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November 11, 2010

Achieving the next level of economic growth rate will take more than a manufacturing revolution

Robin Hanson is an economist who has written about the economics of technological singularities.

I will summarize some of his writings and my own about achieving higher levels of economic growth. There are several projects from DARPA and Airbus which could revolutionize manufacturing. A construction revolution is possible with Contour crafting (printing buildings with concrete printers). The manufacturing revolution and construction would not speed up economic growth like the move from Farming to early industry. For any economy wide speed up in economic growth and to get full utilization out of these and other technologies (robotic cars, vacuum tube highspeed rail to enable a one city effect across a nation)

Societies have to be restructured to enable transitions to faster economic growth.
China used special economic development zones as part of transition from planned economies to market driven economies.

Having larger than city areas where the new rules and large scale economic experimentation is possible is something that will be needed.

Also, currently the US can only rebuild or add about 1-2% of its key infrastructure (like grid transformers, power plants) each year. China can add 5-10% each year to its infrastructure (5.2% annual energy growth).

In order to enable 20% or higher economic growth rates then a nation would need to be able to add 15-20% to power generation and infrastructure each year. Have the technical and project management capability is one factor but also the regulations and planning that could move at that pace would be needed as well.

Plus after you transitioned through your infrastructure rebuild and addition once, you would have the next revamp in infrastructure that would need to be done in parallel. Like a relay race, there would be overlap and handoff to next economy wide upgrade. China is going through a doubling of infrastructure and energy generation every 20 years and they are looking at accelerating the retirement of old infrastructure to about 40 years. If you were looking to grow two to three times faster than China then you would need to double infrastructure in 7-10 years and retire the old infrastructure in 15-20 years. This means that as you move into this that you can build with a shorter expected lifespan. An example of this good enough obsolescence, was in world war 2 when Russian tanks lasted about six months before they were destroyed by the Germans. There was no need for an engine that lasted 5 years. The Germans built far fewer very well made tanks. The germans needed to speed up and build good enough tanks.

Mode     Doubling   Date Began   Doubles  Doubles
Grows     Time (DT)  To Dominate  of DT    of WP
----------  ---------  -----------  ------   -------
Brain size   34M yrs    550M B.C.     ?       "~16"
Hunters     230K yrs   2000K B.C.    7.2       8.7
Farmers      860 yrs    4700 B.C.    8.1       7.5
??            58 yrs    1730         3.9       3.2
Industry      15 yrs    1903         1.9      >6.3   

Robin Hanson recently wrote about the need for more flexible laws to help smooth economic transitions to significantly faster growth.

Robin Hanson has described how unlimited automation would remove the limitations of human population from the growth equations.

I have previously considered what technology would be needed to achieve rates of economic growth beyond our current levels.

I have looked at the seeds of a new manufacturing revolution.

Computer modelling, city and national planning and regulations will all have to be adjusted to go as fast as new manufacturing and construction.

DARPA has the Adaptive Vehicle Make program

Adaptive Vehicle Make is a three pronged effort consisting of the META, Instant Foundry Adaptive through Bits (iFAB) and Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Combat Vehicle (FANG GCV) programs. Many components of the program leverage crowdsourcing and will be open source.

Instant Foundry Adaptive through Bits (iFAB) attempts to design a manufacturing facility that can fabricate vehicles and can be reconfigured to manufacture other systems. The facility would be capable of manufacturing the FANG vehicle

The Goal of META is to analyse interactions between components to verify designs without prototyping in order to shorten development times. META will create and compile a component library. A META set of language will be developed. META I began mid-2010 and last 15 months. META II begins in late 2010 and lasts 12 months. An infantry fighting vehicle library will be compiled in late 2011 and will continue for 1.5 years.

The Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Combat Vehicle (FANG GCV) attempts to crowdsource the design of the Army's GCV Infantry Fighting Vehicle culminating in an infantry fighting vehicle prototype. Participants will use the META metalanguage and have the option to use Vehicleforge



DARPA believes that replicating the semiconductor industry manufacturing model will enable other manufacturing sectors to experience similar economic booms.

Airbus is working towards a fully Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) enabled aircraft that would use new carbon nanotube polymers.

Three times faster doubling would be 5 years to double or 15% annual growth. China has come close to this level of progress over several decades. China has at times achieved 12% annual GDP growth. 26% growth would be a doubling every 3 years. Warren buffet's investments made investments made in excess of 30% compounded annually between 1956 to 1969, in a market where 7% to 11% was the norm. There have been companies and industries which have sustained for a decade or three 26% compounded annual growth. Aspects of the Internet can be considered to have those levels of high long term growth rates.

China achieved its high levels of growth because it was catching up with past technological and business progress. So if some technology were to enable faster discovery of improved technological or process innovation, then the effect would be like more advanced nations also being in "catchup or higher growth mode". China also had higher rates of investment.

Technology that could provide vast improvements in the ability to find optimal solutions.

Giga-qubit and tera-qubit quantum computers. Dwave systems could be making a breakthough in quantum computers in 2008. It could change the rate of progress with vastly superior molecular models of the physical world.

In terms of capital inputs, if the drastically reduced energy costs combined with vastly increased supplies of energy and higher growth rates in energy supplies from say a breakthrough in nuclear fusion could also provide a sustainable increase in economic growth rate.

High performance printable electronics and faster and cheaper reel to reel production could increase growth rates and capital production.

Reconfigurable phase change chips could allow for in place hardware to be improved on the fly as easily as a software update.

DNA nanotechnology and synthetic biology seem to be reaching new levels of capability and could provide a steady stream of innovations (synthetic life, more efficient bio-fuels, etc...) and enable enhancements to human health and performance (physical and mental. I would focus less on whether intelligence is enhanced but whether productivity is enhanced and whether growth in productivity is sustainably improved (year after year there is some extra percentage improvement in additional productivity).

Continuing advances in robotics are a multiplier to human productivity. If robotic cars are able to convert commuting time into productive time for people that would be a one time 6-20% increase in productivity. There is a constant stream of successes in robotics and automation for handling some human tasks (vacuuming, dish washing, factory robots, etc...). Robotics needs to breakthrough more completely as able and seamless assistants to people. The artificial general intelligence (AGI) situation is when computers and AI can take over making faster innovations by themselves.

Wider and more successful adoption of the best business practices of the growth leading companies and industries combined with innovation and resource enhancing technologies should be able to sustain 10-20% growth rates even without AGI

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