Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Transportation Thoughts

As I was driving to Solvang today, I was thinking of some of the impact that autonomous vehicles are likely to make. I think they will be a huge game-changer, and my hope is that they may help to undo the tremendous damage that automobiles have done to our society, environment and culture.
For one thing, I think that car ownership will fade away. Not at first. At first, the manufacturers will be trying to sell autonomous vehicles to everyone who has a car already, as the next step in car ownership. But eventually people will begin to realize that these robots (that's what they are) will be so efficient at getting to where they are needed, that the wait time for one to appear at your door will be measurable in seconds. Uber and Lyft already show us a model of the convenience that an app-linked transportation appliance can be. If you remove the last inefficiency -- the driver -- then the response time becomes close to nothing.
Transportation of goods and materials will also be made much more efficient. Transportation vehicles will be able to be active around the clock. The roads won't have to be as smooth either, both because the vehicles won't care how smooth the ride is, and because of active shock absorption. Air travel will disappear eventually for a number of reasons, primary among them the lack of portable fuels, but also because autonomous vehicles will be able to travel at rates far exceeding what human drivers can accomplish. The extra cost of air travel for a few saved hours won't be worth it, especially if you are traveling in what is effectively an office/lounge/suite.
But how will we power these vehicles? I think that there may be a very large solar power infrastructure that develops. Certainly the roadways will be lined with solar panels. They may even be covered overhead by panels. Getting the energy to the vehicles may be as simple as using conductive pick-offs like electric rail systems do. Or, the solar electricity could be used to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen to create portable fuels. Hmmm. Maybe air travel could use these same fuels after all; who knows? The electric pick-off systems might only be used on long highway stretches, while for urban and rural use, the vehicles would switch over to portable fuels.
Without so much car ownership, the cars that do exist will be in more constant use. Parking lots will be less and less desirable.  Won't that be nice? Maybe our society won't have to be built so much around the needs of these machines as they are for cars today. Maybe there could be more walkable plazas, social meeting places, outdoor entertainment venues, parks and nice places to be.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Another Change of Heart

OK, so I took a four-year detour. I seriously bought into the idea that industrial civilization is doomed, and that we all had better learn some basic survival skills so that we can, basically...survive. Well, I'm not a young guy these days, and I find that if I do much more than basic work in the garden, I seriously hurt myself. Yeah, I'm trying to get much more physically fit, and I've made lots of progress there (50 pounds lost, maybe 50 more to go?). But there are hard limits. So, you won't see me hefting bales of hay anytime soon, I'm afraid.

This year I was too disheartened to even do much in the vegetable garden. My Permaculture aspirations were going nowhere. I was in a tailspin of misdirection and disappointment. My house, while now being paid off, is still a tax burden, and it needs constant maintenance to not fall down. Luckily, the roof is in good shape, except for the patio roof. That area needs attention, because the next rainy season -- if we get one -- will likely make things a lot worse.

My wife has serious health problems with her ankles and now her knees. Arthritis. So I'm her caretaker, and that takes up much of my day.

So, why am I writing anything now at all? Well, I am coming out of my blue funk, having finally rediscovered an old interest that I think I can nurture into a new vocation, and I read an inspiring piece of fiction that made me somewhat optimistic for the future, and wanting to learn and create again. Yippee!

If anyone is interested, the fictional work is Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow, and, as always, he offers the book FOR FREE on his website, I bought the book used, so poor Cory didn't see any revenue from that sale. But in the spirit of what Cory stands for in regard to copyright and the ability to share something you buy, I passed my copy on to a young person who I think will get something out of it, based on some of his comments about life and the future. Hopefully I'm not being too vague.

I have decided to resurrect my lifelong interest in Photography and Video Production, and open a little boutique video transfer service in my local area. I will compete with the mass service people based on price points, pickup and delivery service, and extended services, such as curating, organizing titling and packaging customers' years of video onto an easy to access external hard drive. I also do video editing, so if a customer needs a video collage, I can take the best of what they
have, and make an emotive memory for them.

But what do I think is really going to happen to industrial civilization? Look at who is in the White House! Look at the hurricane that just threw Puerto Rico into a collapse situation of its own! Won't
we be following right along in a few years' time? Maybe. But I've been waiting for several years for the big stock market crash, the shuttering of the Walmarts, the halt of all food deliveries, and the rise of gangs of ravenous, hungry mobs. I can't just focus on gloom and doom all the time anymore. There will be disasters, sure, but not all at once. And I can't just sit and wait to die in one.

I have other interests that I want to follow, too. There are a few bits of robotic machinery that I would like to build, and that I think I CAN build, if I can finally clear out a lot of the excess STUFF I have
that's in my way. My wife and I have accumulated a lot of clutter that needs to be cleared out so that we can access the useful things we have. Nowadays, we can't find anything, so we have to buy stuff that we know we already have. That's not very smart!

So, that's where I stand today. Hopefully, I'll have a lot more for you

Thursday, October 03, 2013

My Old Vision of the Future

A while back, I was awakened to the predicament humanity is in, due to our use over about 200 years of fossil fuels that took millions of years to produce, and the likelihood that a) we are running out of this stuff and b) our use of it is destabilizing the climate. But before that, I wrote a somewhat optimistic "background" piece about what would be happening in the year 2019. Here it is:
Year: 2019:
Simple, trainable (at the level of about a dog) appliances are beginning to be seen in society. Robotic cars are appearing on the road, and with their advanced performance, they are being accepted hungrily by society. Initiatives are beginning to be proposed that would allocate special lanes to these augmented vehicles. Some have even proposed that human drivers be banished from the roads, but most feel that's not necessary. Instead, safety devices have been developed that take control of the vehicle if the human driver attempts to make a dangerous move, falls asleep or becomes impaired.
Without the need to support a human driver, bus and taxi travel has become so inexpensive that most people - especially city dwellers - don't need to actually own a vehicle. Autonomous vehicles swarm like bees, with an empty one at your door in just a minute or two.

People are starting to realize that they will no longer be needed in jobs that consist of repetitive hand-eye coordination operations, like driving, assembling products, or even cooking. All new commercial trucks are robotic, and retrofit kits are selling wildly.
Scientists and Engineers - those who think and solve problems for a living - realize that their livelihoods are threatened too. Not nearly as quickly as laborers, but quickly enough. Many of these scientists speak of intelligence augmentation, the integration of computer interfaces directly into their heads. Along with this is a growing excitement that the heralded singularity - the birth of general artificial intelligence - is actually going to happen.
Grandiose plans for solving the world's problems: warfare, hunger, environmental conditions, are giving way to small, distributed solutions involving robotic distribution, ubiquitous automated surveillance, and open systems architecture for forming public policy.

Religious fundamentalism has begun to die off as access to information from all over the world has been able to spread, due to the development of instant human language translation. All phones have translation capability, and a real babelfish - the device conceived by Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe author Douglas Adams, that one inserts into his one's ear to hear any language translated to one's own - are on the market. Because language is no longer the barrier it was, any opinion can be shared among the world's population, and people are beginning to realize how much they have in common, even as they nurture their own unique cultures.
Appreciation of human performance has branched into two groups: performers including athletes, dancers and artists whose bodies have not been modified, and those whose bodies incorporate the latest biomechanical technology. The International Olympic Committee has advanced stringent screening policies to assure that only unmodified athletes can participate, but outside of the Olympics, there are a dazzling variety of world records being set in endurance, strength, speed and agility.
Against this technological background, humans still do what humans have always done: fall in love, get married, raise families, and work to improve their lives. They also enjoy unprecedented entertainment choices: besides participating as athletes or performers, anyone can participate in vividly realistic and elaborate alternative realities. Computer communication devices are everywhere, so where's nowhere that you cannot be tied into the world network. Wearing binocular display glasses that incorporate tiny cameras into them, your personal reality can be modified to include elements of fantasy, or to exclude visual clutter. The cameras intercept the scene in front of you; the computer adds, subtracts or modifies the image, then the displays present it to your eyes.
The cyborg label that used to attend anyone who wore complicated cybernetic eyewear is diminishing. The optical systems that sit in front of the wearer's eyes in a modern eye display are transparent, allowing others to make eye contact with the wearer.
For some people - a rising number actually - it is not sufficient to modify reality from outside the body. Drugs and now even electronic devices can enable the fine-tuning of emotional states. This technology is so far only able to effect gross changes, such as cheering you up, or preventing hunger or cravings of various kinds. Your thoughts themselves are still a dark secret. At least they are this year....
In a world of perfect connection, you can never be lost, but you cannot easily hide either, at least, not from the legal authorities. For everyone else, you can enter a "not available - do not contact" mode, with customizable lists of keep-outs and emergency break ins. No one outside the people you specify will be able to contact you. Many people have adopted strict off-the-clock times, and it's a matter of much discussion in etiquette circles. Excessive "absence" is seen as rude, so there's some care to be taken with your settings.
Interest in personal privacy has blossomed, in backlash to the excessive abandonment of privacy by many individuals in the early years of the century.
Increasingly, each year seems separate from the last by huge tides of change. The world is constantly dishing up surprise after surprise, with pleasant surprises finally beginning to outnumber unpleasant ones. After a decade and a half of unpredictable weather, failing economies, refugee crises, drowning cities, earthquakes and disease outbreaks, things seem to be settling into a calmer pattern.
The disparity between the intellectually gifted and those who are not is diminishing. Even without a hardware interface to the brain, computers are just so damn helpful. Long gone are the days when you had to learn all about computers to use one. These days, if you can state your problem, the computer can find the help you need.
Everyone is wondering whether there will be a giant employment crash, but so far it hasn't happened. When the financial system was overhauled a few years back, it was decided that there would be a human dividend: Every man, woman and child would be entitled to basic support, simply due to their membership in the human race, which collectively built the tools to get everyone here. This was a trickle-down effect on a massive scale, that took no time to catch on, but was a daring proposal at the time. Anyone who wanted more than this basic support - which, incidentally included food, shelter, unlimited access to information/communication and health care - could take on any sort of occupation that he desired. Reward systems were standardized, and rewarded not only those occupations that contributed to the economic system, but that contributed to the overall well-being of humanity. Many chose to relocate from their advanced societies in the west, to areas where people needed the most help.
Everyone knows that AI is just around the corner. Progress in both the top-down reverse engineering of animal and human brains and bottom-up development of machine intelligence algorithms has been a phenomenon. Today, the concern of many is that artificial intelligences will be unknowable, and this is almost certain. These intelligences will be unknowable by someone who isn't also augmented, incorporating a bit of AI into themselves. However, these AIs will be able to know us, and will be able to interact with us on our terms, even as they devote only a percent or two of their intellect to doing so. It is predicted that by 2025, a real general AI will appear, and that will be the “knee” in the curve of accelerating change; the inflection point or singularity beyond which all bets are off.
Kids entering college a decade ago had no guarantees that what they were studying in school would be at all useful in earning a living when they finished. Usually that was true, but the universities knew that the specific subject matter wasn't what was really being taught, beyond standardizing students in a set of common skills.. The thing that was being taught was how to acquire knowledge as needed, to incorporate it into one's intellect, and to use it do develop further knowledge. As the saying goes, "You don't really understand a thing until you can explain it to someone else."

That's where I left off. I couldn't think of a way of summarizing the darn thing, and after my "awakening", it didn't seem to matter.
It's interesting how I brush off the "unpredictable weather, failing economies" etc. with words that indicate that this was an aberration instead of a new normality.
I wonder how far along the path to the future we will get before we just can't, anymore. I have basically lost interest in this future, and instead, I'm finding new ways of living a much less complex, fragile existence. I plan on writing much more about it right here.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Peak Everything, the Crashing Economy, and the Future

I have had my eyes opened by recent events. I had thought all I had to do was sit back and keep myself and my family alive and healthy until the Singularity, when pretty much every possibility would open; even the potential for immortality.
Now I find that "future history" and the fate of civilization is a race between MANY downward - pushing factors: peak oil, high government debt, climate change and financial uncertainty, and the hope that there will be technological fixes for humanity's problems. I'm no longer optimistic that our society will be saved by new energy technologies and the coming RBN (robotic, bio, nano) technology boom.

SO, I am investigating what I can do at home to make it more likely that I and my family survive the breakdown of easy access to food, shelter, transportation and security, and become a little bit (or a lot) more self-sufficient.

I'm learning, as quickly as I can, how to grow food. I'm studying grey water manuals, getting my hand tools in order, and deciding what to do with my vehicles. Should I get rid of the ones with computer chips inside, and just rely on the old Chevy pickup?

If anyone reads this, and wants to know where I started, just do a search on Dmitry Orlov. Find his book, "Reinventing Collapse". Watch the talk he gave at the Long now Foundation, or any of the other interviews. Get busy!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Plans Goals Dreams

I have a dream / goal of building up a fully capable workshop / laboratory from scratch using recycled materials and utilizing the best engineering and scientific principles to make it truly capable. I'd like to document the process as I go, perhaps making videos and writeups for my website. I'd like to go from nothing but dirt and rocks, a few recycled materials and some energy input, all the way to bio- or nanotechnology.

I recently bought some books on the topic of building a metalworking shop by casting the components in a charcoal foundry, and using hand tools to finish it and put it together. At stages of the development process, the lathe, in particular, assists in its own creation. The series of books is a set of seven small paperbacks by the late Dave Gingery on making shop equipment using a homemade charcoal foundry. It looks great. I have done some blacksmithing in the past; I made a forge from an old hibachi grill. I'm gonna do the same sort of thing again.

In addition to metalworking, I'm interested in building all parts, including electronics, to achieve a degree of self-replication, similar to the goals of the Fab lab project at MIT.

One other thing I'd like to test is how hot a hotspot I can create using low tech but large-area reflectors and the sun's rays. If this became useful, I could maybe use a big collector as a heat source for a furnace. Maybe I could melt small amounts of glass or metal.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Amazing Science Archive

As someone who is interested in science, and science experiments, labwork and demonstrations, I am pleased to find that Popular Science magazine has placed their articles into a searchable archive.
One of my favorite authors of these articles is Kenneth M.
Swezey. He used to set up the experiments, get volunteers to perform them, take photos and write it all up in the many articles he authored over the years. He also collected these articles into several books: "After Dinner Science," "Science Magic," and "Chemistry Magic." I happen to own these three books; I've had them since I was a young kid, and they're among my most prized possessions. Now this same information is available to people who don't own the books (they're long out of print, but still covered by Copyright). Check out the archive, and start searching for cool things like "spinthariscope," "X-rays," "Chlorine," "Magnesiun," and whatever else you seek.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Our Soylent Green Future?

I find it both fascinating and appalling when I go out onto the Web and read about what this century has in store for us: On one hand, we face increasing climate chaos, possible drought or hurricanes, the rising probability of a massive earthquake in California, the end of cheap energy and along with it affordable food. We hear dire predictions of the mess that consumer culture will make of the planet as it spreads to developing nations. What if everyone in China DOES want to drive a car? What if the banks fail? What if my retirement savings disappears? Oh, and don't forget the global pandemic threat! Bird flu, swine flu, dog or cat flu - it's just a matter of time before a really nasty bug appears, and circles the globe before we can do anything to stop it.
On the other hand, technological progress on many fronts continues to accelerate. Nanotechnology, a mastery over matter, and the ability to program molecules at will, is getting ever greater traction in labs around the globe, and despite the hype of its early days may deliver, in the areas of medicine and energy, quite soon. Even artificial intelligence, whose painfully slow development caused a generation of disappointment, is finally beginning to appear - in your cell phone! A world of highly-efficient solar energy farms, or solar satellites beaming energy to receiving antennas on the ground; super-medicine that can repair the damages of the aging process as easily as swallowing a capsule of nanobots; unlimited, healthful food, synthesized on the spot from an unending stream of component molecules, using templates based on the world's finest organic ingredients and culinary practices.
Will my retirement years look like something out of Soylent Green? Or will I simply not retire, but find fulfilling work that is not driven by the need to make a buck, but to serve humanity, while learning and creating, following my own unending and ever-changing interests? Will I finally learn to play the piano?
Should I be getting involved in a local "transition plan" that seeks to avoid financial and human catastrophe in my local area? Should I plant a vegetable garden? Should I abandon the house I live in, and move into an RV? Should I head to the countryside, where at least the farmers' markets may still have food? And what about my kids? Should the two I have in college continue to pursue their degrees, or will their education be rendered useless by technological or social change? What is the prudent course?
I'm trying to formulate one for myself and
my family. Starting with the extrememly short-term, and working outward to a rest-of-my-life planning process, I'm trying to cover my bases.
First, the home disaster kit, with food and water for three or more days for my family. Then I'll put together a bug-out kit, which is something like a set of camping supplies, again with plenty of food and water, that we can take with us if we have to get out of town. This might be needed if (when) the "big one" hits, and our neighborhoods go up in flames, fueled by large quantities of natural gas escaping from the gas mains.
I'm also thinking of dropping off simple one-sheet disaster planning leaflets around my neighborhood, to try to get others to prepare. I don't want to be the only one with food and water, surrounded by several hundred families who don't!
I'm starting to take these steps toward Hacking the Future!