[FoRK] Making robotics a priority

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Fri Jul 15 03:59:15 PDT 2011

On Thu, Jul 14, 2011 at 04:13:56PM -0700, Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo wrote:

> I don't know if you are missing the point, Eugen, or simply ignoring it.  

We're mostly on the same page as far as I can see. I was merely
pointing out that long-term outlook is good, if we make it through
short- and mid-term.

>  The point is that ... let's take your solar power example ... the photons
> may be "free" but it requires significant quantities of Real Stuff to
> construct, install and maintain all of the things necessary to capture,
> convert and distribute it. 

Not necessarily. Consider an artificial plant model, which would
self-replicate and self-maintain by in situ resource utilization.

We're very far away from than on a small footprint, but less so
in terms of macroscale self-rep closure (e.g. PV-powered PV production
in the Sahara).

If you want something that is even closer at hand, consider positive-energy
housing. There outer skin with few um of material provides net excess
power. This already exists, but it is not yet cost-effective -- but 
will be soon enough, especially if crossover is accelerated by the 
rising costs of energy.

The real problem is that this should have been fast-tracked 
around 1975 yet it didn't happen. Including need to make organic
synthetic feedstock from scratch (e.g. C1 feedstock from air CO2).
This is expensive infrastructure work which takes a long time.
These fields are also talent-constrained, as such fields have
fallen out of favor and neglected.
> With that in mind, do you think the advances in technology will outpace, or
> even manage to keep up with, the increasing demands as the Asian countries
> continue their valiant, and mostly successful, attempts to match the
> consumption rates of the "1st world" countries?  

I expect that the availability of energy, food and raw materials
will constrain the ascent of the rest of humanity. We obviously are in
overshoot, and late enough that we now start visibly deviate from
the exponential, so everything is possible (including nuclear-assisted
die-off). Our goose however is not cooked, not yet. 

> That is, will the amount of Real Stuff required, for example, to build the energy capture, conversion
> and distribution systems be reduced enough to offset the increasing
> quantities of them that are needed to 1) replace existing fossil fuel

Renewable growth is obviously far falling short of the mark of
achieving a ~20 TW volume transition within 40-50 years. Obviously,
it's going to hurt, a lot.

> generation at a status quo rate AND 2) match the increasing demand for
> energy? Regardless whether that energy is used to stitch up sdw's running
> shoes or to capture, store and distribute bits?

Communication infrastructure is the least of it, if done properly
(ARM cores and lighting up dark fiber is cheap enough). There are some
extremely energy-intensive processes which need to either substituted
or minimized (reliance on Haber-Bosch for agriculture nitrate, aluminium,

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