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What do you think the future looks like?

I think it looks like a rising tide of technology that expands capabilities toward limits set by fundamental physical law -- thermodynamics, strength of chemical bonds, and so on.

I think that this process will blow away the resource limits that almost everyone in this conversation imagines, and that (yes), these advances will enable cheap access to space, abundant solar energy, etc., etc. That is, all that stuff that becomes easy if you get really good at making things. Physics seems to say that we're very bad at this today.

And no, this won't solve all our problems. Expanded capabilities will instead create a vast tangle of unexpected problems that sensible people won't discuss  until it is very late in the game, for fear of being called Utopians or Cassandras (on alternate days).

Two queries, for perspective:

If we were near the limits of material technology, how could it be that the biological world produces gigatons per year of cheap, atomically precise structures, while modern industry spends billions of dollars on semiconductor fabs that spit out mere tons of chips per year, and these covered with big, blobby structures containing millions of atoms apiece?

If we were near the limits of information technology, how could it be that brains (based on <1000 Hz devices) are smart, while current computers (based on >1,000,000,000 Hz devices) are stupid?

Note that neither molecular technologies nor information technologies are resource intensive, and that both are moving fast. I think that the real limits to growth aren't where most people imagine. For better, or for worse.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 05:08:13 AM EST
You know the answer as well as I.  Biologic systems are complex, emergent, and non-linear.  Electronic devices are simple, dependent, and linear.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 12:23:41 PM EST
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You state a good reason why it many biological systems are difficult to mimic (in the sense of designing new ones, rather than merely fiddling with ones that exist).

But does this mean that technology has reached its limits? Certainly not in a physical sense. Regarding design capabilities and the issues you raise --

  1. Hard problems have again and again been solved through the growth of scientific knowledge.

  2. Evolution demonstrates that hard problems can be solved with no knowledge at all, given enough persistence. (Evolution with a result in mind and with higher-level representations of subsystems can be much faster than the biological way accomplished.)

  3. Although intelligence is far from understood, manufacturing -- even at the molecular scale -- is in a different category. The problem here is a need for tool development and filling in details, not a need for new basic concepts.

I conclude that one or more huge transformations in technology can be expected. I strongly suspect that they will occur in the early (not mid or late) 21st century.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Mon Apr 10th, 2006 at 06:49:54 PM EST
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