Category Archives: futurism

Why I’m Considering An Electric Car In The Future (And Why You Should Too)

The Tesla Buying Experience Is 10× Nicer Than The Auto Dealer Buying  Experience - CleanTechnica

When it comes to upgrading technology, I like to be near the front of the line. That’s not to say I’m the kind of person who will camp out in front of an Apple store for two weeks to get a new iPhone. I love technology, but not that much. I’m more inclined to wait just long enough for the early bugs to be worked out before I completely buy in.

That’s what I did with smartphones years ago. I was not among those who immediately jumped into buying an iPhone when it first came out. I actually waited longer than most to buy my first smartphone, mostly because I felt like there were too many shortcomings to warrant the cost. Once I felt ready, though, I went for it and I don’t regret it.

For certain technologies, I don’t mind being near the back of the line. It’s not that I’m against it or have no faith in it. Sometimes, it’s just cost prohibitive for me and I don’t see gaining widespread use for an extended period. That’s why I never bought a Segway or a Sega Dreamcast.

Like my first smartphone, I like to wait until I’m reasonably certain that this technology is a good long-term investment. Sometimes, I end up waiting longer than I should, but I think that’s important, especially for something I know I’ll use a lot.

For that reason, I’ve never been inclined to consider an electric car. Unlike smartphones, I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to cars. I’m also not big on making my car flashy or stylish. For me, a car is just a means of getting from one point to another and nothing more. I get that cars mean a lot more to certain people, but that’s just not me.

On top of that, I’ve never actually purchased a brand new car with zero miles on it. My first car was a used car that didn’t have GPS, Satellite radio, or even a means of plugging in my smartphone. However, I didn’t mind because it was my first car. I just needed it to get from place to place.

My second car, which is the one I’m driving now, is a lot nicer, relatively speaking. It was also used. Specifically, it’s my parents’ old car. They sold it to me nine years ago when they decided to buy a new car. This one has more features, including GPS and an auxiliary port for my phone. It has served me well for many years.

However, it’s starting to accumulate a lot of miles. It’s also starting to show its age in some places. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to pay for some rather pricy repairs to keep it in good condition. It’s almost at a point where the idea of buying a new car is starting to appeal to me.

This time around, for my third car, I want it to be new. I want it to be a car that can last with minimum repairs. Not long ago, that would’ve eliminated most electric cars from consideration. Now, I’m not so sure.

The more I contemplate the possibility of a new car, the more serious it becomes. Over the past several years, I’ve seen more and more electric cars on the road. In my own neighborhood, I know two people who own Teslas and I frequently see them on the road. In addition, electric vehicle charging stations seem to be popping up everywhere. Nearly every major shopping center in my area has at least one.

I also have noticed the increasing price of gas. Even if it isn’t as high as it was earlier this spring, I’ve seen a lot of price spikes over the past few years. That’s becoming harder and harder to overlook. Even though my car now gets pretty decent mileage, the cost of filling up the tank is starting to concern me. There’s also the environmental factor to consider, which is important to me.

At the end of the day, a lot of it will come down to cost. I’m willing to pay extra for quality, but only to a point. On that front, electric cars were always out of my range, but that too might be changing.

It used to be that most electric cars worth having would cost at least over $60,000, even with subsidies. That was how expensive they were when I bought my last car from my parents. Now, if rumors from Tesla are to be believed, there could be an electric car for as little as $25,000 within the next couple years.

That’s actually not much more than what my parents paid for the car I’m driving now. In the coming years, that cost could come down even more, especially as battery technology continues to improve and charging stations become more plentiful. By the time I’m ready to buy a new car, they might be the better long-term option over gas.

That’s why I’m considering an electric car this time around.

That’s also why I encourage others to do so as well.

This is not an automotive fad like station wagons or Hummers. Electric cars are a growing part of the market and that growth isn’t slowing down. Like the early smartphone market, there are plenty of shortcomings, but those shortcomings are slowly and steadily being mitigated.

Eventually, there will come a point where the advantages of electric cars are greater than traditional gasoline cars, with respect to fueling, maintenance, and even cost. That point is not that far off. It may seem like electric cars aren’t too appealing in the short-term, but what happens when the price of gas just gets too high to ignore?

Even if gasoline cars are cheaper and just more familiar to the average consumer, their value is still at the mercy of gas prices. Should gas ever get above $8.00 a gallon, then electric vehicles don’t just become appealing. They become the better long-term option.

That’s often my most pressing concern in buying a car. It’s a big investment and one I don’t intend to make light of. None of this is to say I’m definitely buying an electric car, but for the first time in my adult life, I’m seriously considering it. I think in the coming years, as the technology and the market continues to evolve, I won’t be the only one.

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Filed under futurism, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology

Would You Willingly Plug Yourself Into The Matrix? A Serious Question

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. This video is both a thought experiment and a deep dive into some of the concepts explored in the Matrix, both the original and The Matrix Resurrections. It explores the idea of creating virtual worlds that feel every bit as real as the real. It also touches on the larger implications of this technology while also asking under what circumstances we would willingly enter such a world.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, Jack's World, movies, Neuralink, YouTube

Would You Willingly Plug Your Brain Into The Matrix?

The Matrix' Code Came From Sushi Recipes—but Which? | WIRED

What if there was a virtual environment that was so real and so lifelike that it was completely indistinguishable from the real world?

What if you had an opportunity to upload the entire contents of your mind into that environment?

Would you do it? Even if you didn’t have a full measure of control over the environment, would you still venture into this virtual world?

I’m not just asking these questions as another thought experiment, nor am I asking it as an excuse to talk about “The Matrix: Resurrections.” Yes, the prospect of another movie in the mold of “The Matrix” did inspire me to pose these questions, but I also think these questions are worth seriously contemplating.

Back in 1999, the year “The Matrix” first came out, the idea of an entirely simulated world seemed like classic sci-fi tech, the likes of which we’d never see in our lifetimes. That’s understandable. In 1999, the most advanced simulations we knew could only be rendered by a Playstation 2 and those hardly looked realistic.

Since then, computing power and graphics technology has come a long way. These days, graphics in video game consoles are so realistic that it’s nearing Uncanny Valley territory. It won’t be that long before we have computer renderings that are so advanced, so lifelike, and so realistic that our brains can’t tell the difference.

At that point, creating an entirely simulated world is just a matter of computing power, scale, and interface. Since brain/computer interfaces are already being developed, it’s not unreasonable to think that we won’t have a Matrix-like simulation available within the next 40 years. Many people alive today who are under the age of 50 might very well live long enough to see that technology.

Once we have it, we’ll have some important decisions to make. Some of those decisions will be societal. If people suddenly have access to a virtual world where they can be anyone, do anything, and immerse themselves in any conceivable experience, then what does that do to society? What does that do to people, communities, nations, and social structures?

Those are far messier questions to contemplate, which is why I’m not going to belabor them too much at this point. Instead, I want to keep this question within the context of individuals. Everyone’s circumstances and beliefs are different. As a result, that may impact whether you’d take advantage of such an opportunity or what kind of environment you’d seek to create.

Personally, if I ever had an opportunity to upload my mind into a virtual environment on par with the Matrix, I would do it, but the extent and circumstances would vary. I suspect others may feel the same.

If I could create my own personal virtual environment before I uploaded my mind into it, then I would certainly be more willing. I think that’s an important factor. The humans in “The Matrix” didn’t have any measure of control over the environment they were in. I think that would complicate any that anyone would have in such a world.

It would also depend heavily on my physical state in the real world. If this technology became available and I was old, weak, and in poor health, then I would certainly be more inclined to use it. That assumes that any technology involving human enhancement hasn’t progressed significantly and people still age, get sick, and die.

Like it or not, our physical bodies in the real world will break down. If the technology to manage and reverse that isn’t available, then virtual environments might be the only way we can continue to live in any meaningful capacity. I certainly hope that isn’t my only opinion when I get to be that age, but if it is, then that simplifies my decision.

It’s hard to know what sort of options we’ll have. I still believe that technology involving human enhancement and creating virtual worlds will advance in parallel. One would, by default, need the other in order to properly interface with these environments. As such, it would complicate any decision about venturing into virtual environments.

Then, there’s the actual nature of those virtual environments. If we can control what environment we go into, then that opens the door to even more possibilities. Within these worlds, you could be a billionaire playboy, a medieval king, a famous celebrity, or super athlete. From your brain’s perspective, it would feel every bit as real as what you’re feeling right now.

Whether or not our brains would accept it is a different story. I suspect there may be some who, once they enter these worlds, would never want to leave. There may even be some who willingly erase their own memories of the real world so that this new virtual world is their new “reality.” That’s exactly what Cypher desired in “The Matrix” and I suspect others might share that desire.

It really does depend on the person, their situation, and what sort of virtual world they seek to create. We probably won’t know the full impact until we create our first true Matrix-like virtual world. I sincerely hope I live long enough to see that. If you’re reading this, hopefully you get to see it as well. It should give you plenty of time to contemplate these questions and whether you’ll venture into those world.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, futurism, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

Why 3D Printed Homes Are Promising, But Will Have A (Very) Limited Impact

A 3D printed house is for sale in New York. Builders say it will cut  housing construction costs

I’m generally a fan of technology. The frequency with which I talk about artificial intelligence, brain implants, biotechnology, and sex robots should make that abundantly clear. I believe that many of the problems we face today will and must be solved through technology.

At the same time, I try to maintain a balanced perspective. I don’t deny that certain technologies are grossly overhyped and doomed to fail. Just ask anyone who bought a Zune. I’m as prone as anyone else from succumbing to that hype, but there are times when it’s either empty or shallow.

Every now and then, a technological advancement comes along that has potential, but is hindered by one too many opposing forces and I’m not talking about conspiracy theories. I’m not among those who think the governments of the world are censoring technology that allows a car to run on water. I just don’t trust governments to be that competent when it comes to keeping technology.

Sometimes, technology is just too late or has too many things working against it. Maybe if it had come a few decades earlier, it could’ve been a bigger deal. It just entered a world that could not accommodate it.

That’s generally how I feel about 3D printed houses.

Now, a lot has been made about 3D printing. It’s a legitimately exciting field that is producing real-world advances. It’s one of those emerging technologies that is just starting to grow. It’s already developing into a wealth of new fields and, with some refinement, this technology will have a profound impact.

When it comes to houses, though, I think it’s too late and too limited. That’s a shame too because housing is a real social issue. As of this writing, there is a major housing shortage from those actively seeking to buy new homes, as well as an ongoing homelessness problem that has plagued many major cities.

It’s true that we need to more homes and the current processes for making them just isn’t cutting it. The idea of using 3D printed homes is a novel method of addressing that issue, but I have a feeling this is one of those methods that just can’t get the job done.

That’s not because it doesn’t work. In recent years, the process has actually been refined considerably. It is now possible to erect one-story, 400 square-foot house in a manner of days at a cost of as little as $4,000 to $5,000 per unit. I know people whose monthly rent is higher than that.

This technology is real and there are people actually living in these houses. The problem isn’t the hardware, the software, the logistics, or even the materials. The problem is the nature of the market it’s trying to impact.

Mass producing houses is not like mass producing your typical widget. Just making lots of units isn’t going to drive down the price or the cost of living in them. Housing is one of those products that is constrained by forces beyond its control, namely location.

That old saying about location, location, location among realtors actually carries weight here. Even if a 3D printed house only costs $15,000 compared to a typical $115,000 unit of similar size, it’s not going to sell if it’s located in the middle of nowhere. People generally want to live close to where they work, where they grew up, and where their family resides.

That’s not a technical limitation.

That’s just human nature and market forces.

I say that as someone who has had to navigate that market. Several years ago, I bought my first home and I can attest that location matters more than style. Some of the homes I saw weren’t exactly appealing, but the price was right. There were also some very nice-looking units, but they were way out of the way for me.

It really didn’t matter to me whether the home was 3D printed or not. What mattered was its location, its proximity to important areas, and having connections to quality utilities. Those are all factors that 3D printing can’t do much to address.

Then, there are the building codes.

There are a lot of building codes.

Granted, those codes are there for a reason. They’re important with respect to ensuring your home won’t collapse on you one day, but they add complexity to the process. Even though 3D printed homes can be built up to code, they still add more moving parts to the process.

Even without those parts, there’s still the matter of general market forces. Like I said, housing is a unique product. You can make all the 3D houses you want. You can’t change the location or the nature of the land.

That’s why housing is so expensive in certain areas, like San Francisco and New York. The demand is high, but you can’t increase the amount of space for homes. Even if you used 3D printing to make all those homes as cheaply as possible, the demand will keep those prices high. You’ll still end up paying six figures for a unit that might have only cost a fraction of that to make.

You can call that unfair or price gouging all you want. That’s just what happens with market forces. When you have a limited amount of space to work with and a location that everyone wants to live in, it really doesn’t matter how cheap it is to make a home. The cost isn’t going to change that much.

That’s not to say this technology is completely useless. I can definitely see 3D printed houses serving a purpose, especially in areas that haven’t been well-developed over the past decades. I can also see it help with developing nations that need a cheap, quick way to make lots of units in an area with limited infrastructure. I just think that if you’re hoping for this technology to reduce the price of a home, you’re hoping for too much. Technology can do amazing things. It can take us to the stars, cure disease, and literally reshape the face of the planet. It just can’t do squat about basic market forces.

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Why Ethereum Might Have More Value Than Bitcoin (In The Long Run)

Ethereum 2.0 Deposit Contract Surpasses $25 Billion Worth of ETH | Finance  Magnates

Nobody can predict the future. As someone who often talks about the future and future technology, I like to belabor that. It’s an important disclaimer because if the future were that easy to predict, then there would be no need for lotteries, fantsy sports, or the stock market.

It’s like my old political science professor once told me in college. Nobody knows anything. He said that in the context of a lesson about politics, but I think it also applies to many other fields. Technology, economics, and finance are definitely among them.

I’m certainly no expert in any of those fields. I like writing and telling sexy stories about technology. I’m not the least bit qualified to make informed predictions about it or any related subjects. I’m not dumb, but my expertise is limited to comics, sexy short stories, and football stats.

Having gotten that out of the way, I’d like to give a brief layman’s opinion about cryptocurrencies. I know that’s a chaotic subject, at the moment. The recent rise of multiple cryptocurrencies has made headlines, albeit for absurd reasons at times. However, I think it’s safe to say that this is not another passing internet fad in the mold of planking.

This technology has real value.

This technology is changing the world.

This technology will likely continue to evolve and improve with time.

I say this as someone who has followed the news surrounding cryptocurrencies for years. I also say that as someone who recently purchased his first stash of Bitcoins. As of this moment, I only have a few hundred bucks in my Bitcoin wallet. I’ve also seen the value fluctuate significantly. I’ve even had a chance to spend them, which was surprisingly smooth.

After this experience, I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged Bitcoin enthusiast. I’m not planning to invest all my money into Bitcoins anytime soon. However, I genuinely believe this technology has great value. I also believe it’ll become an integral part of our future, with respect to finance and the economy.

At the same time, I can’t help but note its limits. I’ve even highlighted a few of them before. Bitcoin has many benefits, but I think its value is somewhat skewed because it just happens to be the biggest in terms of market cap, as well as the most well-known cryptocurrency.

When most people think cryptocurrencies, the first thing they think of is Bitcoin. That gives it a huge benefit over other cryptocurrencies, of which there are many. That benefit is likely to fuel its value for years to come.

However, having used it and followed the growth of cryptocurrencies more closely in recent years, I do not believe it’s the most valuable cryptocurrency on the market. I also don’t think that Bitcoin, in its current form, will succeed beyond a certain point.

Many people compare Bitcoin to digital gold and I think that’s a fairly apt comparison. Bitcoin, like real gold, is mostly a store of value. That’s what it was designed to be and, for the most part, it fulfills that purpose well. A bar of gold and a stash of Bitcoins will function in primarily the same way.

In terms of value and utility, though, that’s where I think Bitcoin falls short. Even gold has more uses beyond being a store of value. I think if cryptocurrencies are to achieve more than just functioning as digital money, they need to do more.

For that reason, I believe Ethereum, the second-most popular cryptocurrency in terms of market value, may have more value in the long run. It’s not a meme currency like Dogecoin. The technology behind Ethereum actually makes use of the features that have made Bitcoin so valuable.

For those not familiar with Ethereum, it’s a cryptocurrency that’s similar to Bitcoin in many ways. It also uses blockchain technology to create a digital store of value. It has been operating since 2015 and has grown considerably in recent years. What sets it apart, though, is its ability to be programmed.

Whereas Bitcoin is mostly raw math and data, Ethereum is more like an operating system or a programming language. With it, users can create smart contracts, which are essentially digital contracts that are self-enforcing. That means no middleman or lawyers are needed to enforce a signed agreement.

For anyone who has ever had to deal with lawyers or contracts, it’s hard to overstate the value of such a feature. Since many contracts already involve money, Ethereum essentially tightens that connection. In the same way Bitcoin allows people to be their own bank, Ethereum allows them to be their own legal team.

In a world that has only become more connected and digitized, especially after a global pandemic, there’s considerable utility in that. I would argue that utility will make Ethereum more useful than Bitcoin in the long run.

That’s not to say it’ll eventually usurp Bitcoin or all other cryptocurrencies. I think Bitcoin will always benefit from the first, as well as the most well-known. I just think that benefit will only take it so far. Gold is useful, but it’s not nearly as useful as electricity, oil, or even steel. Those assets have tangible, measurable utility. Ethereum offers that on top of being a store of value.

Now, at the moment, smart contracts and other programs run on Ethereum aren’t exactly mainstream. That’s to be expected. This technology is still relatively new. People aren’t quite sure what to do with it yet.

Then again, the same could’ve been said back in the mid-2000s when smartphones came out. It took a while for developers and entrepreneurs to create the kinds of applications that would go onto make billions. It wasn’t just one app or one use. The phones were just a platform. The value came once people started building things atop that foundation.

With Bitcoin, there’s not much of a foundation. Its only app is as a store of value. That’s akin to a flip-phone, which can only make phone calls and store numbers. Granted, even flip phones still have utility, but they’ll never be able to do what a basic smartphone can do.

I don’t pretend to know what sort of applications or programs Ethereum could help create. It’ll probably take more than one for it to truly show its value. I also don’t pretend to know when those sorts of applications or programs will come along. The potential is there. It’s up to people far smarter and more ambitious than most of us to realize it.

I could still be dead wrong about this. Given the malleable nature of cryptocurrencies, it may be the case that Bitcoin eventually gains the same function as Ethereum. For all I know, an entirely new cryptocurrency could emerge that’s better and more valuable than any created to date. That’s entirely possible. Like I said, nobody knows anything about what the future will hold. We just know we’re creating some incredibly valuable tools with cryptocurrencies. We just haven’t figured out how to maximize their value. One day, we will and we’ll all be richer because of it.

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Filed under Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency, futurism, technology

My (Non-Expert) Proposal For Automation And Greater Human Prosperity

62% say robots can be more productive than human workers —V1 study

I’m not an expert on much. I don’t consider myself exceptionally smart on matters that don’t involve superhero comics, NFL football stats, and quality romance stories. I make that disclaimer because I don’t want to give the impression that I know more than I know.

That kind of perspective is important, especially if you’re going to talk about complicated issues with not-so-clear solutions. I’ve attempted to talk about some of those issues on this site, some being much more complicated than others. I don’t claim to have shed new light on a subject or changed a few minds, but I like to think I still contributed something.

To that end, I’d like to make another contribution to a subject I’ve also touched on before. In the past, I’ve highlighted both emerging and potential issues associated with the development of artificial intelligence, including the sexy kind. I’ve also highlighted the issues we may face in a future where so much traditional work has been automated.

Now, in wake of a global pandemic that revealed just how much we can get done at home, I suspect that trend will accelerate. I also expect that trend to bring many problems, not the least of which involve people struggling to find the kind of good-paying blue collar jobs that have helped people rise out of poverty.

Turning back the clock or just trying to ban automation at a certain point is not a viable solution. There’s just no way to enforce that in the long term and it’ll only get more difficult once artificial intelligence gets to a point where it can match the capabilities of an ordinary human. At some point, we’ll have to adapt and that includes changing how we live, work, and play.

The living and playing part have their own set of unique challenges, but I think the work aspect is more pressing. When most people express concerns about automation and AI, they revolve largely around the economic impact and understandably so.

Historically, people have had to work in order to earn money or resources to survive. Whether you’re on a farm in the 10th century or in a city in the 20th, this dynamic has remained fairly constant.

Automation, especially once supplemented by artificial intelligence, will likely upend that dynamic completely. It’s entirely possible that, at some point this century, we’ll develop machines that can do practically all the work humans have had to do in order to survive.

That work includes, but isn’t limited to, farming our food, mining raw materials, producing our goods, maintaining our streets, protecting our homes, and even governing our society. Since machines never tire and are prone to fewer errors, what other jobs will there be? I don’t doubt there will be jobs, but what form will they take? More importantly, will they pay enough to large swaths of people?

I don’t claim to know the answer, but I suspect they won’t. The dynamics of labor markets just can’t function when the machines are capable of doing so much more work than large swaths of people. Even if those people don’t work, they’re still going to need money and resources. How will they go about getting it?

Answering this question has often led to discussions about a universal basic income, which has actually become a more viable policy position in recent years. I’ve even touched on it a bit as well and while I think it’s a great idea, I think there’s also room for some supplementary policies.

For that reason, I’d like to submit one of those policies that could be implemented with or without universal basic income. I call it the Individual Automation Matching Dividend, or IMAD short. This policy would work like this.

  • All adult citizens within the borders of the country will have a piece of identifying information, such as a social security number, voter ID number, or driver’s license number, turned into a special digital token.
  • That token will be ascribed to a machine/robot/android that is currently active and conducting work that had been done by humans at some point in the past, be it manual labor, service roles, or something of that sort.
  • The productivity and wages of work done by these machines will be indexed to a minimum annual salary of approximately $78,000 in 2021, which will be adjusted for inflation on a yearly basis.
  • Any work done by these machines that exceed the value of that salary will be diverted to a national welfare fund to provide extra support for those who were sick, disabled, or otherwise in need of resources beyond that of a healthy adult.
  • No citizen will be ascribed more machines than any other and any machine ascribed to them that is lost, damaged, or obsolete will be replaced in kind by the state.

I apologize if some of what I just described is confusing. I tried to write this out like a lawyer or someone proposing a new policy to a future government. For those who don’t care for legalize, here’s IMAD in a nutshell.

Once you become an adult, you get your own perfect worker robot. That robot may take many forms, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it’s an android in the mold of those we saw in the “I, Robot” movie. They can work without rest, do everything a healthy adult can do, and have roughly equal to greater intelligence.

You’re given this robot by the government to basically act as your work avatar. So, instead of you going out to work every day to earn a living, this robot does it for you. The work that robot does will be compensated, but the money will go to you. Basically, you get paid for the work your android does. It’s more a dividend than a wage.

Remember, since the robot doesn’t age or get tired, it can work 24/7/365. In principle, you won’t even have to meet it. It just works all day and all night on whatever job requires labor, be it construction, assembly, shipping, farming, cooking, etc. You just get all the money, up to about $78,000 a year.

Now, why did I choose $78,000? I didn’t pick that out of thin air. That’s a figure ripped straight from a real-world case study from a company that started paying all employees a minimum of $70,000 a year back in 2015. The idea was that previous studies had shown that when people make more money beyond a certain point, their happiness doesn’t increase. This company just took that idea and ran with it.

The results, by and large, were overwhelmingly positive. With that kind of money, people could create more comfortable lives. They could buy homes, start families, plan for retirement, and make investments. It makes sense. When people have this kind of money to work with, they have the resources they need to create prosperous lives.

The idea behind IMAD is to mirror that by leveraging the added productivity afforded by automation. It’s not some large blanket package of money like a universal basic income. It starts with an individual, acknowledges the work that they have historically provided for a society, and supplements that with technology.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect proposal. I’m not even saying it’s smart. For one, it assumes that one human-like android is enough and that we can control the artificial intelligence necessary for them to operate on a large scale. That’s still an ongoing issue. I’m sure there are plenty more problems I haven’t thought of, but that’s exactly why I’m sharing it.

Surviving a future with intelligent machines is going to be challenging enough. However, we can’t just stop at survival. We want to prosper. We want to live, love, and build better futures for ourselves and our loved ones. Technology like automation and AI can help us get there, but only if we use it wisely. It’s a big if, but one that’s worth working towards.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, technology

Recent Advances In Nuclear Fusion (And Why We Should Cheer Them On)

Nuclear fusion: Building a star on Earth is hard, which is why we need  better materials

There a great many technological advancements that are touted as “game changing” or “revolutionary,” but very few end up delivering on that promise. I still remember all the hype surrounding the Segway and the Virtual Boy.

Granted, these might have been just a byproduct of market hype, but there was a genuine belief that this technology would revolutionize the world. It just didn’t pan out.

I know I’ve discussed a number of technological advances that are very likely to deliver on that hype. I still believe that artificial intelligence, brain computer interfaces, and human enhancement will be true game changers for the future of humanity.

However, there’s one technology that I haven’t really touched on. Arguably, it’s the most needed technology in the world right now. It wouldn’t just revolutionize the world as we know it. It might literally save it.

That technology is nuclear fusion.

Now, there’s a reason I haven’t talked about it much, aside from it not being in any particular area of expertise for me. Nuclear fusion doesn’t exactly have a lot of sexy implications like AI or human enhancement. It also has a bit of a bad reputation among those who speculate about the future.

The running joke is that nuclear fusion is 30 years away and always will be.

If you’re not laughing, don’t worry. It’s not a very good joke and it’s not the least bit funny in the grand scheme of things. That’s because nuclear fusion, if we could get it to work on a large scale, would effectively solve the world’s energy problems. It would largely eliminate the need for oil, coal, natural gas, and most other forms of energy.

If it sounds too good to be true, then you’re starting to get the joke. However, this is no magical fantasy power source on par with Dilithium Crystals. Fusion power is very real. We feel it every day. It’s what powers the sun. It’s what powers all the stars we see in the night sky.

Most people who passed high school physics know what fusion is. Basically, you take a bunch of hydrogen atoms, the most abundant element in the universe, and fuse them together under tremendous pressure and heat. The end result is helium, the second most abundant energy in the universe, and a whole lot of energy.

Unlike nuclear fission, which splits larger atoms into smaller atoms, this form of power doesn’t rely on heavy radioactive elements. As such, it produces next to no waste or greenhouse emissions. It also allows us to use seawater as fuel, since all you need is hydrogen. As a power source, it is as close to perfect as you can get.

Naturally, countless engineers and scientists have spent years trying to make fusion a viable power source. For decades, it was promised to be the ultimate solution to our energy needs. However, no matter how many times someone said viable fusion was close, it never came to be. That’s where its reputation as always being 30 years away came from.

On top of that, fusion research has had a few famous frauds. The whole failure of cold fusion was not a good look for the industry. I suspect that affair convinced too many people that we would never have fusion.

Now, there are some legitimate engineering and scientific reasons for why fusion has been so difficult. Again, I’m not an expert and I’m not qualified to explain those reasons. I’ll just say that it often comes back to making a fusion reaction self-sustaining and containing the massive heat required to keep that reaction going.

These are not challenges that require us to break the laws of physics. These are mostly engineering challenges that require study, refinement, and new materials. In the same way you can’t expect blacksmith’s from the 17th century to make a modern car, you can’t expect our current engineers to make a fusion reactor without the necessary components.

Despite what jokes and skeptics may say, we have made real progress. Very recently, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that utilized high energy lasers set a new energy record. That may not mean much to the average person and it certainly doesn’t mean that fusion has been perfected. It just means we’re getting closer to that magical break-even point.

That’s the point where the energy we get out of the fusion reaction is greater than what we put into it. To date, plenty of labs have created nuclear fusion reactions. They just take way more energy than they give off. Over the years, that difference has gotten smaller and smaller. Once it crosses that break-even point, then we have fusion and that will be a game-changer.

I cannot overstate just how much the world needs that kind of game-changer right now and I’m not just referring to the lingering damage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year, we get increasingly dire reports from the IPCC about the impacts of climate change. Despite what politicians and oil lobbyists say, we’re fueling these impacts with our reliance on fossil fuels.

Fusion, once refined and scaled, could do more than anything to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. It might not eliminate fossil fuels completely, but it will make them far less necessary for all the energy we need in the present and the future. I would even go so far as to say that nuclear fusion might be the only way to adequately power the future we’re trying to build.

That’s why it’s not helpful to make jokes about how fusion is always 30 years away.

Instead, this might be the best possible time to actively cheer on the people working on nuclear fusion. Only one of them needs to succeed at getting to the break-even point. Only one of them needs to succeed at making a viable fusion reactor. At that point, the world will start changing in a profound way.

It won’t happen all at once, but it will be one of the most welcome and overdue advancements in recent memory. I certainly hope that this advancement happens sooner rather than later. If nothing else, it’ll make the world feel less dire so that the other, sexier advances in technology can proceed.

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When Parents Look As Young As You: Speculation And Implications

Can aging be reversed? | Wall Street International Magazine

A while back, I was sifting through some old pictures and I found a few of my parents when they were younger. Some of those pictures were a bit faded, but some held up remarkably well. A few in particular depicted my dad when he was in his 20s. It was fun, seeing how my parents looked in their youth. They certainly had plenty of stories behind each picture.

Beyond the stories, there was also the uncanny resemblance. My dad in his 20s looked a lot like me and my brother do now. I definitely have my dad’s facial structure. More than one relative has commented how similar we look whenever I share a picture of us.

My brother definitely inherited my dad’s old hair style. There’s this one picture of my dad in a hammock with long, uncut hair and it looks eerily identical to how my brother styles his hair. Overall, you can definitely see the resemblance.

Naturally, peoples’ appearances change as they age. It’s a normal thing. We can all marvel at how our parents looked in their youth, but that doesn’t change how different they look now. Most people don’t have the luxury of looking like Keanu Reeves in their 50s. As they get older, age will affect their appearance, their energy levels, and their mental state.

With all due respect to my wonderful parents, their age does show. When we stand together for family pictures, you can tell who’s the parent and who are the kids, even though my brother and I are full adults. I don’t doubt my age will start showing soon enough. It already has in some respects.

However, what happens if we suddenly gain the ability to either stop aging at a certain point or completely reverse it?

What if our parents could look the same age as us when we turn 30?

How would that affect us personally?

How would that affect us as a society?

These are not entirely rhetorical questions. It may sound like something that requires futuristic technology, but it’s not as far fetched as we think. Reversing or stopping the aging process in living things isn’t like breaking the speed of light. We know it can be done because there are animals that do it all the time.

Certain species of turtles never seem to age out of their adult prime. Other species basically age in reverse. In biology, it’s called negligible senescence and it’s a subject of significant interest for the treatment of aging. While humans do have a lifespan that seems built into our biology, we’re steadily developing the tools to hack that biology.

The technology is new and unrefined, but the incentives for developing it have never been greater. We already have an aging population. Helping people live into their 90s is nice, but what good is living that long if you can’t enjoy life as you did in your youth?

That technology is still a ways off, but like I said before. There’s no hard rule of biology or physics that prevents us from reversing the effects of aging. The research into the mechanisms of reversing aging altogether is ongoing and anyone who develops treatments are sure to gain a chunk of the multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.

How and when this technology becomes mainstream is difficult to predict, but if and when it does, it raises some major implications. Setting aside the issues that come about from a population that doesn’t get weaker or less energetic with age, what does that do to how we carry ourselves around family?

That’s a personal impact of this technology that I don’t think enough people contemplate, mostly because they think it’s impossible. However, there are people alive today who may live long enough to see this technology mature. At that point, they’ll have to deal with having parents that look the same age as they do once they turn 30.

Imagine, for a moment, going to a restaurant with your parents. To you, they’re your parents and you know that. To everyone else, however, you’re just three people hanging out at a restaurant. If you look the same age, how can you tell the difference between a family getting dinner and a bunch of friends hanging out?

Things can easily get more complicated and awkward from there. Imagine you’re a guy meeting your mother for lunch or a girl meeting her father for coffee. From the outside, you don’t look like a parent and child. You might look like a couple on a date. I can only imagine how tense waiters might feel if they find out a cute couple are actually parent and child.

Add grandparents who don’t age to the equation and the complications only compound. When your family unit becomes indistinguishable from a co-ed dorm in college, how does that affect your perspective? Beyond the awkward realizations that the cute girl you’re hitting on is as old as your grandmother, how do parents and kids relate to one another when they look alike at a certain point?

As kids, we know our parents are our parents because they’re older than us. Even as adults, most of us reserve some level of respect and reverence for both our parents and elders. Just looking older will garner a certain reaction. What happens when technology removes appearance from the equation entirely?

We all know young people who are wise beyond their years and old people who are as dumb as a kid. When we all look the same age, those distinctions will become blurred and muddled. How that affects our personal perspectives, as well as our society in general, is difficult to fathom at the moment. Given the rapid pace of biotechnology and all the money at stake, that moment might come sooner than we think. As such, we should start preparing ourselves for the awkwardness that’s sure to follow.

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Self-Driving Cars Are Already Saving Drunk Drivers: The Promise And The Implications

Self-Driving Cars: Everything You Need to Know | Kelley Blue Book

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10,497 people died in traffic accidents caused by drunk driving in 2016 alone. That accounted for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. A non-insignificant chunk of those deaths were children. Even if you’re not good at math, you know that is not a trivial figure.

There’s also a good chance you know someone who has been hurt or worse because of a drunk driver. This sort of thing is personal for me because one of my cousins was killed by a drunk driver many years ago. He wasn’t even drinking. He was just unlucky enough to be in the back seat of the car at the time.

It’s an issue that has existed for as long as cars. It’s also an issue that policy makers and car manufacturers have tried to address through awareness programs and safety features. However, these measures can only do so much. So long as human beings are drinking and driving cars, this will be an issue.

That dynamic will likely change considerably when self-driving cars enter the picture. To some extent, they’re already making an impact. You can buy a car today that has some measure of self-driving features. They’re still not fully autonomous, but we’ve taken the first critical steps. From here on it, it’s just a matter of refinement.

Even though it might be years before self-driving cars are common, they’re already making an impact and it’s not just in terms of sheer novelty. Very recently, a Tesla Model S, which has an autopilot feature, did something cars of old could never do.

It saved a drunk driver who passed out behind the wheel, which likely saved or prevented serious injuries to others around him. Here are the details, according to the site, Telsarati.

Teslarati: Tesla Autopilot prevents drunk driver from making a fatal mistake

As explained by the Eastern Police District on its official Twitter account, a 24-year-old Tesla owner ended up passing out while driving his Model S. Fortunately for the driver, the vehicle’s Autopilot system was activated, which allowed the Model S to stay in its lane without causing trouble to other drivers.

Upon detecting that its driver was unresponsive, the vehicle eventually came to a stop and engaged its hazards. The man was later attended to by emergency services. No one was injured in the incident.

The police noted that the Tesla driver, who was found unconscious in the Model S, was evidently drunk, though he denied that he was driving. Video evidence showing the Tesla owner passed out in the driver’s seat have been shared online, however. The police stated that necessary tests have been taken, and that the Tesla owner’s driver’s license has been temporarily suspended. A case has also been filed against the driver.

Such an incident could have easily been a lot worse. It is very easy for drunk drivers to harm themselves, after all, but what’s even worse is that they could very easily harm other people just as easily. These scenarios would likely not be as prevalent if vehicles are capable of safely stopping on their own once their human drivers are incapacitated.

The bolded text represents the most relevant details. Without these features, this incident could’ve played out like so many other drunk driving tragedies. A drunk driver passing out behind the wheel would’ve, at the very least, led to the car going off-road and crashing, thus resulting in significant injury. At worst, the driver could’ve hit another car, thus compounding the tragedy.

However, thanks to these emerging systems, that didn’t happen. The safeguards in the car worked. The only real harm done involve a hangover and a DUI. Compared to the alternative, that’s far more preferable.

We should not understate the importance of this development. Think back to that 10,497 figure from 2016. Thanks to the autopilot system in that Tesla, the figure for 2021 will be at least one less. It doesn’t eliminate the tragedy of drunk driving all at once, but it’s a start and an important one, at that.

Driving is inherently dangerous, but a lot of that danger comes from the people behind the wheel and not the machines themselves. Anything operated by a human is prone to human error. An autonomous system, even if it isn’t a full-fledged artificial intelligence, can and will mitigate those errors.

That’s not to say those same autopilot systems aren’t prone to error. They certainly are, but remember that this technology is still very new. The first cell phones couldn’t send an email or reliably play streaming video. That took time, energy, and better hardware.

At this very moment, car companies and tech companies are putting in all that work. There is a lot of potential profit in refining this technology. However, I would point out that you can’t put a price on human life and, as it stands, thousands will continue to die every year because of traffic accidents, especially drunk driving. This one incident might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still one tragedy averted, one accident prevented, and at least one life saved. For anyone who knows the pain of losing a loved one to drunk driving, that’s worth celebrating.

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Would You Shop At A Store Run Entirely By Robots?

Will Smart Machines Kill Jobs or Create Better Ones? - The Washington Post

Recall the last time you went to the store. It doesn’t matter if it was your corner grocery store or some big box department store. All that matters is you went there to do some basic shopping, as we all end up having to do at some point. With that in mind, try and remember how many store clerks you saw.

Maybe some were working at cash registers.

Maybe some were stocking shelves.

Maybe some were sweeping floors or cleaning up messes.

The chances are you saw at least several. I remember seeing at least three the last time I went to a grocery store. That’s fairly typical. I know I used to see more before the days of self check-out lines, but I always saw people working at these stores, diligently doing the things necessary to keep it running.

For most of us, that’s a mundane sight. For every store we go to, we expect there to be human beings working there to keep it going. It’s part of the infrastructure that keeps these stores stocked. On top of that, seeing other human beings contributing gives us a sense of comfort in that this place is being run by real people with real faces.

Now, try and imagine a store that has no people working at it. You walk in the door and you never see another human being carrying out the various operations we expect of a functioning store. All that is now done by machines and robots. They’re the ones who stock the shelves, handle your money, and clean the messes.

Does that change the experience?

Does that make you more or less inclined to shop at that store?

These are relevant questions because, as I’ve noted before, robots and artificial intelligence are advancing rapidly. Automation is an ongoing trend that promises to have major economic ramifications. Some of those ramifications are already here. It’s one of the reason coal mining jobs will never be as prevalent as they once were.

Other ramifications haven’t arrived yet, but they will eventually come. The technology is there. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of investing, refinement, and scale. Eventually, it will reach retail work, a sector that employs nearly 10 million people. That will have a major economic impact for large swaths of people.

Unlike other forms of automation, though, it’ll be a lot more visible.

Most of us never set foot in a factory where cars are made, much of which is done by robots. Most will never set foot in an Amazon or Walmart warehouse, which already use robots at a significant scale. The impact of just how much work is done by robots these days is not visible to most ordinary people.

That will not be the case with stores and retail work. Like I said, we all have to get out and shop every now and then. Even though online retail has become more prevalent, people still go to traditional brick and mortar stores. Even as online retail improves, that’s not likely to change.

However, how much will that experience change once robots start doing the jobs that humans have done for centuries?

How will that change the experience?

Will you, as a consumer, shop at a store that had no humans working there most of the time?

If you think this isn’t that far off, think again. Below is a video from an AI channel on YouTube that shows a robot using a bar code scanner for the first time. The process is a bit cumbersome, but the robot is able to handle it. It is able to receive instructions. Given the nature of how robots improve and refine their programming, it’s not unreasonable to assume that future robots will be able to carry out retail tasks more efficiently than any human worker.

It may not happen all at once. You probably won’t just walk into a store one day and notice that everyone was replaced by a robot. Like self check-out, it’ll likely happen gradually. Once it gets to a certain point, though, it’ll become mainstream very quickly. The incentives are just too strong.

You don’t need to be an economist to see those incentives. Robots don’t need to be paid. They don’t slack off on the job. They don’t get sick or tired. In theory, they could keep a store open 24/7 without ever paying overtime. For big box retailers like Walmart, the potential profits are just too large to ignore.

It won’t stop at stores, either. Restaurants will likely undergo a similar process. There are already working robots that can cook meals from scratch. Once they get refined and scaled, then it’s also likely you’ll one day eat at a restaurant entirely run by robots.

Would you be willing to eat at such a place?

Your answer will probably be similar to the one I asked earlier about whether you’d shop at a store run entirely by robots. Personally, I don’t think I’m ready to shop at a place that had no humans working in it, if only because robots sometimes break down. However, within my lifetime, it may get to a point where stores and restaurants run by humans become the exception rather than the norm.

Are we ready for that future?

I don’t know, but it’ll come whether we’re ready for it or not.

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