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Peak of Our Civilization

by russ_watters
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Physics Monkey
#19
Feb25-12, 05:14 PM
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I suspect that within 100 years we will have constructed artificial beings that have cognitive powers far surpassing our own.

I don't mean to imply that these entities will be our enemies or anything (since we're avoiding matrix silliness ), but it will fundamentally alter the nature of our civilization.
Ryan_m_b
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Feb26-12, 05:14 AM
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Quote Quote by Czcibor View Post
- cars not needing driver; (Think how that would improve satisfaction from parties ;) , more seriously kid could be sent to kindergarten with such a car)
This would be very interesting for a number of reasons, not least in how public transport would be affected. Perhaps large buses with fixed routes would be replaced by smaller buses who pick you up if you are on the way e.g. a commuter types into their smartphone their destination which get's fired off to all the autobuses in the area. One who is already taking a couple of passengers that way will divert to pick them up. ETA based on standard travelling behaviour at that time added to real time updates though perhaps a function to pay more to speed up the journey (standard ticket will get you there, fast track will get you in guaranteed time, express will not pick up anyone else). Also the idea of owning a car would largely fade IMO. Cars spend most of their time sitting somewhere waiting to be driven, either in a car park, garage, side-of-road etc which is a waste of space. Especially if you live in a very congested city that was built hundreds/thousands of years before the invention of the car! Perhaps a transition to shared ownership/subscription to taxi service would be more common.
Quote Quote by Czcibor View Post
- lot's of work done by civil servants or by bureaucracy of big companies actually does not require any thinking (or even thinking is implicitly banned by regulations which require strict sticking to them). If there were standardized electronic documents with electronic signature the whole process could go without any human involved. Quicker and reducing need for human work.
Quote Quote by Physics Monkey View Post
I suspect that within 100 years we will have constructed artificial beings that have cognitive powers far surpassing our own.

I don't mean to imply that these entities will be our enemies or anything (since we're avoiding matrix silliness ), but it will fundamentally alter the nature of our civilization.
These two are fairly linked together. Personally I highly doubt we'll be building conscious beings any time soon, not just because of technological limitations but also because we have no need to. Rather software (again IMO) will continue to get more capable continuing to take on tasks that previously were restricted to conscious beings. It's the classic AI effect.
cmb
#21
Feb26-12, 05:31 AM
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Quote Quote by russ_watters View Post
...
1. I don't forsee energy production to be a big, big picture/long term issue. Transitions may be painful, but there are ways to power our needs for centuries if not millenia.
2. I don't forsee a population crisis or food production issue being a limiting factor. Rather, I see certain areas of the world that are going to have major problems until they become developed and control their populations. Eventually, the world population will have to level-off one way or another.


....I think as the plateau is reached, more and more people get on it and quality of life differences are already pretty small as it is.
You've a bundle of thoughts embedded in your post, but I think the last phrase is your conclusion. (?)

It differs to the title, though; can I be clear you are proposing that civilisation can and/or will level off and persist [indefinitely, if so for how long??], or is the 'peak' of your title meaning that we're on a downward trend now?

I regret I am extremely pessimistic on this. I agree with (1) - we do have known means to keep enough energy production for a few 10,000's years, which is fast breeder nuclear power. But I am pessimistic that the course of human politics is such that we will be able to achieve that, before industrial infrastructure collapses.

So I'd like to take a moment to focus on 'industrial infrastructure', which I feel you missed out discussion but is all-important. I don't think your thesis pays due respect to the significance industry and science that preceded the industrial revolution by 2,000 years.

What prompted the industrial revolution was seeking mechanical power to pump tin mines that had reached well under the Cornish sea. But tin mining was an industry in the Roman times, so this was not exactly 'a new issue'. What it was, though, was a demonstration of the need for ever increasing levels of technology to reach ever receding resources to satisfy ever burgeoning demands for industrial feedstock.

I think this last point is key to comprehending and predicting the future trajectory of mankind: 150 years ago it was possible, in some places on earth, to be an 'oil producer' by simply having a bucket! - you'd go collect some at a tar-pit! Now we drill 5 miles under the sea bed. That is a staggering change to how we drive our industrial infrastructure!

And to make this kit that allows us to hunt those oil deposits we need an industrial infrastructure. Imagine that back in the industrial revolution all that coal and oil was all buried 5 miles underground. It should be evident that we'd not have had an industrial revolution!

OK, so just imagine now that the industrial infrastructure of today (that facilitates access to those deep resources) for some reason or other - nuclear war, major pestilence, a big meteor, anything that causes an interruption to the global flow of industry, in fact - and we find ourselves with an industrial infrastructure no more capable that that of the 1600's. I reckon we'd never be able to claw our way back up again in any meaningful way to what we consider 'a modern civilisation'. We need to maintain and preserve the global industrial infrastructure like we need to make sure a patients heart and lungs keep on working even if we're operating on their legs. (maybe not the best analogy, hope it makes the point).

I fear the worst for mankind. Sorry, but I think the 'collective intelligence' [maybe an oxymoron?] of the world's political classes may be such that they actually cause the failure of the scope and scale of the industrial infrastructure we need to keep the 'body-of-industry' working. This is a result of the accessibility of resources. Not that the resources will necessarily run out, but that we need, and will continue to need, those resources to build machines to access [or recycle] those resources, so if there is an interruption in that whole process, it'd be like a heart attack and I find it difficult to see how we'd get that beating again.

The day I will withdraw that comment is the day I see someone manufacture a PV solar panel from raw materials/energy they have collected/generated for themselves from renewable, surface collected materials. Solar panels are great, but I have yet to hear of one being made using only the power from other solar panels! I think the figure is something like America needing to fill up the whole of New Mexico, and a bit more, to provide the current industrial energy consumption.

I don't accept such renewable energy is viable as a complete solution. Anyone who studies this should realise in very short order that to maintain industrial infrastructure we need nuclear power right now, because in burning fossil fuels we're effectively burning away the chemical feed-stock we'll need for future industrial activity. It's just plain crazy. We need to move on to fast-breeders within a 100 years or so, so that we've got long enough to figure out fusion power. And then we use that energy to drive recycling and reconvert our industrial waste back to the feedstock it once was.

My prediction is grim: We either aim for 100% industrial nuclear power right now, or in 200 years we'll be back in mediaeval times (if we're lucky and the forests have re-grown to support us). I think the latter will happen. We know civilisations spontaneously collapse - maybe it is inevitable because politics is an inevitable outcome of civilisation. It'd also explain why we've never found signs of life elsewhere in the Universe, if civilisations can only fundamentally survive for a few 100 years.

So, yup, I reckon we've hit peak civilisation. Hold on to the roller-coaster, we're gonna go over the top, and down, at a hell of a rate from here on!

(This is a prediction I will not mind being wrong about!!!)
Ryan_m_b
#22
Feb26-12, 05:58 AM
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Cmb I agree with almost all your points, it is quite terrifying to not only think of the fragility of our civilisation but also the greater fall we'd have if it actually happened. Another aspect to what you are saying is how many people it requires to maintain our "Noosphere". It isn't enough just to have written information, we need people educated in fields in order to maintain them (imagine a group of 16th century scholars finding a book on pebble-bed reactors and trying to understand it), this is compounded by the problem that we don't build libraries as instruction manuals but as reference resources.

What I disagree with you on is whether or not we are on the way down, I don't think we are (fingers crossed!) and I think that things are going to get better as our technology simplifies itself via increased complexity. This sounds stupid (and it might be) but I'm alluding to what you've mentioned about at home manufacturing; a 3D printer is very complicated but it simplifies, from the point of the user, the process of manufacturing. Also projects like the Open source Ecology's Global Village Construction Set are remarkable. The brain child of Marcin Jukubowski the idea is to create open source designs for (initially) ~50 machines that can be built and maintained with simple tools but that can greatly improve local industry in a sustainable way. Not only that but Marcin aims to eventually have a simple CD that contains not only the blueprints but also educational videos and texts explaining the processes behind the machines. As you can see from the Ted talk Marcin built a machine that can take the dirt from his farm and produce 5000 bricks per day! In the short term projects like this could greatly help local/at-home manufacturing which would not only help places in developing world countries but also in the developed world.

I'd love to see what a project like this could achieve if it was turned into an international megaproject with billions of dollars of funding but that would be a hard sell.
cmb
#23
Feb26-12, 06:09 AM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
It isn't enough just to have written information, we need people educated in fields in order to maintain them (imagine a group of 16th century scholars finding a book on pebble-bed reactors and trying to understand it), this is compounded by the problem that we don't build libraries as instruction manuals but as reference resources.
I fully concur. I emphasised 'hardware' but should've mentioned 'capability' too (were it not for post length). Thanks for flagging it. It is a big issue. Sometimes, 'keeping the wheels of industry turning' is not a means for economic benefits, it is one of national security so we do not lose skills to do what needs doing when they need doing! But these are seeds of wisdom that fall on stony political ground. You can tell the politicians. (You just can't tell 'em much.)

Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
What I disagree with you on is whether or not we are on the way down, I don't think we are do (fingers crossed!) and I think that things are going to get better as our technology simplifies itself via increased complexity.
I sure hope you're right and I'm wrong!

Problem is; shattered financial markets, and unconstrained and limitless growth on the cost of commodities (both vegetable and mineral) are what you'd expect on the way down. Everything begins to get difficult to obtain. You can write it off as a recession for so long. We've yet to see if we come out the other side of it.
Czcibor
#24
Feb27-12, 02:21 PM
P: 78
Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
This would be very interesting for a number of reasons, not least in how public transport would be affected. Perhaps large buses with fixed routes would be replaced by smaller buses who pick you up if you are on the way e.g. a commuter types into their smartphone their destination which get's fired off to all the autobuses in the area. One who is already taking a couple of passengers that way will divert to pick them up. ETA based on standard travelling behaviour at that time added to real time updates though perhaps a function to pay more to speed up the journey (standard ticket will get you there, fast track will get you in guaranteed time, express will not pick up anyone else). Also the idea of owning a car would largely fade IMO. Cars spend most of their time sitting somewhere waiting to be driven, either in a car park, garage, side-of-road etc which is a waste of space. Especially if you live in a very congested city that was built hundreds/thousands of years before the invention of the car! Perhaps a transition to shared ownership/subscription to taxi service would be more common.
I've thought about a bit longer and flatter cars that can be used for comfortable sleeping - you fall asleap near your home and weak up at the destination.

Yes, there should be move towards only renting cars on demand instead of owning them, however those who need them at top usage hours - rush hours would presumably anyway need their.

Also the whole system could use dynamic planning - you would not ask the car to came there where you are, but set your destination your preference for walk and be informed that ex. you should go downstreet for ten minutes at the place where the car would come.


These two are fairly linked together. Personally I highly doubt we'll be building conscious beings any time soon, not just because of technological limitations but also because we have no need to. Rather software (again IMO) will continue to get more capable continuing to take on tasks that previously were restricted to conscious beings. It's the classic AI effect.
Linked but with one difference - the part that I said concerning e-documents did not require any technological achievment just... heroic struggle to make govs use computers properly. ;)
Ryan_m_b
#25
Feb27-12, 02:36 PM
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Quote Quote by Czcibor View Post
I've thought about a bit longer and flatter cars that can be used for comfortable sleeping - you fall asleap near your home and weak up at the destination.

Yes, there should be move towards only renting cars on demand instead of owning them, however those who need them at top usage hours - rush hours would presumably anyway need their.

Also the whole system could use dynamic planning - you would not ask the car to came there where you are, but set your destination your preference for walk and be informed that ex. you should go downstreet for ten minutes at the place where the car would come.
A big advantage could be a reduction in journey time which could greatly help deliveries and freight as well as personal transport. Reason being that you wont traffic jams as everyone slows down to watch an accident, or situations where people unnecessarily brake/change speed which ripples down the cars behind them, or situations when people wait for unnecessary lengths of time to pull out at crossings etc. Essentially cars can just travel consistently in one formation at high speed. It could also greatly improve fuel efficiency by allowing cars to travel optimum distances between each other to reduce wind resistance, this is a key part of the EU SARTRE project

Also In the long term there could be a boost in efficiency by adjusting car sizes to fit needs. If it is just one person planning to go from A to B with no luggage a small one man car could be summoned, no more lines of traffic with cars carrying mostly empty seats.

Also it occurs to me that things like trains may fade. If driver error can be removed from the equation, need for a driving license and all cars can drive at high speeds in formation then trains might not be able to compete with motorways.
cmb
#26
Feb27-12, 02:41 PM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
... trains may fade. If driver error can be removed from the equation, need for a driving license and all cars can drive at high speeds in formation then trains might not be able to compete with motorways.
Rail already cannot compete with road. If you have any doubt, go stand next to a railway and next to a motorway, and let me know which one represents more efficient utilisation*.... and that's with 'stupid' drivers at the wheels, when computer controlled traffic could theoretically make yet higher utilisation of the roads.

*This is not even dealing with the ridiculous 'serial' nature of rail - if something breaks down on the track, the whole route is done for. Rail is an anachronistic 17th century technology.
Ryan_m_b
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Feb27-12, 02:47 PM
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Quote Quote by cmb View Post
Rail already cannot compete with road. If you have any doubt, go stand next to a railway and next to a motorway, and let me know which one represents more efficient utilisation*.... and that's with 'stupid' drivers at the wheels, when computer controlled traffic could theoretically make yet higher utilisation of the roads.

*This is not even dealing with the ridiculous 'serial' nature of rail - if something breaks down on the track, the whole route is done for. Rail is an anachronistic 17th century technology.
Hmmm that depends where you are from. In the UK at least it is far better to get the train thanks to the over-congestion of the roads and the speed of the trains. With a train you can average 70+ mph (so long as your route doesn't have dozens of stops) and can get right from city centre to city centre. If I get the train to central London from the nearest station to my house it takes 20 minutes on a fast train, 35 on the slow. By car it takes 40 minutes to get to the edge of London in good traffic and about another 40 to get to central in ideal conditions. Also if there is a fault in the line they can just switch to an adjacent track. If it is something massive they can back up and take a similar route (this has happened to me before) and scramble to organise rail replacement buses for the stations that this can't be done for.

There is definitely a place for trains in the present day however if you throw self-driving cars into the mix with no allowance/heavy restriction for manual driving the advantage swings the other way.
WhoWee
#28
Feb27-12, 02:53 PM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
A big advantage could be a reduction in journey time which could greatly help deliveries and freight as well as personal transport. Reason being that you wont traffic jams as everyone slows down to watch an accident, or situations where people unnecessarily brake/change speed which ripples down the cars behind them, or situations when people wait for unnecessary lengths of time to pull out at crossings etc. Essentially cars can just travel consistently in one formation at high speed. It could also greatly improve fuel efficiency by allowing cars to travel optimum distances between each other to reduce wind resistance, this is a key part of the EU SARTRE project

Also In the long term there could be a boost in efficiency by adjusting car sizes to fit needs. If it is just one person planning to go from A to B with no luggage a small one man car could be summoned, no more lines of traffic with cars carrying mostly empty seats.

Also it occurs to me that things like trains may fade. If driver error can be removed from the equation, need for a driving license and all cars can drive at high speeds in formation then trains might not be able to compete with motorways.
It looks like a good concept for commuter distances. I think the logistics of the inner city might be very difficult. One possibility might be to integrate into public transport buses and use HOV/Bus lanes to move through inner city traffic to disengagement points or hubs of some type - maybe allow a brief window to disconnect when the bus stops?
cmb
#29
Feb27-12, 03:01 PM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
There is definitely a place for trains in the present day however if you throw self-driving cars into the mix with no allowance/heavy restriction for manual driving the advantage swings the other way.
Trains might represent a quicker means of transport in their current form compared with roads whose growth and evolution have been deliberately ignored for years, but I'm not arguing that. Trains are the wrong technology. What I'm getting at is that if you were to rip up those rail tracks and lay down a computer controlled road surface, which are dedicated to use by computer controlled high speed buses and trucks running along them instead, the utilisation and flexibility available would then make it very clear why trains are a waste of the space their rail tracks occupy.
Ryan_m_b
#30
Feb27-12, 03:15 PM
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Quote Quote by WhoWee View Post
It looks like a good concept for commuter distances. I think the logistics of the inner city might be very difficult. One possibility might be to integrate into public transport buses and use HOV/Bus lanes to move through inner city traffic to disengagement points or hubs of some type - maybe allow a brief window to disconnect when the bus stops?
I think the project idea is just for motorways at this stage. The idea is one could join a motorway, get alerted of a nearby train and choose to join it. The truck can just drive up and down the length of the motorway a few times a day leading cars that join for a while and come off when their exit is coming up.
Quote Quote by cmb View Post
Trains might represent a quicker means of transport in their current form compared with roads whose growth and evolution have been deliberately ignored for years, but I'm not arguing that. Trains are the wrong technology. What I'm getting at is that if you were to rip up those rail tracks and lay down a computer controlled road surface, which are dedicated to use by computer controlled high speed buses and trucks running along them instead, the utilisation and flexibility available would then make it very clear why trains are a waste of the space their rail tracks occupy.
I'm still not convinced for a few reasons. I don't think a bus or truck is as fuel efficient as a train, couldn't keep up with the speed of a train (especially if it is a high-speed rail line) and the biggest point would be that the technology to run automatic vehicles is very recent and to implement it would require tearing down and rebuilding trillions of pounds worth of infrastructure for little or no advantage.
WhoWee
#31
Feb27-12, 03:30 PM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
I think the project idea is just for motorways at this stage. The idea is one could join a motorway, get alerted of a nearby train and choose to join it. The truck can just drive up and down the length of the motorway a few times a day leading cars that join for a while and come off when their exit is coming up.
If they could figure a way to store very large charges on those trucks - to power hybrids or EV's on the train - that could be exciting.
Ryan_m_b
#32
Feb27-12, 03:35 PM
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Quote Quote by WhoWee View Post
If they could figure a way to store very large charges on those trucks - to power hybrids or EV's on the train - that could be exciting.
Definitely. It would also be interesting if this could be linked to some form of public transport. For instance, some form of simple car that is stored by the exits of motorways. People can then jump in the car that waits for the nearest train to arrive before entering the motorway automatically, joining the train and ride it to an exit of their choice.
WhoWee
#33
Feb27-12, 03:38 PM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
Definitely. It would also be interesting if this could be linked to some form of public transport. For instance, some form of simple car that is stored by the exits of motorways. People can then jump in the car that waits for the nearest train to arrive before entering the motorway automatically, joining the train and ride it to an exit of their choice.
Little 3 wheeled pods that could be used around town perhaps?
Ryan_m_b
#34
Feb27-12, 03:42 PM
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Quote Quote by WhoWee View Post
Little 3 wheeled pods that could be used around town perhaps?
Yeah something like that. Something small, simple and efficient.
jreelawg
#35
Feb27-12, 04:29 PM
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I think it is kind of an interesting contradiction, that technological advance and maturity will lead to increased industrial efficiency, but will also reduce demand for workers. The standard of living you would think should go up as the world is able to produce more at less cost, but it's actually not that simple. I think that a lack of work, and economic frustrations will probably inspire a new attempt at either Socialism, or Communism, or something similar.
cmb
#36
Feb27-12, 04:42 PM
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Quote Quote by WhoWee View Post
If they could figure a way to store very large charges on those trucks - to power hybrids or EV's on the train - that could be exciting.
Where are you thinking the extra electrical power will come from? Show me a country whose electricity supply infrastructure is not already stretched to its limit....


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