TED Conversations

Kevin Jacobson

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What do you think is the biggest technological challenge the human race will face in the next 30 years?

I see a lot of things wrong with humanity and I just want another persons input.

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    Jun 30 2012: One challenge will be to deal with a world population heading towards 9 billion. The problem is not just the numbers, but numbers + expectations of lifestyle 'quality', and the (often illusory) imperative of technology to support it.

    There is a certain point at which quality of life actually starts to become degraded by technology - for instance where it becomes too 'labour-saving' to the point of making human endeavour redundant.

    Why should technology be labour-saving, rather than labour enhancing? What's wrong with good honest labour, and the use of mind and body? Have we not evolved to enjoy - and to take pride in - working to survive?

    The biggest challenge might be to rid ourselves of the kind of technology that detracts from the enjoyment of our own existence.
    • Jul 13 2012: Nice post Allan. I agree and I think you can link a number of other issues with this. If technology reduces our the amount of physical activity then that is bad for our health and contributes to issues like the growing diabetes problem.

      The problem with combating the issue is that the vast majority of businesses that make decisions about the use of technology are owned by a few and are driven both personally, or externally by shareholders, to maximise their profit.

      In the current economic model I therefore can't see how they will stop making the decision to invest and purchase labour saving technology when it shows an increased profit.

      Maybe one answer is a new wave of 'non-profit' business growing that aren't focused on profit but rather as you say "good honest labour, and the use of the mind and body". Hopefully these businesses would be focused on what they add to society and providing meaningful and enjoyable work for fair pay.

      Unfortunately these will be slow growers as they will have to grow organically due to external investors expecting a profit on their investment.
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        Jul 14 2012: Thanks Simon.

        Great points about the maximising of profits and the well-being of shareholders - as opposed to a moral presumption towards the common good.

        It's a shame that it has taken off-the-scale outrageous behaviour of our financial institutions for the agents of change to recognise that something might have gone horribly wrong.
    • Jul 13 2012: Caddyshack said it best, "The world needs ditch diggers, too."
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      Jul 14 2012: Thank you Mr Macdougall! As a Chinese I constantly feel the drawbacks of a large population. And I guess our planet has already been saturated with the number of creatures living on it.

      However, the problem does not lie with whether the future technology should be "labor-saving" or not. Actually, if the future technology calls for more human labor, then we should have a good reason to give birth to even more lives in order to improve our well-beings. (Note that population aging will be more severe in the future.)

      As an engineering student, I deeply feel the trend of technology developments is going to be smarter and increasingly "labor-saving". There are way too much merits of automation and it's beyond the scope of the topic I'm talking about here.

      Maybe there's one possible solution to the potential problem with the 9 billion or even more population - mitigate to other planet such as Mars. But I guess I'm gonna stay on the Earth.
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        Jul 14 2012: Hi Anthony. Thank you for your response.

        A few questions:

        Does the proliferation of technology conform to laws of thermodynamics/equilibrium? What would happen to technology after the depletion of its own power source, and what would replace that source?

        What are the advantages of having technology so labour saving as to make body and mind redundant?

        Is what we create more valuable than who we are?

        I see your point about more human labour = increases in population, especially in the light of what we now know about healthcare and medicine. However, I tentatively put to you that the more humans move towards what it sees as technological nirvana, the less we are in touch with our own biological/psychological evolution.

        If we can't learn to live within our own means on the planet we have, then we do not deserve to contaminate another. I'm staying right here too!
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          Jul 14 2012: Hi Allan. Your questions seem very big and are not easy to answer in short. I'll try to express some of my thoughts.

          1 Because I have been strictly trained in science since middle school, I don't believe anything, or any technology derived from it, on this planet can go against the law of conservation of energy or zero~third law of thermodynamics - they are the fundamental of all our theory and technology. Therefore, I don't think there would exist any technology without certain amount input of energy (power source).

          2 I think you wrongly relate the effect of labor-saving technology with the redundance of body and mind of human here. From my perspective, the future technology will free human from working heavily in factories or in dangerous places by means of advanced level of automation and remote and precise control. Researchers around the world have put enormous amounts of energy in such areas, but unfortunately, we are still in the middle of it. And many other fields such as energy need further development too. So I think there will never be redundance of "human body and mind", present or future. They just shift from a low-level (well I think so), physical way to a high-level, intellectual way.

          3 As a technology optimist, I think we are able to do that. But I wouldn't say we've been that far already. Whenever it comes true, it's going to be another significant revolution of human history.

          I get your point that some people feel less in touch with their inner core when technology moves forward. That's another interesting topic which I would love to discuss with you later.
  • Jul 5 2012: I think it's restructuring our financial system. I think at the most fundamental level, our current distribution of wealth and currency system gives incentives to people to only think about making money rather than encouraging us to actually make contributions to our world. I am not a communisit or socialist by any means, but if we can figure out a way to motivate each individual by rewarding them in a fair manner, this will undoubtedly solve all the existing and future problems of our world. We have to devise a way to maintain socio-economic equity while keeping everyone motivated.

    At the core of every problem that we are currently facing, money is the culpirt. There are millions of gifted minds across the globe who possess the intellect to surpass many notable professors and researchers; yet those gifted individuals are not striving to make a positive difference in our world but are encouraged by our monetary system to conspire against the public. It is not because they are bad people but our monetary system encourages them to do so. People need to be given a different incentive.

    The field of science has made a tremendous leap over the last hundred years but our financial systems are much the same. I mean afterall, we should be fueled by a nobler incentive rather than primitive bags of coins and wampuns right?

    As forementioned, the biggest technological challenge for the human race in the next 30 years would be figuring out a new incentive system geared towards maintaining ecnomic equity.
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      Jul 5 2012: i don't understand the following statements:

      "people to only think about making money rather than encouraging us to actually make contributions to our world"

      you get money for contributing something to the world, don't you? we all contribute 8 hours a day.

      "rewarding them in a fair manner"

      today we are not rewarded in a fair manner? how is it unfair? every contribution you make, sold on the market to the highest bidder. what could be more fair than that?

      "gifted individuals [...] are encouraged by our monetary system to conspire against the public"

      for example bill gates did not deliver a popular operating system? or owners of walmart did not deliver cheap products and good service to many millions? or ford did not make the automobile available? or rockefeller did not make petroleum affordable for the masses? how are these a "conspiracy against public"?
      • Jul 5 2012: I find it distubring that one guy gets paid million dollars a year just because he started a company while the worker at a factory gets paid not even one thousandth of the employer's salary. I mean, perhaps three folds or even up to ten folds sounds much more reasonable as opposed to a thousand times.

        Philanthropists like Bill Gates is a rare example. I guess he was enlightened enough to realize that we are all the same. Company executives very well know that their company can charge significantly less for their products and still reap a fair margin yet they choose not to do so. By monopolizing the market, they conspire against the public. (and if you want to talk about how competition is abundant in the market, price fixing is everywhere.. companies love playing that game) It has been like this for thousands of years. It's nothing new.

        That's why we have to change our financial system. We need to evolve.
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          Jul 5 2012: so you decided not to think about these issues, but repeat the shallow statements you picked up somewhere. second round, more questions. this time maybe you are willing to think for yourself.

          "I find it distubring that one guy gets paid million dollars"

          why? do you have any reason other than envy?

          "company can charge significantly less for their products"

          what determines price on a free market?

          "reap a fair margin"

          what is a fair margin? imagine yourself in their boots. you have a company. you sell stuff. what is a fair margin?

          "monopolizing the market"

          how can a company monopolize the market? don't just pull a stock answer. think about it.

          "price fixing is everywhere"

          what does price fixing means? how can a company fix the price of its competition? how can they fix the price of competing alternative solutions? again, don't try to ger rid of me. it is easy, but don't make you any more informed. think.

          " for thousands of years"

          thousands of years of price fixing? please try to imagine the economy in 1200. imagine the life of an ordinary person at that time, say, somewhere in europe. what kind of price fixing there are? what kind of companies? what kind of trade? what kind of monopolies? better don't even answer these. if i see a reply from you within two days, i will immediately know that you refused to think, and just throw random answers to get rid of the questions you don't like. these are very interesting questions if you indeed seek for answers.
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          Jul 5 2012: Well, considering the employer is the reason they have a high salary or low salary job at all, the employer deserves to be a sort of "alpha of the pack". Whether you like it or not, these millionaires are the reasons many have a job at all. Think of Walmart. They could charge a hell of a lot less for certain products and the CEO is rich as can be, but Walmart employes a lot of people. So, if these business owners make a fortune, let them. They deserve it for causing many jobs to be made.
      • Jul 5 2012: "so you decided not to think about these issues, but repeat the shallow statements you picked up somewhere"...ooohhh wow...ouch.. you have the nerves to make statements like these? I assume that you thought I was some Occupy Wall street guy set out to preach our beloved Michael Moore's snake oil lectures right??? okay.. i give up. You are smarter than me by multiple folds. You got me here man. As an ignoramous, I should just shut up and listen.
        I really thought TED was about express and sharing ideas not receiving these personal vendetta like comments. It seems that as a translator, you made some great contributions to TED...I think comments like these are far too below you.

        here are some tips for your future replies:
        1. be polite
        2. do not express personal anger towards the commentor (whether they are right or wrong..even perhaps misguided)

        just stick to these simple rules and you will be fine. Maybe you are not so bitter everyday but for today...I just refuse to banter with you due to your lack of etiquette. You just can't treat people like that whether online or offline; even if you are indeed correct. Take a deep breath and dont ever post stuff like this again. You are an embarassment to anyone who is affiliated with TED.
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          Jul 5 2012: "you thought I was some Occupy Wall street guy set out to preach our beloved Michael Moore's snake oil lectures right???"

          in fact yes. these ideas come from there.
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          Josh S

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          Jul 10 2012: Sean,
          What a way to avoid the questions because you either found you were wrong or simply cant find the answers on other websites. He was being polite but tough, i think you need to relax and be more open minded to the possibility of you being wrong. If anyone was being rude it was you, sarcastically rebuttling Krisztian. He simply picked apart your argument in a logical manner that was easy to follow, this doesnt make it rude, but it does make it a good counter to you.

          This was a interesting debate to read, dont ruin it by saying childish stuff along the lines of 'youre mean so im not gonna talk to you' when you were losing the argument. Come on now.
      • Jul 8 2012: you deserve a nobel prize. i'll see what i can do about it.(just joking)
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    Jun 26 2012: good tasting desalinated water and alternative/innovative forms of food production in inner cities and the surrounds
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      Jun 27 2012: Yes, that will be useful ! Especially if people continue to gather in big cities where there's nothing to do, to eat or to drink. But I can't help thinking that the cites should become things of the past, and/or temporary entities constructed around a temporary project.

      People should be able to move where life is easier, a political leap is needed for that..

      We already know simple desalination technics (a plastic bag), and simple vertical garden (another plastic bag). That's what some people already use in shantytowns. Learning those technics in schools would cost nothing.
    • Gu E

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      Jun 30 2012: I was reading the comments and hadn't seen anyone directly mention much in regards to the pressures we are facing in food production and access to water. These are definitely important pressures that are and will need to be addressed.
      I think you are right in that we will need technological innovations in food production- especially when you have companies and countries buying/renting land all over (e.g. China in Africa) as a current response to those pressures.
      As the world population continues to grow, demand will increase, usable land will decrease, and food prices will continue to skyrocket.
      Technological innovations in agriculture is needed and will be part of the focus going forward.
      I will add that as usual technological innovations will focus (across sectors): on improving efficiency, quality, speed, and the lowering of costs
  • Jun 21 2012: I will come back to this thread in 2030 at the age of 40 and laugh at all the "1950s-future-will-hold-flying-cars" type predictions.... and then soak myself with sadness when I see an accurate but nevertheless unfixed prediction.
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    Jun 16 2012: What is the biggest technological challenge that the human race will face in the next 30 years?
    In a word, the problem is egocentrism. We badly need a technology paradigm shift.
    We are addicted to hedonistic technologies that ignore the real cost to the rest of humanity and our future. (Examples such as growth economies and consumerism running on fossil fuel come to mind.) We have the capability to run everything in a sustainable way. I'm talking about zero carbon emissions and recapturing agriculture and water systems. That's not really the hard part. The hard part is committing to life-sustaining planet-enriching technologies and understanding that that is the point of life on this planet. We are about 7 billion in number and we are mostly ignoring each other's needs.

    Bucky Fuller and many others have shown that just by being conservative (doing more with less), we can build a sustainable world. That's a technology design problem, but the problem is not so much a technology failure but a failure of responsible intent in the design and use of the technology.

    CO2 in the atmosphere, currently 396 ppm and rising, is a sort of gauge of our global technological situation. Before changes in education or politics can become effective, we need to rethink our priorities about what needs to change in this decade and the next, just so human civilization can survive this century.

    • Jun 21 2012: There is some reason for optimism. You're right about the hedonism, but that appears to be a natural result of the Judeo-Christian-Newtonian world view, which ignores the Environment , just as it ignores relationships (with people, not God or the World) But this whole phillosphy seems to be in its death throes. The leaders of the world economy can't seem tofigure out why it's not working , in spite of the fact that they keep on repeating policies that didn''t work before, either. Maybe Ayn Rand was wrong. If you celebrate Selfishness, naturally you are going get "Gaming the System". Without "Shame" who will obey the Law?, Especially when the Gamers Make the Law. It's not sustainable.
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    Jun 15 2012: Not creating piles of eWaste. People have gone device-mad. It's all a bit ridiculous.
  • Jul 10 2012: The question asks for "technological challenge" so I'll say "find and use cleaner (or even better, sustainable) sources of energy".
  • Jul 5 2012: Not technological, although would be caused due to technology-disconnect between the younger and older generations. Even though there has been some disconnect between past generations, the one in the future will be more drastic.

    The kids will be able to access the internet, and therefore, information, at a much younger age which could cause them to rely more on technology than their guardians. When they will need to know the meaning of something, they will simply do voice searches on google to find out the answer. The idea is a stretch, I agree. But it is very much possible for something like that to happen if things aren't moderated-something most parents don't think of with internet/gadgets/technology (unless they've had first hand experience), or simply don't know how to.
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      Jul 10 2012: Other than the excessive dependents on technology, I don't see much wrong with that. If information could be that easily accessed, just think of how smart the future generations could be if it was utilized in the educational system.
      • Jul 11 2012: Hmm.. well there isn't anything wrong with that, I agree (well, primarily because I'm a kid myself :) )
        Having resources like KhanAcademy and the likes just a click away has been truly beneficial for my studies.

        But, I have a feeling that this might turn out deleterious in the future-primarily because of the young age of the kids. Becoming independent is great, and a crucial step forward in life. However, technology might create that barrier between the parents and the kids. They will be smart, but they will become their own bosses, doing what they think is right, and what google thinks is right-which is not always correct.
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          Jul 11 2012: I don't think it would encourage them to be their own bosses but rather give their minds a greater boost than what our generation get's now. I'm only an 8th grader and I wish we had technology like this. I have to read books in order to get a higher education in order to rise above school education. It is so pleasant to think that, if I was born just 10, maybe even 5, years ahead of now, all I would have to do is ask my search engine to look something up and then have it read it to me then presto! In 10 minutes I got a half hours worth of reading in.
      • Jul 12 2012: I don't know if you got the reply (seems that the system only allows for a max of 3 replies;yes I'm new here). I'll try to condense whatever I said.

        You seem to be basing the future thinking that there will be more people like you, who are smart and grasp things much quicker than their peers. But, you must also take into consideration the fact that there will be people who are a complete polar opposite to your image of kids in the future (in most real life cases, there seems to be an abundance of people like these for reasons, unexplained). The amount of distractions the avg student faces now is 100x what was before, and the likelihood of that number going higher is inevitable. Not every person is going to be interested in what you think they might be (this is where the disconnect comes in). You'd want your son to be watching videos on quantum mechanics, but (and let's hope not), maybe they'll end up being fanatics of Justin Bieber's son, and watch youtube videos of them on "hovering" telescreens.
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    Jun 29 2012: Whether or not to become cyborgs ..
    • Jun 29 2012: Bingo!!!

      (I was going to say, "How to win the right-to-breathe back from Mac-Roth-Mart Pharmilitary")
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    Jun 27 2012: Kevin,

    The biggest technological challenge the human race faces is transcending the effects of planned obsolescence and/or the unintended consequences of human's over-investments (both literal and figurative) in technology.

  • Comment deleted

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      Jun 28 2012: i couldn't agree more, greed is the killer app, and most people can agree to work together in a less greedy fashion but the world seems to be in a stronghold held by a few - the wealthy 1% - 3%. i hate to hear politicians talking about going green but then they do nothing to move the country closer - solar, wind, wave, etc. and once we all have free renewable power electric cars can proliferate, and they can be smaller, or they can run on an automated circuit that any citizen can use to get around and cut down on the amount of cars, and i won't even start on on the wonderful bots/machines that could be built that would run on this free energy that could produce/manafacture almost anything we need - and free humans to work on much more challenging and complex tasks.
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    Jun 26 2012: i see no need in new technologies, only the urgent need to use what we already use in a right way.
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      Jun 26 2012: Your kidding right? We need new technologies in certain categories for safer and efficient usage.
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        Jun 27 2012: For certain categories you are right, but globaly, i am : what earth needs now is a better humanity.

        No technological leap can help when only a few will use it.. for exemple, no medical technology can make a human willing to live, which is mandatory for any body to be healthy. That's why I see no need in new technology in a world where the global trend is dept, war, depression, austerity, and so on.. We first need to share what we already have, for free, before trying to invent another technology that will probably be military in the first place.
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          Jun 28 2012: i read in the Tao De Ching, that the people don't value their lives because they are not free to enjoy it, i'm paraphrasing of course, but if i were free to live my life and not tied to a job for a 3rd of everyday of my life + commute time and fuel, and recurring bills like electricity i could actually have more free money and more free time to enjoy my life, and would not feel like what is the use of trying, people have to be able to love living before they can really value their lives and the lives of others. if you had all your basic needs provided for and had more free time to enjoy it, would you be busy robbing and killing people?
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    Jun 22 2012: 1) Finding new raw materials to produce the circuits, storage and power needed for all the new tech.
    2) Controlling the fallout from the widespread "instant information" available to all.
    3) Having proper laws put in place to manage the many breaches in privacy that are expected.
    4) More social unrest as people will now have access to a wealth of information and knowledge and not have the proper wisdom and understanding to effectively use it.
  • Jun 19 2012: 30 years is a long time.

    In 30 years machine intelligence may have progressed beyond human levels. It's neither very likely nor very unlikely. It just may happen, judging from Moore's law and the complexity of the human brain (presently, as of 2012, if I recall correctly the record for this kind of computation is the simulation of a fraction of a second's activity in half a rat brain, performed a very much less than real time).

    If that happens, then that will make a serious impacts on just about every human endeavor. But in particular, I expect it to make an impact on warfare, because that's historically the fate of every new powerful technology. And then, smarts in the hands of the military means that seriously dumb things will be done in seriously unbeatable intelligent ways.

    Autonomous weapons will surely be deployed on battlefields within this time frame. Likewise, smart terrorist and assassination weapons will be used. Economic, psychological and political (!) warfare, which all depend critically on smarts, will be vastly more effective.

    Cheap smartness probably also means that privacy will only exist for the very powerful.

    Somewhat compensating for that, machine intelligence, if we get it in that time frame, means that research that so far has been too complex to do, will be done, for example, in genetics and epi-genetics.

    I guess that ethical issues will just force themselves after the fact, that they will not be taken seriously until they force themselves.

    But I think one can perhaps prepare a bit for the "edge" that machine intelligence confers on the military.

    It's not unreasonable to believe that only a few big actors will have this capability at the start. Perhaps the US + England, Russia, France and China, maybe Germany. Whoever gets it first will be much in the same position as the US was after having developed atomic weapons, but a big differerence will be that such a nation can then USE its new capability, which was difficult with the A-bomb.
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      Jun 28 2012: all you really need is good engineers and good programmers, the tech is already in existence.

      if i were so inclined i could easily build or outsource a very basic motion detector and or laser sensor,
      that could detect movement by radar, by using a camera and comparing the amount difference in two successive photos, or thelaser path beign boken, and attach this almost primitive/trivial technology to
      an actuator that would fire a trigger on a hidden machine gun or sniper rifle, setup an array of these
      and they could protect my home, in a fileld they could protect the location of each unit while taking out enemies, etc - this is not very sophisticated technology - in fact you can download freeware that will use your webcam for motion detection now, you'd only have to modify how it reacts - it could email me a photo and ask me if i want it to neutralize the threat(doesn't have to kill them) and also notify the police
      • Jun 28 2012: Michael (and Kevin since it was in regard to that comment),
        In response too:
        "agree with kevin here, it's important to forget and make mistakes..."

        I agree that we can find good in these things, but we can find good in just about anything, if we want to. Many of the things we might find good in, like forgetting things, we actual find good because of our limitations (ie: we forget because we don't have the capacity to hold everything, or the mental system to make it happen). And, in fact they really aren't that good, because they don't have to be exploited to occur. They are inherent flaws, they happen whether you like it or not. Is it really that great that we make mistakes when it costs people their lives (like in a faulty design in a car, or even a car accident)?

        The challenge is surviving with them, and overcoming problems with them, since they do limit us greatly-- to the point where we have to rely on advancements in technology to progress and continue solving many of the world’s problems (because our brains can't do it without them).

        (I put the reply here, because the other reply was put WAY down the line lol, probably too far to see)
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    Jul 14 2012: I am impressed with Michael Picucci's contribution. Consumer based economies have devastated our planet. And he is right in suggesting that resource based economy will support a healthier planet. Our resources need to be respected rather than frittered away on stuff that continues to age out at alarming rates.
    Technology needs to advance in partnership with our planet - who is cleaning up the debris from the Fukishima tsunami (no one to blame, but still needs attention)? I read of oceanic drifts of plastics miles long collecting in our oceans that has been noted but no news of how this is being remediated (it isn't about who to blame, it is about polluting the waters we depend upon to provide our sustenance) . Our challenge is managing our own waste in all its forms.
    We need sustainable power and clean water. I can not believe we faced power issues in the 70s and petroleum has remained the primary relied upon resource. Wind and solar power research seems to have been in park until only recently.
    As I glean the research it appears more motivated on how to get the biggest buck for the least change yet touted (erroneously) as major change to improve use of our resources.
    Guess I'm saying the greatest technological challenge is a higher moral compass for the goods and services humanity needs (not wants) to operate effectively.
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    Jul 14 2012: Technology is not just a machine or contraption that we make. I would equally relate it to applied knowledge for a specific purpose. With that...

    The biggest technological challenge our race is already encountering is the technology of social change.
  • Jul 14 2012: It is a challenge of leadership. Once leadership accepts that a strictly "finance-based economy" is doomed, we may adopt a "resource-based economy" that focuses on natural resources and how to best use for all. This would have to include additional forms of currency (as is already being done in several cultures). When leadership moves in this direction technology will be redirected toward these new intentions.
  • Jul 8 2012: For me it will be controlling and effectively legislating technology and its use. To understand what i mean, imagine Al-Queda with nuclear weapons or hackers getting uncontrolled access to classified information. Or to use a more common example blatant copying of other peoples designs and intellectual property. In the end global warming is a joke compared to what unregulated technology would cost us.
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      Jul 8 2012: All true except for the global warming part. You see, if the greenhouse effect continues, obviously the world gets warmer, but, it will also release the thousands of tons of methane from the southern and northern tundras of the world. Methane is a much worse greenhouse gas and would further speed up global warming. When the temperature rises that much the north pole will completely melt, literally wiping the coasts of certain countries of the map, which would damage the global economy. There would also be increased tensions in the middle east and that could lead to nuclear war. Especially between Iran and India which both have nuclear weapons that are only 1st generation atomic bombs, meaning that their bombs are extremely dirty and release high amounts of radioactive material. The U.S. and Russia have 3rd generation bombs which are "clean bombs". Global warming could also cause a sort of 21st century Permian extinction with increasing desertification and rising temperatures. During the Permian extinction, 90% of earths species died out. Imagine that repeating it self. On top of all that, the global climate would be much drier, reducing crop growth when you have a still growing population. Natural disasters would also be much more common, costing billions of dollars a year. So, global warming is a lethal chain reaction that would end up being much more dangerous than hackers, terrorists and theifs.
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        Josh S

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        Jul 10 2012: In your argument you try to make global warming seem much worse then it is by linking it to nuclear warfare, thought there is no correlation and no causation.

        The Permian extinction had essentially 2 phases. in the 1st phase, it is 'proposed' that gradual climate change occured. But the true damage, what truly killed so much 'has been argued to be due to a catastrophic event'. This could be a nuclear war in our situation, but a nuclear war is not caused or even linked to global warming.
        From wikipedia talking about artic methan release: "while methane release is indeed likely to amplify global warming to an unknown level, fears that it could lead to catastrophe are possibly overblown."

        You say the rate of occurence of natural disasters would increase, im assuming youre talking about hurricanes, flooding, and tornadoes for the most part, because global warming doesnt affect earthquakes and thus dont affect tsunamis. But earlier you said there would be less rain and it would be much drier, so wouldnt the rate of floods and hurricanes decrease?
        Temperature increases are much more overblown then they actually are. Im sure you are aware of temperature cycles of hotter and cooler. But even if we take that out and look at the facts and the numbers, temperatures are .1 degrees hotter then they should be, and .4 degrees hotter on the most radical scale. Is this really more dangerous then terrorists with nuclear weapons pointed to our largest cities? hackers distorting shipping and manufacturing throughout the world?

        siting graph: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png
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          Jul 10 2012: I don't think your making a connection here. Nuclear war would be possible in the middle east because of increasingly crowded conditions. The middle eastern countries are already crowded and would try to claim more land for their countries in this situation. There would indeed be more tropical storms because if the increased amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. This means that there would be more fuel for storms to occur. These temperature changes seem slight, but the planets temperature was it's original way for a reason. Because the climate is very sensitive. Even slight temperature changes have already caused the north poles glaciers to melt significantly. The cycles that the earth go through happen over millennium, not all of a sudden after the industrial revolution. The methane release would be extremely significant since the tundras around the world would thaw, thus causing tens of thousands of years of animals to rot, thus causing tens of thousands of years of methane release. Oh, and I wouldn't use Wikipedia for this situation since anybody with an opinion on the subject could edit the article.
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        Josh S

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        Jul 10 2012: 'increasingly crowded conditions'
        Middle eastern countries, with the exception of israel, are some of the least crowded countries on earth. Most middle eastern countries ie. iraq, afghanistan, iran, saudi arabia have under 200 people per square mile. When looking at a list, these countries have some of the smallest population densities.

        'increased amount of water vapor in the atmosphere'
        thats what i thought, but didnt you also say this:
        ' the global climate would be much drier, reducing crop growth when you have a still growing population'

        speel about methane:
        This is a new field of study, all scientists agree that this does add to the affect of global warming. However, many believe that it may take decades to make a substantial impact. And again, since the question focuses on the immediate 30 years, the theory on arctic methane release does not apply.

        'even slight temperature changes have already caused the north poles glaciers to melt significantly'
        yes the sea level has risen, on average 1 mm each year. in the context of this question, this would equate to 3 cm. ( 1mm x 30 years) 3 cm of added sea level posts relatively small consequences when compared to other dangers posted above.
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          Jul 10 2012: I'm talking about the long term, not just 30 years, so the methane problem does indeed apply. And while I realize the middle east isn't majorly populated, before even 30 years comes along, their numbers will rise dramatically, causing thousands of refugees to flee from the ever rising shores and concentrate the population to a high degree. Remember, you can't use today's population stats to fight this argument, you have to predict what the population in those areas will be like by mid century. On top of that, because of global economic damage, the growing population will be under stress, causing more reckless countries to solve such problems with violence and war. Remember, this problem will only be in full swing by mid century, so, we have 40 years to switch to a cleaner life style. Once again, I'm talking about the long term. But it doesn't hurt to acct on these problems now. Oh, and as you stated, Israel is the only country it takes to trigger the entire middle east to go up in flames.
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        Josh S

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        Jul 11 2012: If you're basing all your arguments off POSSIBLE events happening in over 30 years, we're debating different things. I wasn't arguing with your points by trying to say they're wrong, other then your view on the middle east, but just saying that they don't pertain to the question being asked.

        To restate the question if you happened to forget: What do you think is the biggest technological challenge the human race will face in the next 30 years?

        3 key words being next 30 years. My arguments have been based off of the next 30 years, not the long term (over 30 years).
        now to your single point that still applies to this question:

        ' before even 30 years comes along, their numbers will rise dramatically, causing thousands of refugees to flee from the ever rising shores and concentrate the population to a high degree'
        i hate to give a geography lesson, but you do understand that these middle eastern countries are high above sea level, and even with population increases, which are on average 2% throughout the middle east. so in 30 years time, the population density is estimated to still be under 280 people per square mile, which is not crowded at all. Also, this 'ever rising shore line' is a grand total of 3cm, not exactly geographically devastating for the middle east.

        'global economic damage, the growing population will be under stress, causing more reckless countries to solve such problems with violence and war'
        What global economic damage? and please keep your response to events that can actually occur in the next 30 years, not falling back to global warming or other environmental issues.

        But please keep in mind the actual question, which refers to the next 30 years.
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          Jul 11 2012: Most of the issues I've stated are not indeed a threat in a 30 year time period, however, climate change is one of the major threats in a 30 year time frame. As I've said, desertification, frequent tropical storms, extinction, and lower crop production is a extremely likely threat, in fact, many of these issues are being witnessed now. Desertification being the biggest one. For example, in south America, deforestation causes land to be exposed and dried out. This land is cleared for agriculture, but you can't grow anything on dry land.
  • MR T

    • +1
    Jul 7 2012: Boredom, when the aliens steal our smart phones.
  • Jun 29 2012: Three major fields:

    1. Geotechnology - including GIS, GPS and remote sensing technologies. They will allow us to understand the Earth's systems, make early warning systems for environmental change, analyze traffic, demographic and hopefully as many complex systems of the biophysical and the socioeconomic dimensions.

    2. Nanotechnology - May applications here, mainly is the ability of building micro robots that can for example eat through oil molecules but more importantly enter the human body to do exploratory and repair work.

    3. Biotechnology - the ability to manipulate genomes, combine characteristics of certain species, create improved crop varieties, and maybe even create cells, organs, and even organisms.
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      Jun 29 2012: All those technologies already exist, but only a few of us are allowed to use them : only those who "own" the idea of using it.

      This is called intellectuel property, or patent, or license. This is what plague our world(s) : we act as if the world was imaginary. We act as if a hammer won't work if it's not ours.

      Don't believe the hype !!

      Any human body is constantly using nanotechnology : Any enzym is a mechanical molecule, our body makes his own. What we need NOW is good food, that's all. For that, we must be able to move where food is. If we don't open-source the raw material earth is, I see no possible human progress.

      Instead, it all looks like the slow motion suicide of a specie..

      Remember life is good, not goods!

      ps.GPS : Sun, moon, stars.
      ps.GIS : Human memory, in or out of his own body (writings, buildings).
      ps.NanoTechno : Food
      ps.BioTechno : Sexuality, breeding.
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    Jun 28 2012: personally i think we already have the technology to fulfill my dream, but building machines and/or programming them may be a slight sticking point, along with human fears of automation.

    my dream is to see the whole world having free energy from renewal resources, this would allow us to create bots/machines, they don't have to be humanoid just specialized at what they were created to do.

    think about having the ability to run your a/c, heater, electric stove, electric car, or a trane air filtration and condition sytem to keep your home at a decent temp and cleansingthe air, think about having bots that plant and harvest fruits and veggies and materials needed for producing clothing, think about machines creating clothing from the materials produced by the machines, all mostly or fully automated, think about modular units that can be mix and matched to custom build your home - where i'm going is free food, clothing, shelter and power for all. I'm not advocating overpopulating the earth, just providing the basics to all.

    when we all have free renewable power, we can do and automate so many things, and when we all have free food, clothing and shelter - then we can stop worrying about basic necessities and easily throw 1000 people onto much more important projects like curing cancer or aids, and many other things that will take a long time for bots/machines to master or be programmed to do. i think humans will always have jobs because many things are too complicated for machines - and as i said they don't even have to be human-like machines, they just need to be able to do a few things exceptionally well.

    you could probably envision buying a set of bots that do only what you need, while someone else can buy a different set of bots to handle their project - instead of focusing on trying to build one in our own image, you'll have plenty of time to do that when we can automate many of the fundamental needs.
  • Jun 26 2012: I ThinK
    Since We are consuming the resources at a faster rate than the production...
    and using them to get maximize the profit; in this blind process of making money
    we are failing to comprehend the intensity of the problems which are being caused out of this
    blind chase. so when there is less and less to grow around and making money money
    means the margin between the rich and poor are increasing until only some will have a satisfactory
    means of living and this will cause an economic boom.....
    A revolution...

    So what i would say is important to prevent is that
    we have a better system of values....
    and if we go hand in hand there will be plenty to go around....
    if we stop running after money and pleasure and start going after some spiritual knowledge...
    if we stop thinking what i can get from the world to thinking what i can give to the World...

    We have Done Something Marvelous....
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    Jun 22 2012: Maybe water and other issues related to increasing population and per capita consumption.

    I also worry about the proliferation of WMD.
  • Jun 21 2012: That is a simple one. Our civilised life depends on cheap energy, and the oil , and other carbon based fuels are running out as we speak. Even if we find more, we cannot afford to use them, and still go on breathing.
    There is even a simple answer to this problem, but the educated world doesn't seem to be able to pull itself together enough to even talk about using it., except dismissively. I mean the non-polluting, unlimited, carbon free Thorium Liquid Fueled nuclear Reactor. (LFTR). This power system, invented and demnstrated to power airplanes 50 years ago, has already been demonstrated empigjt to show not only that it works, but enough work was done to answer many of the obvious questions about just how to do that.
    Our educational system, unfortunately, combined with a remarkablyshort sighted political and economic sytem, have combined to confuse the ussue . The combination of some "democracy" or at least poplulism, along with the experience of frequent and dysfunctional lying by the "powers that be" have together convinced the half-educated public that the issue might possibly be solved with "renewable energy" if we only tried harder. Unfortunately, this is not true in a practical sense, unless we are willing to regress to an energy level of say a hundred years ago (or more). So I guess one could say that the real problem is the poorly educated citizenry, including those at the top of it. It would be ironic, although clearly possible, that it could be those evil Chinese "Communists" who finally demonstrate the practicality of LFTRs. and then we could folllow along . But cheer up: that is History repeating itself, slightly differently: The Chinese many years ago, originated the basic inventions that enable Europe to take over the World, including China, much later. So it really wouldn't be unfair; it might even stimulate thought.
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      Jun 21 2012: Most of what you said is already known and, quite frankly, talked about a lot.
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        Jun 28 2012: i agree with both posts, the tipping point is coming though, one way or the other, we'll die of pollution and/or global warming, won't be able to afford fossil fuels, or we'll actually use all the ubiquitous ways of communicating in the 21st century to speak directly to each other about the facts, right now we could probably organize a campaign to cut way back on fossil fuels for one full month to hit them where it hurts and force the to lower the price - i mean c'mon, oil is still oil, it is harder to mine in some cases, but should that really drive the cost up so much? it's a monopoly plain and simple, and the car makers are simultaeneously dragging their feet to produce electric cars, we need a company dedicated to producing electric cars and dedicated to setiing up renewable energy.

        i can see 'petrol stations' using solar/wind energy to charge batteries, you'd pull up and swap out
        your low batteries for a fresh set, pay the fee, and pull off, you would not own any specific batteries, we'd all be swapping them out to be recharged. there are companies now that have fleets of public cars that any member of the company can use for a small monthly fee, i think zipcar is one such company.

        we need to use technology to keep each other in the loop on the facts, and take what comes through the news an entertainment channels with a grain of salt.
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    Jun 21 2012: Conceptualize this question in the reverse: how far have we come since 1982? I was born in 1986 and I remember the dawn of the DVD, the internet, social media...the list goes on.

    The current technological challenges are to make instruments perform faster, exist in a smaller space, and use less battery. I'd say 2042 will include:

    - A better battery or powersource
    - Wireless adaptation for most technology
    - Integrated communication between all devices
    - Universal access to internet, education, news, and culture
    - Through GPS and social media, I believe locating yourself (or somebody) will be easy
    - Better communication devices

    and last but not least,

    - Hoverboards are long overdue :)
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      Jun 21 2012: All of those changes are required to achieve better efficiency, which I'm sure you have already figured out.
      One challenge I don't think will be tackled however is global access to internet, education, news and culture. I'm referring to third world countries. With the ever increasing progress, third world countries will collapse because of the progress of developed countries.
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        Jun 21 2012: That's interesting, Kevin... are you saying you think that developed countries are going to overtake the less-developed countries? How would you see that playing out?
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          Jun 22 2012: I just think we have reached a point of no return for third world countries(sadly). I t could have been helped maybe ten to thirty years ago, but now development has really kicked in.
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          Jun 28 2012: contrary to kevin's opinion, i think that even if 3rd world countries come to naught, that 1st world citizens will re-populate them as they will eventuall run out of space from over population. so they'd either have to control population or upgrade the 3rd world countries to their standard of living so they don't overpopulate their countries and still have the luxury of living in any first world country since they'd all be upgraded to first world standard sooner or later - even if later happens because they run our of living space and have to move elsewhere.
  • Jun 21 2012: Feeding the poor (some things will never change) in the face of ever increasing desert. The difference is more people will fall in the poor group.

    Oil will be $300 a barrel, gas will be still be under $5. Mainly due to compressed methane collected under white tarps (to replace the reflective effect of the long gone snow) Water will be somewhere in between.

    The interest rate will be 20%.. America will be either involved in a war with someone or a recession. If we can learn anything from 200 years of history...
  • Jun 20 2012: I think the most important challenges are not technological ones, they're cultural ones. Because the world is being improved and modernized. If we (our culture, language, nationality, etc.) keep in step with the modern world, we will be one of the winners. If we don't do it, then we'll only have a chance to watch the developing ones. So let's join the challenge, don't be an observer.
  • Jun 19 2012: Hello kevin
    I see the biggest technological challenge in the next 30 years is to replace our dwindling resources with materials outside our planet. From mining the moon to asteroids to Mars and tranporting the needed materials at a reasonable cost. Sooner or later we will no choice but to go off planet for the resourses we need. Our survival depends on our creativity and resourcefullness. Its a no brainer my young friend. And maybe you could help make it happen.
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      Jun 19 2012: "At reasonable costs" is an important constraint, considering that the Apollo project cost 11 Billion at the value of the 1961 dollar, and it brought back a few kilograms of moon rock. I do not think people will pay 100,000 dollars for an iPad just because it contains a few milligrams of rare-earths from an asteroid.

      Perhaps there is a simpler, non-technological approach: lower footprint per person, fewer people, changed life-style.
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        Jun 19 2012: Actually, for every 1 dollar spent on Apollo, 14 dollars were made, so, the Apollo program paid for it self.
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          Jun 19 2012: Since the discussion was about retrieving minerals from outside the earth and not about long range returns on research investments, I only referred to Apollo to show how costly the retrieval of anything from space is.

          On reflection, the costs are not really relevant. The real question is: can I retrieve more resources from space than I spend collecting them.
      • Jun 19 2012: Mister Kroll
        As a after thought maybe I should not have put ( at reasonable cost ) in my comment but as I was typing my comment in I was also working out how to do it in a cost effective way. With most projects initial costs are usually high but if you need something bad enough the cost is not even a factor in the equasion. In example if you are dying of thirst would you question what the cost of getting water was to survive? Bottom line is most of our resources here a finite so no matter how much money it takes for the effort in the long run it will be money well spent. Our future is out there Not just here. Thank you
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          Jun 19 2012: I agree to get the last drop of available water no price is to high. But to be able to pay this high price I must have something to offer. And if all other resources are as scare as water, I won't.

          In addition, all ideas that require the use of resource we do not have will also be worthless.
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        Jun 19 2012: to cross the atlantic, columbus had to go to the queen for financial support. it was preventively expensive for any other persons or organizations at the time. your argument at that time would be that nobody is willing to pay 10 gold coins for a piece of clothing made on the other corner of the world.

        in retrospect, you are dead wrong. today, carrier ships bring millions of tons of clothes, toys, computer parts, raw materials from china to europe from brazil to china from japan to the US and so on.

        and the reason for that is progress. what costs billions at a certain time, might cost hundred thousand a century later. and might cost a thousand another century later.
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          Jun 19 2012: Since Columbus the boundary conditions have changed. We are approaching the time when we can no longer "steal" resources from the orderly warehouses created in the course of the earths evolution.
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        Jun 19 2012: so your argument only holds if human development came to an end. but there are no signs of that at all. we see no hard barriers in our foreseeable future. what boundary conditions? energy? we have thorium, we have methane clathrates, we have solar. rare earth? we have huge amount of them in somewhat less available forms. land? we can increase crop yields 3 times with genetic engineering, and we have also can increase farm space at will. we also can develop new technologies to grow meat or stuff or manufacture artificial nutrients or things like that. there is nothing within our sight that could stop us expanding.
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          Jun 19 2012: As you know (I read your profile) all closed systems come to equilibrium. Aside from sunlight our earth is a closed system. All the suggestions you made involve the use of non-renewable resources. Things like wooden water wheels, on the other hand, are great!

          I am curious. Why such complicated expensive solutions when simple free ones are available: population and consumption reduction and changed life styles,
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        Jun 19 2012: the earth is not a closed system if we are talking about mining the solar system, so your argument became circular.

        but even if we dismiss that, just because the earth is considered closed, the equilibrium can be thousands of years ahead. you need to show why would that be imminent.

        i for one don't want to reduce my consumption. in fact i would like to increase. i would like to have MRI scans instead of ultrasound. i would like to fly to australia in 2 hours. i want a faster computer and faster internet. i'm not interested in your solution unless it is absolutely necessary.
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          Jun 19 2012: Your honest answer puts us on opposite sides of this issue, probably because I have children and you do not. This fact I see more and more as the main cause of political differences, not age, education or income.
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          Jun 21 2012: I think We have to save as much resources as possible and use what ever we have to or wish to use and keeping looking for alternate affordable source or resources, We don't need to sacrifice our lives for the lives of those who are going to come after decades or centuries.

          One day or the other the life on earth as we know it has to come to an end as it did for the dinosaurs. There is no escape from that. What we can do is do good and if possible do more good and keep moving until that dino day comes.
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        Jun 19 2012: and you don't want MRI scans for your children? or better computers? or faster travel?
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          Jun 20 2012: Yes I want MRI scans for my children. Since they are very energy intensive I want lower population levels. MRI_per_person = (Total_Energy_available_for MRIs) / Number_of_People.
          I would like to see more pentaflops/megawatt only if the populations start to take computer models seriously. I wish my children a world where bicycles and efficient public transportation make private automobiles superfluous..
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        Jun 20 2012: ah, i see. that this might be interesting for you:

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          Jun 28 2012: i got to check this site later, hope it's not a parody site, lol. but seriously i agree with both of you on this issue, on the one hand we know matter can only be converted from one form to the next and not completely destroyed, and we also know that it takes a tremendous amount of power to leave the earths gravity, so most of the heavy stuff has always been here and more gets adeed in small amount as meteors and other objects get pulled in.

          so on one hand we can either find a way to recycle our limited resources and on the other hand be more proactive about not overpopulting the earth, i also don't see any immediate need to mine stuff from elsewhere, who knows we might even import some strange undetected virus back to earth.

          i do think we need to seriously consider building an asteroid deflector so we don't go the way of the dinosaur, and at the same time try to populate another planet if only for backup purposes.
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    Jun 16 2012: Survival
  • Jun 16 2012: I'll go with: development of a competitive, safe energy storage alternative to petroleum, for personal, on-demand use.

    There seem to be a lot of energy sources. I think the real issue is efficient storage, for on-demand use, which is what petroleum currently provides.
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      Jun 16 2012: Hmmm. Are you suggesting that the reason the petro energy age has not given way is that nothing beats it for efficient storability?
      • Jun 16 2012: Yes, I believe that's one of the biggest reasons. Another is relative safety. Hopefully we can one day find its replacement.
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          Jun 17 2012: I disagree that gasoline storage is easy and safe. Look at all the government measures and regulations that must be met. Look how terribly dangerous it is to work with gasoline not in an approved container. Look at the horrific results of cars, boats and airplanes bursting into flames at the slightest random spark. Safe and easy? I don't think so. You cannot say "relatively safe" because there is nothing to which it can be compared. Petroleum reigns supreme because it is the ONLY energy source able to meet the demands of today's runaway consumption as typified by "personal, on-demand use". There may "seem to be a lot of energy sources", but there is in current reality only one and it is petro.
      • Jun 17 2012: Edward,

        I did not say that gasoline storage is "easy and safe". Certainly gasoline has it's safety issues. So will any means of energy storage. If we require absolute safety, then we might as well forget it, because there simply is no solution. However, everyday, many hundreds of millions of people decide that gasoline is sufficiently safe so that they take their cars on the road.
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          Jun 18 2012: We choose petro for the same reason we choose to pay taxes. . . there is no alternative which allows continuation of the lifestyle to which we have grown accustomed. Petro is harmful from the first drilling to spewing the hydrocarbons out the exhaust pipe into the atmosphere. Both of those statements are true. Petro is bad , but we use it. Taxes are bad, but we pay them. This line is moot anyway. Please see my comment below regarding the posted question. We've got bigger fish to fry than energy related techno-babble.