[FoRK] Making robotics a priority

Aaron Burt aaron at bavariati.org
Thu Jul 14 10:55:33 PDT 2011

On Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 12:57:29PM +0200, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> On Tue, Jul 12, 2011 at 08:11:08PM -0700, Stephen Williams wrote:
> > On 7/12/11 7:30 PM, Adam L Beberg wrote:
> >> And you propose we get to post-scarcity though peak-oil, 
> >> peak-phosphorous, peak-water, peak-fiat, lack of education, 60/40 
> >> gender imbalances, and rapid destruction of the planet... how exactly?
> >>
> > More robotics / AI / automation.  Didn't I make that clear?
> Had you said nanotechnology and superintelligent AI I'd agree.

I'm trying not to read that as "resource-intensive pinnacle-technology-
of-the-moment #1 and #2."

> However, we're not getting these anytime soon. Because almost nobody
> is working on it.

Nanotech is getting a *lot* of work.  But we're still at the materials
stage, not the moving-parts stage.  Think iron age, not industrial age.

AI is also getting a lot of work.  But it's not sci-fi brain-in-a-chip AI,
it's Google "teach computers to do what we mean" AI.  What's your take on
Charlie Stross' http://www.orbitbooks.net/2011/07/08/artificial-stupids/ ?

> Robotics is about the only thing to make scalable organic 
> agriculture happen, which at least postpones the malthusian
> reckoning.

Hm.  Spend mineral and energy resources on farming so humans don't have to
do the work?  Sounds a whole lot like our current fossil-based agriculture.

You may have some misconceptions about the efficacy of sustainable and
organic agriculture.  It ain't automated like industrial grain production,
but then, very little can be automated to that degree.

OTOH, while we can meet nitrogen needs w/o synthetics, phosphorus and
micronutrients can be problematic at feed-everyone scales.  Organic farmers
use semi-renewable resources like guano and various sorts of bone meal, but
I haven't calculated whether the supply would meet the demand if everyone
ate a sustainable diet.

> Key factor is renewable energy and synthons, which
> is too little and too late.

If by synthons you mean chemical feedstock, renewable-sourced feedstocks
are ramping up very nicely, thank you.

> A softer depopulation option than die-off by degraded ecosystem
> (assisted by a nuclear exchange) would be engineered plagues. 

Why engineered?  Usually the natural ones arise in stressed, crowded
populations.  Civil wars are an even softer option.

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