Wednesday, September 20, 2006

To blog or not to blog

Apologies for a lack of bloging lately. I’ve been extremely busy with my other life (er, that is, my real life), but more to the point, I’ve been contemplating the point of bloging. I originally started a blog just as an experiment. I had no idea what I would blog about (see first post), but I thought it would be nice to have a bit of an outlet. Looking back, many of the posts I’ve made have been ranting about silly little things, like how amusingly over the top the doomsday crowd is, or alternatively I’ve posted little news articles that I’ve come across and found interesting.

But ranting about morons that are convinced the world is about to end serves no purpose except to blow some steam off. And I’m beginning to wonder why I should make an effort to post about all the cool technology developments that are occurring more and more frequently. I’ll find some great piece of news, but then I realise that it’s already been discussed in many dozens of locations, usually in places that enjoy many more hits then my humble little blog does, and I kind of wonder why should I bother writing up a piece that won’t be adding anything new to the wealth of information out there?

Blogging is a strange beast. Some people, such as those I link to in the sidebar, do fantastic jobs of writing up interesting commentary on their subject matter, whereas some people often just post quick links to news items of interest they have come across, and little else. Some people blog about their professional careers, some blog about some hobby or interest (like in this blog for example, I blog about what personally interests me – technology and the future of human kind). Many people just blog about their daily lives, their blog serving as a kind of online diary.

So I guess the question to be asked, is why blog, and in what form? I’m often tempted to post links to various news items I find, but then I wonder, why? I guess for me blogging only makes sense if you are going to add some interesting commentary, but personally, I find it very difficult to find the time. I’m just not sure if I should bother. I suspect my time would be better spent reading what others have to say rather then adding my voice to the chorus of millions.

Today’s rant has basically been an outlet to voice my concern for my feeling of the pointlessness desktop journalism. I’m thinking that I won’t be posting news articles anymore unless it’s something that really fascinates me.

But after having this little rant, it becomes clearer to me why I bother with bloging. Voicing ones opinion, no matter how small that voice may be, is a remarkable privilege and a fantastic opportunity. Even when you’re too busy to update more then once a fortnight.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sustainability is inevitable

I post here a response I gave in a recent discussion about peak oil regarding my position on sustainability and debunking the notion that a mass dieoff of billions of people is inevitable.

Ludi from the peak oil community asks:

Omnitir, can you explain how the transition to sustainability is "inevitable"? I'm not sure what you mean by that. Do you mean it is inevitable we will transition to sustainability before a major die-off?

Yes, I believe so.

Our capabilities of adapting are far more advanced then I suspect many people acknowledge. It comes down to the sometimes overlooked benefits of greater complexity. With today’s unprecedented levels of complexity we have the ability to do what we have always done on a much larger scale, far more quickly, and far more effectively.

What we have always done is adapt. Our species has the unique ability to understand a situation, then create virtual scenarios to experiment and test hypothesis (early this was done in the mind, then in more complex ways with new tools such as writing and mathematics etc., and now in exceedingly complex ways with highly advanced tools such as massive parallel computer networking etc., in each case resulting in ever more effective solutions), and finally we put these solutions into action.

I believe that we already are making a gradual but definite transition towards sustainability, and that this transition is the inevitable result of human progress. We understand the situation far better then ever before, and more and more people are becoming aware of the need for change. We are using hugely more advanced tools to both understand the problem and to calculate and develop various solutions, which give ever more effective results. And the last stage is implementing these solutions, which contrary to doomer positions is something that is occurring in earnest (just not instantaneously).

Thanks to our greater understanding of the problems, a greater number of bodies are striving for solutions. This phenomenon will gain impressive momentum the more the truth of unsustainability is revealed to the world, and the better it is understood.

Long before a great dieoff occurs, to coin a phrase, the ‘symptoms of the greater problem’, will manifest themselves in greater number, causing an increasing amount of effort towards sustainability. There will indeed be a breaking point, but not one in which civilization collapses around us, rather one where the movement for sustainability gains critical mass and can no longer be resisted. Democracy, capitalism, the free market and increasing complexity will then display their inherent benefits as the push towards sustainability overwhelms current paradigms and takes priority in a world where oil is soon to peak. The dieoff will be adverted.

But don’t rest easy guys, there’s still a lot of work to do ;)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The future of cars and the end of car culture

A doomer recently made a sarcastic comment to my post about the short-sightedness of peak oil doomers with regards to high technology and its role in our future:

So now we have cars that can drive themselves without running into things or people... in the desert! Yeah, that'll solve all our problems!

While this comment misses the point I was making that artificial intelligence is indeed advancing and will have a big influence on our future, the comment did get me thinking some more about cars and their importance to peak oil.

Firstly, let’s cut the crap. Peak oil is about cars. Doomers can rant all they want about phantom carrying capacity, the great die-off, suburban sprawl, oil dependent currencies, the essential role of oil in maintaining civilization, and so on and so forth; but the bottom line is it’s really all about cars. If you could hypothetically replace every car in the world with a magic fuel-less flying carpet, suddenly oil consumption would be irrelevant. However there is still the issue of the ever growing number of people in industrialising countries wanting to taste the freedom of efficient transport. Even with cars that don’t consume oil, we still won’t be able to manage every person on the planet owning a car. And we wouldn’t want too!

So the trick then, is to do two things:

  • Make all the cars in the world run on alternative fuels,

  • Get people to adopt better transport alternatives to cars.

  • That first one is obviously a bit tricky, but there is a simple solution: the electric car. Martin Eberhard, CEO of Tesla Motors, the guys that developed that high performance, sexy and 100% electric sports car, has an excellent post in their blog outlining why the future of cars is electric.

    His completely logical position is nicely summed up in the first two sentences of the post:
    Not too long from now, most cars will be electric. Why? Two reasons: because electric cars are far more efficient than any other kind of car, and because they are the ultimate multi-fuel cars. Sound bold, maybe crazy? Read on.

    Electric vehicles really are the future. They make so much more sense on so many levels. We have the technology, and the transition is beginning.

    Okay, now for the second, and perhaps more important question; how do we get large numbers of people to adopt better alternatives to cars?

    I’ve always thought that there must be better options then cars. One possibility that I like the sound of is a sort of hybrid rail and private car setup, such as MegaRail. There are a lot of public transit system concept that could revolutionise the world, if only they could get support. As always, funding large scale projects frequently stands in the way of potentially hugely beneficial developments.

    MegaRail concept - an electric vehicle hybrid rail system

    Mmm, sexy.

    However, when you consider how much money must get spent on cars, from the purchasing, maintenance and operation costs of the cars themselves, to the massive infrastructure and real estate that car culture demands, this huge amount of money could surely be better spent? If every dollar that goes into cars instead went into a public transit system, surely we would have a system vastly superior to private car ownership? Unfortunately there is a century of car culture standing in the way for any change to happen at the moment. People simply live their cars too damn much.

    This brings me back to the point of quoting the anonymous doomer as the start of this post. Cars that drive themselves solving our problems? You bet!

    Imagine a future where not only are all the cars efficient and quiet electric vehicles, but they also drive themselves. This would have several very important social ramifications. The desire to drive a large and powerful car would diminish.

    Consider the social implications when all cars:

  • Are very quiet (and have no mucho exhaust note to tell people how big you genitals are)

  • Drive themselves intelligently and do not occasionally try to race other cars at the lights

  • Are hyper safe drivers that never crash

  • Become a passenger experience instead of a driving pleasure

  • The role of the car in our lives will change. Cars will cease to be a social status symbol. People won’t want big and fast cars because they will be useless – you won’t be able to make an auto-driving car race off at dangerous and fuel wasting speeds. You won’t be able to rev the engine in mucho efforts to tell everyone that you are a MAN. You won’t be under the mistaken impression that a massive SUV is safer and necessary for driving the kids to soccer practice, because you know that the AI car network simply can not crash a car.

    So what happens to society when the all important social role of the car disappears? When people don’t car about their cars – something that is almost unthinkable in today’s lingering 20th century ideals – how will people’s live change? I suspect that in such a dramatic cultural shift, and it is dramatic, people will become a lot more open about alternative forms of transport. When a car is not a driving experience but a passenger experience, perhaps a transition to a more sensible transport ideal will become feasible?

    So in response too our short-sighted doomer friend who fails to consider the implications of advancing technology, yes, cars that drive themselves just may solve all of our problems. You see, once we get to the point where cars are driving themselves, and by which point we will already be using oil alternative fuels, a wide-scale transition to superior alternatives to cars will be possible, because the AI car will have killed off the last remnants of the despicable car culture we so lovingly developed during the oil age.

    Sunday, August 20, 2006

    Another Peak oil analogy – a kid leaving home

    The other day I was thinking about how much better the world is going to be once we kick the oil habit, and another analogy on peak oil optimism occurred to me.

    Peak oil is like when a kid, or rather young adult, is forced to move out of his parent’s home for the first time.

    Here’s this hypothetical young man who has so far lived his entire life under the caring roof of his family. Through his childhood and adolescent years they have supported and nurtured him. They helped him as he made his way through school and more recently through university. There have been problems along the way, but for the most part life for him has been pretty damn easy. Though he may think he had it tough at times and doesn’t yet realise that overall he has had life pretty easy up to this point.

    But now he’s about to graduated from college and suddenly things are uncertain. He’s got to go out on his own, find a job, find a place to live, feed himself, and pay for everything himself. Suddenly the sheltered life he’s been living with his parents seems so much safer, comfortable and easier then the real world he is entering.

    But then he makes the transition. It was a little painful at first. He went through many gruelling interviews in order to find work. He had a hard time finding the right place to live, and his new home isn’t as nice as his parent’s home. He had some troubles feeding himself and learning how to cook. He found himself getting take-out food far too often.

    However after a while he became acclimatised to his new life. Now he’s enjoying working and all the benefits that come from having a proper income. He’s stopped eating unhealthy take-out and worked out how to maintain a healthy diet. He’s started saving for a deposit on his own home and understands that the dive he’s currently living in is only a stop gap measure. He thinks that in the future he may even end up in a home much nicer then his parents.

    Yep, now that he’s made the transition, he realises that life is vastly better then it ever was when he was living at home. He thinks back to that time when he was forced to move out and wonders what the hell was he so concerned about?

    A future without oil - it's going to be great

    And so too will future civilization look back to the end of the oil age and wonder what the hell we were so worried about (well, the doomers will anyway). Sure, the transition is going to be difficult, sometimes even painful. But once we’ve made the transition, once we have a sustainable world that runs of clean and renewable (or unlimited?) energy and resources, we will realise that life is vastly greater then it has ever been before, and that the peaking of global oil production (just like this kid being forced to move out of home) turned out to be the best thing that could possibly happen to us.

    Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    Progress is sustainable

    Perusing the brilliant recently, I came across a very interesting paper by John McCarthy of Stanford University; Progress and its Sustainability. It's interesting in that it debunks essentially every major doomsayer theory regarding sustainability - and incidentally was written over ten years ago, long before the peakniks began their enviro-doomsday mantra.

    For a more detailed understanding of how progress is sustainable, be sure to look into the original paper and it's many detailed links.

    "With the development of nuclear energy, it became possible to show that there are no apparent obstacles even to a billion years of sustainability"

    Following is a section of the question and answer segment posted in the condensed version of the paper from KurzweilAI.

    Q. What is meant by material progress?

    A. Human progress in the last few centuries has included the following.

    1. Increased access to material goods.
    2. Increased life span.
    3. Reduced childhood death.
    4. Increased opportunities for education.
    5. Societies that people choose to migrate to.
    6. More individual choice of occupation, lifestyle and avocations.
    7. More opportunity to enjoy both culture and nature.
    8. Cleaner environment.
    9. Increased consideration for the values in nature, e.g. for the preservation of biological diversity.
    10. Increased concern for less advanced people and their cultures.
    11. More and more new goods and services available to more and more people. Available novelty is a good. Compulsory novelty is often a nuisance or worse.

    All this progress was a consequence of the advance of technology and also of advances in government and other social organizations in capitalist society. These other social organizations include universities, societies for the promotion of the arts, trade unions, publications, political parties, and advocacy organizations. Mainly it was technology, which became increasingly based on scientific discoveries.

    None of these advances ensure that everyone will be happy. The American Declaration of Independence wisely offers only the pursuit of happiness. However, I believe that progress has resulted in less acute unhappiness. Someone who thinks otherwise should explain how parents were just as happy when half of their children died in childhood.

    All these things are dependent on the material wealth of society. People can dispute about how to divide the wealth, but there has to be wealth to divide. Here are some of the questions that have led some people believe this progress can't continue and some answers to the worries.

    Q. Can the world grow enough food for 15 billion people?

    A. Yes, it can and with present agricultural technology. With better technology, probably a lot more. Biotechnology based on molecular genetics is just beginning to be applied to agriculture.

    Q. Aren't our forests being exhausted?

    A. No. In the industrial countries, the land in forest is stable and the quantity of wood is increasing. In the tropical underdeveloped countries, there is still substantial conversion of forest to agriculture.

    Q. Is humanity suffering from an enormous loss of biodiversity.

    A. The loss is quite small of the important or individually interesting species like mammals and birds. However, beetle species in the Amazon may be disappearing.

    Q. Isn't the world running out of energy.

    A. No. Nuclear and solar> energy are each adequate for the next several billion years. That's right; billion not just million or thousand.

    Q. Isn't it important to conserve energy?

    A. Energy needs to be regarded as just another commodity, to be used in whatever quantity is cost-effective. It is available in whatever amounts may be needed. Treating its conservation as a special goal has been wasteful of human effort. We are the poorer for it.

    Q. When will we run out of oil?

    A. Twenty years ago, I had been convinced that by the end of this century we would be out of oil directly pumpable from the ground. Obviously, we won't, and I am cautious about how much oil there is left. Maybe 20 years, maybe 50 years, maybe 100 years, but I can't see it lasting longer than 100 years.

    However, oil can be extracted from oil shale, from tar sands (as it is in Alberta, Canada) and synthesized from coal. These processes(except for tar sands) are too expensive to compete with just letting it just flow out of the ground in Saudi Arabia, but the technology was developed when it was thought oil would run out soon. The costs would be affordable. Taking these sources into account we probably have several hundred years supply of oil, provided "greenhouse" warming permits its use.

    Q. What will happen when all these sources run out or if global warming requires severe restrictions?

    A. Oil and natural gas are readily replaced by nuclear energy for heating and electricity generation. However, oil is not so readily replaced for transportation. If we can develop good enough batteries, electric cars are a solution. If not, liquid hydrogen will work for cars and trucks.

    Q. What about the non-fuel uses of oil and natural gas? Don't our plastics depend on their availability?

    A. Oil and gas are used as feedstocks for making plastics of all kinds, but the amounts are much smaller than their use for fuel. Any source of carbon will do in place of oil and gas - coal or biomass, for example. Oil and gas are used today, because they are cheap, easy to handle and carry the energy required for the chemical reactions along with the materials.

    Q. Will we run out of minerals?

    A. No. There is plenty of every element in major use. It is a question of the economic concepts of reserves and resources. Iron ore and aluminum ore are presently obtained from very rich ores available in a few places in the world. These ores can be shipped long distances by water at small cost. They are oxides rather than the silicates which present refining procedures don't handle. The earth's crust is 5 percent iron and 7 percent aluminum, but most of it as silicates. Refining silicates will require more energy. However, the extractive industries only account for four percent of the American GDP, so we can afford more expensive extraction processes when they become necessary.

    Indeed once we can extract minerals from random rock, the only way of running out of an element is to eject it from the planet or to let it subduct under a continent. This is because using quantities of elements doesn't destroy them. Therefore, the scrap piles will eventually be ores. This won't happen for a long time, because more concentrated ores will remain available for a long time.

    In fact metal ores have become more inexpensive recently as is illustrated by the famous bet between the Stanford environmentalist Paul Ehrlich and the economist Julian Simon. In 1980 Simon sold Ehrlich (on credit) ten year futures on five metals of Ehrlich's choosing. The total price was $1,000. In 1990 Ehrlich had to pay Simon $600, because the metals had gone down in price.

    Q. Doesn't the second law of thermodynamics tell us that the lower the concentration of the ore, the more energy it takes to extract it?

    A. It does indeed, but the energy required goes up very slowly as the concentration goes down. To separate one mole of a substance from n moles of a substrate requires an energy RT ln n according to the second law. According to this formula, it would pay to extract one atom of uranium from the entire earth. Of course, mineral extraction is more expensive than that, but the second law of thermodynamics isn't the reason.

    Q. What if the population increases?

    A. There is certainly a limit to the population the earth can support, and migration into space can only occur very slowly at the present level of technology. The limiting factor may be food, but a feeling that enough is enough may be more important. We will see what happens when 10,000 people try to post to a usenet newsgroup. That won't require any increase in population - only an increase in the availability of computers. Nevertheless, it will give everyone a taste of a more crowded world. Some people ascribe the increased crowdedness of American national parks to the increase in population. However the number of visitors to Yosemite National increased 2.6 times as fast as the population of the U.S. or of California. The crowdedness is caused by increased equality of opportunity to visit the parks.

    Q. How fast is population increasing?

    A. In the U.S., Europe, and Japan, the birth rate is below the level required to sustain the population. The population is increasing because of immigration and from the baby boom that followed WWII. It is the grandchildren of the boomers that are keeping the schools going.

    In much of the rest of the world the population is still increasing, but the rate of increase is slowing, especially in the big countries of China, India and Indonesia.

    There is still a high rate of growth in Africa south of the Sahara, but it also shows signs of slowing.

    Q. Is the population problem urgent?

    A. Only in a few countries, and it is their problem, because they have sovereignty. People in the advanced countries can only provide technology, but adequate birth control technology has already been provided. For the world as a whole, the population problem may be important, but it is not urgent.

    Q. Isn't the world running out of usable fresh water supplies.

    A. No, but some countries may have to spend a lot of money on water projects, just as our ancestors did.

    Q. What about the ozone layer, the ozone hole and UV-B?

    A. On the theory that chlorofluorocarbons put chlorine in the upper atmosphere which destroys ozone, their manufacture has been banned. A 90 percent reduction would have been just as effective and less economically disruptive, but industry seems to be adjusting to the total ban.

    Q. Won't global warming do us in unless we drastically reduce our use of energy?

    A. No. Global warming can be avoided or reversed should it turn out to be a serious problem. However, there is a thorough paper "Why Global Warming Would be Good for You" by Tom Moore of the Hoover Institution.

    Q. What about trash and garbage? Aren't we likely to drown in them?

    A. The U.S. produces about 375 million tons of trash and garbage per year. There is no real shortage of land where it can be put. It should be piled quite high. What changed is that before the recent enthusiasm for wetlands, filling in swamps with garbage was the approved thing to do, and the land was available without cost. Now it must be paid for, but the costs are quite bearable.

    Q. Given all this uncertainty about the prospects for continuing material progress, isn't it better to be safe than sorry?

    A. Yes, but material progress is much more likely to be safe than is stagnation. The proposals for limiting progress are likely to cost lives from poverty and make humanity less capable of dealing with dealing with the inevitable emergencies.

    The proposals claiming that safety lies in restraining progress are more likely to lead to sorrow than continuing progress in general.

    Q. Have environmental and health and safety regulations been expensive to our society?

    A. Yes, they have cost about $625 billion per year according to one estimate. [Other estimates are different.] My opinion is that many of the regulations have been worthwhile, but a great many (probably most) have contributed very little when compared to the costs they have imposed on individuals and businesses.

    However, our society can survive even a large amount of irrational regulation. I remain an extreme optimist--one who believes the would will probably survive even if it doesn't take his advice.

    Q. Aren't the people of the advanced countries using more than their proper share of natural resources?

    A. People can really be said to use more than their share of something if their use deprives someone else of it. If there is plenty for everyone for the indefinite future, the concept of fair share is meaningless.

    The only major commodity whose use in the advanced countries may deprive people of the poor countries in the near future is petroleum. How near is the exhaustion of petroleum is not clear.

    When the petroleum supply shows clear signs of running out, perhaps the advanced countries should give the poor countries some extra help in making the transition to nuclear and possibly solar energy. By the time petroleum runs out some, maybe even most, of the presently poor countries will no longer be too poor to solve their own energy problems. Any country, which like the U.S. today, spends only 8 percent of its GDP on energy can afford to solve its own energy problems.

    Q. What does it matter whether we believe progress is sustainable or not?

    A. Important policies depend on it.

    1. If progress were not sustainable, then it would be important to reduce consumption of whatever resources were limiting progress. It would be the particular duty of the countries using the most of these resources.
    2. Since progress is sustainable, and there is no limiting resource in the short term (next few hundred years and probably much longer), the most important way to help the poor countries is to help them develop more or less along the path pioneered by the richer countries--skipping some steps when possible.
    3. The richer countries should continue their progress, both for the sake of their own citizens and because the richer the country is, the more it is likely to do to help others.

    All the contentions of this article require detailed support, and this support is given in the author's web page which contains references to articles concerned with particular possible problems including energy, agriculture, pollution, biodiversity, population growth, forests, water supply, and also various menaces that might arise.

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Doomers and the technological singularity

    Apologies to my regular visitors (for my recent lack of posts, and for this little rant) but I’ve been a bit distracted away from blogging lately. For some insane reason, I’ve been having a few little arguments with peak oil doomers here and there (mostly on I really should be blogging about important stuff like technology with what little spare time I have rather then butting my head against the immobile wall of peaknic pessimism, but what can I say, I just enjoy the lame responses those guys endlessly churn out.

    The latest argument was about the possibility of the technological singularity solving PO, and it was amusing to see the number of doomers that firstly have no understanding of technological progress, and secondly attribute my “cornicopian” attitude to not understanding the severe environmental issues humanity faces. Yet when I offer my understanding of environmental issues (no shit Sherlock, the world is getting warmer and the oceans are in a sorry state – it’s no secret), they insist I fail to understand our predicament. Of course, most of these Luddites don’t understand the basic concepts of high-end technology, nor do they want to, yet they accuse others of ignoring facts. When I refer to advancing technology, these people think I’m talking about iPods.

    The most amazing thing of the argument though is the underlying philosophies. I believe that our best chance, hell, our only chance of repairing environmental damage is to develop and refine the appropriate technologies. Doomers believe the best chance for the environment is for 4 or 5 billion people to die, and then leave the environment to magically repair itself. Fucking morons.

    Doomer ready to save the environment, complete with eco-friendly transport.

    Some recent samples from a singularity thread (I know, I’ve really got to stop visiting that site):

    All the singularity talk really is doomerism in disguise, its' religion with a science icing, something will come.

    You seem to have attached yourself to the singularity like a Christ figure.

    This seems like the religious impulse acting under the guise of science.

    None of this singularity BS is relevant to peakoil. It's not like an AI would be able to pull a new thermodynamic paradigm out of its silicon ass to save the planet at this point.

    AI 'experts' (there's no such thing you should know) have predicting the rise of 'intelligent' machines for decades now, and we're still no where even close.

    But even if we achieve the "singularity" and AI, I don't see how that fixes a broken Earth. Brings back extinct species. Reverses runaway global warming. Cleanses the world ocean. Creates energy out of nothing or otherwise defies the laws of physics.

    If an ET alien came to earth with the periodic table and was told "design an energy carrier for planet Earth" it would come up with gasoline.

    So we get the old "science is your religion, and singularity your 2nd coming of Christ". -No dipshit, science is a way to understand and world around us without blind faith and belief systems, and singularity is something that may possibly result from continued exponential progress.

    We get the constant Luddite technophobia and belief that science and technology has failed us. And apparently there is no such thing as AI experts. Humph, I expect my professor from my AI unit when I studied software development would have something to say about that. People that think AI hasn't made any progress would be suprised to know just how much "soft AI" as permetated our society. If you were to shut down every form of AI, modern civilization would suddenly grind to a halt. And I suppose the success teams have enjoyed in autonomous vehicles driving long off-road obstacle coursed counts for nothing? And this contest isn't even the AI big wigs, it's only open to the backyard project type teams.

    Cars that drive themselves. The technology was once the stuff of impossible fantasy where autonomous cars and David Hasselhoff teamed up to fight crime. Now it’s real… but nobody seems to care.

    And of course we get the heart of the doomer belief system itself; “hail the almighty hydrocarbon, the supreme fuel source of all time! E.T., A.I., or God himself could not even create a better fuel source then gasoline.” No wonder these morons think we are so doomed.

    And these quote were just from the last couple of pages of the discussion. This garbage went on for a dozen pages before that.

    Well that’s enough ranting. I’m staying away from the doomer sites now. Those guys can horde ammo and cans of baked beans for the next few decades, fantasizing about their Mad Max scenarios. I am well aware now that there is no point in an optimist engaging in conversation with them. So I’ll let them be, however, I would like to see their reactions in twenty five years when civilization is still humming along and A.I. is beginning to make to world a better place for everyone. But I suspect that these Luddites will be too firmly entrenched in their shelters to realize that the world has moved on without them.

    Once again, apologies for the rant. This is the last time!

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Test Tube Meat

    In keeping with the theme of the previous post, that is, how technology will help feed our planet's growing population in the future, I thought I would mention this article I recently came across at Wired News about Test Tube Meat.

    Henk Haagsman, a professor of meat sciences at Utrecht University, and his Dutch colleagues are working on growing artificial pork meat out of pig stem cells. They hope to grow a form of minced meat suitable for burgers, sausages and pizza toppings within the next few years.

    Currently involved in identifying the type of stem cells that will multiply the most to create larger quantities of meat within a bioreactor, the team hopes to have concrete results by 2009. The 2 million euro ($2.5 million) Dutch-government-funded project began in April 2005. The work is one arm of a worldwide research effort focused on growing meat from cell cultures on an industrial scale.

    "All of the technology exists today to make ground meat products in vitro," says Paul Kosnik.

    "We believe the goal of a processed meat product is attainable in the next five years if funding is available and the R&D is pursued aggressively." A single cell could theoretically produce enough meat to feed the world's population for a year.

    If successful, artificially grown meat could be tailored to be far healthier than any type of farm-grown meat. It's possible to stuff if full of heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, adjust the protein or texture to suit individual taste preferences and screen it for food-borne diseases.

    Mmmmm, steak...

    I’ve always thought the ultimate in food production would be growing meat artificially. It makes so much sense to produce something that is healthier, safer and vastly better for the environment, not to mention a means to help solve world hunger, as opposed to the barbaric practices that modern civilization currently goes through in getting meet to the supermarkets of the world.

    Current practices produce poor quality meets, have greater risk of sickness and disease, the animals are pumped full of chemicals, they live their lives in disgusting conditions, and perhaps worst of all, consume vast amounts of energy.

    And yet despite the potential of artificial meats, a quick read of the comments section of the Wired News article, and we can see that the world is still full of irrational idiots that are strongly against the idea. I wonder if they even begin to understand the problems facing modern civilization and the need for advanced solutions such as this?

    George Bush is another Luddite who fails to see the importance of scientific and technological developments, as he recently vetoed the stem cell research bill, claiming that such research is immoral, and in doing so prohibiting research into potentially hugely important developments such as artificial meat or medical advances. I wonder, if Bush thinks researching stem cells to try and save lives (and possibly feed the starving) is immoral, then does he consider the death and destruction that he is directly responsible for in the Middle East to be moral?

    Fortunately it seems that most of the American public is opposed to the bill veto, so it seems that much of the possibilities of stem cell research is becoming widely understood. And hopefully in the years ahead when artificial meat becomes commercialized, people will be able to make the mental adjustments to it’s benefits, just as they have with stem cell research.

    And considering the likely economic ramifications of being able to artificially grow a superior meat, hopefully once the technology becomes commercialized world leaders will be able to see the logic in supporting such a technology. Given the financial benefits of such products, there may not have much of a choice.