Business Insider: 24 Books That Forecasted The Future
I just read Cathedral, Forge, and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages by Frances & Joseph Gies. The book focuses on technological development during the 1,000 years from 500-1500 C.E. The Middle Ages were once cast as an age of regression from the golden age of Greece and Rome until the Renaissance and the Enlightenment saved the day. Furthermore, capitalism is often seen as a product of the last two or three centuries. Modern scholarship debunks these characterizations. This book does a great job at showing the cultural and technological ferment of the Middle Ages, as well as showing how many of the key components of the modern economic world (companies, risk management, double-entry bookkeeping, finance, technological innovation, labor specialization, factories, to name a few) were already coming to flower by 1500. Here are two insights from the end of the book:
… “Asian priority in a wide range of [technological] innovations is established. Asia, however, showed little inclination to borrow, and so, after giving much to others, allowed its own technology to wither, as demonstrated in the history of the two epoch-making inventions of printing and firearms. Each originated in China, but each was allowed to languish, while Europe seized them in both hands to make them major instruments of change. An authority [Timo Myllyntaus] on technology transfer in the modern world asserts that the process ‘is not just a matter of moving some piece of hardware from one place to another… A material infrastructure is not enough. There must also be sufficient nonmaterial infrastructure.’ In the ‘nonmaterial infrastructure’ of medieval Europe was a spirit of progress whose ingredients included intellectual curiosity, a love of tinkering, an ambition ‘to serve God’ and also ‘to grow rich as all men desire to do.’
A sense of progress implies a sense of history, something missing among the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. ‘Lacking any objective understanding of the past – that is, lacking history,’ says [D. S. L.] Cardwell, ‘the hierarchical and slave-owning societies of classical antiquity failed to appreciate the great progress that had been achieved by and through technics.’ On the contrary, the ancients were fond of looking back to what they conceived as a vanished ‘golden age,’ a conception the reverse of progress. The Christian Church, whose pioneering monastic orders made many practical and material contributions to medieval technology, also supplied a noncyclical, straight-line view of history that allowed scope for the idea of progress.” (287-288)
The book concludes with this paragraph:
“’Technology,’ says Melvin Kranzberg, founder of the Society for the History of Technology, ‘is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.’ It is what each age and each society make of it. The Middle Ages used it sometimes wisely, sometimes recklessly, often for dubious purposes, seldom with a thought for the future, and with only a dim awareness of the scientific and mathematical laws governing it. But operating on instinct, insight, trial and error, and perseverance, the craftsman and craftswoman, the entrepreneurs, the working monks and the clerical intellectuals, and the artist-engineers all transformed the world, on balance very much to the world’s advantage.” (291)
I've read a number of books on the history of technology. This is one of the best short surveys I have read, reading more like a novel than a history book.
The Atlantic: The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel
1. The printing press, 1430s
The printing press was nominated by 10 of our 12 panelists, five of whom ranked it in their top three. Dyson described its invention as the turning point at which “knowledge began freely replicating and quickly assumed a life of its own.”
And then there was light—and Nos. 4, 9, 16, 24, 28, 44, 45, and most of the rest of modern life.
Accidentally discovered in 1928, though antibiotics were not widely distributed until after World War II, when they became the silver bullet for any number of formerly deadly diseases ...
... In my case, as somebody always on the look-out for under-reported good news stories, it also served to alert me to just how dramatic the fall in “demand” for firefighters has been. Intrigued by the strike, I looked up the numbers and found to my amazement that in 2011, compared with just a decade before, firefighters attended 48 per cent fewer fires overall; 39 per cent fewer building fires; 44 per cent fewer minor outdoor fires; 24 per cent fewer road-traffic collisions; 8 per cent fewer floods — and 40 per cent fewer incidents overall. The decline has if anything accelerated since 2011.
That is to say, during a period when the population and the number of buildings grew, we needed to call the fire brigade much, much less. Most important of all, the number of people dying in fires in the home has fallen by 60 per cent compared with the 1980s. The credit for these benign changes goes at least partly to technology — fire-retardant materials, self-extinguishing cigarettes, smoke alarms, sprinklers, alarms on cookers — much of which was driven by sensible regulation. Fewer open fires and fewer people smoking, especially indoors, must have helped too. There is little doubt that rules about such things have saved lives, as even most libertarians must concede.
But this is not the whole story. I was stunned to find that the number of deliberate fires has been falling much faster than the number of accidental fires. The steepest fall has been in car fires, down from 77,000 in 2001-2 to 17,000 in 2010-11. This echoes the 60 per cent collapse in car thefts in G7 countries since 1995. Deliberate fires in buildings have more than halved in number; I assume this is also something to do with crime detection — CCTV, DNA testing and so forth, which make it much less easy to get away with arson. Only deliberate outdoor fires show little trend: perhaps because not until he is deep in the woods does an arsonist feel safe from detection.
Behind the firefighters’ strike, therefore, lies a most unusual policy dilemma: how to manage declining demand for a free public service. NHS planners would give their eye teeth for such a problem, since healthcare demand seems to expand infinitely, whatever the policy. ...
... Fire was an abiding terror to our ancestors, consuming not just many of their lives, but much of their property. Almost all of us have family stories of devastating fires. Although we will always need this essential service , thankfully, that experience is becoming steadily rarer. Sir Ken Knight found it likely that this decline would continue, remarking: “I wonder if anyone a decade ago would have predicted the need for fire and rescue services to attend 40 per cent fewer emergency incidents.” The fire service will undoubtedly have to shrink. ...
Christian Science Monitor: Inventions that were going to change the world – but didn’t
Every new invention is supposed to be the "next big thing" – and some are. The cellphone, the PC, the plane: all inventions that revolutionized the way we live our lives and far surpassed their initial hype. But some inventions don't quite measure up to the fanfare that precedes their release. These end up in the scrap bin of history. Check out what inventions we all though would revolutionize our world... but only ended up on this website list.
1. The Segway
2. One Laptop Per Child
3. The Bluetooth Headset
4. The Tablet PC
5. The Electric Car
6. The e-card
7. The Car Phone
Read the article to get the analysis. Learning from mistakes is as important (more important?) than case studies about successes
There articles caught my eye this week. First, in the Atlantic: Bash Brothers: How Globalization and Technology Teamed Up to Crush Middle-Class Workers
Globalizationandtechnology is often referred to like a monolithic thing. A new study shows they're very separate. Globalization increases joblessness. Computers increase inequality.
The article is reporting on a recent economic study: Untangling Trade and Technology: Evidence from Local Labor Markets
... Here's the bumper sticker version of their conclusion: Globalization increases unemployment; technology increases inequality.
Globalization: The authors found that metros with more exposure to Chinese trade -- mostly concentrated in the swoosh of states extending from Indiana down to the Gulf of Mexico and up through North Carolina -- saw significant job losses, both in manufacturing and overall. For every $1,000 increase in imports per worker, the share of people with jobs declined by 0.7 percentage points -- and more for non-college grads. As manufacturing jobs declined, demand for local services would decline, and thus job losses could extend into areas like retail and hotels.
Technology: The computerization of certain tasks hasn't reduced employment, the authors find. But it has reduced the availability of decent-paying, routine-heavy jobs. Middle-class jobs, like clerks and sales people and administration support, have disappeared as computers gradually learned to perform their routines more efficiently. But as those jobs disappeared, cities saw an increase in both high-skill work and lower-paid service sector work, leading to little overall change in employment. ...
CNBC has an article (published at Huff Post) Where The 1 Percent Really Get Their Money:
Much of the debate over taxing the wealthy focuses on taxing giant salaries.
But a new study from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that the real money for the wealthy is made from investments and business income—not compensation. ...
And Mark Perry recaps this article in the Journal of Economic Perspecitives: Stunning new study dismantles Obama’s “1% vs. 99%” inequality argument.
The JEP article is here: It's the Market: The Broad-Based Rise in the Return to Top Talent
In their paper, Kaplan and Rauh conclude “it’s the market” rather than some class-wafaresque malfeasance at play. Here’s why:
1.The increase in pay at the highest income levels is broad-based: Public company executives, private company executives, hedge fund and private equity investors, Wall Street bankers, lawyers, and pro athletes have all experienced big jumps in pay over the past few decades. ...
2. Typical measures of high-end income inequality are incomplete. Inequality alarmists typically point to data from Thomas Piketty and Emmanel Saez which show the share of taxable income accruing to the top 1% up markedly since 1980 and at levels not seen since the Roaring ’20s. Yet once you add back transfer and taxes, as the Congressional Budget Office does in its analysis, you find that government policy — including the tax code — has already been restraining the rise inequality. Kaplan and Rauh: “In the most recent data from 2009, the aftertax, after-transfer income share of the top 1 percent was around the same level as in 1987–1988, 1996, and 2001.”
It has long been my suspicion that at central player in the rise of inequality is due to the ongoing race between technological innovation and development of human capital. During times of rapid increase in productivity through technological changes, owner of the technology race ahead. Worker education and formation human capital is slower to adapt. But technology can only go so far before it must have plentiful workers who have adapted. As this the gain from technology runs its course the demand for new workers increases labor begins to race ahead. I'm no expert on these matters but it seems to that something like that is happening today. It isn't just the U.S. that experiences this, but the whole industrialized world. Something more systemic seems to be afoot.
1. The United States had its financial bubble. Europe is having one too. Is China next? If it is, it could reshape the global economy and radically reshape Chinese government. Here is an interesting piece about China's real estate bubble.
2. Robert Tracinski thinks we are in midst of a Third Industrial Revolution.
... I like the idea of a breaking the Industrial Revolution into stages, but I would define them in more fundamental terms. The first Industrial Revolution was the harnessing of large-scale man-made power, which began with the steam engine. The internal combustion engine, electric power, and other sources of energy are just further refinements of this basic idea. The second Industrial Revolution would be the development of interchangeable parts and the assembly line, which made possible inexpensive mass production with relatively unskilled labor. The Third Industrial Revolution would not be computers, the Internet, or mobile phones, because up to now these have not been industrial tools; they have been used for moving information, not for making things. Instead, the rise of computers and the Internet is just a warm-up for the real Third Industrial Revolution, which is the full integration of information technology with industrial production.
The effect of the Third Industrial Revolution will be to collapse the distance between the design of a product and its physical manufacture, in much the same way that the Internet has eliminated the distance between the origination of a new idea and its communication to an audience. ...
3. Tyler Cowen has some thoughts about the impact our technological revolution as well Are we living in the early 19th century?
... Eventually all of the creative ferment of the industrial revolution pays off in a big “whoosh,” but it takes many decades, depending on where you draw the starting line of course. A look at the early 19th century is sobering, or should be, for anyone doing fiscal budgeting today. But it is also optimistic in terms of the larger picture facing humanity over the longer run.
4. You may have seen a deeply flawed viral video about wealth inequality this past week. I working on my own response but here is economist Mark Perry's response. In response to the viral ‘Wealth Inequality in America’ video
5. What are the contours of income inequality in the United States? This 40 minute video by Emmanuel Saez offers some important insights.
6. Futurist Ray Kurzweil is a little too sensationalist for my taste but this vid offers interesting food for thought about nanotechnology and the future sports. We will even be able to have meaningful sports competition?
7. Atlantic takes up at a frequently perpetuated myth. 'Women Own 1% of World Property': A Feminist Myth That Won't Die
The recovered wealth - most of it from higher stock prices - has been flowing mainly to richer Americans. By contrast, middle class wealth is mostly in the form of home equity, which has risen much less.
10. When looking at decisions in your own context, Seth Godin explains why Macro trends don't matter so much
Whether or not you think science is wonderful, the stereotype of all scientists being atheists is unrealistic. There is, however, a special dance.
12. I consider this good news. Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution
More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children's curricula.
13. Remember to keep Syria and Egypt in your prayers. Nearly 1 in 20 Syrians are now refugees
Mar 09, 2013 in Asia, China, Current Affairs, Economic Development, Economics, Religion, Science, Sports and Entertainment, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Harvard Business Review Blog: Manufacturing Jobs and the Rise of the Machines
Andrew McAfee explains that the resurgence in American manufacturing doesn't mean the creation of new jobs. There is global decline in manufacturing jobs, even as manufacturing grows, due to automation. He ends with this:
... Even if total manufacturing employment goes down because of automation, he [Ron Atkinson] writes, other industries will pick up the slack by employing more people. This is because:
"...most of the savings [from automation] would flow back to consumers in the form of lower prices. Consumers would then use the savings to buy things (e.g., go out to dinner, buy books, go on travel). This economic activity stimulates demand that other companies (e.g., restaurants, book stores, and hotels) respond to by hiring more workers."
Fair enough, but what if those other companies are also automating? One of the most striking phenomena of recent years is the encroachment of automation into tasks, skills and abilities that used to belong to people alone. As we document in Race Against the Machine, this includes driving cars, responding accurately to natural language questions, understanding and producing human speech, writing prose, reviewing documents and many others. Some combination of these will be valuable in every industry.
Previous waves of automation, like the mechanization of agriculture and the advent of electric power to factories, have not resulted in large-scale unemployment or impoverishment of the average worker. But the historical pattern isn't giving me a lot of comfort these days, simply because we've never before seen automation encroach so broadly and deeply, while also improving so quickly at the same time.
I don't know what all the consequences of the current wave of digital automation will be — no one does. But I'm not blithe about its consequences for the labor force, because that would be ignoring the data and missing the big picture.
I too wonder about this.
1. Lots of news outlets picking up on this story about technology displacing humans. In The Future, Machines May Have All The Jobs. We all know where this leads.
Seriously, technological innovation always creates dislocations. Fear of machines replacing humans goes back to the beginning of the industrial revolution. The economy has always adapted and expect it will again.
"The idea that innovation and new technology have stopped driving growth is getting increasing attention. But it is not well founded."
3. Business Insider reports that The Worldwide Demographic Cliff Is Going To Be Brutal
Alas, that won't help, as this graph compiled by statistician Simon Hedlin shows. The total dependency ratio (children and retirees, compared with those of working age) fell in all G20/OECD nations bar Germany and Sweden between 1960 and 2010. In the next fifty years, it will rise in all those nations, bar India and South Africa. In most nations, the ratio will rise by 40% or more; there are huge increases in dependency in parts of Asia (China and South Korea) and in eastern Europe. Britain and America are towards the bottom of the table, but their problems are big enough.
There are many implications. With more dependents to care for, it is very hard to imagine how we will pay down our debts. And it is also very hard to imagine how one can possibly expect government spending to shrink significantly.
"... BiblioTech, a $1.5 million Bexar County paperless library will have scores of computer terminals, laptops, tablets, and e-readers – but not a dog-eared classic or dusty reference book in sight.
“Think of an Apple store,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who led his county’s bookless library project, told NPR when describing the planned library.
The 4,989-squre-foot, digital-only library, one of the first of its kind, will feature 100 e-readers available for circulation, 50 e-readers for children, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops, and 25 tablets for on-site use. Patrons can check out e-readers for two weeks or load books onto their own devices.
“A technological evolution is taking place,” Wolff says. “And I think we’re stepping in at the right time.” ..."
5. Some good thoughts on The 10 Things Entrepreneurs Waste The Most Time On
"UCLA's survey of incoming college freshmen shows fewer identify as liberals and an increasing number saying the economy significantly affected their college choice."
7.Walter Russell Mead on The End of the Religious Right?
"In some ways, this shift isn’t as dramatic as it might first appear. Even though younger evangelicals are increasingly walking away from the religious right, they are still self-identifying as Republicans (54 percent) more than Democrats (26 percent). Younger Christians still agree with the religious right on the issues but reject the movement’s tactics, tone, and narrow focus on social issues."
8. Scientific American: The Liberals' War on Science. How politics distorts science on both ends of the spectrum.
"Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally (varying across domains), which is why scientists like E. O. Wilson and organizations like the National Center for Science Education are reaching out to moderates in both parties to rein in the extremists on evolution and climate change. Pace Barry Goldwater, extremism in the defense of liberty may not be a vice, but it is in defense of science, where facts matter more than faith—whether it comes in a religious or secular form—and where moderation in the pursuit of truth is a virtue."
9. How did Fido become domesticated by humans? Dog evolved 'on the waste dump'
10. Any volunteers? Harvard Professor Seeks Woman Willing To Have A Neanderthal Baby
11. A fascinating history of high heels. Why did men stop wearing high heels?
That's all for this week. Like the Kruse Kronicle at Facebook.
Associated Press: Practically human: Can smart machines do your job?
... To better understand the impact of technology on jobs, The Associated Press analyzed employment data from 20 countries; and interviewed economists, technology experts, robot manufacturers, software developers, CEOs and workers who are competing with smarter machines.
The AP found that almost all the jobs disappearing are in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. Jobs that form the backbone of the middle class in developed countries in Europe, North America and Asia.
In the United States, half of the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession paid middle-class wages, and the numbers are even more grim in the 17 European countries that use the euro as their currency. A total of 7.6 million midpay jobs disappeared in those countries from January 2008 through last June.
Those jobs are being replaced in many cases by machines and software that can do the same work better and cheaper.
"Everything that humans can do a machine can do," says Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston. "Things are happening that look like science fiction." ...
... So machines are getting smarter and people are more comfortable using them. Those factors, combined with the financial pressures of the Great Recession, have led companies and government agencies to cut jobs the past five years, yet continue to operate just as well.
How is that happening?
-Reduced aid from Indiana's state government and other budget problems forced the Gary, Ind., public school system last year to cut its annual transportation budget in half, to $5 million. The school district responded by using sophisticated software to draw up new, more efficient bus routes. And it cut 80 of 160 drivers. ...
... -In South Korea, Standard Chartered is expanding "smart banking" branches that employ a staff of three, compared with an average of about eight in traditional branches. ...
... -The British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced plans last year to invest $518 million in the world's first long-haul, heavy-duty driverless train system at its Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia. The automated trains are expected to start running next year. The trains are part of what Rio Tinto calls its "Mine of the Future" program, which includes 150 driverless trucks and automated drills.
Like many technologically savvy startups, Dirk Vander Kooij's furniture-making company in the Netherlands needs only a skeleton crew - four people ...
... -Google's driverless car and the Pentagon's drone aircraft are raising the specter of highways and skies filled with cars and planes that can get around by themselves. ...
... "Trying to keep it from happening would have been like the Teamsters in the early 1900s trying to stop the combustion engine," Lavin says. "You can't stand in the way of technology."
The upside of emerging technology is that most will make goods and services less expensive. That improves our living standard. The downside is that much of the work we used to do in order to earn the wages to buy goods and services is rapidly changing. As the last sentence of the article notes, this is not the first time we have been in these circumstances. Years ago I read that in 1885, approximately 80% of everything we consumed in the U.S. was produced at home. By 1915, 80% was produced outside the home. It created massive economic dislocations. Each time these disruptions occur it has been hard for the people living at that time to foresee what the new economic order would look like.
It is critical that Christian thinkers wrestle with the challenges of technological innovation. Creative destruction (the market dynamic where jobs and industries are destroyed in the wake of creating new ones) has always been a difficult one for ethics. It is painful but the social cost of other alternatives is also quite high. Anti-technological calls to abandon consumerism or, conversely, just saying that “the market will sort it all out,” are not legitimate responses. I think topics like this should be at the center of our theological reflection about human labor and the economy.
Jan 24, 2013 in Capitalism and Markets, Economics, Generations & Trends, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
1. I don't know much about Common Good RVA but I like their vision. Christianity Today published a piece featuring them, Why the Rest of Your Week Matters to God
"In general, the church has done a fine job equipping Christians for the "private" areas of their lives: prayer, morality, family life, and so on. However, in general, the church has done a poor job equipping people for the "public" parts of their lives: namely, their work, their vocation. The reality is, most people spend the majority of their time in this latter, "public" area."
And I like this video clip:
2. Can we Survive Technology? Written 57 years ago, Fortune resurrected this article by John von Neumann. The editor's note begins:
Editor's note: Every Sunday, Fortune publishes a favorite story from our magazine archives. This week, to mark our Future Issue, we turn to a feature from June 1955 by John von Neumann tackling the profound questions wrought by radical technical advancement—in von Neumann's day the atomic bomb and climate change. von Neumann was one of the twentieth century's greatest and most influential geniuses. The polymath and patron saint of Game Theory was instrumental in developing America's nuclear superiority toward the end of World War II as well as in framing the decades-long Cold War with the Soviet Union. In his time, von Neumann was said to possess "the world's greatest mind." Here is his characteristically pessimistic look on what the future holds.
It is amazing how much of what he wrote remains true today!
3. Human beings are notoriously bad at evaluating probability and risk I hope to do some blogging on this in the not too distant future. For now, Business Insider has 'The Birthday Problem' Shows How Terrible We Are At Estimating Probability.
4. The Atlantic reports on a study concluding Wanting Things Makes Us Happier Than Having Them
"CONCLUSION: Although "materialists' perceptions that acquisition brings them happiness appear to have some basis in reality," that happiness is short-lived, Richins concluded. As such, "The state of anticipating and desiring a product may be inherently more pleasurable than product ownership itself.""
5. One of the most difficult topics to understand in economics is comparative advantage, especially why outsourcing jobs to other countries often is advantageous for both countries. Forbes has a creative piece this week, Is Outsourcing American Jobs Wrong?. However, as the BBC reports American manufacturers come back home, a trend that has been true for a few years now.
"In order to fight that perception and reclaim capitalism and business as positive words, businesses have to find a purpose beyond just making money. Profit is necessary for business, Mackey said, but it's necessary in the same way that his body has to produce red blood cells. It's needed, but it's not the sole purpose."
7. Fortune has a great piece on Why innovation is so hard.
"Most business leaders don't understand what makes innovation so different from everything else they do at work -- and they haven't adjusted their behavior to accommodate these differences."
8. We've all been watching Lance Armstrong this week. Beware! Study Finds That Having Power Can Make You Stupid
9. More on the continuing evolution of the print industry in The Growing Adoption of Creative Commons Textbooks and Nation's First Bookless Public Library Could Be in Texas.
"The science fiction vision of stars flashing by as streaks when spaceships travel faster than light isn't what the scene would actually look like, a team of physics students says.
Instead, the view out the windows of a vehicle traveling through hyperspace would be more like a centralized bright glow, calculations show. ..."
That's all for this week. Like the Kruse Kronicle at Facebook.
Technorati Tags: bookless public library, capitalism, Common Good RVA, Creative Commons Textbooks, innovation, John von Neumann, leadership, manufacturing, outsourcing, Paper-Thin Computer, probability, risk assessment, technology, theology of work, vocation, warp speed
We’re becoming a bit more Amish
I know. You own a slim titanium ultrabook computer, an eye popping LCD 3D HD television, an iPhone with a custom-designed carbon fiber cover, and a sports car with 360 horsepower under the hood. You don’t have anything in common with the Amish.
It’s possible. But there are a lot of us who are beginning to adopt some practices that are pretty close to the Amish. No, I’m not talking about the Amish belief in adult baptism or the importance of farming in daily life. I’m talking about the decisions the Amish make about technology. More and more of us have begun to think about the impact that technology has on our relationships with others and we’ve begun to alter our practices.
Contrary to many stereotypes, the Amish actually use a lot of technology. I’ve seen Amish ride in cars, use power tools, and fire up a 600 horsepower Rolls-Royce generator. But the Amish won’t use just any technology that is developed. And they don’t allow technologies to be used by anybody whenever they want. They have developed a complex set of unwritten rules that guide their daily decisions.
For instance, if you’re Amish: ...
I think he is on to something.
A few days ago, Matt Ridley had a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Cooling Down the Fears of Climate Change, in which he writes:
... In short: We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide. We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models. Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in "radiative forcing" (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.
The conclusion—taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake—is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).
This is much lower than the IPCC's current best estimate, 3°C (5.4°F).
Mr. Lewis is an expert reviewer of the recently leaked draft of the IPCC's WG1 Scientific Report. The IPCC forbids him to quote from it, but he is privy to all the observational best estimates and uncertainty ranges the draft report gives. What he has told me is dynamite.
Tim Worstall at Forbes writes in Maybe Climate Change Just Really Isn't A Problem After All?
... That is an extraordinary claim and clearly requires extraordinary evidence to support it. Much as I like Ridley (we swap stories and information regularly) I’m not going to accept it on the basis of one newspaper column. And Ridley wouldn’t expect me or you to either.
But if it is true then climate change stops being a looming diaster threatening all we hold dear and becomes instead just a minor background effect. One that we really don’t have to do anything particularly active about at all: the advancing technologies of low or non-carbon energy generation will take care of it all for us. ...
I share Worstall's caution but I also think that to acknowledge that the earth is warming and humans play a contributing role, something for which there seems to be strong agreement, doesn't tell you the magnitude of the impact or what policy options are optimal. As I've pointed out in early posts, the global average temperature has plateaued for more than a decade. Violent hurricane activity has not increased. Arctic ice is melting, although, as I understand it, it is summer ice not winter ice where the change is being observed. Dueling scientists publish studies with partisans cherry-picking the elements that are most supportive of their narrative. I do not doubt that human behavior is having impact on the climate. But I am uncertain of how robust climate models are and how serious the challenges are likely to be.
One thing I do like is the following quote from Bryan Walsh, senior editor at Time. I take issues with some aspects of his article, Anthropocene: Do We Need a New Environmentalism for a New Age?, but I did like this.
... But Kloor isn’t really talking about politics. Rather, I think, it’s how we conceive of the environment and environmentalism. The message of the modernist greens is: in a world of 7 billion plus people, all of whom want (and deserve) to live modern, consuming lives, we need to be pragmatic about how we use—and how much we protect—nature. We don’t have any other choice, so we’d better start dealing with the realities on the ground.
The realist in me thinks the modernist greens are right. There are simply too many of us, and we want too much, for our footprint on the Earth to get anything but bigger. And I’m cheered by the scientists and thinkers who suggest that we might be able to have it all—a huge, thriving human population, and an environment that can support it—as long as we plan right. What’s more, I’m very conscious that industrialization and globalization have largely been forces for good, expanding human access to wealth, health and longevity. There’s no better time in history to be human being. Industrialization is not going to be rolled back—and it shouldn’t be.
There’s also a larger social shift at work that’s altering our concept of nature. Today more human beings live in cities than live in the countryside, and that proportion will only grow in the future: by 2050, as many as three-quarters of the estimated 10 billion people on Earth will live in urban areas. This is a historic change—as recently as 1800 just 2% of the world’s population lived in cities—and it’s a sign that humanity, inevitably, is decoupling from nature. I suspect that’s true even of environmentalists, who are just as likely as anyone else to come into contact with what passes for wilderness these days more in a managed park than untrammeled rainforest or woodland. For a lot of us, “environmental issues” increasingly have to do with improving urban life—think cleaner mass transit or access to organic food in farmer’s markets. As the writer Emma Marris argued in her book Rambunctious Garden, environmentalism needs to stop drawing simplistic lines between what’s natural and what’s manmade—with the former always good and the latter always bad—and learn to celebrate the biodiversity that’s in our backyards. ...
AP has a story summarizing Global Trends 2030, a report put out by the U.S. Intelligence community.
... The study said that in a best-case scenario, Americans, together with nearly two-thirds of the world's population, will be middle class, mostly living in cities, connected by advanced technology, protected by advanced health care and linked by countries that work together, perhaps with the United States and China cooperating to lead the way.
Violent acts of terrorism will also be less frequent as the U.S. drawdown in troops from Iraq and Afghanistan robs extremist ideologies of a rallying cry to spur attacks. But that will likely be replaced by acts like cyber-terrorism, wreaking havoc on an economy with a keystroke, the study's authors say.
In countries where there are declining birth rates and an aging population like the U.S., economic growth may slow.
"Aging countries will face an uphill battle in maintaining living standards," Kojm said. "So too will China, because its median age will be higher than the U.S. by 2030."
The rising populations of disenfranchised youth in places like Nigeria and Pakistan may lead to conflict over water and food, with "nearly half of the world's population ... experiencing severe water stress," the report said. Africa and the Middle East will be most at risk, but China and India are also vulnerable.
That instability could lead to conflict and contribute to global economic collapse, especially if combined with rapid climate change that could make it harder for governments to feed global populations, the authors warn.
That's the grimmest among the "Potential Worlds" the report sketches for 2030. Under the heading "Stalled Engines," in the "most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase," the report said. "The U.S. draws inward and globalization stalls." ...
Here is the overview from the report:
Over the next two decades, the relative power of major international actors will shift markedly. Around 2030, after nearly a century as the preeminent global economic power, the United States will be surpassed by China as the world’s largest economy. With its trade in goods expected to nearly double that of the U.S. and Europe, China’s international economic clout will reach new heights. By 2030, India will become the world’s most populous country and third-largest economy, while Brazil’s economy will rank fourth in size. India and Brazil will join China at the high table of 21st century international politics alongside the United States, even as the relative weight of Russia and Japan diminishes. The European economy will remain in the top tier, but it is not clear whether Europe will be able to act with common purpose to leverage this source of strength.
With its enhanced economic base, Beijing could rival Washington in overall military spending, even as a slowing Chinese economy and internal political conflict complicate China’s ability to lead internationally. The United States will remain primus inter pares in light of its continued advantages across the full spectrum of national power and the legacy benefits of its leadership. It will, however, be operating in a post-Western world in which the bulk of global economic power is held by countries whose per capita incomes are far below those of the traditional great powers. This reality will leave China, India, Brazil, and other players focused on internal development and domestic challenges, torn between their desire to be global powers and their interest in free-riding on Western management of the international system.
How will the rise of the rest impact the international system? The National Intelligence Council’s draft Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds maps out three broad scenarios:
Reverse Engines. Under this scenario, the international system would consist of several powerful countries — but no single state or bloc of states would have the political or economic leverage to drive the international community toward collective action. Such a world, characterized by a global vacuum of power, assumes that the United States will no longer be willing or capable of sustaining the predominant leadership role it has assumed since 1945. With no other country able to step in to replace the U.S. as a global leader, the resulting divergence of interests would lead to fragmentation and the inability of great powers to work cooperatively to solve global issues. Mercantilism and protectionism could lead economic globalization to go into reverse, constraining technological breakthroughs required to manage scarce global resources. Conflict and disorder would follow.
Great Power Convergence. An alternative scenario is what the NIC calls a “fusion” world, in which major powers work together to adopt and enforce a set of globally accepted rules and norms. As U.S. predominance over the international system recedes, other emerging powers would step in to assume greater responsibility for the management of international affairs commensurate with their swelling economic might. Emerging powers emerge as full stakeholders in a global order that is transformed by power shifts but remains liberal and pluralistic. Great power concert (perhaps enabled by democratization in China) to meet global challenges increases the stability of the international system even as power is diffused within it. U.S. resilience enables it to create enduring partnerships with rising powers to sustain the basis of liberal order. Technological advances create new possibilities for joint management of key global challenges, rewarding positive-sum behavior by the great powers.
Multipolar Divergence—U.S. Primacy. A third scenario, one the NIC calls “fragmentation,” involves a multipolar system characterized by a divergence of views among great powers that challenges global governance. The United States would continue to maintain disproportionate global influence and leverage that influence to address global challenges by working through coalitions of like-minded states. A multispeed global economy accelerates the diffusion of power but an alternative coalition to the West does not form, with developing giants consumed by their domestic challenges – even as the global middle class explodes in ways that transform politics within the rising powers. With inclusive global institutions effectively stalemated, the United States instead turns to its old and new allies in Europe and Asia, who would continue to see Washington as their partner of choice in advancing the norms and rules of a liberal order. The risk of conflict increases with the continued rise of new powers like China and the rapid pace of technological change.
One key conclusion of the NIC study is that the future role of the United States in the international system is a decisive variable in determining what kind of “alternative world” will exist in 2030. The choices U.S. leaders make – about how to marshal (and preserve) domestic resources, how vigorously to assert U.S. military and economic leadership overseas, and how much to invest in alliances old and new – will be central to determining which of the above pathways the international system will follow over the coming 20 years. To a certain extent, the answer to the question of how the “rise of the rest” impacts the U.S.-led international system is that it is not up to them… so much as it is up to us.
Futurists always get it wrong. Despite the promise of technology, our world looks an awful lot like the past.
Close your eyes and try to imagine your future surroundings in, say, five, 10 or 25 years. Odds are your imagination will produce new things in it, things we call innovation, improvements, killer technologies and other inelegant and hackneyed words from the business jargon. These common concepts concerning innovation, we will see, are not just offensive aesthetically, but they are nonsense both empirically and philosophically.
Why? Odds are that your imagination will be adding things to the present world. I am sorry, but this approach is exactly backward: the way to do it rigorously is to take away from the future, reduce from it, simply, things that do not belong to the coming times.
I am not saying that new technologies will not emerge — something new will rule its day, for a while. What is currently fragile will be replaced by something else, of course. But this “something else” is unpredictable. In all likelihood, the technologies you have in your mind are not the ones that will make it, no matter your perception of their fitness and applicability — with all due respect to your imagination. ...
... So, the prime error is as follows. When asked to imagine the future, we have the tendency to take the present as a baseline, then produce speculative destiny by adding new technologies and products to it and what sort of makes sense, given an interpolation of past developments. We also represent society according to our utopia of the moment, largely driven by our wishes — except for a few people called doomsayers, the future will be largely inhabited by our desires. So we will tend to over-technologize it and underestimate the might of the equivalent of these small wheels on suitcases that will be staring at us for the next millennia. ...
... Technology is at its best when it is invisible. I am convinced that technology is of greatest benefit when it displaces the deleterious, unnatural, alienating, and, most of all, inherently fragile preceding technology. Many of the modern applications that have managed to survive today came to disrupt the deleterious effect of the philistinism of modernity, particularly the 20th century: the large multinational bureaucratic corporation with “empty suits” at the top; the isolated family (nuclear) in a one-way relationship with the television set, even more isolated thanks to car-designed suburban society; the dominance of the state, particularly the militaristic nation-state, with border controls; the destructive dictatorship on thought and culture by the established media; the tight control on publication and dissemination of economic ideas by the charlatanic economics establishment; large corporations that tend to control their markets now threatened by the Internet; pseudo-rigor that has been busted by the Web; and many others. You no longer have to “press 1 for English” or wait in line for a rude operator to make bookings for your honeymoon in Cyprus. In many respects, as unnatural as it is, the Internet removed some of the even more unnatural elements around us. For instance, the absence of paperwork makes bureaucracy — something modernistic — more palatable than it was in the days of paper files. With a little bit of luck a computer virus will wipe out all records and free people from their past mistakes. ...
Taleb is always thought provoking.
I find myself frequently wondering if the consumerism of late and post-industrial capitalism isn't transitional phenomenon on the way to a new order of things. Industrialism created wide spread abundance of material things. The production of that abundance continues to explode, using less and less energy and resource per unit. At some point do we get to the point where the added satisfaction of the next thing is not very satisfying? The availability of things, even if I don't own them at the moment, is so abundant that there is no drive to keep acquiring? Does focus return to less cluttered existences while still incorporating the technology and innovation that created stuff in the first place? I don't expect this will play out globally in my lifetime (maybe in the West?), but might it play out over the next century or two? Just something I wonder about.
Hans Rosling is one of my favorite social scientists. Mashable has a post Hans Rosling: 5 TEDTalks That Shaped My Worldview.
"Data visionary Hans Rosling has given nine TEDTalks over the years, focusing on global trends in health, economics and population growth. His favorite talks, naturally, keep an eye toward these global themes — from business in Africa to youth culture in China."
I've only seen a couple of the five he lists. I'm looking forward to viewing the others. Here are two of my favorite Rosling videos.
A primary interest of mine is a theology of work. What would it mean to have radical abundance where no one needed to work? Kaku raises some important theological and sociological questions.
Environment360: Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions?
On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.
From Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
to James Hansen’s modern-day tales of climate apocalypse,
environmentalists have long looked to good science and good scientists
and embraced their findings. Often we have had to run hard to keep up
with the crescendo of warnings coming out of academia about the perils
facing the world. A generation ago, biologist Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and systems analysts Dennis and Donella Meadows’ The Limits to Growth
shocked us with their stark visions of where the world was headed. No
wide-eyed greenie had predicted the opening of an ozone hole before the
pipe-smoking boffins of the British Antarctic Survey spotted it when
looking skyward back in 1985. On issues ranging from ocean acidification
and tipping points in the Arctic to the dangers of nanotechnology, the
scientists have always gotten there first — and the environmentalists
And yet, recently, the environment movement seems to have been turning up on the wrong side of the scientific argument. We have been making claims that simply do not stand up. We are accused of being anti-science — and not without reason. A few, even close friends, have begun to compare this casual contempt for science with the tactics of climate contrarians.
That should hurt.
Three current issues suggest that the risks of myopic adherence to ideology over rational debate are real: genetically modified (GM) crops, nuclear power, and shale gas development. The conventional green position is that we should be opposed to all three. Yet the voices of those with genuine environmental credentials, but who take a different view, are being drowned out by sometimes abusive and irrational argument. ...
The environmental movement is a diverse coalition of people. You can't make a blanket statement about any movement this large. There are two significant groups that make up this coalition that I expect explain this inconsistency between embracing science on some things and not on others.
First, I think there is a segment that is simply anti-technological, anti-21st Century living. They have a natural aversion to much of 21st Century existence and want to return to a far less technological (read "natural") existence. That climate science (and the frequently attached moralism about the evils of consumerism) would dovetail with their ideology of bucolic bliss is a welcomed happenstance. It gives legitimization to their cause against those who embrace the modern socio-economic order. GM crops and nuclear power do just the opposite. These would enable the current despised structures to continue and grow. Thus, their embrace of climate change science has little to do with a rigorous understanding and commitment to science.
Second, there is another segment that sees economic freedom as unjust and destructive and wants more centralized control over the global economy. Climate science can be effectively be used to support that vision. The case is made that our current competing economies are leading us to global catastrophe. Political and economic freedom need to be curtailed on a global scale by centralized authorities who will rationally manage world affairs. GM crops and nuclear power offer the opportunity to adapt to current challenges without a significant reordering of the world order. Once again, the commitment is not so much to science as it is to using science as debate tool to achieve an ideological end.
I'm not saying that these are by any means the only two groups backing environmental measures. I am saying that these are two groups that do have meaningful influence on what happens within the environmental movement.
An author who makes a case in book length form, similar to what Fred Pearce is making here, is Seymour Garte in Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet. He is another scientist who is fully persuaded about anthropogenic global warming. He is optimistic about solutions but sees the anti-science, anti-technology, crowd as a real problem.
Technorati Tags: anti-science, climate change, climate science, environment, environmentalism, Fred Pearce, global warming, GM Crops, james hansen, limits to growth, nuclear power, science, science, seymour garte, silent spring, the population bomb, where we stand
Fortune: The future of our open source world
Open source shouldn't just stop at the world of software. In fact, more and more manufacturers are warming up to the cause.
FORTUNE -- The term "open source" was first coined in response to Netscape's January 1998 announcement that the company would make freely available the source code for its web browser, Navigator. Since then, the philosophies of universal access and free redistribution of source code have revolutionized the software industry.
While we have seen how open source communities can foster creativity and collaboration in software (think of the Android app store), open source has not ventured too far beyond this space. This is partly because software is inherently modular, instantly accessible from anywhere, and easily altered.
Yet open source ideas have tremendous potential beyond software. All you need to create a successful open source community are participants who both contribute to, as well as benefit from, shared content. Such networks of transparency, collaboration, and trust can be tremendously beneficial in other industries as well, from pharmaceuticals to manufactured goods. ...
... Although the open source model has not yet been broadly applied to manufactured goods, there are promising emerging examples -- particularly in the not for profit sector. One nonprofit group, Open Source Ecology, is experimenting with ways to cheaply construct from scratch over 50 crucial machines, from bakery ovens to back hoes, with basic materials. Founder Marcin Jakubowski publishes all the blueprints and schematics for each piece of his Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) on a Wiki for contributors from all over the world to access and tweak. Groups throughout the country have developed blueprints for Open Source Ecology, while machines are prototyped and improved on the Factor e Farm in rural Missouri. According to the group's website, 12 of the 50 machines are in their prototyping and documentation phase, including a microtractor, backhoe, and CNC circuit mill. Through this construction kit, Open Source Ecology aims to lower barriers to entry for farming, building, and manufacturing in rural communities, urban neighborhoods in need of renovation, and developing nations. ...
Despite early signs of success, there are, admittedly, real challenges to implementing open source principles to for-profit manufacturing. ...
Atlantic: The Consequences of Machine Intelligence Moshe Vardi
If machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do?
... Bill Joy's question deserves therefore not to be ignored: Does the future need us? By this I mean to ask, if machines are capable of doing almost any work humans can do, what will humans do? I have been getting various answers to this question, but I find none satisfying.
A typical answer to my raising this question is to tell me that I am a Luddite. (Luddism is defined as distrust or fear of the inevitable changes brought about by new technology.) This is an ad hominem attack that does not deserve a serious answer.
A more thoughtful answer is that technology has been destroying jobs since the start of the Industrial Revolution, yet new jobs are continually created. The AI Revolution, however, is different than the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century machines competed with human brawn. Now machines are competing with human brain. Robots combine brain and brawn. We are facing the prospect of being completely out-competed by our own creations. Another typical answer is that if machines will do all of our work, then we will be free to pursue leisure activities. The economist John Maynard Keynes addressed this issue already in 1930, when he wrote, "The increase of technical efficiency has been taking place faster than we can deal with the problem of labour absorption." Keynes imagined 2030 as a time in which most people worked only 15 hours a week, and would occupy themselves mostly with leisure activities.
I do not find this to be a promising future. First, if machines can do almost all of our work, then it is not clear that even 15 weekly hours of work will be required. Second, I do not find the prospect of leisure-filled life appealing. I believe that work is essential to human well-being. Third, our economic system would have to undergo a radical restructuring to enable billions of people to live lives of leisure. Unemployment rate in the US is currently under 9 percent and is considered to be a huge problem.
Finally, people tell me that my concerns apply only to a future that is so far away that we need not worry about it. I find this answer to be unacceptable. 2045 is merely a generation away from us. We cannot shirk responsibility from concerns for the welfare of the next generation. ...
We cannot blindly pursue the goal of machine intelligence without pondering its consequences.
One of the challenges of creative destruction is that we can see what is being destroyed but it is exceedingly difficult to see what is being created. As we have moved through the industrial era into the modern age, this fear that change was about impoverish the masses has been a recurring them. Futurists like Gene Rodenberry saw a day where most goods would be so plentiful or easily created that there would be little need for money or possessions. You wouldn’t need a job as a means to survival.
What do you think? Do Yardi’s concerns worry you? Or is the arrival of AI a godsend?
Oct 25, 2012 in Christian Life, Technology, Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Vocation, Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: AI, ai revolution, bill joy, employment, Gene Rodenberry, industrial revolution, jobs, John Maynard Keynes, labor, leisure, Machine Intelligence, Moshe Vardi, Ray Kurzweil, robots, singularity, technology, unemployment, vocation
Many have been inspired by Star Trek to become scientists, and some are starting to make its gadgetry a reality.
Destination Star Trek London has kicked off at the ExCeL exhibition centre, and I'm willing to bet that among those heading down for a weekend of pointy-eared fun, there'll be a high proportion of scientists and engineers.
Many have been inspired by Star Trek to take up a career in science, technology or engineering. I think the franchise deserves more respect as a science popularisation medium – how many other prime-time TV shows would allow their characters to toss out phrases like "I performed a Fourier analysis on the harmonics, Captain"?
Since its inception in 1966, Star Trek has familiarised us with the lingo and applications of science. At least, that was the case for me. I felt pretty disenfranchised from science at school: it wasn't until I discovered science fiction that I realised I could understand "difficult" technical concepts.
Since the show began, many of us have become more tech-savvy than we could possibly have imagined at school. More than that, we're now seeing emergent technology here on Earth that was once little more than a Star Trek scriptwriter's dream. To get you in the mood for this weekend's festivities, here's a roundup of some of the best Star Trek-inspired technology.
Replicators - ... Three-dimensional printers have been on the open market commercially for most of the 21st century. ...
Transporters - Earlier this year, Nature reported that photons had been teleported 89 miles, between La Palma and Tenerife. OK, it wasn't exactly transportation ...
Bioneural circuitry - ... And in February of this year, the Scripps Research Institute published details of a DNA-based biological computer based on an original design by Alan Turing. ...
Cloaking devices - ... In January, our first real "invisibility cloak" was unveiled at the University of Texas. ...
Nanites - ... They've constructed a set of nanorobots, with inbuilt chemical sensors, that can silence genes within cancerous cells. ...
Androids - Japanese scientists have created some remarkably human-looking androids, though they wouldn't beat Data in a game of three-dimensional chess. ...
Of course, we all ready have personal communication devices. But as someone recently pointed out, while we all have communication devices, we don't see people in Star Trek constantly looking down at them and running into things. ;-) Warp drive would be pretty cool. Any other Trekkie devices that you want to see?
Oct 22, 2012 in Generations & Trends, Science, Technology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Technorati Tags: 3D-Printing, Androids, Bioneural circuitry, cancerous cells, chemical sensors, Cloaking device, emergent technology, Hyposprays, invisibility cloak, Nanites, nanorobots, Replicators, science fiction, Star Trek, Star Trek-inspired technology, teleport, Transporters, Tricorders, warp drive
Abstract for The next industrial revolution: Integrated services and goods in Journal of Systems Science and Systems Engineering
When Karl Marx predicted a revolution putting the means of production in the hands of the workers, he probably didn't imagine it to be fought by an army of DIYers.
But increasingly tinkerers and hobbyists are proving they are more than equal to the corporate world, and their efforts are challenging the traditional methods of manufacturing.
From the 15-year-old high school student who created a pancreatic cancer test using Google as a research tool, to people making money from home-made electronic devices, citizens are most definitely doing it for themselves.
The availability of cheap components, from microcontrollers such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi, coupled with the plethora of crowdsourcing models to allow the sharing of everything from ideas to funding, means that production can move out of the factory and into the home.
"Things that 10 years ago you needed to be in a big company to make are now possible from individuals," said Dale Dougherty, founding editor of Make Magazine and the Maker Faire.
Make Magazine has become the Das Kapital of the maker movement showcasing what people are making while the fair offers a real-life meeting point for what is often a very diverse community - "from embroidery to robotics" as Mr Dougherty puts it.
Started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, the Maker Faire has now grown to 60 events around the world each year in locations as diverse as India, Tokyo and Newcastle.
There is also an independent African Maker Faire, and this is a continent where the maker movement can have real impact thinks Mr Dougherty.
"They are realising that they don't need things that a large Western company has. In the past they have got hand-me-downs from the West which are difficult for them to maintain or repair," he said.
Instead they can make their own devices, custom-made for medical, communication, farming or other needs.
Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, is so convinced that the maker movement will bring about the next industrial revolution, that he has written a book about it.
The parallels between the current phenomenon and the beginnings of the digital revolution are remarkable, he told the BBC ahead of the launch of his book: Makers, The New Industrial Revolution. ...
One of the first essays I ever read about economics in college was Leonard Read's I, Pencil written in the year before I was born. While a little outdated in some ways it still does a wonderful job of illustrating the wonder and complexity of the market process. The Institute for Faith Work and Economics has just released a four minute clip that updates "I, Pencil" in a compelling and entertaining way.
Now let me add a caveat, especially for those of my readers who are skeptical of markets and free enterprise. Markets are not a quasi-deity. They do not solve every problem. They aren't perfect. They don't prevent evil people from doing evil things. But what they do, by historical measure, is astounding. Until very recently, human beings were trapped in low productivity labor. There was minimal ability to trade with others beyond the immediate community. There was no way for us to coordinate with, and mutually benefit from, the work of countless strangers from across the globe. Markets make that possible. Markets made this very conversation possbile that you an I are having right now because without it there would be no computers and no internet to enable this interaction. And for that reason markets can be celebrated, even as we wrestle with many implications that have arisen because of emergence of well-coordinated markets.
... In his presentation, Diamandis offered a rebuttal filled with optimism. We’re looking at our problems the wrong way, he argues: While we do have serious, urgent issues to be dealt with on a global scale, contextually, we’re still doing better than we ever have in human history.
It’s simply a matter of context. “In America, the majority of people under the poverty line have things like electricity, water, toilet access,” Diamandis says. “Scarcity is contextual.”
Think of a human’s life centuries ago; our average lifespan has more than doubled since then. Costs of essentials like food, water and electricity have plummeted. Instead of looking at how far we’ve come as a people, Diamandis says, we’re setting our expectations far too high.
And our savior, of course, is in the technology. “Tech is a resource liberating force,” says Diamandis. ...
... But whatever is to come, Diamandis and Gilding seem to agree on one thing. “I have very little confidence in governments and large corporations,” Diamandis says, echoing some of Gilding’s pessimism. “I have extraordinary confidence in the innovators that are out there.”
Both also agree that progress (the constructive sort) is possible, albeit through very different spurs to action. Gilding believes that pain will be our great motivator; first, our situation will get ugly, and only then will humanity be fearful enough to change its consumption habits.
Diamandis thinks otherwise — through our fervor for technology and our increasingly connected society accessing the internet at a faster pace, we will find our way. By 2020, Diamandis projects, we will have 3 billion more global users connected to the internet than we have today, a surge in users that increases the possibilities of collaborative innovation. “Rather than economic shutdown, we’ll have the biggest economic injection ever,” he says. ...
Atlantic Cities: The Real Reason Cities Can Be So Much Greener Than Other Places
For those who do research on the sustainability of cities, there's a tantalizing puzzle. Per capita, cities are greener than other places; urban residents have a much smaller ecological footprint.
In our current models, we understand only about half of that difference, perhaps even less. To be sure, some of the greenness of cities is not so hard to explain. For example, people drive less in bigger cities because it's harder to drive, and because it's easier to get around without a car. Other factors are small in themselves, but add up: the closer spacing of buildings results in lower transmission losses and pumping energy; there's less embodied energy in roads and other infrastructure; urban residences tend to be more compact and energy-efficient.
But the most intriguing reason may be the one we understand the least: people in cities actually interact and use resources in a more efficient pattern. When we look at individual factors in isolation, we miss the synergetic effects of this network.
There are other models that might help us unravel this, especially those that explain the dynamics of networks. In particular, there is a phenomenon in economics that's known as a "Knowledge Spillover." It is one of the reasons that cities are such powerful economic engines. Within a city, if you are making x, and I am making y, then our combined knowledge might allow us to make z together, but only if we are physically close enough that our knowledge can spill over from one sort of enterprise to another.
In practice, many such spillovers gradually connect and reinforce each other, creating a kind of virtuous circle of economic activity, and whole new industries. (Think of the automotive industry centered in Detroit, or the personal computer industry centered around Palo Alto.) This pattern is a classic kind of "network," familiar to those who work with metabolic processes in biology.
Scientists have long known that a similar dynamic helps to explain how a body or an ecosystem can have high metabolic efficiency, creating new chemicals or structures, and re-using the resources to do so again and again in a sustainable pattern.
It seems very likely that something similar happens in cities, and in what we might think of as resource spillovers. ...
I've been reading Paul Collier's The Plundered Planet: Why We Must - And How We Can - Manage Nature for Global Prosperity. He is writing about natural resource extraction in emerging nations and the impact that has on local economies. I thought this excerpt was especially helpful:
We have now reached the heart of what is distinctive about the role of government in societies that are rich in nonrenewable natural, assets. The exploitation of the natural asset is intrinsically unsustainable. At some stage the oil well is going to run dry, the vein copper ore will be exhausted, and the revenue stream will cease.
That word "unsustainable" sends shivers down the spine every environmentalist. But just because the exploitation of a natural asset is unsustainable does not mean that it should be avoided. The only sustainable rate of use of a nonrenewable natural asset zero. But were we never to use any nonrenewable assets they might as well not be there in the first place: the baby has disappeared with the bathwater. So, literal sustainability sets the bar absurdly high. Here economics is helpful in imagining a more meaningful conception: sustainability does not imply preservation. The world has sustained overall economic growth, albeit with hiccups, for two centuries yet virtually no Single economic activity has been sustained. Growth has not been a matter of everything getting bigger. Rather, it has been like running across ice flows: if you stand still you fall in and drown; if you keep going - even if each individual step is unsustainable - you survive. In the nineteenth century the British government was worried that it was going to run out of tall trees for the masts of ships. What happened, of course, is that at a certain point ships no longer needed trees.
The decision to deplete a nonrenewable natural asset is therefore not intrinsically an economic sin. The ethics of depletion depend upon how the money generated gets used. I have suggested that it is ethically incumbent on us to respect the rights of future generations. We may not be the curators of natural assets, but we are the custodians of their value. We are not obliged to turn the earth into a gigantic museum, with nature neatly preserved in its display case. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility not to plunder natural resources because we do not own them in the way that we own created assets. We can fulfill our ethical obligations by bequeathing to the future other kinds of assets of an equivalent value. This boils down to whether to consume the revenues or save them. We have a responsibility to save.
This represents the golden rule for the ethical use of revenue from nonrenewable natural assets. It implies that the use of this revenue should be quite unlike that of normal tax revenue. Normally, tax revenue can be presumed to rise as the economy grows: it is sustainable and thus can be spent on consumption. A good test of whether the government of a resource-rich country is being ethically responsible is whether it has a higher savings rate of its revenues from natural-asset depletion than from other tax revenues. As it depletes the natural asset is it accumulating man-made assets in its place?
Do you have a higher savings rate of unsustainable income than income you expect to continue? Perhaps you have not consciously thought about it; you just have an overall savings rate out of your total income. It might equally be difficult for a government to identify which part of its overall savings is attached to which part of its income. However, we might reasonably expect that those governments whose revenues are largely generated by the depletion of natural assets should have higher savings rates than those whose revenues are fully sustainable. For example, Africa, where so much revenue comes from resource extraction, should tend to have a higher savings rate than "Developing Asia," where revenues are linked to industry. In fact, the opposite is the case. Africa's savings rate averages around 20 percent of national income, whereas that of Developing Asia has been approximately double. (98-99)
National Geographic has a fascinating interactive map at their website that gives some valuable socio-economic perspective. The World of Seven Billion
Source: World of Technology
And this helps illustrate my skepticism with trusting government programs to innovate better solutions to our problems in terms of things like renewable energy and healthcare.
Wall Street Journal: Three Cheers for the Cheapeners and Cost-Cutters
... A feature of innovation is that the greatest impact of a new idea comes not when the light bulb goes on over the geek's head, but when the resulting technology eventually becomes cheap enough for many people to use—perhaps decades later. The first plane at Kitty Hawk had zero impact on the world economy, but budget airlines have a huge impact; the first computer was a curiosity, but cheap laptops changed the world.
With some technologies, the cheapening happens almost immediately. The Post-it note springs to mind. With others, the cheapening takes a surprisingly long time: Lasers remained the preserve of labs for five decades before suddenly showing up in consumer goods. With some technologies, like helicopters, the cheapening has never happened at all.
Most of us consider the original idea rare and noble, the later cheapening inevitable and dull. Who would imagine today that Napoleon III of France reserved his newfangled aluminum cutlery for only his most honored guests, leaving commoner folk to eat with silver?
We also disrespect the people who achieve the cheapening. The robber barons of the late 19th century generally made their fortunes by drastically cheapening new technologies, grabbing market share by undercutting rivals—and ending up with terrible reputations. Cornelius Vanderbilt cut the price of rail freight 90%, Andrew Carnegie slashed steel prices 75% and John D. Rockefeller cut oil prices 80% between 1870 and 1900. Malcom McLean, Sam Walton and Michael Dell did roughly the same for container shipping, discount retailing and home computing a century later, and were also unloved for it.
Yet it's the cheapening that raises the world's living standards. And cheapening is often mighty hard work. ...
There are two ways our standard of living improves. Our earnings rise and the cost of what we consume goes down. Walmart stores and big box stores drive prices down through their volume business model. This makes many of the things that would otherwise be affordable only for the upper-middle class available to those with lower incomes. For everyday goods, like food and clothing, Walmart has been so effective at keeping prices low that economists from across the political spectrum say that Walmart has been the single biggest contributor to the improving standard of living for the poor compared to all other contributors combined. Yes, there are losers. It typically is other small chain retailers (not mom and pop locally owned businesses). Yes, there can be a slight downward pressure on wages but the impact on the overall regional economy is negligable. The opening of a Walmart in a depressed neighborhood can also serve as an attraction for other businesses and services, leading to economic renewal. When a Walmart opens there are always far more applicants than jobs being offered. The greatest oppostion comes from unions and from upper class folks whose aesthetic sensibilities violated by the presence of such stores. Poor neighborhoods generally show 80-90% support for such retailers.
It is a bit maddening to hear people who say they side with the poor vilify the cheapeners as archenemy purveyors of consumerism. Without the cheapeners, the standard of living for the poor would be far worse and we would not have most of the goods we take for granted today (including the device on which you are reading this post) available to us.
New York Times: Technology Advances; Humans Supersize
For nearly three decades, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel and a small clutch of colleagues have assiduously researched what the size and shape of the human body say about economic and social changes throughout history, and vice versa. Their research has spawned not only a new branch of historical study but also a provocative theory that technology has sped human evolution in an unprecedented way during the past century.
Next month Cambridge University Press will publish the capstone of this inquiry, “The Changing Body: Health, Nutrition, and Human Development in the Western World Since 1700,” just a few weeks shy of Mr. Fogel’s 85th birthday. The book, which sums up the work of dozens of researchers on one of the most ambitious projects undertaken in economic history, is sure to renew debates over Mr. Fogel’s groundbreaking theories about what some regard as the most significant development in humanity’s long history.
Mr. Fogel and his co-authors, Roderick Floud, Bernard Harris and Sok Chul Hong, maintain that “in most if not quite all parts of the world, the size, shape and longevity of the human body have changed more substantially, and much more rapidly, during the past three centuries than over many previous millennia.” What’s more, they write, this alteration has come about within a time frame that is “minutely short by the standards of Darwinian evolution.”
“The rate of technological and human physiological change in the 20th century has been remarkable,” Mr. Fogel said in an telephone interview from Chicago, where he is the director of the Center for Population Economics at the University of Chicago’s business school. “Beyond that, a synergy between the improved technology and physiology is more than the simple addition of the two.”
This “technophysio evolution,” powered by advances in food production and public health, has so outpaced traditional evolution, the authors argue, that people today stand apart not just from every other species, but from all previous generations of Homo sapiens as well.
“I don’t know that there is a bigger story in human history than the improvements in health, which include height, weight, disability and longevity,” said Samuel H. Preston, one of the world’s leading demographers and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Without the 20th century’s improvements in nutrition, sanitation and medicine, only half of the current American population would be alive today, he said. ...
On a side note, there is an interesting aspect to this evolution. Ask yourself "What height do you have to be to be tall?" For an American male living today, I'm just about average at 5'11." But 150 years I would be tall. Though being taller than than my great-great-grandfathers, do I experience myself as tall? No. Because while I'm taller than my ancestors, so is everyone else taller than their ancestors. I experience myself as average just as most of my ancestors did but my objective quality of tallness most certainly has improved (assuming taller is better, as implicated here.)
The same problem applies to poverty. The poor in America are substantially better off in absolute terms than even many of the well-to-do of three generations ago but they see no improvement in comparison to their contemporaries. And this is one of the oddities about economic development. Observers correctly note the economic growth does not increase the overall happiness of society (once a certain minimal threshold is passed). That is because people do not experience a change in their realtive positions. But these observers incorrectly conclude that economic development is not making life better for members of society. Witness the findings of Fogel, et al, about techno-physio evolution. Despite not making people happier, economic growth does considerably improve people's lives over time.
From Greg Mankiw's textbook:
"Trade is, in some ways, a form of technology. When a country exports wheat and imports textiles, it is as if it had invented a form of technology for turning wheat into textiles. A country that eliminates trade restrictions will, therefore, experience the same kind of economic growth that would occur after a major technological advance."
"It is sometimes argued that although free trade technological progress has some victims, its benefits exceed its costs, so it is possible for its winners to compensate its losers out of their gains, everyone thereby coming out ahead in the end. ...
China has been one of the world’s most dynamic economies in recent decades, but how did it fall so far behind? This column argues that the industrial revolution occurred in Europe rather than China because European entrepreneurs were eager to adopt machines to cut down on high labour costs. China didn’t “miss” the industrial revolution – it didn’t need it.
One of the big debates in economics is about the causes of the arguably most dramatic change in development trajectory in (recent) world history, the industrial revolution.
There is consensus about the fact that this change in growth pattern started in northwestern Europe, and gradually spread to large parts of the western and, after a lag, eastern and southern world.
Why this happened, and where it happened are topics of heated debate among historians. The recent “Chinese miracle” – fabulous growth since about 2000 – has had an important impact on this debate.
... Mixed modernity
This detailed comparison results in a very mixed picture of Chinese economic modernity compared with that of Western Europe. Yes, the Yangzi delta had a relatively advanced economy, with high levels of agricultural productivity and urbanisation and a high degree of structural transformation; we can accept this part of Pomeranz’s thesis. But this did not imply that it was “ready” for an industrial revolution.
The industrial revolution was a process of mechanisation in which expensive labour was substituted for by machines driven by coal – as Bob Allen (2009) has demonstrated. Chinese factor costs were not at all conducive to such a change.
Whereas entrepreneurs in Europe were very eager to develop new technologies that increased labour productivity via the capital-labour ratio, Chinese businesses barely had any incentive to do so. That the industrial revolution emerged in England was therefore not accidental or the result of luck, but the long-run effect of its fundamentally different factor prices, reflecting its different economic and institutional trajectory.
Wall Street Journal: There's Nothing So Old as the Recently New
Watching friends learn kite-surfing last week, equipped not only with new designs of inflatable kites shaped like pterodactyls but new kinds of harnesses shaped like medieval chastity belts and even new helmets shaped like Elizabethan sleeping caps, it occurred to me that nothing becomes obsolete so fast as something new. For it is pretty clear that the rise of kite-surfing, invented in the late 1990s, is slowly killing wind-surfing.
Wind-surfing, invented in the 1970s, is not yet as moribund as the fax, which was invented at about the same time, but it may be heading that way. As recently as 2005, wind-surfers were scoffing at the upstart kite-surfers, arguing that their pastime was slower, more cumbersome and more dangerous. (I remember scoffing at email's inferiority to fax in the days when you had to call to alert somebody to check for an incoming email.)
Now kite-surfing equipment packs smaller and costs less than wind surfing's, the skills are easier to learn, the speed is as great—greater in light winds—and it can be done on land in the form of kite-karting. People have already crossed hundreds of miles of ocean by kite-surfing, from the Canaries to Morocco, for example, and from Tasmania to Australia.
My point is that new technologies threaten young technologies more than they threaten ancient ones. Kite-surfing may kill wind-surfing, but it will not affect sailing. Email eclipsed fax more than it did letter-writing. Social networking is overtaking telephoning, but not partying. In the era of Kinect, Space Invaders is dead, but poker is thriving. In competition with jets, airships have largely died out, but ships have not. Refrigeration killed the newfangled ice trade, but old-fashioned pickling, smoking and curing continued. ...
... It follows that obsolescence more probably beckons for the things that have changed our life most recently, rather than for the things that are already old. My generation finds it hard to believe that email will die, but the young barely touch it, preferring Facebook, Twitter and text. I suspect rather than go extinct, email will evolve into something more compatible with text and social networking. And perhaps we may be permitted a wry smile at the certain prospect that the young will in turn be marooned with obsolete habits and terms like Facebook, Twitter and text.
Huffington Post: You're Out: 20 Things That Became Obsolete This Decade (PHOTOS)
The last ten years have brought us a windfall of new gadgets and gizmos, and with them, a new way of life.
Since 2000, we've gained iPods and iPads, Travelocity and Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare, BlackBerry smartphones and Android devices, Xboxes and Wiis, among many other new services, sites, and electronics. We're now poking, tweeting, Googling, and Skyping.
But in that time we've also changed our habits and lost a few things, too. As we look forward to 2011, HuffPostTech has taken a look back at the things that have become obsolete (some of the these items were originally featured on an earlier list here) .
What other items or practices would you add to the list? Submit your own ideas by clicking "Add a Slide" below. ...
Marginal Revolution: Robert Sloss predicted the iPhone in 1910
Well, more or less. Or is it an iPad? In 1910 Stoss published an essay called "The Wireless Century," intending to predict the world of 2010. In this world everyone carries around a "wireless telegraph" which:
1. Serves as a telephone, the whole world over.
2. Either rings or vibrates in your pocket.
3. Can transmit any musical recording or performance with perfect clarity.
4. Can allow people to send each other photographs, across the entire world.
5. Can allow people to see the images of paintings, museums, etc. in distant locales.
6. No one will ever be alone again.
7. Can serve as a means of payment, connecting people to their bank accounts and enabling payments (Japan is ahead of us here).
8. Can connect people to all newspapers, although Sloss predicted that people would prefer that the device read the paper aloud to them (not so much the case).
9. Can transmit documents to "thin tubes of ink," which will then print those documents in distant locales.
10. People will have a better sense of the poor, and of suffering, because they will have witnessed it through their device (not obviously true, at least not yet).
11. People will vote using their devices and this will empower democracy (nope).
12. Judicial testimonies will be performed over such devices, often from great distances.
13. People will order perfectly-fitting fashions from Paris; this guy should be in the Apps business.
14. Married couples will be much closer, and distance relationships will be closer and better.
15. Military targeting and military orders will become extremely precise.
The essay is reprinted in the Arthur Brehmer book Die Welt in 100 Jahren. The book is interesting throughout; a bunch of the other writers thought in 2010 we would be fighting wars with large zeppelins.
1939: The New York World’s Fair opens in Flushing Meadow Park. It will give visitors a glimpse of “the world of tomorrow” and shape industrial design, pop culture and the way the future would envision the future.
The fair ran two seasons, from 1939 to 1940. The most memorable exhibit was the General Motors Pavilion, and the most memorable feature in the General Motors Pavilion was a ride called the Futurama. People stood in line for hours to ride it and experience the exciting possibilities of life in the distant future — the year 1960.
The Futurama ride carried fair visitors past tiny, realistic landscapes while a narrator described the world of tomorrow. The effect was like catching a glimpse of the future from the window of an airplane. As you might expect from a ride sponsored by GM, the focus was on what roadways and transportation might look like in 20 years. ...
The following video takes you on a narrated trip through the Futurama. Keep in mind that many people did not have cars and there were no interstate system. It is a fascinating look into Modernist visions of progress.