somewhat different from the Greek Civil war and the later military coups.

As for Finland being ethnically homogenous, if we go by language, you gotta be kidding?

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

And for Finnish political stability, there is this:

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

What might differentiate Finnland from places like Russia, the US and like might be strong rights for linguistic minorities etc. And a tendency not to be known as a bully internally and externally, though that one might be up to closer scrutiny.

That being said, political conflicts are by definition between different groups, so you'd expect to see different identifiable social, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, religious or gastronomical[1] groups in a political conflict. As you'd expect to see high levels of catecholamines with phaeochromocytoma, but not every adrenaline burst is a tumor. Though if there is only one homogenous ethnic and linguistic group, it's easy to divide that into the ones that are more homogenous and the rest. And since said homogenity is usually the result of exactly such movements stressing homogenity, e.g. with French centralism etc., this requisite is also usually met.

And BTW, we were not talking about unrestricted mass immigration, we were talking about the relation between racism and anti-immigration politics in the context of protection of workers. So populistic talks about heterogenous states and civil unrest are besides the mark, as mentioned, there is some correlation, but the causation is somewhat more complicated. For starters, for mass immigration to occur, there usually has to be social inequality before, if just between emigrant and immigrant societies.

But thanks for proving the point that rhetorics about immigration have a certain tendency towards populism and not keeping to the facts.

[1] "We declare indepence from the guys who don't spice their food!"

40:

I am kind of curious how Swiss army staff could cross that border by accident. The Swiss/Leichtenstein border is a river for its entire length... There are plenty of bridges, but still...

41:

One weird possibility is that direct advertising (as opposed to indirectly advertising stuff through product placement) could die off. Companies might want to layer ads on open building space, and customers respond with the latest AdBlocker update erasing it.

Now that's an interesting idea; once customized augmented reality is on the market - and we can expect it to be soon - people will try putting on filters. Pattern matching should be easy; you should be able to specify names and logos that you don't want to see.

From that, another secondary effect comes up. Some people would like to have 'modesty' programs that paste more clothes onto lightly clad bodies; if you really prefer burqas, you can see them. Expect the folks who advocate for more public modesty not to get this easily.

Of course, the obvious inversion will hit the market first, Rule 34 being what it is. I'm going to try not thinking too much about that.

Back to advertising, I don't expect it to go away. Too many companies use it, and there's a whole advertising industry dedicated to shoving commercial messages onto people who don't want them. We'll certainly see a race between filters and ads, just as we see in email now. Sadly, I'm sure we'll see new kinds of spam. And I'd expect stealthy infiltrators as well, possibly based on the chatbots and blog-spammers of today, for various indirect methods like link-spamming and engineered product placement.

42:

Steve Mann's wearable computing rig has apparently been replacing ads in his sightline with "second screen" type content (low-urgency messages etc) for years now, so the problem's been solved once for actual physical ads.
And re: new spam. Google has a patent on replacing billboards' contents in Street View with paid ads...

43:

That just shows the Jingoism of the Swiss reactionary gouvernment, just look at their history of women's suffrage. Saying they could enter LI mistakenly, ha...

Err, somewhat more seriously, if we go with this map

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e8/Liechtenstein_topographic_map-de_Version_Tschubby.png

parts of the border follow the Rhein, yes, but only in the West, to the Swiss canton of St. Gallen. But there is also a shorter border in the South, to the canton of Graubünden(hope your browser displays this), which is only land, though mainly mountains.

According to some articles, the incident happened in Alpine forests with an unmarked border, which excludes the Rhein and indicates it was this Southern border. I have not been to LI, but to the Alpine borders between Germany and Austria or Austria and Italy and can imagine that's quite easy. Especially if you're male and don't ask for directions, SCNR.

With the Western border, well there are some small rivelets or channels in parallel to the rhine, so in principle it might be possible to make a mistake there, too. As for retribution, well, LI scrapped its military in 1860, too costly, so the defence would fall to, err, the Swiss. Now handle that one out.

Incidentally, the incident being at the Southern border doesn't make it better, since just some kilometres to the East, there is the Swiss-Austrian border. Well, if you've passed 2 km into LI, you're actually quite close to having passed through it into Austria. Now Austria is neutral, too, still, I guess it would be somewhat more problematic than getting lost in LI.

44:

Err, but why cram HSS' optical channels even more?

There are some experiments with transcranial magnetic stimulation seemed to elicit strange perceptions, e.g. the presence of beings in the same room. Might heighten your psychosis risk somewhat, but then, it might be somewhat faster than feeding data throug optical, auditory and tactile channels to elicit said sensation.

And if rats can learn to "feel" magnetism, so can we...

45:

Ah, my bad. I didn't realize the southern border was with Graubunden (Switzerland) not Austria. Wrong zoom levels consulted in the map tool; user error.

That entirely makes sense. Thanks.

46:

Steve Mann's wearable computing rig has apparently been replacing ads in his sightline with "second screen" type content (low-urgency messages etc) for years now, so the problem's been solved once for actual physical ads.
And re: new spam. Google has a patent on replacing billboards' contents in Street View with paid ads.


I had not heard that. Steve Mann is of course well ahead of the curve, but I'd not found out that he'd implemented that particular gimmick.

I doubt Google's patent can be extended to realtime augmented reality. If I were a lawyer arguing the other side, I'd point out that TV coverage of sports has been doing realtime ad placement via computer imaging for years now, thereby showing prior art. A persuasive BS artist could jump on the part about doing it with AR goggles as being new. It's not impossible; Google got the street-view patent...

47:

Y @ 35
Not so
Consider the UK, compared to France or Germany, over the past 250 years - which one has the lower rates of crime/revolution/social disentagration & upheaval?
Ah, others have noted this boo-boo as welL!

SF reader @ 36
YES!

s-s @ 41
Rule 34 being what it is. I'm going to try not thinking too much about that.
No, you'll just need stronger spectacles to counteract the effect of "going-blind" won't you! (Ahem)

48:

Even where the border is the Rhine itself, that river is much diminished compared to its volume further downstream, say at Basel. When we ambled into Vaduz a few years back, the water level looked low enough one could wade across.

And at the wooden foot bridge we crossed? A rather discrete mark that I almost missed, despite looking for the actual border line.

Switzerland's borders are rather porous to say the least. The Basel #10 tram actually makes a stop in France, but the chances are if you take that tram you won't even see a ticket inspector, let alone any indication of the border. (And since that precedent has been successful, they're trying to extend the #8 line into Germany; it seems that only the valiant efforts of some snails are holding them back.)

49:

I struggle with the idea of display glasses. I don't think people in general want to obscure their faces. And they don't want anything cumbersome about the head. Consider 'I've built a computer that fits neatly into a hat.'
It's a bit like SF writers who thought we'd have wrist communicators and wrist tvs. In fact we've - as Charles notes - given up wrist watches.
As for display clothing, well, that's a matter of fashion. Note Charles' plain black top. Nice.

50:

(Disclaimer: I wear hat, glasses and wrist watch, the latter of the analogue display variety)

At the moment, the wrist watch may have temporarily disappeared in favour of using a mobile to tell the time. But it's a pain having to haul the phone out of the pocket each time to use. I can see a useful addition would be a light strap so you can attach it to something, maybe your lower forearm.

Oh wait, it's just become a wristwatch/wrist communicator/wrist TV again.

51:

You don't have your phone neatly stowed in a neat little breast pocket of your utility vest?
I've been wearing a harness for years. Great for airport security. Off with belt, off with harness, walk through scanner, get your boots checked and that's it.

52:

I don't very often wear a hat (even for values that include baseball caps (aligned to keep the Sun out of my eyes)), but otherwise similarly.

@GoCaptain - I make ~3 single flights a year despite enjoying flying (and even taxiing); that is how much I loathe security theatre.

53:

We're also avoiding flying where possible. Our annual Fasnacht trip to Switzerland is through the Channel Tunnel by train, works out cheaper than flying once airport cost of parking &c. is included. And Dublin is £33 via SailRail from here, the wrong side of England.

54:

If you can spare the time, SailRail is thoroughly good value. For me, getting home from Brighton to Dublin on a weekend for the price of the midweek Dublin-London flight out really illustrated this.

55:

I struggle with the idea of display glasses. I don't think people in general want to obscure their faces. And they don't want anything cumbersome about the head. Consider 'I've built a computer that fits neatly into a hat.'

The prototypes were very much not ready for prime time. The 'two kilograms of electronic hat' experiments were good proof-of-concept systems but far from anything even technophilic nerds would actually want to wear regularly. But once the display shrinks into something that looks like ordinary glasses this becomes quite practical. (You must see folks wearing eyeglasses every day. Do they seem obscured or inconvenienced? Do you personally dislike sunglasses?) Most models will at first be I/O devices for software running on a smartphone, linked either by a small cable or Bluetooth; trying to put the processor and longer-range radio into the glasses is unnecessary.

Farther future possibilities such as contact lenses or some kind of cyborg alteration of the eye aren't impossible and both have actually been prototyped already - but I'd prefer to stick with glasses for the ease of peeking over the top and seeing what's actually out there.

Disclaimer: I'm wearing glasses and a wristwatch. And yesterday I wore a hat - it's not raining today.

56:

You aren't of Nordic Ancestry then?

Once upon a Time I had, " pretty Golden Hair " that was " much admired by The Girls " ... this From a woman that I encountered whilst walking with Shona the Keeshond of the Baskervilles aka Fluffy The Vampire Sniffer a while ago .. Bloody Hell! She'd waited nearly half a century to get her own back because ..." I wasn’t pretty enough to attract your attention " and I was now/then lacking most said Hair thanks to Male Pattern Baldness that set in my late 20s and now leaves much Nordic/Viking skin exposed to ..Well other people get sun burn but I get what my Local GPractioner was called by the practice Nurses to INSPECT and He Spoke saying HA Ha! This is...my local NHS practice is a TEACHING Practice... how you recognise...

" Photodermatitis, sometimes referred to as sun poisoning or photoallergy, is a form of allergic contact dermatitis in which the allergen must be activated by light to sensitize the allergic response, and to cause a rash or other systemic effects on subsequent exposure. The second and subsequent exposures produce photoallergic skin conditions which are often eczematous."


I get a special Cream...free on the NHS since I'm over 60... And also...

" Prevention includes avoiding exposure to the sun and wearing sun block on the affected area.

Cover up: wear long sleeves, slacks, and a wide-brimmed hat whenever harsh exposure is probable
Avoid chemicals that may trigger a reaction
Wear sunscreen[1][2] at least factor 30 with a high UVA protection level
Wear gloves and/or remain indoors after handling fruits or plants which increase sensitivity to light "

I am what the Vikings really looked like ... not Bloody Kirk Douglas of ' The Vikings ' fame ... and we Nordic persons are much misunderstood.

I mean, suppose you were a hard working farmer in difficult agricultural conditions who had looked forward to a holiday ... Holly not being Christian you'll understand...all through the wintertime and then you had to travel, not by Train or Plane, but by Boat -which you were required to row when the wind wasn't co-operative - you were sea sick rather than jet lagged, you were probably suffering from the in Boat catering and the toilets would be severely sub standard and if you happened to be carrying simple agricultural implements what would you do if the first person that you encountered on making land was a bloke wearing a sort of dress who claimed that there were NO Souvenirs Tourists for the acquisition of - aka GOLD - and asked you if " You had Discovered that the Lord Jesus Christ was YOUR saviour? "

Oh and your Sun Hat- aka, Helmet - was chafing something cruel?

It is upon the consequences of such simple diplomatic misunderstandings that that we Vikings desendents in the Northern reaches of the U.K. are so hard done by in folk lore! I mean, all right we did set fire to the occasional building but, well, it gets bloody cold up here you Know.

As for anonemouse ..

" If you can spare the time, SailRail is thoroughly good value. For me, getting home from Brighton to Dublin on a weekend for the price of the midweek Dublin-London flight out really illustrated this. "

The Kids of Today! Dunno they are born. In My day....

57:

And I will still use ad-block and ignore your corporate-augmented reality... :-)

58:

You already lose over 75% from a gasoline engine, so I fail to see why losing 70% is a bad thing.

That said, real world fuel cell efficiency is usually over 45% for vehicles. This isn't all that great when you take into account losses from making hydrogen in the first place, but as you point out you can get it from methane, which means this works out to a much more efficient way to use natural gas to power a car.

59:

(Its worth noting that you do *not* burn hydrogen in a fuel cell, normal hydrogen burning inefficiency does not apply).

60:

I appreciate what you say and am almost convinced. But I think there is a strong bias at the moment for going bareheaded and with the face fully exposed. I'm reminded of the furore over Jack Straw, in the privacy of his MP's surgery, asking Muslim women to remove their veils, the whoremaster.
Sunglasses do have a cachet. I like being called 'Capo' myself. But, you know, not for the presentation or the promo. People want to see your face.
I just wonder if this is one of those things which, against expectations, doesn't take off.

61:

Racism / Nationalism / prejudice etc ....
I've just come across something really, really horrible.
See this YouTube video here for a nasty suprise.
Out-&-out Nazism in Greece (a.k.a. "Golden Dawn" ) talking about "opening the ovens" euw .....

62:

For those of us who put our glasses on when we wake up in the morning and take them off only when we turn out the lights in the evening, adding a head-up display to them doesn't seem like a big step -- as long as it doesn't add to the weight or make them obtrusive.

(I'm probably not going to benefit from this, however; I have messed-up retinas and half my field of vision in my right eye is missing.)

63:

Point of fact: it's not widely known that Jack Straw is legally deaf. He's able to lip-read, but unsurprisingly this doesn't work through a veil. Hence the manufactured tabloid uproar over him asking a female constituent to unveil when she spoke to him. Normally I have no time at all for the odious Mr Straw, and I think as a leading politician he could have better anticipated how such a request would be used against him, but I don't like to see tabloid lies recirculated.

64:

My apologies. It was, of course, a ridiculous tabloid business.

65:

Thanks Charlie; my view of the Daily Wail has just hit a new all time low.

66:

I think this is more of a generational thing. Most people under the age of 25 pretty much grew up telling the time by taking a phone out of their pocket. So much so that a wristwatch seems redundant and really not that much of a disadvantage.

Having said that products like the pebble received a lot of funding on kick starter as well as a lot of preorders and apple are rumoured to be developing their own version
http://getpebble.com/

Ill be interested to see if products like this relaunch the wrist watch for the 20th century or flop because $150 dollars isn't worth the 3 seconds of time it saves.

67:

really not that much of a disadvantage.... relaunch the wrist watch for the 20th century

This should be "advantage" and "21st century". My typo rate has shot up since using an ipad :/

68:

"But I think there is a strong bias at the moment for going bareheaded"

In your part of the world, maybe, but not in my part. It has something to do with below-freezing weather, for several months.

But in addition to that many of the young have taken the habit of wearing caps all the time, everywhere, all of the year. It's some kind of fashion statement I guess. And then, you have all those older types who do work outdoors as truck drivers, farmers, etc.

So, in my part of the world integrating a wearable computer in hats/caps would make even more sense than putting it into eyeglasses.

69:

"That of course requires the purchase of large numbers of DeLoreans....."

Go back in time, and give him some funding so he doesn't get involved with coke dealing. By now the streets would be filled with DeLoreans!

70:

> tabloid

I find it fascinating that

A) Britons continue to buy tabloid papers

and

B) enough people (claim to) believe them for any politician or government agency to care


I mean, we have tabloids in the USA, like the Weekly World News or the Washington Post, but everyone pretty much discounts everything other than the latest Elvis sightings or cattle mutilation statistics.

On the other hand, if they're still able to keep their readers and stay in business when so many traditional newspapers are closing down, I guess I can't rag on them too hard.

71:

While I agree with your observations on violent terrorists, i.e. they're largely either stupid, or facing a totalitarian regime, it's the exceptions to the rule that cause the problem. The attack on Glasgow Airport was carried out by medical doctors, and only hampered by lack of training and weaponry.

There is generally (although hopefully rarely) someone who is both intelligent, and motivated towards violence. The fastest way to create them is for the state to kill one of their friends or relatives - it may not be a totalitarian regime, but it has acted (however briefly) like one. See: recruitment to the Provisional IRA after "Bloody Sunday". Another is to make them in childhood; e.g. for some people, Scottish Nationalism is an emotional rather than a rational political decision - they believe first, and look for supporting arguments second.

A different problem is when external actors start to interfere; e.g. Iran supporting various Iraqi insurgencies in the noughties, Syria and Iran in the Lebanon, Libya supporting the European terror groups in the 1970s and 1980s with equipment and training, or Afghanistan providing a training ground in the 90s. You might argue the case for the US supporting Afghan nationalists in the 1980s, Tibetans in the 1950s, or Central Americans in the 1970s. At a push, you could even point to the deluded individuals in the USA supporting the IRA through NORAID.

A further problem comes when the political movement that turned to terrorism, turns to crime for funds - clever psychopaths are attracted to local power and easy money.

Saying that "terrorism is overstated" is fine, but unfortunately I had schoolfriends missing a parent as a result of it. I know that the total number of deaths due to Irish Republican Terrorism is dwarfed by road deaths over the same period, but if you try telling a 1970s resident of Belfast that, they might well laugh in your face... (We lived in a small village outside Londonderry in the late 1970s; in two years, only three bombs went off within a mile of us, and only one nearby restaurant was regularly firebombed for not paying its protection money).

72:

The fastest way to create them is for the state to kill one of their friends or relatives - it may not be a totalitarian regime, but it has acted (however briefly) like one.

The Scottish Nationalists aren't a good example; barring one or two bampots jailed during the 1980s, they're peacefully engaged within the mainstream political process.

Vladimir Lenin, on the other hand ...

The young V. I. Ulianov was a dreamy kid who hero-worshipped his elder brother. Big bro Alexandr went to university in the big city in his late teens, fell in with a bad crowd, and was convicted and hanged in 1887.

Yeah, killing that one left/anarchist student worked out so well for the Tsarist regime in the long run, didn't it?

A further problem comes when the political movement that turned to terrorism, turns to crime for funds

See also Joseph Stalin. That's how he got his start.

I know that the total number of deaths due to Irish Republican Terrorism is dwarfed by road deaths over the same period,

Only over the entire UK. In NI, the Troubles caused a much higher death toll as a per-capita percentage of population. (At its peak, equivalent to around 8,500 people per year for the UK -- or expressed in US terms, imagine if terrorists were killing 40,000 Americans a year, every year -- a 9/11 every month.)

73:

Have a look at these things, which seem to be slowly condensing from vapourware. They look like particularly chunky and unstylish versions of the thick square glasses that were the fashion ~5 years ago (so people have already demonstrated willingness to wear similar), and seem both much more useful and more socially acceptable than other glasses-based display tech (other devices are either retinal displays (a point-source you have to stare straight into to see) or pass-through video devices that completely hide the user's eyes).
The company that's developing them makes helmet-mounted HUDs for the Israeli military; so they're possibly not just milking VCs, and have proven ability with the technology.

74:

Ironically, I was reading the Wikipedia article on Vlad's brother yesterday. See also the treatment of those who took part in the Easter Rising of 1916, and as the joke goes "where would Christianity be if Jesus had got five to ten with time off for good behaviour?"

My comment about the SNP (less the nutters of Seed of the Gael) was intended as a safe and uncontroversial? way to illustrate the willingness to make head somehow follow heart, and refusal to change opinion, of those who "Truly Believe". Rather like asking someone to change which football team they support, or their religion...

75:

Have a look at these things, which seem to be slowly condensing from vapourware.

Oh, yes, lovely! They're not quite ready for prime time, but the basic idea is there. Some really horrible prototypes have been lugged around in the last 30 years, but these are something that could plausibly be worn on the street without neck strain or making other pedestrians gawk at you. Not a mature technology, no - but remember the first "brick" mobile phones?

I notice no word on battery life; we can expect it to be rubbish on the early models. Also, if it gets a gestural interpreter like the Kinect the user interfaces could be really effective.

76:

gravelbelly22
Easier to change religion than footie team, I think!
look at the two-way traffic between those mirror-image & mutually hating religions of communism & the RC .....
Better, but (maybe?) harder, to step "off the religion road" altogether & become an atheist or agnostic.

77:

Interesting thing about mobiles, they're not mobiles any more. Best feature of my phone? That I can read books on it. Worst feature? People can phone me up and talk to me. Did you not see the green light? What do you think the green light means? Available to chat. Why are you phoning me?

Uh, I don't actually say this.

78:

Considering I started trying to figure out how to do eye-tracking from muscle movements soon after coming across these, I had similar thoughts. ",)

79:
I notice no word on battery life; we can expect it to be rubbish on the early models. Also, if it gets a gestural interpreter like the Kinect the user interfaces could be really effective.

Have you seen this? It would be nice if, unlike so many other wrinkles this one pans out, but that's not my real point.

The big problem is not energy generation (try to explain this one to the anti-nuke crowd), it's energy storage. Want an 20th-century-style change-the-world type of invention? A better battery. Something the size of a brick that holds enough energy to drive a mid-sized auto 500 miles on a full charge. And cheap of, course. With that kind of battery tech, you not only get some decent wearable/phone/laptop performance, you get Energy Too Cheap To Meter; just charge your batteries up at the windfarm/tidal plant/solar station and ship 'em out on the same trucks that used to haul gas.

Now, as little as five years ago I would have said basic physics rules this sort of performance out for a long, long time - crudely put, batteries are area-dependent devices as opposed to volume dependent. In fact, I've said that you'd have to have some serious nanotech before such a thing is possible, something that wouldn't happen for decades if not centuries. Guess what?

I was wrong :-)

Or I hope I am. If you can do nanoscale features like this in bulk, I'd say you're at least 80% of the way there to that magic battery. I'm crossing my fingers.

80:
Worst feature? People can phone me up and talk to me. Did you not see the green light? What do you think the green light means? Available to chat. Why are you phoning me?

Why do I get the impression that you're maybe half my age :-) My daughter - now 18 - had to school me about three years back on this one. My faux pas, was wasting thirty seconds of her time with a voice call about when she wanted me to pick her up and at what exit. You text or chat for something like that. Voice calls are for friends. And you're not a friend, you're a dad, Dad. Well, now I know better. But I'm an old guy, set in my ways; I still much prefer talking to texting, even if the message is as brief and mundane as 'pick up cat food and toilet paper on the way home.'

More seriously, watches are nice for when you need to check the time with just a glance, a sort of specialty tool you might say. This is essential when teaching or giving a presentation in a room with no obvious clock (Those big round institutional clocks are becoming a rarity on campus; no replacements are made available for these relics when they finally fail.) Since my modus operandi is to pace up and down twenty feet of white board, pulling out my phone or walking over to the computer to check my pacing is not optimal.

Also, for us runners, the watch is just a leetle easier to manage than a phone. Even if the phone has some fancy-dancy app for giving splits, pace, etc. OTOH, a phone works better than a watch as a lap counter. Ergonomics strikes again.

81:

I'm in my late twenties, and it's even worse: phone calls are for very time-dependent stuff ("I've pulled up to the door, you'd better be out in 30 seconds" level) and "business engagements". The only people I've spoken to on the phone in a month are my ISP's customer service dept.

82:

SoV @ 79
Something the size of a brick that holds enough energy to drive a mid-sized auto 500 miles on a full charge. And cheap of, course.
These already exist, but they are called "High Explosive" or sometimes, BOMBS.

Do the sums - that's the energy-equivalent of 100-120 litres of 4-star petrol, when optimally mixed with air to burn/explode.

Be very careful what you wish for, you might get it.

83:

No, nope, negative. Energy density of gasoline and high explosives is comparable.

84:

You don't need a better battery if (say ten years from now) you have ubiquitous multipurpose sensors in objects all around you. The same ubiquitous sensor tech that would make robot cars possible would also make by-the-fly induction charging possible. Your chargeable object (watch, phone, anything) would always know where and when to ask you to make contact with an induction charging point for a few seconds or a few minutes. It would also be in constant conversation with those points who would detect it at all times thanks to the ubiquitous sensors.

85:

TNT has about tenth of the energy density of gasoline.

I think his point was though that such method of storage would be very dangerous. A brick sized thing equivalent to a ton of TNT, that's well in the pocket nuke territory.

86:

>> A brick sized thing equivalent to a ton of TNT, that's well in the pocket nuke territory.

It's not just in the territory, it can ONLY be a device based on nuclear physics or beyond.

87:

.... furhermore, if properly mixed, as in "fuel-air explosions" you can get a really horrendous explosion with simple liquid fuels.
I believe the USAF have such - I've forgotten the name - is it "MOAB" ??

88:

As long as it is not prone to spontaneous or accident related bangs, how dangerous it is if misused is completely meaningless. There are already a surfeit of ways to kill in the world, adding another to the number is of no consequence.

89:

Getting back onto the topic of Africa, I'll throw one weird prediction into the 30-year bucket: Maquiladoras or their equivalent in the Sahel.

Here's the deal. While it's uncertain with our current global warming scheme, in past altithermals, the Sahara has greened up. Being on the northern edge of the Sahara (eg the Mediterranean) sucks, because the area becomes more desertified (as will the SW US), but the tropical edge of the Sahara may well get a lot more rain.

So, if we combine an area of economic growth with moderating weather and abundant sunshine, we get an area that's poised for economic growth in a few decades. It's possible that, 30 years from now, Timbuktu will be investing massive amounts of money in preserving its classic mud brick architecture from the rains, using the money gained from whatever they are manufacturing at that point.

It's a weird scenario, but one to hope for. The more vegetation we have in the tropics, the more it can transpire and make tropical clouds. These are more reflective than desert sands, and water vapor's a good way to move heat away from the equatorial regions....

90:

Hold on - you have gaseous hydrocarbon venting directly into your kitchen (and possibly living room) without a safety interlock other than "you turned it on, now remember to ignite it"...

You regularly drive two tons of metal four feet from another lump of metal, with a closing speed of sixty miles an hour, without a safety interlock other than a white line painted down the middle of the road...

You have the average kitchen containing enough ingredients to flatten a house using a fuel-air explosion (flour is good)...

And you're worried that someone might turn the battery into a bomb.

91:

Want an 20th-century-style change-the-world type of invention? A better battery. Something the size of a brick that holds enough energy to drive a mid-sized auto 500 miles on a full charge. And cheap of, course. With that kind of battery tech, you not only get some decent wearable/phone/laptop performance, you get Energy Too Cheap To Meter; just charge your batteries up at the windfarm/tidal plant/solar station and ship 'em out on the same trucks that used to haul gas.

Now, as little as five years ago I would have said basic physics rules this sort of performance out for a long, long time - crudely put, batteries are area-dependent devices as opposed to volume dependent. In fact, I've said that you'd have to have some serious nanotech before such a thing is possible, something that wouldn't happen for decades if not centuries. Guess what?

I was wrong :-)

I am curious what nanostructured systems might achieve such energy density. The capacitor of the gods?

If you could use atmospheric oxygen to turn a brick of solid boron, say a liter, to electricty at 100% efficiency and with negligible supporting apparatus, you could take an electric vehicle about 200 kilometers (about .75 MJ per kilometer, 138 MJ from the brick). This is the upper limit that chemistry can offer. A flywheel made from defect-free carbon nanotubes might do slightly better, but not after you include the mass of the protective housing.

I agree that energy storage is the bit that determines whether renewables run rampant or account for a more modest fraction of future energy use. I don't think extreme energy density is really needed. Electric vehicles would sell like hot cakes if battery costs plunged over the next decade like photovoltaic costs did over the past decade, and this is not ruled out a priori by chemistry or physics. Making the batteries cheaper is certainly a much greater spur to sales than making them smaller, at least for stationary use or land transportation.

Long-distance electric transmission accounts for only a tiny fraction of energy costs, even with renewables, so I think it's perfectly fine to transmit distant electricity to local batteries instead of shipping pre-charged batteries. We have cheap renewable generation in at least some places. We have affordable electric transmission. Someone please produce a battery with performance similar to today's Li-ion but with 1/4 the cost and thrice the longevity.

92:

Remember that you don't just need energy density on your super-battery, you need a quick recharge time. For electric cars, one that can be recharged quickly will beat one that goes twice as far but needs to be plugged in all night. If you could find an affordable battery that would recharge as quickly as we can pour gas into a car now, extending the range-per-charge wouldn't be nearly as important.

93:
Self driving vehicles — Initially it will be like cruise control, something you can turn on or off at will.

Actually, I would expect the opposite — in the initial applications, turning it off will be rare or not done at all.

* The disabled — in particular, those whose disability prevents them from driving safely (and/or legally). In that situation, turning it off is simply inapplicable. In many countries, this application might be easier get through the regulations, as a disability aid, and the users will likely also appreciate the technology.

* Goods transport — the most expensive part of a truck going down the road is the driver. In this case there isn't even a person in the vehicle (and possibly there isn't even a cabin); manual driving might be used at the depots, or it might not. This application has substantial financial incentives, although there will also be powerful interests against it; perhaps a massive transport workers' strike...

Sure, there will be applications like the travelling sales reps, who may be in a position to take over when they feel like driving, but mostly they probably won't. For one thing, during working hours they're expected to be working, not driving. They won't have a steering wheel, they'll have keyboard and screen in front of them.

The same, I suspect, for everyone else when it reaches wide adoption — keyboard and screen, whether you're catching up on work, friends or cat videos.

Finally, I expect that people who like driving will be able to get manual cars for decades, probably until they either become too old to drive or until they accumulate too many demerit points. Certainly in 30 years they will still be around.

94:

Quick recharge time is itself dangerous.

Posit an electric car with a 50kW power system (one horsepower = 0.74kW, so that's about 70hp -- hardly a Bugatti) and a range of 200km. At cruising speed that's two hours. If you want to recharge in 30 minutes, that means you need a 200kW charging system, which is quite a lot of energy; 200kJ per second is equivalent to the energy released by roughly two ounces of TNT (on the order of 50 grams) each second.

It's a lousy energy transfer rate compared to pumping petrol or diesel, because those are very high energy-density fuels. But it's still problematic. Given that it typically takes 5 minutes to refuel a petrol burning car -- most of which is time spent queueing up to pay, rather than pumping -- I'd expect an electric charging station on a highway to have about 20-100 charging stations. So it's going to be drawing up to 20MW from the grid, or roughly as much as a thousand households.

Someone's going to be installing a lot of high tension cables and switchgear, by and by ...

95:

Driverless vehicles, OK, and I am sure we can think of other drivers doing f--king stupid things.

Everyone using their vehicle as a mobile, internet-connected, office? I have my doubts that there will ever be enough bandwidth. There's a local town, within two miles of a motorway, about 6000 population, which has lousy mobile phone coverage. Voice is patchy and data has no chance. Even on the motorway, connections drop two or three times in a ten-mile stretch.

96:

A quick recharge of a large battery will generate quite a bit of heat and waste power and it will also shorten its overall life. They are fussy feeders at the best of times with the charge controllers tuned to never fill them to 100% of rated capacity and the drive controllers angsting about draining them past the 20% mark unless really "get you home at all costs" necessary.

There are fast-charge batteries out there, usually based around an iron electrochemistry, which can survive being charged from 20% to 80% in five minutes for thousands of cycles but they're bulky and heavy for the capacity they provide and so they're not much use for electric cars but great for golf carts, forklifts etc.

97:

Long-distance power transmission is actually quite rare as it's lossy, wasting energy. The national grids of various countries are there to balance power between generators and consumers, not move it around en masse except in specific cases where the electricity being generated is so cheap (like hydro) that the losses are acceptable. It's a bit like the US interstate system where it is possible to drive from, say, Seattle to Miami but nearly all trips involve much shorter distances.

Widespread renewable generators with intermittent and/or cyclic capacity will absolutely require long-distance transmission of power as the generators local to a major consumption sink like a city can't be relied upon to have the uptime of a thermal power station. Some analyses of the required grid needs for Germany, for example, suggest they will have to spend about 40 billion Euros upgrading their existing grid to cope with their plans to make solar and wind renewables a major part of their generating capacity, i.e. about 20% or so (including hydro, trash burning etc.) with the rest being generated by fossil carbon. Going 100% renewable would cost them five times that amount for new grid infrastructure and that's for a contiguous and relatively compact country.

98:

"Getting back onto the topic of Africa, I'll throw one weird prediction into the 30-year bucket: Maquiladoras or their equivalent in the Sahel."

Nothing weird about that prediction, dear boy!

In fact, it already appears to be coming true:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/15/opinion/africa-manufacturing-hub

I would hesitate before claiming that this means that everything is going to be alright though. . . In fact, it is likely to raise new points of conflict and dissension in African politics. All history is the history of class struggle, as our other uncle Charlie taught us, after all.

As for a wetter West Africa, well Sierra Leone is already the wettest country in the region, and the rainy season keeps getting longer. . .

99:
I am curious what nanostructured systems might achieve such energy density. The capacitor of the gods?
If you could use atmospheric oxygen to turn a brick of solid boron, say a liter, to electricty at 100% efficiency and with negligible supporting apparatus, you could take an electric vehicle about 200 kilometers (about .75 MJ per kilometer, 138 MJ from the brick). This is the upper limit that chemistry can offer.

No, just chemistry, and that's on the order of magnitude of the performance I was thinking of. Your brick is also about the same size as mine; well, within an order of magnitude :-) But really, a thousand cubic centimeters of battery material that gets you 200 kilometers of range is really quite fantastic performance when you think about it.

The point I was trying to make is that once the energy density of batteries approaches that of hydrocarbon fuels (and I'm not saying this will happen, mind; I just linked to a pop-sciency article that suggests the prerequisite tech is not quite as pie-in-the-sky as I once thought), it becomes reasonable to ship energy around in the instantiation of 'batteries on trucks'. Which is pretty much the same way as shipping energy around in the instantiation of 'gasoline on trucks'.

Once you get that part, the primary objection to 'alternative energy' - that it's too intermittent and unreliable to serve a community's base load needs - goes away. Germany could go totally solar by locating plants in, say, northern Africa and shipping the product in battery form. Which, again, is not conceptually different from converting solar energy to the chemical energy stored in hydrocarbons and moving it around in the usual way, that is to say, by truck or tanker.

100:
Given that it typically takes 5 minutes to refuel a petrol burning car -- most of which is time spent queueing up to pay, rather than pumping -- I'd expect an electric charging station on a highway to have about 20-100 charging stations. So it's going to be drawing up to 20MW from the grid, or roughly as much as a thousand households.
Someone's going to be installing a lot of high tension cables and switchgear, by and by ...

So what happens here in the Good 'ol U. S. of A. (I don't know the situation in other countries) is that all the extra wiring for this expanded capacity will be installed above-ground. Which, given the growing severity of our weather, will be knocked out with increasing frequency as well. The new kick in the pants here is, downed lines mean that when electric vehicles run out low on juice, there won't be any refills. So there will be a lot less mobility (and in an emergency situation) than in the past when the tanker trucks still rolled and you could always refill at the local station when you started running low on gas.

101:

Your "magic batteries" already exist. They're called uranium fuel rod pellets. Uranium ore is mined in Australia, West Africa, Canada and elsewhere, converted into yellowcake and shipped to France, Britain, America where it is used to produce lots of CO2-free electricity. Problem solved!

102:

"So what happens here in the Good 'ol U. S. of A. (I don't know the situation in other countries) is that all the extra wiring for this expanded capacity will be installed above-ground. Which, given the growing severity of our weather, will be knocked out with increasing frequency as well."

Not necessarily.

If you have cars doing inductive charging (from a side wire as proposed by Ford or from under the pavement) while they are rolling under robot control (to position the vehicle exactly above the inductive cable or position its charging arm exactly next to it) then you don't need to spend anything on charging stations and you can put the money on burying the cables under or to the side of the freeway.

Also, you never need to stop to fill up.

103:

Good to know. Given the general history of places like, oh, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, I don't expect prosperity to necessarily bring peace.

I do, however, expect prosperity to bring cultural awareness. For example, we'll see broader recognition of ex-pat communities, more African restaurants (an existing trend), likely even an African martial arts craze in a decade or so (already happening, at least in South Africa). Pangas may be the katanas of the sizzling 20s.

As for places like Sierra Leone, what I'd love to see is designers working explicitly in the hot, wet tropics. That's the future, after all, and much of western civilization doesn't work very well there. Again, we're already seeing that. To pick one random example, outboard motors for the Amazon and Philippines don't look anything like those for the Mississippi, but they work in those conditions. However, we need to figure out cost-effective electrical and informational infrastructure in places that flood out every year or two. It's a doable challenge, but one that we haven't really engaged in yet.

104:

I'd suggest, instead of charging stations, that what is needed are changing stations, where station attendants swap out batteries (I'm thinking of the nascar pit crew model here, probably with a jack and dolly system to move and install the batteries). While I wouldn't entirely power the car off the swap, I'd suggest that, like a laptop, having a way of paying for battery backups could make electrical cars much more palatable, especially on interstate corridors.

Yes, there are still major issues of moving the electrical load to the recharge points. On the other hand, having swap-out batteries available in large numbers would enable the development of a electrical "sneaker-net" that would be extremely useful in disasters, as well as in balancing out national electrical loads. For example, if some part of the country is experiencing a heat wave and surplus battery power, they can charge batteries, load them onto trains, and ship them where they're needed. You can also use them to power homes, especially in areas where the grid has been destroyed by storms.

105:

The company Better Place - which uses the battery-changing model - is mentioned upthread. I discussed some reasons why it's not an ideal one; for the pro side, their former CEO gave a TED talk.

106:

When we have figured out how to tap into the quantum foam for energy, all this genuinely excellent discussion will like the discussions in the 1800s about the limits on city size due to the inability to cart all the horse dung out past the city limits. (Because if the edge of the city is too far from the city, the horses pulling the carts drop as much along the way as they take out.)
To put it another way, what would happen if we trained all the people who have the capacity and interests for science then really turned them loose on our root problems?

107:

The engineers would fall even further behind in getting this stuff into a usable state than they are now. :-)

108:

Well, but in this case, I ask myself if it might not be more prudent to keep the bulk of the battery in the car and just change the carrier of the chemical energy. And save weight by using athmospheric oxygen as one part of the electrochemical system. Which would bring us back to fuel cells.

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

As for the actual fuel, the chemical energy could come from electricity or plants, yes, biofuel is wasting resources, but also from sewage. I always thought giving the microbes there a free lunch was wasting precious resources, too.

Wich leaves of with the actual carrier; hydrogen is out, methanol might be an option, but personally, I'd try to use ethanol, especially since our biochemistry has this thing with C2-bodies (CoA, anyone?), which might bring in sewage and photosynthesis quite easily.

And then, why should we use energy storage after all? I once saw a proposal for a two-tier system, IIRC, for short distances, it used a battery or like, while for longer ones, the car hooked up to a railway-like structure which AFAIR also provided electricity through a conductor. A way might be a general speed limit and a three-lane system, where the fastest lane is only for cars on autopilot using the highest speed and having the rail adaptor. That would solve both the energy storage and autopilot problems. It would also help with highway finances, since you could put a little extra on the electricity used, which would still be cheaper than carrying a heavy battery.

Problem is, for this to happen, there'd have to be a dominance of e-cars or hybrids before. And there should be some international coordination, else we'd be in for similar fun as with railway gauges.

109:

When we have figured out how to tap into the quantum foam for energy,

As I understand it it is impossible to use vacuum energy to do work (which is what I assume you are proposing)

all this genuinely excellent discussion will like the discussions in the 1800s about the limits on city size due to the inability to cart all the horse dung out past the city limits. (Because if the edge of the city is too far from the city, the horses pulling the carts drop as much along the way as they take out.)

Technology advances in increments. You aren't going to get that fancy new paradigm of travel out of the blue fully formed. All avenues have to be explored and whilst some might turn out to be dead ends you never know where the next big thing is going to come from. Don't be so disparaging about improving on what we have know using what is plausible.

To put it another way, what would happen if we trained all the people who have the capacity and interests for science then really turned them loose on our root problems?

I'm sure we'd make a lot more breakthroughs but there's no such thing as a free lunch. The funding for all those scientists and their projects has to come from somewhere and those other fields are going to suffer.

110:

We'd be in for a visit by the Auditors of Reality for violating the laws of thermodynamics? SCNR, but using energy from the quantum foam somewhat reminds me of a perpetual motion machine of the second kind. Though I might be mistaken, since thermodynamics on a quantum scale is tricky, still, I'm somewhat sceptical.

To lighten this somewhat up, I yesterday talked to a guy about a RPG session with physicists. When leaving the EVIL OVERLORD's lair through a portal, they decided to open another portal in the lair. To the bottom of the ocean.

He added that according to some preliminary calculations the resulting fountain reached a height of about 200 metres. And my observation that a perpetual motion machine of the first kind would topple the whole social structure in the usual fantasy setting where even a windmill would be a major technological game-changer was duly noted.

On the battery front, IMHO we could get an upper limit of chemical energy with ionization energies. If we go by the examples given, this is more than 4 numbers of magnitude below nuclear fission of uranium. For the interval, well, OGH in "A tall tail" proposed a nuclear isomer of mercury to boost a nuclear weapon; isomers are in this interval, and they can be created by irradiating normal nuclei with gamma rays. Some of these are even more stable than the original nuclei, like 180mTa, where no decay has been witnessed till today, while 180Ta has quite a short half life. Interestingly, if you irradiate it with x-ray you can force it to decay, and it was tried to get a nuclear battery you could turn on or of through irradiating 190mTa, problem is you have to put in more energy into the 180mTa than you get by the decay of it. But maybe there are other isomers. Any ideas for applications? Building a gamma laser out of this should be fun. ;)

111:

When we have figured out how to tap into the quantum foam for energy...

What Ryan said. First, we don't know how. Secondly, there's no reason to think it's possible and several suggesting it's not. Third, for philosophers, there's a few reasons for hoping it's impossible.

If you're still interested, you might start reading here.

112:

"And then, why should we use energy storage after all? I once saw a proposal for a two-tier system, IIRC, for short distances, it used a battery or like, while for longer ones, the car hooked up to a railway-like structure which AFAIR also provided electricity through a conductor. A way might be a general speed limit and a three-lane system, where the fastest lane is only for cars on autopilot using the highest speed and having the rail adaptor. That would solve both the energy storage and autopilot problems.

Problem is, for this to happen, there'd have to be a dominance of e-cars or hybrids before. And there should be some international coordination, else we'd be in for similar fun as with railway gauges."

Exactly!

What you are describing is called a dual-mode PRT (personal transit system) and there have been plans, very serious plans, for this going back to the 1960s! It was feasible back then with the limited computer power they had. But there was always the vexing question on having to pick standards for ALL cars getting onto it and then building the infrastructure.

This is one case where Wikipedia has a fairly good article (on PRT systems) but shows a terrible bias in that it favors single mode system (vehicle always on track or pathway) as opposed to dual mode ones.

113:

My apologies for disparaging. I respect all these efforts and am grateful for the quality of discussion here. It gets beyond both tin-foil agendas and pro-status quo biases.
What I am really trying to get at is that if we organized our societies in a different way (in my eyes, a better way), we could back these efforts more.
And yes, under the currently existing system, pouring effort into one area would deprive another. But what if organized society so that we poured efforts into all good research areas? Yes, that means spending a lot more on education and paying a lot of scientists and researchers and teachers instead of having them become lawyers or bankers on the one hand or not getting a proper education on the other hand. Educating _everyone_ to their full capacity and willingness and really putting them to use. Yes this would cost an enormous amount. But I am convinced that the productivity of what would come out of it would be so huge that it would be worth the investment.
Right now, research is basically organized around the needs of existing institutions, both corporate and academic. And we use education as a weapon against each other. I am saying we could do better than that.
And yes, the kind of change I am pointing at would involve changing almost everything.

114:

If the grid of roads that sold power to vehicles was dense enough, the distance you would need to be able to go on batteries could be quite short, except way out in the countryside.
Also, if vehicles were electric and auto-piloted, perhaps we could make them much smaller and efficient but connectable. Drive to work weekdays in basically a single seat on wheels. For weekends, connect it to something larger.
Or even don't have private cars but more like a very elaborate mass transit system with private compartments. And when you get it, it reads your preferences and changes the interior decoration display, audio/video feeds and the like to what you like. So it feels like it is yours.

115:

Well, the unknown unknowns...

I think I speak not only for myself if I assure you that quite a lot of the reaction was not so much for posing a genuinely stupid question (I would stop on saying there are no stupid questions, but still, I think their number is quite small. Err, and no, you were not with them.) but for the fact that vacuum energy is for discussions on energy sources what Operation Sea Lion (planned invasion of the UK by Germany in WWII) is for discussions on alternate history and WWII; it's somewhat logical to ask about it, so there have been quite some discussions about it, most in the know think it's impossible, everybody is a little tired about it, but for somebody new it's still logical to ask about it, so the thing keeps popping up. Plus even if most people agree it's impossible, there are still some misunderstood geniuses/cranks[1] out there who think it possible. Don't feel intimidated, if you don't persist in your errors, it's all OK. And if you persist in your errors, or we in ours, you better have some damn good arguments.

That being said, experience has shown that this blog and its commentariat have some veritable "strange attractors" that threads, especially if they are somewhat long, tend to home in on. The example that springs to mind is history of aircrafts, but there are some other ones. I guess you'll recognize it if you see it. These things are like beer or caffeine; some of it spices discussions and is even necessary for some of us(come to think about it, where is my tea), too much leads to random mobs running around, singing inspirational songs or engaging in solipsistic arguments.

TLDR, welcome to the commentariat, comrade.

As for the idae of a redesigned knowledge society, while I think the idea of a broad education for everyone a very worthwhile enterprise, I guess results'd be somewhat mixed. On the one hand, I guess we'd get more everyday applications of cutting edge technologies (e.g. 3D printing etc.). On the other, IMHO scientific progress often follows a sigmoidal curve, where quite a lot of the singularity hype is due to the fact we're quite early on it in some areas. So even if we'd put all resources to the front, so to speak, we might only get limited results. The main developments might be with application of known facts, not so much with generation of new facts.

And then, there are some physical laws that seem too tested and important to toss away, though, well, sometimes we're surprised. CP violation, anyone?

[1] See "freedom fighter/terrorist" for problems with classification in some cases.

116:

Maybe looking at the history of containers is worthwhile; AFAIR, there were quite some competing standards, till a big subscriber, the USian military, IIRC, insisted on one form factor.

In this case, some major logistics contractor might help. Since road pricing is somewhat controversial in some areas, road operators would be quite happy to provide appropiately priced electricity, I guess.

117:

I must admit that I hadn't realized that the tapping into quantum foam energy thing was such a "been there, done that" (or more precisely ("been there, done "its impossible""). Useful for me to find out what has been discussed so when I write fiction, I am not reinventing the wheel too much.
I am pretty much assuming that neither private property nor state property will be able to fully unleash a knowledge economy*. That it will require a post-scarcity economy. And that economy/society itself and also the process of getting there will require us to change so much as individuals that it is quite difficult to predict how a genuine knowledge economy will move forward. I would very much like to find out. I doubt I will live long enough this time to find out. If any one alive now lives long enough to find out, we will be doing OK.

*I am not saying that either has to be completely abolished. Just neither can function well enough as the core, the social default mode, so to speak.

118:

1. Thorughly enjoyable and thought provoking.

2. Why don't you give TED talks?

3. You mentioned scientists artificially sequencing the DNA of small pox. That reminds me of one of the scenarios proposed by Bill Joy in his essy years ago in Wired magazine, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us". Between someone working up a nasty upgrade of small pox in their home genetics lab for fun, and most jobs being eliminated by computers - are you saying the Joy was right?

119:

Another headline reminding us that The Future is now five minutes ago, a sleazy cafe in Seattle banned google glasses. The owner describes his own place as "seedy," so maybe we don't want to go there anyway.

120:

What I am really trying to get at is that if we organized our societies in a different way (in my eyes, a better way), we could back these efforts more.
And yes, under the currently existing system, pouring effort into one area would deprive another. But what if organized society so that we poured efforts into all good research areas? Yes, that means spending a lot more on education and paying a lot of scientists and researchers and teachers instead of having them become lawyers or bankers on the one hand or not getting a proper education on the other hand.

Or instead of having them become programmers? A few years ago, I freelanced for a consultancy that tested cerain items of client companies' equipment. One of their deliverables was a report summarising the test results. In their first incarnation, these reports were black-and-white PDF files using two well-known fonts and a simple layout. Like this blog. Easy to read, no frills, no fuss.

Then they called in a graphic designer. Then they called in me. I was to hack the report generator so that its output matched the designer's styling. This dictated that we use fonts not generally available on Windows, tables whose row spacings differed from paragraph to paragraph, line spacings that did likewise, and some other things that I shan't mention.

This took a month or two of my time, and about a quarter of that time from two other programmers. End result: prettier information, but no extra information. Now multiply that by similar efforts going on all over the computer-using world: most-recently, all the restyling effort going to make software usable on computing devices with ridiculously tiny screens. Wouldn't it be better if all these programmers were researching into anti-ageing science?


121:

Third, for philosophers, there's a few reasons for hoping it's impossible.

I once read an Analog short story about the irreparable damage that one kind of faster-than-light travel might do to the Universe. It's called
An Ever-Reddening Glow, and Google tells me that it's by David Brin and there's a copy here. Perhaps, at least for the purposes of science fiction, quantum-foam wave power might cause similar damage.

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