September 08, 2008

Response to more Singularity Critiques

Richard Jones (who regularly criticizes molecular nanotechnology, Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity] writes about the Singularity in terms of "Faith in Technology" and Scott Aaronson writes about how the "Singularity is Far'

Points in the Richard Jones article that I wanted to respond to:
1. Jones: Peak oil could cause a societal collapse and thus prevent/cripple technological progress.

Oil shortage is something to be managed and their should be a transition to other energy - biofuels, nuclear power and renewables. This something which when I look at the details of energy appears to be either easily manageable or manageable with some difficulty but not difficulty that collapses society.

This site has a recommended energy plan for transition from oil and coal.

Conventional biofuel projection

Algae biofuel

Garbage into fuel (2.5 billion gallons per year from one company by 2022)

Japan's large scale seaweed into biofuel plan and seaweed for mining uranium from seawater

Getting new nuclear fission power to less than 2 cents per kwh

Uranium from seawater and deep burn reactors can allow nuclear power to last for 5 billion years or 20,000 years at 100 times current power levels

Deep burn and seriously scaling nuclear power

2. Climate change could cause a societal collapse

Geoengineering is easy. The concern of climate change is that geoengineering is a side effect of human civilization (burning coal and oil and agriculture). There are cheap plans that are reversible which can be used to offset climate change. There are also bad plans that are not cheap. Obviously the bad and expensive plans should not be implemented.

The Economist talks about some the plans for addressing climate change

Sequestering carbon in cities with Calera Cement

McKinsey Consulting discusses offsetting climate change.


Gregory Benford has a proposal that possesses the advantages of being both one of the simplest planet-cooling technologies so far suggested and being initially testable in a local context. He suggests suspension of tiny, harmless particles (sized at one-third of a micron) at about 80,000 feet up in the stratosphere. These particles could be composed of diatomaceous earth. "That's silicon dioxide, which is chemically inert, cheap as earth, and readily crushable to the size we want," Benford says. This could initially be tested, he says, over the Arctic, where warming is already considerable and where few human beings live.

Is Benford's proposal realistic? According to Ken Caldeira, a leading climate scientist at Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, "It appears as if any small particle would do the trick in the necessary quantities. I've done a number of computer simulations of what the climate response would be of reflecting sunlight, and all of them indicate that it would work quite well." He adds, "I wouldn't look to these geoengineering schemes as part of normal policy response, but if bad things start to happen quickly, then people will demand something be done quickly."




3. A criticism in the Jones article seems to be that those who believe in technology progressing at particular rates similar to what has been observed for decades are over-simplifying technology and just creating chart forecasts. Then you are following the simplified concerns of some people about peak oil and climate change without looking at the current energy situation and the rate of field decline, offsetting oil recovery technology [not nanotech but oil technology that effects any potential production decline] and economic and societal adaptions, mitigations and offsets to address oil shortages and to enable an orderly transition from oil.

Enhanced oil recovery

Advances in enhanced oil recovery

More natural gas from horizontal drilling and shale

4. Jones: Technology is a product of society

Society is the aggregate result of people. People taking actions as individuals, families, networks, groups, companies, government departments, political actions etc... There are several not completed connected societies in the world today.

Technology and large projects are the results of people and the systems that they have created or are creating.

Societies can still function well even when people are working towards different goals.

People and companies can work towards radical life extension and gather resources towards that goal even if others do not want or agree with that goal.

5. Jones' article implies that SENS (radical life extension is predicated on nanomedicine)

SENS is not predicated on nanomedicine. Aubrey does not say that fixing the identified items achieves one thousand year lifespans in one feel swoop. It is a process of constantly improving maintenance. Like a vintage car, it is the constant effort of keeping it in good operating condition. Plus Aubrey is indicating that even if SENS is successful most people alive today will die well before one thousand years. He is indicating that the current situation can be further improved. From increasing life expectancy by 0.1 to 0.3 years each year to over 1 year each year. Aubrey does not indicate any inevitability to this work. He is indicating that it is a worthwhile effort and he has laid out a detailed plan for making progress which is producing some research success.

6. Many goals/projections are long term and involve a series of things to be achieved or for certain events to happen or for certain trends to hold. This is true of the climate change projections as well. ie. if x, y, and z then in 2100 no ice caps etc...

7. Great things can be achieved with technology [projects other people, groups] than just those working on nanotechnology, AI or SENS life extension.

Achieving a mundane singularity

Richard Jones also felt that Moore's law would only hold for ten years, and then would need nanotechnology but advances to onchip photonic communication should enable zettaflop computers to hold Moore's law for 20 years even without nanotechnology.

Scott Aaronson writes about how the "Singularity is Far' Scott's point is also addressed by the mundane singularity article which points out that there are many paths to achieving the goals of a Singularity. Scott is focused on the artificial intelligence breakthrough pathway and there are many ways to achieving a radically improved technology and economic situation. In terms of cognitive enhancement, genetic engineering and improved drugs can provide a radical improvement in people and there is potential for virtual reality (VR) to greatly improve education, training and productivity. VR training is getting substantial DARPA investment.

UPDATE:
Some people who talk about peak oil ignore all of the alternative scenarios and options that the developed countries and any country with the wealth per capita of China on up can do to manage.

There is talk of $300 billion in oilsand projects that if all go ahead put the production at 6 million barrels per day in 2027. If the USA and Canada really had Peak oil problems nuclear power plants would be used to help get oil from the oilsands and other oil recovery processes even if it meant more damage to the environment.

ANWR and continental shelf will all get drilled if prices are high enough. Already high enough for Republics and close for Democrats. They would offset Peak Oil by 1-3 million barrels of oil per day starting as early as 6 years from now and continuing for a couple of decades. The ten year drilling timeline assumes an orderly follow all current stupid regulations approach.

Oil shale can be used directly as it is now in Estonia. It is just a question of how much high tech can clean it up oilshale and use it as oil. But for heating homes, for industrial processes etc... you can use it directly if you are not so concerned about pollution.

There are plenty of things that can be done before any "collapse" it is just that the peak oil and greenies just can't accept the truth of the solutions that would be used. However, this site believes that technology will enable cleaner approaches while still allowing stronger economic growth. But make no mistake not having the best technological solutions does not mean collapse it means that certain things and places get trashed in order to keep the world/developed country economic train on track.


Road pavement only uses 537,000 barrels of oil per day.

Miscanthus can be used to produce 20% of fuel with 9% of cropland or 50% of fuel with 23% of cropland. That is before genetic modification. A 300% productive boost to Miscanthus could ultimately be performed. Jatropha is a biofuel plant that can be grown in wasteland so it would not compete with crops. Seaweed can be used as Japan is working towards on a large scale. Again not competing with crops.

140 billion gallons of oil for the USA now.
20 billion gallon biofuel/ethanol target for 2015 [3 mbd] [this is before Miscanthus, algae and other more advanced biofuels]
Domestic US production in the range of 6.3 mbd in 2015 [more gulf of mexico oil]
(one third 45 billion gallons)
1-2 mbd imports from Canada. [oilsands and Canada's part of the Bakken]

7 years is plenty of time for cars and trucks to be converted to very high efficiency oil and gas usage and electrification.

Trucks use 2.5 million barrels of oil per day in the USA and another 2.5-3 million barrels of oil per day for heavy machinery, agriculture, planes etc... Those applications get the oil and biofuels first. Process improvement and superconducting motors can reduce industrial usage by 20-30%. Process heat can be replaced by high temperature nuclear reactor as China is starting to build.

If the enhanced oil recovery works out then there is 218 billion barrels of oil in old wells in the USA to be tapped.
enhanced oil recovery which I had already linked to in the main article.

So as said - no catastrophe, no collapse.

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