Saturday, 17 August 2013

Peak technology? My comment for Korelin Economics Report today 2013-08-17

I commented on Al Korelin's weekend show where there was a brief discussion on the fall in the standard of living inthe Western World.

Rick Ackerman is sounding like Harry S Dent on the demographic makeup and falling standard of living in the USA, Europe and Japan.
Rick is right, I think. The same applies to Europe in a big way, including the UK. Baby boomers have to work till they're 90 as Rick says bit will there be any jobs for them? I think not, at least at any wage level people would find acceptable today.

The standard of living in the West will fall in a way that is shocking. Jim Willie describes it as the de-industrialised 3rd world (like Detroit), a very prescient comment. I look to the possibility of a 10 fold movement in Western currencies versus Eastern Asian currencies at some time, to re-balance the world’s trade. Think of the dollar as 50 Philippines Pesos moving down to five. (In 1903, A Philippines Paso was a dollar sized silver coin, struck on dollar blanks at the Denver Mint, so they were 1:1 in 1903. These movements can happen.)

Personally, I feel that we may have reached Peak Healthcare and Peak Technology.

Just from the memory and hard disk size of computers on sale in the last 4 years, the increase has slowed. Moore's law is failing I think, no longer doubling every 1.5-2 years as has been true since 1990. Micro technology and nanotechnology have been great and made many of the wonderful gizmos that Rick has mentioned but it will reach important limits determined by physics in its current form. People were talking of optical computers as the next stage in the 1980s at British companies where I was involved but these have not materialised.

I personally think that 'ordinary' or macro technology actually peaked 40 years ago partly because America reached peak oil in 1970 (and went off the gold standard). Think of transport as the best example.

Macro technology has not progressed in any meaningful way since 1970. The USA went to the moon from 1969-72; never been there since. Space Shuttle was a failure and is retired.

In 1977, you could go from London to NYC in 3 hours at Mach 2.0 in Concorde for 700 a GBP fare. Concorde is not retired after one accident. Now you go at less than Mach 1.0. Supersonic public flight is over.

In astronomy and technology books in the 1970s, you had illustrations of moon bases, trips to Mars and hypersonic international public transport, expected to be in place by 1985-2000. None have been achieved.

I visited Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Museum in 1983 on a trip to the USA. I saw the YF-12, built in 1962, the prototype of the amazing Lockheed SR71 Blackbird spyplane. A Mach 3 plane from 1962! This aircraft is also retired, as far as we know.

The museum also had the Valkyrie, the other most awesome plane I have ever seen. It looked like a parked white swan. A Mach 3 bomber from 1966. We don't have one of those in 2013!

In all these ways, we have gone backwards. Most technology progress since then has been in fuel saving technology, because we reached peak energy a while ago. Micro and nanotechnology is also a sympton of this because these new gizmos, iPhones etc are very small and do a lot, for the energy they take to make and use.

If we get to the end of Moore's law, then we are really in trouble, because both macro and micro technology will have peaked, just as we are at the top of a gigantic credit bubble.

Oh, I forgot. We were on the verge of nuclear fusion power 40 years ago. We still are. No fusion power stations in sight! We are about as far from that as we were in 1973.

I would say ignore all the BS that is talked about the singularity and how we are at the edge of some kind of transformation in our lives due to advancing technology and the continuation of Moore's law. Forget it. There will be advances in this and that but we will need a fundamental new advance to move this forward. For a start, we need to make nuclear fusion power work soon or we are screwed.

Revision Monday 19 August 2pm BST:

You know, I think I overdosed on doom and gloom just there. I went out for a lovely walk on Sunday afternoon (yesterday) after a delicious dinner at a good friend's house. We went to Wicksteed Park in Kettering, Northamptonshire. The sun was out and fluffy clouds were in the sky. There must have been someone who had an accident or was taken ill as we were there, because the Nothamptonshire and Warwickshire yellow helicopter ambulance circled and landed, much to everyone's surprise. It was so cool to see the thing take off and land at such close range. In the end, a 4-wheeled ambulance (without wings) carried the patient away and the helicopter left with its paramedics and doctor on board and no patient. Many people took pictures and waved as they left. (I didn't have my camera of course! Duh!). The yellow whirlybird took a look at us and ascended slightly in reverse into the blue sky, lifted by an invisible force . Absolutely fantastic. Life is for living, isn't it?

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