robert richards

Adult Education, learning facilitator, PolyTechnic Institute of Tasmania

This conversation is closed.

Tomorrows technology, all smoke and mirrors.

If need be, an average able individual could 30 years ago re-create a level of then technology, given suitable resources and time. Tomorrows technology will be impossible for the same skill leveled individual to reproduce. This suggests two things to me; firstly that technology is ever becoming an industry/knowledge for the elite and therefore few. Secondly, that any disaster that separates the elite few away from the common people, will mean a technological set back of perhaps centuries. I am refering to technology that is fast approaching providing a changed way of life, possibly replacing our current common technology. I feel this topic warrants some thoughtful discussion.

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    Jun 7 2012: you got the complexity a little off.

    in fact, even a 200 years old technology would be entirely impossible to reproduce during one man's lifetime. remember, 200 years ago, we already had cathedrals, ocean cruising ships, advanced glass works including telescopes and bifocal lenses, sophisticated clocks, steam engines, book printing and gas turbine.

    today's technology is not only not doable in a lifetime, it is not even understandable in a lifetime. probably even tracking the entire process is impossible in a lifetime. more to that, it is impossible in any time, since technology advances faster than a man can understand it. for an interesting experiment, imagine you are robinson on a resource rich island. try to make yourself a pizza. it is doable, but probably would take weeks to months. then try to make a piece of paper, a glass bottle and a proper pencil. you will probably fail.

    it also means that technology will not be a privilege of a few. nobody on the globe has the slightest chance to grasp it, so we are all in the same boots. but your knowledge is a part of this vast superstructure of knowledge, just as the knowledge of a top scientist. smaller part maybe, but just as necessary.
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      Jun 8 2012: Thank you for your reply Krisztian,
      You have taken a somewhat wide broom to my discussion. I am not suggesting one person could recreate entire technologies, I am saying an able person could recreate a level of technology in comparison to his current tech structure.
      It is understandable that your have misinterpreted my post as I perhaps stated a possible missleading description when I wrote "given suitable resources" I did not write "given raw materials". I appologise for not being more precise. Given this, your analogy with the pizza is also not relevent but...I could indeed easily make a pizza given suitable resources.

      If I where given suitable resources, I feel confident that I could indeed recreate things like a cathedral (large building, using mortor and stone), cruising ships (a boat structure for fishing or travel), telescopes and bifocal glasses (actually relatively easy since the raw ingrediants are abundant).

      Its not even really the fact of whether i did or did not recreate these objects but more about the fact that I have the knowedge to create these mechanical objects. Not so with tomorrows tech.

      Once again I appologise for your confusion.
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        Jun 8 2012: suitable resources given, everyone can assemble anything. i can put together a computer mouse if all i have to do is to assemble it from 4 parts. and it will continue to be that way. that is how a complex economy works. everyone adds one touch, completes one step in the seemingly infinite production process. it is not the future, it is the present. and i think it is working quite well.
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          Jun 8 2012: Hi Krisztian, once again you have misinterpreted the discussion thread. that's ok, perhaps I need lessons in succincness. Thank you for your input.
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        Jun 8 2012: i think i'm pretty much on topic. what you perceive as future, is actually the present, or even a 50 year past. and it didn't lead to the consequences you predicted
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          Jun 8 2012: Krisztian,
          I disagree with your interpretation of this discussion thread. I am not not disagreeing with your view as you see it. I appreciate your view and respect your right to an opinion. I am expecting you to display to me the same decency and respect.

          I am very happy to discuss my post within the parameters of the discussion. I will not be drawn into any broad sweeping discussion. You are welcome to continue posting your insights but please stay within the confines of this discussion thread. If you are unsure of the parameters of the topic I am more than please to re-state them for you.
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        Jun 8 2012: ??

        i just explained why my point is actually relevant to the discussion.
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          Jun 9 2012: Krisztian, I will make this even more basic and even touch on your argument, even though it isn't within the discussions range statement..

          Firstly, We are on the cusp on a new technological era, whilst still existing in the industrial era.

          Thousands of years ago the tech of that age was definable by everyday tools that a person made to survive each day eg; cutting tools, piercing tools and containment tools. As the centuries passed this tech evolved slowly due to nature of need, within small groups and the available resources. Eventually the groups turned into larger communities which required better means to secure everyday survival. Metals where developed and the tech of the day swung rapidly towards tools of protection and war. Gradually this has over a large amount of time, been the source of breakthrough tech but keep in mind that for the most part the tech was grass roots based and re-creation of that tech was easily achievable.

          Two hundred-so years ago that all changed. With the age of industrialization tech became more complex. Even though war was still at the forefront of breakthrough tech, a large drive for tech was aimed at the comfort of the general public. This meant that the tech was ever more used and generated/created for what you could call frivolous societal consumption. This tech consumption continues to reach ever new heights so that modern living today involves quite complex tech, eg; electricity, fossil fuels and massive agricultural industry to maintain huge communities.
          Today we have printed circuits largely in frivolous consumption devices but we still have mechanical tech for everyday liviing. Tomorrow's tech may use such tech in everyday survival items and have a totally different tech for frivolous consumption. The time is not far away when books and libraries will be a thing of the past, therefore info will only be attainable via the complex tech structures in place. If that tech dissapears....you join the dots from there
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        Jun 12 2012: 30 years ago we had had people in space.

        I don't think you have the knowledge to recreate a cathedral, or a seaworthy boat, nor do I. A cathedral is a great feat of architecture, not a collection of mortar and stone that you simply put together, even when given the blueprints. A seaworthy boat, able to withstand the elements is more complex then you think.
        Even a lens would be quite a challenge. First try making glass clear enough to function as one. Maybe you can get really pure crystals, but then you'll still have to cut and polish it very precisely if you want it to work.

        If we go even further back, there's piramids and other great achievements that go above the common knowledge of the citizens, and not something you figure out by simply thinking hard on it.
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          Jun 14 2012: It's interesting that you state you know not only the limits of my knowledge but also my creative abilities. I on the other hand admit to know nothing of the sort regarding yourself, anyone on this site or even such limits of my wife sitting at home. But I digress.

          I did not state that the object of a cathedral in entirety, just the knowledge to recreate a building of mortar and stone.

          I don't know why people like yourself are grandstanding about huge technological artifacts and stating that this is what the discussion is about.

          I did not state I could build a pyramid...but having seen a pyramid and knowing its basic design I could build an approximation.

          I feel for you if you cannot make a seaworthy boat given appropriate materials but I can assure you I could and most other capable persons would likewise be able to.

          If industrial works stopped now, there would be tons of mechanical devices laying around that one could make into something else in an effort to retain the current tech. Electricity would be easy to generate from household mechanical devices, as an example, as long as you had running water nearby etc...

          But grab an iPad and try and make something out of that! A lot more difficult and beyond my capabilities because the are no user parts in it.

          This was the intent of my range statement.
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        Jun 18 2012: I'm not stating that the discussion is about huge technological artifacts, I'm just saying 'old' technology is more complex then people think. Creating something is more then just putting the materials together.

        Building a structure out of mortar and stone you'll need to know where and how to support the roof and walls. A seaworthy boat doesn't only have to float and not leak, it also has to withstand a rough sea. Back then there weren't any engines, so you'll need to create an efficient sail too.

        Next to the in depth knowledge to build these things you'll need tools to shape the materials and connect them in a secure way.

        After a disaster happens there won't be stacks of readily made parts and tools with an in depth blueprint and a crew of able bodied workmen at conveniently placed locations.

        Using household materials to make some inefficient watermill is not retaining the current technology. The technology we have now is already over the point you're talking about.

        Anyway, that's the risk of high technology. The higher it is, the more difficult it is to make.
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          Jun 20 2012: Thank you for your reply Sander,

          I appreciate your point of view, I do not agree however.

          I have never stated that a person could re-create todays tech in its entirety or efficiency, I feel this point is where you and I are banging heads together.

          The artifacts that were have digressed into discussing...themselves have no real relevance.

          ...So what if I made a leaking small building with mortor and stone...a small barely adequate seaworthy boat for travel. The quality of the items is not of importance. Only the knowledge to attempt them and the user friendly materials left laying around (books being one of those materials) is important.

          I realise that the tech is beggining to be available now (albiet in relatively small pockets of societal consumerable products) but it is not yet encompassing all of modern living.

          I have no doubt that in the near future (20 years or so) mechanical devices (as main stream tech) would have all but dissapeared...this is why my thoughts have turned onto this scenario possibility and formed a discussion statement...because it is around the corner.

          You make a point of using the word dissaster...I have already framed what that dissaster would be....the loss of the tech builders.
          If that dissaster happened tomorrow, on likely place I would look for usable parts would be the local rubbish dump or scrap yard...but of course their would be plentiful other places to find exacting materials...

          I do agree that tech is more than its parts...but I suggest that the biggest part of any tech is the knowlege and ability to use it. Today we have it...tommorrow not as much.

          I also realise that high tech is complex...this is at the very crux of my discussion statement.

          Thank you for your interest.
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    Jun 7 2012: Hi Robert.
    Technology certainly has it's place, but that place isn't everywhere.
    Some years ago I had a wee business maintaining diesel generators for off-grid addresses. These were activated by the first light (or whatever) to be switched on, & stopped when the last one was switched off. This control gear consisted of diodes, rectifiers, relays, contacts, etc. All simple stuff, easily & cheaply repaired, & easily understood by any competent electrician. Then came the printed circuits. There are about half a dozen plugged together, at hundreds of pounds each. No repairs are possible, the official instructions consisted of " Try a new card". This policy was extremely expensive for the customer. One regular fault was in the battery charging card (£300 a pop). I replaced these with a £10 battery charger from Halfords. Just as reliable.
    I recently bought a new Harley. Printed circuit in the rear mudguard lasted until the first shower. Now replaced by bayonet connectors. Start-stop technology drives me mad.
    Technology is great, but we need to temper it with common sense.

    :-)
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      Jun 8 2012: Thank you for your reply Peter, You certainly have landed on the problem to what i am suggesting. Printed circuitry cannot be reporduced by the average joe and more to the point it is complex to understand. As we all know that tech is here now...the throw away scenario. In the near future even more everyday stuff will be as complex and basic skills and knowledge as what you have displayed to get around problems may well be lost.
  • Jul 4 2012: Smoke & mirrors, are yesterday's technology, hehe.

    But I think "continual wars" will drive technology from now till the end. I don't think it'll even take a disaster; we're a step away from having a "virtual wall" of AI/robotics to separate us from the elite.

    In our bottle-fed quests to grasp what wondrous technological products are put there to tantalize us, we will slowly lose view of the control-mechanisms lying within those gadgets. [sic] Thye have found our major arteries, & will feed us till we have lost all hunger or ability to feel it - let alone losing our ability to forage.

    My technological prophecy: A few years from now, everyone will have a number & an electronic brain. For the person who has a previous (smaller) number, [you will know them as your god], they will know your mind fully, (and-tehn-some)(they will know you & themselves) - and you will know everything about the person with the succeeding number (and yourself) [that person will know you as their god]; so-on & so-on down the line. A few years after this fractal- or logorithmically-compounding technology, the universe will wholly consist of one "battery" and one "computer."

    I think I see your point though. (For your average technology.) I don't think it was thirty-years ago though; I think it was amybe... well, the microchip or beyond could not be recreated.

    Mr. Kroll made an interesting point about running out of raw materials - that is unless jumps are made in what is done with those materials - "what new (unforseeable) cymatic combination is made?"

    For all intents & purposes - "Smoke & mirrors" - even "magic."
    (Sorry if this isn't a very good answer.)
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    Jun 12 2012: Good or bad, technological "progress" will start to slow as our closed world system starts to put constraints on the types and amounts of natural resources that are available. As we move into a steady-state, non-growth world economy things will balance out. Technological development will naturally be concentrated on areas essential to survival and heath and not on consumer products whose only function is to provide jobs. In addition, in the future those who know how to get a few more kilograms of grain out of a parched landscape will hold a much more valuable skill than one who can design a I-thing.
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      Jun 12 2012: Thank you for your reply Richard,
      So your feeling is essentially that technology will fail to provide answers to consumer needs and therefore stagnate?
      Do you foresee or accept that any tech may further advancements in this area....such as micro technologies or perhaps moon mining and in the far future even planet terra forming?
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        Jun 12 2012: I should have been more careful with my language. I used "consumer products" to refer to all those non-essential products used to "kill time" rather than "save time".

        So its really the other way around. Constraints on resources will produce constraints on R&D. For example, If i need 10 grams of Iron to increase the efficiency of a windmill by 10% or to produce a new computer game machine, then (if iron is limited) the windmill development will win.

        Technological development will not die out but certain avenues will be blocked if they are not considered relevant. We will only mine the moon when resources used for transportation and extraction are less than the resources won.
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          Jun 12 2012: Thank you Richard,
          I'm interested to know why you have such a bleak view on the future of humanity. Do you have a timeline projection of resource depletion compared to the ongoing rate of technological advances? I was under the illusion that a time scale of technological advancement was soon to go exponential in the sense that we are entering a new technological era. New technology will totally replace the old. Nano technology is a good example and could redefine human existence and survival prospects. Do you feel that we will not reach this advancement before resources stagnate/ slow the technological advancements of humanity?

          Thank you for your ongoing interest.
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        Jun 12 2012: Physicists have known for over a century that all closed systems come to equilibrium. Aside from sunlight, our earth is also closed. Equilibrium translated into economics means steady-state, no growth. The curves you talk about refer to the past and the near future, but do not describe what awaits us in a generation or two. As resources and therefore wealth decline, the first things to go are the arts. Second on the list is research.
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        Jun 12 2012: Sorry, I forgot to answer your last question. If everyone realized what was in our future, research might go in a direction to make our steady-state life more pleasant. But I fear the research dollars will go into developing next generation's play-toy.
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          Jun 16 2012: Thankyou Richard for your insights,
          I would like to believe that humanity does not exist in a closed system, our creative ability is our key to unlock whatever closed door we come across. We have done this in the past and many times since, I don't see why it shouldn't be any different in the future.

          I really do appreciate you interest, you have given me food for thought.
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        Jun 18 2012: Unfortunately, creativity in itself cannot "create" raw materials. It can only help us find ways to "convert" base materials into others which are more useful., and that only through the use of energy and other auxiliary resources.

        None of us wants to believe that we live in a closed system. For centuries we have been able to hide the fact that we do because of the exploitation of underdeveloped mineral rich countries, expansion into the Americas, and more gracious population to extraction cost ratios. Over the past two decades however, we have been slowly introduced to reality through increasing costs of oil, rare-earths and other raw materials, dropping of water tables and the inability of the renewable part of our closed system to compensate for our environmental destruction.
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          Jun 19 2012: Hi Richard,
          I am enjoying our discussion.

          I dont wish to argue just for the sake of a debate...but I view humanities increasing ability to manipulate our surroundings as proof that we are capable of reshaping the way we use the Earths limited resources, plus...(and this is my hope) a real possibility of escaping our need for such a finite resource base.

          I realise you have a very logical viewpoint that has data supporting you, and I certainly respect that. I on the other hand have no such supprting data and using only a logical extrapolation from past breakthrough events, a touch of creative writing , with a big side helping of hopes and dreams.

          Personally, I feel that hundreds of years ago, a logical view or study of available resources regarding the possibility for humanity to have come as far as we already have...would likewise not have been very encouraging, at all. So given that feeling, I would suggest that data alone cannot hope to predict humanities resource future, or progression...due to radicals within the data source itself, such as free will and our creative abilities. It may only hope to calculate an approximation of likely events given past timelines and data. In that respect it is itself a closed system.

          That is only my take on it Richard. I certainly respect your learned point of view.Feel free to continue this discussion if you wish.
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        Jun 20 2012: The alchemists wanted to create gold from lead.

        Ingenuity is an important ingredient in any manufacturing process, but it cannot be the only ingredient. Technological True Believers (apologies to Eric Hoffer) do not want to see the constraints of simple thermodynamics.

        A hundred years ago colonialism was still not over. The industrialized world was still very optimistic of its ability to get what it needed through continued exploitation and hadn't yet exhausted what it had achieved through genocide.
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          Jun 20 2012: Hi Richard,It is interesting that you bring this line of thought into the discussion. I certainly won’t argue what was done or expected in the past but I will say that most of it was shrouded in mysticism and spiritualism. As I am sure you are aware, Thomas Malthus himself was caught up in a spiritual belief system and publicly used his theory to support his beliefs. I am aware that in those times most learned men and woman had little choice but to be supported by a church…or be labelled a crackpot. So in reality, I am uncertain whether his theories supported his belief system or whether his belief system supported his theories (if you get my meaning).I am unaware how simple thermodynamics makes it unlikely or impossible for humanity to find better ways to use available resources or to supersede the need for the earth’s very finite resources, therefore precluding space exploration? I am very interested to learn why. Also, birth rate projection numbers for modern societies has decreased since the invention of birth control products. The western societies are becoming ever bigger, not due to aboriginal birth increases but instead fuelled by immigration increases. I feel this is an important observation; it strongly suggests that western societies tend to curve birth rates when a certain level of fiscal comfort is reached. This suggests to me that if this trend continues and our finite resources (with supportive breakthroughs) are able to stretch that far, eventually the earth’s population may reach equilibrium due to humanity reaching a level of comfort. I realise this thinking is a grouping of ideas unsupported by studies but I think it bears pondering.Colonization is still not over Richard, it has just changed its modus operandi…they call it immigration now. Personally I am not against (peaceful) colonisation as it is a natural part of human progression and possibly evolution, as long as it remains peaceful and respectful to the pre-cultural environment..ahem.
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        Jun 21 2012: In the past one used the expression "demographic transition" to refer to lower birth rates as countries became industrialized. Latest research confirms the predictions of 40 years ago that the most important factor affecting family size is the extent of women's education. In richer countries woman's eduction of course lasts longer with the corresponding effects.

        Currently one expects that the world's population will peak at 9 Billion, but I don't like the word "equilibrium" to describe this dangerously unstable social situation, where the population is over 10 times greater than one which can grant everyone a reasonable standard of living. I still have not given up hope for multiple generations of one-child-families to bring the world's population back to some reasonable size.
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          Jun 25 2012: That research information was very interesting Richard and thank you.

          I agree, things indeed need to change, one hopes that the constant changes humanity continues to display will head in that direction. Maybe equilibrium was an unwise description as I further agree with you that world population is an unstable situation, made more so if halted only by comfort or education.
    • Jun 12 2012: What about when we come out with the technology to replicate gas i.e. any other resource? Our resource problem is then lost but we gain a whole new problem... as many philosophers will say; "Nothing can be unlimited."
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        Jun 16 2012: Thank you for your interest Eric.
        Indeed I agree that the universe and therefore it's practical resources are finite but I would hope you would agree that running out of matter in the universe is a long way off. When we are able to replicate matter on a micro scale humanity will be changed forever. This is my intended direction of the discussion. What user friendly parts and construction knowledge will be retained for our descendants in this scenario? I imagine very little. Such a society totally dependent on un-reconstructive tech will have little chance if that tech dissapears.

        On another point you have brought up. Even though matter is finite in our universe, our creative abilities as a species is not (in my opinion). Perhaps we will eventually learn how to reconstruct matter from the heat that is left from the usage of matter replication....a fanciful thought but who knows?
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    R H

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    Jun 6 2012: Thanks for this thought provoking offer. Let me give it a try. I'm not a 'technical' person, more of the socio-anthropological 'management' kind. I think it is a very real fear that 'tech' can become 'elitist'. I have seen a few TED talks (one in particular) that have 'bristled the hairs on my neck' (I won't comment on your second 'tech set-back from disaster' here). In the past, one generation of researchers has passed on their accomplishments to the next, and new tech 'feats' were built on this steady progression of info. We may now be to the point where the cost of entry into further research is more and more prohibitive to those who are not 'connected', competition between researchers internationally for funds is intensifying, and the growing business interest in scientific research for massive profit potential is further pressurizing the scientific and technical communities towards greater political (in the classic sense, not gov't sense) influence - which, of course, breeds elitism. I have read that it will no longer be the 'economic' haves and the have-nots, but the technical haves and nots. I think it's inevitable. But, for me, the question then becomes: Will we still have our same 'totalitarian' and 'exploitation' mindset, or will we build in new incentives for greater contribution from these 'elite beneficiaries' to raise the opportunities for all to participate in increased tech acumen and the bourgeoning prosperity - which, in my opinion, ultimately benefits the elite also? Although I think your observation is spot on, can we evolve our social understandings and science in tandem with our tech capabilities for true prosperity - a prosperity where we nearly eliminate welfare, worker's unions, human rights efforts, ecological activists, because there is no longer any need to 'fix' what is missing? We do it right in the first place.
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      Jun 7 2012: RH, thank you for your thoughtful reply.
      I share the same hopes as you, unfortunately in this scenario it would require the tech power brokers to have a conscience. Some how we need to make the technology user friendly in the sense of repair/reproduction in the wider community. This would keep the status quo on a more even basis so that knowledge doesn't become elitist in the first place. Printing tech seems to be the way of the future so that is an example of something that could filter its way down to local repairers. Not so if the printers are only available to manufactures. Hopefully I am making some sense.
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    Jun 6 2012: Are you suggesting the future may hold a diminished access to technology related benefits? Do you see this segregation applied according to economic status? I imagine third-world citizens view us first-world folks as "the Elite." Do you think we may be on course to create a new Techno-Elite class?
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      Jun 7 2012: Thank you for your reply Edward,

      What I am referring to is the ever complexity of the technology and how that knowledge is beyond the capability of the average joe to recreate. As new technology is released to the general public the younger generation loses tactile skills and knowledge. I wonder there will come a time when modern society relies solely on technology that has no user friendly parts, no grass roots knowledge to repair/reconstruct, and yet a society may be totally dependent upon it. Doesn't sound too bad until you think about what the result may be to that society if the tech suddenly dissapeared.

      The other side of the discussion is the elitism that is a natural behavioural progression in such a scenario. When you consider the level on potential control that tomorrow's technology is capable of and there maybe a group of people that can be easily subjugated, then the outcome historically is the rise of base human behaviors. I am not saying this will happen, just that it is something worth putting thought into, perhaps awareness may be a preventative.
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        Jun 7 2012: Thank you for clarifying that for me Robert. You speak of the "rise of base human behaviors." I'm guessing that very idea is what Henry Ford II was troubled about when he said, QUOTE: "The economic and technological triumphs of the past few years have not solved as many problems as we thought they would, and, in fact, have brought us new problems we did not foresee."
        The economic, social, and political advantage of owning a technology is profound. Such ownership is obtained, not in the laboratory, but in the courtroom. However, back in the lab you will always find the technologists, the craftsmen who delve into the workings of the technology itself, with no thought for the coming IPO. These folks find satisfaction and purpose in the discovery, advancement, and productizing of new ways of doing things. I think that segment of our population is alive and well with a bright, albeit non-billionaiire future. As for the average Joe, I think (s)he can get rid of the toolbox and turn the workshop into a NASCAR tavern. As always, follow the money!
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          Jun 8 2012: LOL! your humor is infectious and I thank you for that.

          Yes, Henry ford was indeed an elightened man. He did afterall supply us with one of the greatest lines automobiles in history. The quote is somewhat sobering though when pondered in this scenario.

          Your are also correct in saying that currently the technologist are active in the community but I feel you could be wrong in assuming that will always be the case. Elitism ever draws power and the tools of power unto themselves.

          I do thank you for your interest in this discussion.