Celebrate our bright future on New Year’s eve!

Reposted from the Fabius Maximus website.

Posted by Larry Kummer, Editor

Summary: Amidst the gloom that blankets America, there is evidence that a discontinuity in history approaches – a technological singularity. It could blow away many of today’s problems. Let this help dispel our fears and give us cause to celebrate. In the New Year, we can begin to prepare for what is coming.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
— Attributed to Charles H. Duell, Director of US Patent Office 1898-1901. The quote is as false as the idea it expresses.

Door to the Future - Dreamstime-159868760

ID 159868760 © 9194202 | Dreamstime.

Wonders might await us that we cannot even imagine, just as the people of 1850 could not imagine the world of 1950. The rate of economic growth will accelerate, bringing more security and prosperity to the world. Pollution as we know it will be almost gone by 2100. The world will become a garden again as the population crashes. In the 22nd century we can repair the damage done in the 21st as the world’s population grew to 10 or 12 billion. Our next big challenge will be managing the political and social disruptions created by the coming new technologies.

Humanity rose by creating singularities

History, from the Serengeti Plains to the Apollo moon landings, is a series of singularities. Fire gave us power over the environment. Agriculture gave us control over our food supply. Writing allowed better accumulation of knowledge across generations. The industrial revolutionn broke us free from the Malthusian limits on our population and wealth.

Each singularity took us into an unknowable future. For a fun illustration of this see “Early Holocene Sci-fi” by Pat Mathews.

Shaman:  I have foreseen a time when everybody can have all the meat, fat, and sweet stuff they can eat, and they all get fat.

Chief:        You have had a vision of the Happy Hunting Grounds.

Shaman:  It is considered a great and horrible problem! People go out of their way to eat leaves and grass and grains, and work very hard to look lean and brown.

Chief:        You’ve been eating too many of those strange mushrooms, and are seeing everything backward.

Singularity Eye

The singularity that just ended

“The Singularity has happened. We call it ‘the industrial revolution’ or ‘the long nineteenth century.’ It was over by the close of 1918. Exponential yet basically unpredictable growth of technology, rendering long-term extrapolation impossible (even when attempted by geniuses). Check. Massive, profoundly dis-orienting transformation in the life of humanity, extending to our ecology, mentality and social organization? Check. Annihilation of the age-old constraints of space and time? Check.”

— “The Singularity in Our Past Light-Cone” by Cosma Shalizi (Assoc. Prof of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon).

Industrial revolutions do not just solve problems. They make them irrelevant – to be replaced by the problems of a more stable and prosperous world. Each is a leap forward followed by a period of consolidation.

An industrial revolution began in 1700 (to pick an arbitrary date) and ended with WWII. Its momentum boosted per capita GDP in the developed nations through the 1960s. Few noticed it ending. Even in the 1960’s people expected a future of rapid technological progress. But all we got was the manned space program (an expensive trip to nowhere) and the supersonic transport (a premature technology), and radical but narrow changes in communication and computers.

Few predicted this slowdown. One who did was the great physicist Albert Abraham Michelson in Lights waves and their uses (1902). People laughed, but time has shown it as more right than wrong.

“The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote. …Many instances might be cited, but these will suffice to justify the statement that ‘our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.’”

Now the slowing is obvious. The productivity of research – the engine of progress – is slowing as ever more resources are devoted to it (see this NBER paper). See this dismal graph from “Are ideas getting harder to find?“, a 2017 NBER paper by Nicholas Bloom et al. More evidence: growth in total factor productivity peaked in the 1940s, despite the skyrocketing number of researchers. We press the gas pedal ever harder, but the car does not accelerate. Click to enlarge the graph.

Economic growth vs. the productivity of research

Looking at the bottom line, US economic growth has been slowing since the 1970s, as has that of the other developed nations. Many books describe this, such as these.

A new singularity looms ahead

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

Available at Amazon.

Each year gives more evidence that a singularity lies in our near future, a discontinuity in history that ends our current tech stagnation. We can only guess at what it might bring.

Space travel can bring a vast increase in resources. In the distant future, planetary engineering might make us independent of Earth’s vicissitudes.

Genetic engineering can liberate humanity from random evolution, bringing the freedom to shape ourselves.

New energy sources, such as fusion can provide ample clean power for a growing world. It has reached a new milestone, as private capital moves in.

New industrial methods are coming. Such as learning the mysteries of catalytic chemistry. Our bodies do near-miraculous chemical processes at room temperature. This will also transform agriculture into a more eco-friendly cornucopia.

Semi-intelligent computers (aka “artificial Intelligence”) can supplement our minds, just as machines supplemented brawn – boosting productivity and hence economic growth. In the more distant future, perhaps they will end our solitude and free us from limitations of biological intelligence.

A longer vital lifespan can change humanity in ways we cannot imagine. In George Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah, longer vital lifespans are the key to a better society (people of the future see the past as a wreck because everything was run by “children”). Vital life is key, to avoid becoming Struldbruggs – the senile, decrepit immortals in Gulliver’s Travels.

These are only plausible innovations. Who knows what we might achieve in the future?

What is a singularity?

There are many different concepts of a singularity, some contradictory. A key aspect is that we cannot see through a singularity in the physical universe (e.g., a black hole). Its first mention was by the great John von Neumann (1903-57), paraphrased by Stanislaw Ulam (BAMS, 1958).

“One conversation centered on the ever-accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.”

The public learned about it from Vernor Vinge’s 1986 book Marooned in Realtime, which described a wondrous future in which the rate of technological progress accelerates – eventually going vertical – after which the humanity leaves for a higher plane of existence. He gave a more detailed explanation in his 1993 essay, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era.

There are several kinds of technological singularity, described in this excerpt from “Three Major Singularity Schools” by AI researcher Eliezer S. Yudkowsky.

“Singularity discussions seem to be splitting up into three major schools of thought: Accelerating Change, the Event Horizon, and the Intelligence Explosion. The thing about these three logically distinct schools of Singularity thought is that while all three core claims support each other, all three strong claims tend to contradict each other.

Accelerating Change.

Core claim: Our intuitions about change are linear; we expect roughly as much change as has occurred in the past over our own lifetimes. But technological change feeds on itself, and therefore accelerates. Change today is faster than it was 500 years ago, which in turn is faster than it was 5000 years ago. Our recent past is not a reliable guide to how much change we should expect in the future.

Strong claim: Technological change follows smooth curves, typically exponential. Therefore we can predict with fair precision when new technologies will arrive, and when they will cross key thresholds, like the creation of Artificial Intelligence.

Advocates: Ray Kurzweil, Alvin Toffler (?), John Smart.

Event Horizon.

Core claim: For the last hundred thousand years, humans have been the smartest intelligences on the planet. All our social and technological progress was produced by human brains. Shortly, technology will advance to the point of improving on human intelligence (brain-computer interfaces, Artificial Intelligence). This will create a future that is weirder by far than most science fiction, a difference-in-kind that goes beyond amazing shiny gadgets.

Strong claim: To know what a superhuman intelligence would do, you would have to be at least that smart yourself. To know where Deep Blue would play in a chess game, you must play at Deep Blue’s level. Thus the future after the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence is absolutely unpredictable.

Advocates: Vernor Vinge.

Intelligence Explosion.

Core claim: Intelligence has always been the source of technology. If technology can significantly improve on human intelligence – create minds smarter than the smartest existing humans – then this closes the loop and creates a positive feedback cycle. What would humans with brain-computer interfaces do with their augmented intelligence? One good bet is that they’d design the next generation of brain-computer interfaces. Intelligence enhancement is a classic tipping point; the smarter you get, the more intelligence you can apply to making yourself even smarter.

Strong claim: This positive feedback cycle goes FOOM, like a chain of nuclear fissions gone critical – each intelligence improvement triggering an average of>1.000 further improvements of similar magnitude – though not necessarily on a smooth exponential pathway. Technological progress drops into the characteristic timescale of transistors (or super-transistors) rather than human neurons. The ascent rapidly surges upward and creates superintelligence (minds orders of magnitude more powerful than human) before it hits physical limits.

Advocates: I. J. Good, Eliezer Yudkowsky.”

Prepare for the future

Why are so many so gloomy about our future? We have survived ice ages, pandemics, natural disasters (e.g., the eruption of Toba, which exterminated most of humanity), and our own mistakes. Our history gives us good reason to look to the future with anticipation, not fear. Remember that as our elites attempt to lead us by arousing fears. Do not fear the future. Have faith in America.

For More Information

Ideas! For ideas how to spend your holiday cash, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

To learn more about the coming singularity.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about forecasts, about the new industrial revolution, about good news for America, and especially these…

  1. The coming big inequality. Was Marx just early?
  2. Do we face secular stagnation or a new industrial revolution?
  3. Economists show the perils and potential of the coming robot revolution.
  4. Potentially horrific effects of drugs and machines making people smarter & stronger.
  5. The coming Great Extinction – of jobs.
  6. Comparing our stable lives to the previous period of rapid disruption.
  7. The fast rise and fall of two industries show the coming singularity. Let’s prepare now.
  8. A Timeline for the Extinction of Jobs by Machines.
Visions of our future

Our future might see accelerating growth leading to the unimaginable. These two books sketch out what might lie ahead.

Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge. One of my favorite science fiction novels. Brilliant and fun.

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology by Ray Kurzweil. Also, see his website.

Marooned in Realtime

Available at Amazon.

The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Available at Amazon.

78 thoughts on “Celebrate our bright future on New Year’s eve!

  1. Commercial fusion, battery technology breakthroughs and control over evolution and life span at the molecular biological level are all to be expected over the next 80 years. But, then, they were also expected in the 1950s.

    • John,

      “But, then, they were also expected in the 1950s.”

      It’s a rule somewhere that tech forecasts are always refuted by urban legends. Let’s try facts!

      (1) I went to college with an engineering post-doc specializing in battery tech. In 1977 he said that batteries were a key to tech progress, but their evolution would be slow and incremental. I’d like to see evidence that his assessment was not the consensus at that time.

      (2) I’m pretty sure that that statement about “control over evolution and life span” is totally fictitious, unless “were expected” includes sci fi. Again, I’d like to see evidence.

      (3) The statement about fusion is wrong, wrt consensus expert opinion. See this graph from page 12 of “Fusion Power by Magnetic Confinement: Program Plan“, a report by the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration (1976), updated to show 2012 dollars. It shows the forecasted progress of fusion R&D for various funding levels. Actual real funding was below the 1978 level that was a path to Fusion Never.

      PDF: https://i1.wp.com/fabiusmaximus.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Paths-to-fusion-by-funding.png

      https://i1.wp.com/fabiusmaximus.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Paths-to-fusion-by-funding.png

      • Why are so many so gloomy about our future? We have survived ice ages, pandemics, natural disasters (e.g., the eruption of Toba, which exterminated most of humanity)

        So apart from future ice ages, pandemics and volcanic extermination, what on Earth have we got to worry about !

        • I’ll add to your list.

          Comets and cupids (meteors) and asteroids that might be on a collision course with us. Solar mass ejections. One world (socialist) government.

          • Greg/Scissor

            What a bloody miserable pair.

            We have/are developing technology and strategies to deal with all but the worst of events. Ebola is a case in point, it would have spread like wildfire in years gone by.

            Other than a major meteor strike, or an ET invasion, there’s not too much the human race can’t survive now.

            Even were sea level to rise as the alarmists would have us believe, it simply means displacing people from beachfront properties and river estuaries. Doubtless less of a problem in developing nations as many have little of value to lose. Not so much the developed nations, which is what all the fuss is really about, as Florida beach-side and London Thames bank properties, sell at considerable premiums.

            That’s all the GD fuss is about! Rich people losing their property investment portfolio’s, nothing to do with humanity whatsoever.

          • Hotty, I was not being “miserable”, I was trying to point out that sighting pandemics and near extinctions in the past as reasons that we should not worry seems rather rose tinted logic, to say the least.

            If there is a possibility of near extinction or a pandemic disease breaking out, I’m more concerned with my own safety and that of the ones I love rather than the abstract scientific technicality that the human race will probably survive.

      • I see how this works…
        Discount and discard contrary theories that you personally do not like; while spouting theories you prefer.

        Bluntly; mouthing false prophecies does not make them real.

    • Larry,

      I’m old enough to recall AMC’s ventures into electric cars in the late ’50s and ’60s. The company extolled the virtues of NiCad batteries and looked forward to further developments.

      AMC partnered with Sonotone for rechargeable batteries:

      http://www.roger-russell.com/sonopg/sononst.htm

      But lacking further battery breakthroughs, widespread adoption of EVs didn’t materialize.

      Before that of course was the popularity of electric autos in the early 20th century, to include models from Ford and Edison.

      As a student of Joshua Lederberg and other recombinant DNA pioneers at Stanford in the early ’70s, I can assure you that the potential of genetic engineering was envisioned. But further advances were needed before control of our own evolution, beyond the effect of medicine and public health, proved necessary:

      https://www.synthego.com/learn/genome-engineering-history

      In the 1950s, the prediction for commercial fusion was 20 years. Now, according to an MIT study, it’s down to 15 years.

      https://www.fastcompany.com/40541615/this-mit-project-says-nuclear-fusion-is-15-years-away-no-really-this-time

      I’m optimistic about all these technologies during this century. It’s just that history tends to rein in my enthusiasm.

  2. Most likely accurate in the essentials but to get from now to then it has to be accepted that fossil fuels are not affecting climate so that we can use them freely and judiciously to arrive at the desired destination as soon as possible.
    So called ‘Green solutions’ are actually a road block in the way and might well lead to worse outcomes for the planet and all its inhabitants whether human or otherwise.

  3. From the article: “Summary: Amidst the gloom that blankets America”

    I wouldn’t put it that way. I don’t feel gloomy. I think most of the gloom is on the Left of the political spectrum. They are gloomy because they have lost control of the narrative and it looks like they are going to continue to lose, what with Trump showing the world the benefits of Free Enterprise and conservatism.

    The future for the United States looks *very* good, if we can manage to prevent the socialist, authoritarian Democrats from ruling over us.

    • Tom,

      “I think most of the gloom is on the Left of the political spectrum. ”

      I’ve been documenting this for over a decade. The world’s “going to hell in a handbasket” has been a widespread belief on the Right for a long time. Left and Right disagree only on the specific.

      I did a lot of public speaking in 1995 – 2005: 3-4 per week, arranged thru a booking agent for $50 a pop (I paid her). The subjects varied, but the theme was always “the good news is that the bad news was wrong” (borrowed from the book). Left or Right, the audience was usually fearful.

    • “Amidst the gloom that blankets America,”…sorry Larry…I stopped right there

      What gloom?…..stop watching the news media click bait…and get off the internet

      …the real world is the total opposite and the vast majority

      • “The world will become a garden again as the population crashes. In the 22nd century we can repair the damage done in the 21st as the world’s population grew to 10 or 12 billion.”
        This is where I stopped reading….
        Chris

    • Exactly right Tom. Globally, the planet is dramatically greening, food production is at record highs and poverty diminishing. In the US, reduction in federal regulation and confiscation has resulted in one of the most robust economies in history. From record low unemployment to skyrocketing discretionary income, families are experiencing unparalleled quality of life.

      Any gloom is mostly Dem controlled cities and any darkness in the future stems from those promoting the elimination of cheap energy, unlimited genders, infant murder, open borders and greater confiscation and statist control.

      It is astounding how Larry continually documents the failures of the Erlichs and Hansens yet continues to portray these statists as the smartest folks in the room. The IPCC (and agency cabal) lied about attribution, banked on Mann’s secretive fraud, lies about consensus, denies decades of real science from dozens of fields and continues to promote falsified “models” yet is described by Larry as “The best guides we have are the reports of the IPCC and major climate agencies.”

      Mindboggling…

      • As a socialist, Larry is incapable of crediting the progress that has been created by capitalism. Therefore he has to dismiss the progress and buy into the belief that the whole thing is going to come crashing down, any day now.

    • I’ve been heralding “Garden of Eden Earth^TM ” along with peak population since the “unexpected Great Greening ” was discovered by Nasa about 7yrs ago. With Bumper Crops and plentiful resources I tacked on peace and prosperity as well after 2050. And the environment is already taking care of itself. No one has remarked on the several comments I’ve made on this, though.

      This scenario doesn’t need the massive collapase of the population, or even any effort on our part. Moreover no egghead fantasy “singularities” need be forecast by social scientists who essentially always get it wrong.

  4. The computer revolution was at least as transforming as the industrial revolution.
    The spreading of computers into everything from cars to phones made all devices more efficient, easier to use causing an increase in productivity at least as great as did the industrial revolution.

    Beyond that, there is one constant with all the discontinuities that you mention.
    They were all unpredicted before the fact. Those who worked on early steam engines were just trying to solve the problem in front of them. They never predicted the huge factories and other changes that developed from their work.

    • Mark,

      “The computer revolution was at least as transforming as the industrial revolution.”

      Easily disproven by comparing biographies.

      Bat Masterson was born on a Quebec farm in 1853. Dirt floors, no indoor water, no tech as we know it. As a young man he lived in the Wild West, a frontier of tech growth. He died in 1921 while working as a sportswriter for the Morning Telegraph — living in a New York City driven by telephones, automobiles, and electric power. That’s a revolution.

      Rapid change continued. By 1947 the world had assumed roughly the shape we see today. Then the progress of science slowed, so that June Cleaver could step from her 1957 home (in the first episode of “Leave it to Beaver”) into the 2017 equivalent and easily adapt. She would understand most of the tech Refrigerators, TV, cars, appliances, telephones (a cell phone is just a phone). The few new things would not change her life substantially.

      • You are ignoring the change in location.
        Those who remained on those Quebec farms were for the most part still living with dirt floors in 1921.

        What did electricity do for people in 1921. It replaced kerosene lamps. A better form of light, but it was hardly transformational.
        Telephones were just a faster form of communication, they were also very expensive and only the rich had them in 1921. Ditto automobiles.
        That’s not a revolution, that’s just doing the same thing in better ways. Sometimes only slightly better.

        Compare the home of 1947 to a similar home in a suburb of a big city in 1900 or earlier. The changes are there, but they aren’t revolutionary.
        Open a tap to get water instead of having to pump it out. A change, but hardly earth shattering.
        Flip a switch to get light, instead of lighting a lamp. A change, but hardly earth shattering.
        Cars are faster than horses, a change, but hardly earth shattering.

        What made life better for the vast majority of people was improving productivity, which took the playthings of the rich and made them available to everyone.

        This vast change in the rate of improvement exists only in your own mind.

      • Larry seems to be one of those people who believes that progress is defined by new and unique products.
        In his mind there hasn’t been a “new” product since the 1950’s, therefore progress has ground to a halt.
        The rest of us recognize that progress is anything that improves the lives of people. In that sense progress not only hasn’t stopped, it’s accelerating.
        In Larry’s world view, there were computers in 1950, and there are computers now. Therefor there has been no progress. The mind boggling advancement in computing power isn’t relevant.
        Ditto, there were phones in 1950, and since smart phones are just advanced versions of those phones, no progress has been made.

        The odd thing that Larry utterly dismisses the internet, which has been one of the most transformational inventions of the last 100 years. Figuring out an easy way form billions of computers to communicate with each other qualifies as a brand new product.

    • Computers empowered people by providing them with information.
      Instead of having to go to the library and hoping that it had the book you needed, go to the web and have access to more information than even the Library of Congress had 50 years ago.
      The advent of smart phones meant that you can access this information from anyplace at any time.

      • My neighbor has a diary written by a distant relative, a woman who was a Missouri homesteader in the 1800’s. She boasted, “I take two baths every year, even if I don’t need to!”

        I think I’m with Larry on this one.

        • Did I ever say that things haven’t gotten better since the 1850’s? My complaint with him is his apparent belief that technological progress ground to a halt in the 1950’s.

  5. The only thing that can prevent humanity’s continued upward trajectory is the current march of willful stupidity. This is something we can fight, every day. Anthony’s wonderful blog has gotten the good news out to millions that irrational fears need not herd us, hither and yon, like sheep. He does the world a great service.
    Happy New Year, and new decade, to Anthony Watts and all the interesting, fun, fascinating folks who are regular commenters here. See you in our ever-brighter future!

    • Goldrider,

      “The only thing that can prevent humanity’s continued upward trajectory is the current march of willful stupidity.”

      Well said!

      “Anthony’s wonderful blog has gotten the good news out to millions that irrational fears need not herd us, hither and yon, like sheep. He does the world a great service.”

      I agree! He is a prince in the climate wars, a rare note of balanced reason.

  6. Celebrate a bright future, sure. Nothing against that.
    And happy new year to all.

    But “all we got was…narrow changes in communications and computers”?
    Fusion is near and going to save us? (Click the link, it turns out we just didn’t give them enough money).

    Color me unimpressed. Not a good effort. After those points it seemed tl;dr

    • Rich,

      “But “all we got was…narrow changes in communications and computers”?”

      Yes. That is a drastic slowing of tech progress. For details, see my reply above to Mark,

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/12/31/celebrate-our-bright-future-on-new-years-eve/#comment-2882419

      “it turns out we just didn’t give them enough money).”

      Wow. That’s bizarrely wrong. You totally missed the point of the post about fusion. I suggest you re-read it, more slowly.

      • Seriously Larry? Maybe your meandering unfocused posts are even too long for you to read?

        Here, I’ll quote it for you to read really slowly:

        Why has fusion always been 30 years away?

        But there is a deeper reason why fusion scientists disappointed us: we did not give them the money they said they needed to deliver in 20 or 30 years. See this graph

        The graph link—> https://i1.wp.com/fabiusmaximus.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Paths-to-fusion-by-funding.png?ssl=1

        There’s no obvious path to cost-effective sustained fusion, even if it ever becomes technically feasible, which I doubt. The economics make way less sense even than bird choppers.

        We’ll certainly see sustained fusion on earth when ole sol goes red giant. I’m sure that right up to that point it will be 30 years away because short-sighted politicians refused to spend just a few more quintillion dollars.

        And another wow…it seems like nothing to you that ordinary people are routinely interacting on a global scale at essentially no cost? Or that there is no obscure fact that can’t be casually looked up on a device in your pocket while out on a walk in the woods?

        You can’t be serious.

        • The idea that the only reason why we don’t have fusion power now, is because government didn’t spend enough on it 30 years ago, could only be spoken by someone who has absolutely no knowledge of the technologies and problems involved.

  7. There is also the concept of the Noosphere wherein human cognition brings about an unpredictable emergent behavior that could take life to a godlike plane.

    • As I was reading along about singularities, didn’t Ray Kurzweil (mentioned at the very end) already coin the word “Singularity” to mean the merger of the human brain with a computer, thereby effectively stopping time and the associated ancillary phenomena?

      • Yes. I read his Singularities book. A gift from my ex and her new significant other, who lost many people LOTS of money investing in Silicon valley ‘singularities’ like Alien Tech and Bloom Energy. All speculative silly stuff.

        • Hopefully not a reflection on Kurzweil himself, as he isn’t just a visionary but is also a really practical scientist and engineer. The Age of Spiritual Machines was a great read and Bill Joy’s famous Wired Magazine article was based on it. I had the pleasure of attending the first public presentation Joy made on the subject. It changed my life in some ways (and not because I was sitting next to someone with a high rank in the US Military).

  8. This article is a rambling, disjointed, unconnected set of gibberish. Not sure what point the author is making. At times it makes sense, only to divert in a weird direction with seemingly opposite conclusions from where it was headed.

    • Fair Tax,

      “this article is a rambling, disjointed, unconnected set of gibberish. ”

      While it is nice of you to share your feelings with us, can you provide a rebuttal using either fact or logic?

    • Something’s going to happen. We’re not sure what. Prediction is difficult …

      I’m just reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, copyright 1992. That’s not that long ago but boy does its version of the future ever seem dated.

  9. “The constant advance of natural gas innovation and technology continues to go under-appreciated.” Jude Clement

    I would argue that the rapidly converging world of innovation and technology will soon become The Internet of Everything.

    Said differently, the powers of 5G, two-way connectivity, ample energy, and measurement and verification in real time will allow the all-inclusive Internet of Everything to the world:

    *Clean water,
    *Agriculture,
    *World Hunger,
    *Broadband
    *Energy,
    *Electricity,
    *Electric Grid,
    *Natural Gas,
    *Liquid Natural Gas,
    *Pipelines,
    *Transportation,
    *Distribution,
    *Transmission Lines
    *Economic Development,
    *Health Care,
    *Medical Innovation,
    *Hospital Services,
    *Sanitation,
    *Environmental Mitigation,
    *Drones and Maintenance,
    *Big Data,
    *Artificial Intelligence,
    *Real Time Measurement and Verification,
    *Global Finance,
    *Innovative Companies,
    *Water Politics,
    *Energy Politics,
    *Energy Regulation.

  10. The immediate step change is in logistics.
    Just think about what “next day delivery” on almost everything actually means.

  11. Comment threads are often interesting to read. I assumed most people had heard about the old and new industrial revolution, so I spent little space describing it – focusing instead on the current slowing (the consolidation period) and the conceptual basis of it.

    Here is a brief description of how it changed the world on a scale most no longer remember.

    There have been a host of books and articles about the evidence that a new one has begun. Most write about one aspect of it. I mention some above. Here are a few others.

    The Third Industrial Revolution by Jeremy Rifkin (2011).

    Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired (2012).

    The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production by Peter Marsh, editor of the Finanical Times (2013).

    The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab (2016).

    Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab and Nicholas Davis (2018). Schwab is founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum.

    For links to more books and articles – esp about robots and AI – see these posts:
    https://fabiusmaximus.com/2016/12/30/the-new-industrial-revolution-has-begun/

  12. All the real technological breakthroughs of the latter half of the 20th century came from quantum physics – the transistor, the laser, the nuclear power station…

    Everything else was just incremental development and a few bits of material science.

    It is hard to see where else a paradigm shift will come from except subatomic physics
    without a paradigm shift all we have left is refinement of existing tech.

    And the nature of paradigm shifts is you cant predict them.

  13. What past major technological advancement, that seemed positive at the time, did not also prove later to have negative aspects?
    The folly is to always anticipate the good without also anticipating the bad.

  14. A few years ago, Mark Steyn posted an article with an interesting thought experiment:

    https://www.steynonline.com/7248/back-to-what-future

    [I]”Picture a man or woman of the late 19th century, perhaps your own great-grandfather or great-great-grandmother, sitting in an ordinary American home of 1890. And now pitch him forward in an H G Wells machine, not to our time but about halfway – to that same ordinary American home, circa 1950. Why, the poor gentleman of 1890 would be astonished. His old home is full of mechanical contraptions. […]

    […]After all, if this is what an ordinary American home looks like in 1950, imagine the wonders he will see if he pushes on another six decades! So on he gets, and sets the dial for our own time.

    And when he dismounts he wonders if he’s made a mistake. Because, aside from a few design adjustments, everything looks pretty much as it did in 1950:[…]” [/I]

    Perhaps the singularity is that we are in a bit of a lull when it comes to truly revolutionary innovations?

    • There was no lull when molecular biology exploded, primarily with the inception of the biotechnology industry around 1978. Steyn’s characters might have taken a pit stop to read “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in 1953 and then picked up again in the 1980s, as synthetic DNA, DNA sequencing and recombinant DNA techniques led to fantastic advances in human medicine and all the other aspects of DNA technologies. A second exception that is still going strong today.

    • Paul,
      While I find myself in general agreement with Mark Steyn on most things, in this case I think he is overly pessimistic. He approaches the question from the concern that power elites are scheming to subvert technology into a means of totalitarian control. It’s a reasonable concern although I remain an optimist that technology will remain a liberating thing.

      He sells his case that progress has stagnated by looking too superficially at things that didn’t apparently change. There are still cars and they don’t fly. As if it was ever an insightful prediction that millions of people would a) need to fly to work, or b) choose such an energy-intensive and thus expensive method, or c) be able to coordinate such a scheme safely. It was always a tongue-in-cheek “prediction” in Back to the Future. More of a cliche 50s expectation of the future. But anyone who ever looked under the hood of a car of the 1950s and again a car of this decade, would not reasonably say that little has changed.

      The fact that we still have cars, refrigerators, and so on, is a reflection of the fact that they have not lost their utility or conversely that we still have similar needs. Progress is not measured by how different cars or phones or hammers look today. Progress is measured by the fact that we are approaching the point where everyone has sufficient material goods to live a comfortable and long life.

      It is absolutely absurd to ignore or minimize the impact of internet communications. It is in fact the realm into which much of the collective efforts of society have shifted. In part because advances in mechanical/physical technology no longer deliver dramatic change in quality of life. That’s no tragedy. The network effects of billions of people being able to educate themselves on virtually anything that strikes their fancy should not be underestimated.

      • Great point Rich. I’m 68 years old. I have always been a curious person and have wondered why many others weren’t. I had many questions about all sorts of things that I didn’t know how to find the answers to. We are all now able to afford a device that will allow us to learn how to do things that are important and useful. Unfortunately most of these devices are used for useless games and useless entertainment.

        • Yes, James, yet another example of why equal opportunity doesn’t lead to equal outcomes, and shouldn’t be expected to.

          But I think there are enough ordinary people with curiosity that it will still make a difference, even if 80% are not availing themselves of the opportunity.

  15. No Larry, we’re not all benighted ignoramuses. We just don’t embrace the distorted view of reality of which you are so enamored, nor do we imagine that hyperintellectualized academic works define reality.

    Perhaps you should not cast your pearls before us swine. We are so unworthy.

  16. A possible revolutionary development is the lowering in the price of robotic actuators. This may make small scale automation a reality:

  17. I am much less optimistic. As a holder of 13 issued US patents in four separate fields (RFID, wireless patient monitoring, topical antimicrobials, and energy storage materials) have been on the front lines of technology advance for decades.

    Sure, stuff advances. In the late 1990’s, MOT’s CTO and I (CSO) put together a board presentation predicting that by about 2010 microprocessors would effectively have as much computational power as human brains and speech and visual recognition would become possible with sufficient algorithm development. SIRI and iPhone facial recognition phone unlock, anyone? But those are not singularities.

    The world will soon run up against two soft (in a sudden calamity sense) but otherwise very firm limits: food, and liquid transportation fuels. By soon, circa 2050 give or take a decade. Discussed extensively in my ebook Gaia’s Limits. No singularity imaginable bails those out.

    • Rud,
      With certainly no disrespect to your impressive career achievements, I’m not persuaded that the limits on growth are that near.

      Food production continues to outstrip a declining population growth. As extreme poverty is (we hope) eradicated, population growth will decline even more rapidly, eventually leading to actual population decline. So long as we continue to fertilize the air and are fortunate enough to see a continued benign climate (whether purely a natural effect or potentially enhanced by our CO2 emissions), food production seems a manageable issue. Not trivial, but manageable. If our climate turns against us, and begins to cool substantially, that will be the much bigger challenge, and sadly most likely beyond our control if we continue to squander this time of plenty, and fail to develop nuclear power.

      Liquid transportation fuels would be a concern, if the only option were to refine oil, or to use liquid transportation fuels. At some point, the easiest-to-extract feedstocks will become expensive to find (30 years seems pessimistic though). It seems to me that the only relevant question is whether we can sustain our production of energy at an aggregate level, not whether we can cheaply extract and refine gasoline and diesel, or any other specific energy source. There are many options for alternative transportation fuels—compressed natural gas, and methanol are two that spring to mind immediately. After that there’s coal gasification. It’s not hydrocarbons ready-to-burn that are essential, it’s energy. To the extent that liquid transportation fuels are convenient to use, we can make them, provided we have affordable (abundant) sources of energy. Liquid hydrocarbons are just chemical energy storage media.

      Returning to the food production question, it too ultimately depends on abundant energy more than anything else. Given cheap, abundant energy, we can produce all the fertilizers that we could ever need. This is all a matter of energy driving reversible chemical reactions. Earth is not at risk or running out of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, or any other element. There is no mass loss crisis. It’s all recyclable. But that takes energy to drive the cycles.

      Affordable, abundant energy is where nuclear power comes in. That’s where it’s understandable that “futurists” daydream about fusion power. It’s a “simple” (though unrealistic) answer to the one problem we need to solve. (OK, not the only problem, as Carbon500 rightly points out, but our main problem of technology).

  18. Technological progress is all very well, but mankind has to stop malign individuals attaining political power. The hideous misery inflicted on nations by such people through the ages has to stop – but how could this be achieved?
    I’ve always thought that a system should be in place whereby anyone aspiring to a political career should undergo an extensive training period, covering subjects such as international law, business, manufacturing, the culture of different countries, religious beliefs and more. Such individuals should also be required to work in varied placements for a while in society to get a proper appreciation for people in differing walks of life. On graduation, the would-be politician should join their perferred political party, and only after after a period during which they have demonstrated a genuine willingness to care for and serve the public should they be eligible for consideration for election to higher office.
    Another problem is the sheer wastefulness of the consumer society. The desire for the latest fashionable ‘whatever’ results in depletion of natural resources – however, the rays of light are shining through here, with the CITES regulations in trading of products of endangered species gaining international approval.
    Another point of concern is animal welfare – it’s been said that a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals. The European Union (EU) for example permits the transport of live animals over Europe across its borders. England’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) gives details on its website confirming that every year millions of farm animals are so transported for further fattening and slaughter. Many suffer from stress, exhaustion, thirst and rough handling – not my words; these are the views of RSPCA inspectors.
    The EU has been responsible for the closure of many small abattoirs serving local communities in the UK, due, I understand, to ever increasing costs necessary to comply with its building alterations. In this country (England), many a butcher in the past slaughtered their own livestock on the premises. Because this was possible, animals were not dragged in trucks for miles to industrial slaughterhouses as they are now.
    Yes, technological progress is inevitable, but caring humanitarian attitudes and compassion surely have to be nurtured as well.
    My best wishes to Anthony and his team, and to all those who ‘blog’ on WUWT for 2020.

    • Yes, our biggest challenge is human nature, but perhaps also our greatest asset? It’s gotten us to this point.

      Optimistically, at least the violent practices of raiding, plundering, enslaving, and genocide, totally normal in millennia past, have been de-normalized and stigmatized by nearly all.

      Gloomy griff and Loydo types will no doubt go on about how the raiding, plundering, and enslaving has just taken on a veneer of respectability using the subterfuge of capitalism. Perhaps at least they will acknowledge that genocide isn’t much of a thing anymore? (I doubt they subscribe to the idea that abortion is a more sophisticated form of genocide?)

      Where we must part company is on the idea that elite institutions can be designed to create experts to rule over us. That is a failed concept favored by the Progressives of the early 20th Century.

      No, the last great hope of Man is democracy with constitutional protections for individual rights. (Without protection of individual rights, the 51% will eventually vote in line with human nature, to enslave and eat the 49%—speaking metaphorically, or perhaps also literally).

    • Please tell me how urban butcher shops are supposed to raise cattle, pigs and chickens on their premises.

  19. A few thoughts:

    1. Future technologies cannot be predicted in advance.

    2. The uses to which new technologies can be put are essentially impossible to predict in advance, even after the technology emerges.

    3. New technologies are always seized upon to develop more and better ways to kill people.

    4. Speculating about future technologies is fun, but unproductive and ultimately unsatisfying (see points 1, 2 and 3)

    • I agree with you Smart Rock.

      To some extent we can anticipate that many breakthrough technologies will address our biggest problems or find more effective ways to achieve things we value. But that’s very abstract.

      We can anticipate that attempts will be made to commercialize controlled, sustained, terrestrial fusion, just as 1000 years ago it was easy to anticipate that alchemists would attempt to transmute base metals into gold. There is a big payoff if they can succeed.

      We don’t anticipate sudden insights that allow for a totally new way of achieving a valued outcome. We don’t anticipate accidental discoveries.

      It’s not relevant how many uninspired dull students become “researchers” in a society where every child is expected to pursue college regardless of their aptitude. Any measure of innovation productivity that assumes more bodies should produce more innovations is flawed. If 100 chimpanzees banging on typewriters do not produce Shakespeare, surely 10 million will suffice? And with 10 billion it would be a certainty I suppose.

  20. Just for the record, I don’t feel gloomy in the least.

    My head feels pressured, like I might be getting a fever, but I feel pretty confident that climate change did not cause this.

    What’s the carbon footprint of fireworks and champagne, I wonder.

    You know what really made me feel sad today? No, not anything to do with the problems of humans, but passing somebody on the road who had just hit and killed a young deer.

    I guess my sentimental priorities are way off, but, hey, what can I say — I felt the way I felt.

  21. “… Singularity discussions seem to be splitting up into three major schools of thought: Accelerating Change, the Event Horizon, and the Intelligence Explosion. …”

    Oh boy, what a marathon of blah-blahs.

    First define “change”, imaginary ‘change’ is not actual change. “Event horizon” is book-selling blah-blah that simply means we don’t know the future. This is apparently needed some jazzing-up with accessory black-hole blah-blahs. “Intelligence Explosion”? … er, no, more like a gigantic meme-explosion, virtually all complete nonsense.

    The main benefits that come from living longer are the ability to understanding where you went wrong in the past, and hopefully make fewer errors with un-fixable consequences. Plus a longer period to accumulate the stuff that makes life comfy and a bit more rewarding. Plus you become less captured by your hormones. The main benefit has nothing to do with technology blah-blah change-BS, it comes from getting better at relationships, but just when people don’t want to talk to the old fart. The downside is looking and feeling a lot older for longer.

    People waffle blah-blah about the future because that’s where the final-curtain call is, and the older you are the closer that is, and the less you care about technology trends, ideas or people sprouting verbiage about imaginary ‘event horizons’.

    • There will always be those who, in order to feel superior to those around them, have to convince themselves that they can see further and deeper than those around them.

      Larry tries to pass himself off as some form of impartial sage, who is trying to pass his wisdom off to us ignorant masses.

  22. Terminate selective-child policy. End judgment by color (“diversity”) attributes, not character. Foreclose on political congruence and other PC doctrines. Lose your Pro-Choice religion. Stop conflating logical domains. Progress (i.e. monotonic [unqualified] change) has meant one step forward, two steps backward.

  23. The soft, transgendering, European nations are now facing yet another invasion from the east. From history & in no particular order, Alans, Avars, Huns, Magyars, Mongols & Ottoman Turks were resisted & eventually overcome by the west’s investment in blood & weapons. However, the present decline & fall of European nations is linked to irreversible demographic shifts & wholesale population replacement by a culture with a seventh century philosophy. It is a great pity that the lessons of human history are ignored by educationalists.
    Google “The 30 years war, 1618 and 1648”.

  24. Kinda off the cuff, but how can we discuss machine intelligence when we don’t even know what human intelligence is? Albert Einstein was a genius. Explain how his brain worked differently than others. By all accounts he was a fairly ordinary man who could think in ways that most others couldn’t even comprehend.
    We do know some about how the 5 main factors in human intelligence interplay.
    ” [Search domain http://www.highiqpro.com/iq-cognitive-health-aging/the-5-factors-of-intelligence-over-the-lifespan%5D https://www.highiqpro.com/iq-cognitive-health-aging/the-5-factors-of-intelligence-over-lifespan

    Specifically Crystallized intelligence-founded on knowledge and skills gained through experience, education and training. Some people are stuck using the troubleshooting manual for a problem. A genius can make up the manual in their head on the fly depending on learned or crystallized intelligence.
    Another component is Fluid Intelligence- reasoning and problem solving ability, not dependent on background knowledge, education or any specific expertise. It enables us to see relationships and learn quickly in new situations
    Visual processing- the ability to visualize, remember and manipulate images in the ‘mind’s eye’. Most often this is measured by the ability to visualize an object in your mind. More importantly, it extends to visualizing the outcomes of trains of reasoning without having to map them out “on paper”, so to speak. Most programmers are quite skilled at writing sections of code. A really great programmer can visualize the whole program, the logic flow, and how all the subroutines interact.
    Processing Speed- how fast your mental processes are – your ability to quickly and fluently perform basic cognitive tasks (such as scanning text for something), especially when high levels of attention and focused concentration are required. Some peoples nerves simply work faster.
    Short Term Memory-the ability to hold in mind a limited amount of information for brief periods and not forget it while briefly doing other tasks. Ever lay down you smart phone and and 5 minutes later have to spend 10 minutes looking for it?

    All the machine intelligence on the horizon is “mere” programming, except for techniques such as neural networks. The IBM chess computer merely goes through a catalog of possibilities, plays out where a particular move go, and then makes the most likely to be successful. I know I’m simplifying, but a human player, besides learning all sorts of ways to see possible outcomes also can play the “player” by learning weaknesses and idiosyncracies that may affect play.

    As far as I know no computer program has shown signs of human class general intelligence.

    If you haven’t already, read Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” about computer intelligence, and “Methusalah’s Children” about longevity, as in nearly eternal.

  25. We know that when the Earth warms up it starts at both the poles in seesaw fashion following the season’s flows.
    We know that even in the coldest times, the Ice Ages, our earth is livable. The tropics, right around the equator, the belt around the middle of our world, is not too cold, in fact the average is close to what we want our rooms to be.
    We know that in the hottest times, the Minoan, the Roman or the Medieval, the equator, again remained about the same. The tropics averaged approximately room temperature.
    So, as the warming times of Earth appear, the loving warmth spreads north and south from either pole according to the season. And in these blessed times, the people of the Earth have more lands to plant, more time. We have a tempering that brings weather less severe. We have it all, it seems, except the wherewithal to teach our children truths that have not changed and will not change.
    The Earth is ours, we cannot let the silly ideologies of selfishness and central planning idiocy steal the richness of our future.

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