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June 17, 2013

Could major breakthroughs energy or manufacturing technology be deployed and adopted to disrupt the steady growth scenarios ?

At Overcoming Bias Robin Hanson discussed Eric Drexlers book Radical Abundance. Contrary to steady growth scenarios, much of Drexler’s further analysis seems to assume that full nanotech will appear rather suddenly, perhaps soon.

The history of technology in the industrial era tells us that it is usually fifteen to forty years from the time of a fundamental scientific discovery to its effective application in society.

Some technology adoption rates


Some technology adoption is faster when it is something that is a layer on top of a a built up infrastructure. If people are just buying a device and it is fully functional. It uses deployed wireless systems and electricity. Then adoption can be very fast. Smartphones replaced mobile phones. People already were familiar with mobile phones and had used laptops. Tablets were an easy addition.

The mobile phone and soon smartphones and tablets will be a complete global deployment. Smartphones and tablets will finish global deployment in about 5-7 years. There will also be a base level of electrification to the last 1-2 billion people with the availability of inexpensive solar and batteries.



How fast can something new be deployed globally ?

If the deployment is new cloud software or cloud based artificial intelligence then this might only mean the rollout into a few dozen datacenters. Many of those datacenters might be controlled by Google alone.

User Adoption

3D printing is projected to be a big impact but people in business and consumers must find the applications and create new processes for using it.

If people have to figure
* if they want to try to use it
* why they will use it
* learn how to use it
This is where much of the 15-40 year delay happens

One for one swap for benefit

There is new technology like graphene that is 15 times stronger than kevlar. The factories that make tens or hundreds of tons of graphene have to be adapted to make the new undamaged full strength graphene. People and businesses need to be able to use and want to pay for the stronger graphene. If the applications work fine with weaker materials then there is no need to switch even if stronger graphene is stronger and lighter and as cheap. There are costs to redesigning and switching suppliers.

Recent energy breakthrough is shale gas, oil shale and tight oil

Recently horizontal drilling is unlocking gas and oil in tight geological formations.

Shale natural gas amounted to 27% of the overall U.S. natural gas production in 2010, and supported more than 600,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs. As the share of shale gas production increases to 43% in 2015 and 60% in 2035, development of this resource will support more than 800,000 and 1.6 million jobs, respectively. The domestic natural gas abundance reduces electricity costs by 10 percent. This means that American households will gain on average $926 in disposable income between 2012 and 2015. This will increase to more than $2,000 per household in 2035.

This lowered the cost of natural gas and oil from where it would have been without these developments. There is existing infrastructure, trained people and companies with the knowledge to exploit this new lower cost energy. It is still taking many years to ramp up and decades to fully exploit.

Many domestic industries, including steel and chemical, rely on natural gas as a feedstock, energy source - or both. This will lead to increased competitiveness of domestic manufacturers and will result in 3% and 4.7% growth in industrial production by 2017 and 2035, respectively.

Any other energy revolution with a higher impact would need to scale up to be a larger fraction of global energy and bring a larger decrease in the price of electricity.

Regulations and willingness to swap out infrastructure and make new factories

China has shown the willingness and capability to make new massive new factories (over a million sqaure feet) in a year or less. Factories for making cars, mass produced skyscraper components, nuclear reactor components.

There are also the regulations for medical and healthcare applications. In the US there are environmental studies and legal hurdles.

With people in the adoption process - faster adoption is only possible with changes that can ride on top of existing methods and systems


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