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Thread: Automation and our future

  1. #11
    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    I am a long-time subscriber to the British journal New Scientist, and a few months ago they had a VERY interesting article that suggested that automation will lead to an era of mega-cities because, paradoxically, the jobs MOST resistant to automation will be in the mega-cities. So people will gravitate to those concentrated urban centers. It may be much of the work in the RURAL areas that gets automated first. In 20 years, we could very well have totally automated wheat and corn farms across the Midwest.

    If I was at my office, I could find the article and link to it. But I'm posting from home today.

  2. #12
    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Havelock View Post
    Up until about 250 years ago, the most powerful and technologically-advanced nation on the face of the earth was the Chinese empire. And that had been true, arguably, for most if not all of human history. That changed when Europe underwent the Industrial Revolution. There are lots of hypotheses about why that happened first in Europe and not somewhere else. One hypothesis is that China had a significantly larger population than Europe and thus, manpower was relatively unlimited. And all those people needed jobs. So there came a point in Chinese history when there was comparatively little pressure to innovate with respect to sources of power. Thus, no coal-burning steam engines and no industrial revolution. No drive for greater automation, in effect... And the result was economic and cultural stagnation and, eventually, domination by foreign powers.

    Well, that's one theory anyway.

    Cheers.
    I'm going to take some mild exception to this post. I'm probably one of the few Americans who has read every volume of Joseph Needham's magisterial Science and Civilization in China, which is just as much about Chinese technology as it is about science. I would say that China was the technological leader of the world from ~500 BC to ~1450 AD. At THAT point, the Europeans were already pulling ahead. Gutenberg's printing press was invented in 1453 (the same year that Constantinople fell to the Turks, ending the last vestige of the once-so-mighty Roman Empire).

    The Iron Age didn't arrive in China until about ~500 BC, and the evidence is that iron metallurgy arrived in China via the Silk Road, which was still in its infancy at that time. But almost immediately upon acquiring iron, the Chinese had superior iron technology right away, simply due to the lower phosphorous content of Chinese iron ores. They had cast iron almost 2000 years before the Europeans! And then came paper, and gunpowder, and the compass, and block printing, and the wheelbarrow, and so MANY other inventions. Early China was indeed a technological prodigy.

    But something happened in China in the early to mid 15th century, between the Early Ming dynasty and the Middle Ming. The Early Ming dynasty saw a Chinese Age of Discovery, with the voyages of the Chinese eunuch admiral Cheng Ho (or Zheng He) reaching at LEAST as far as Madagascar. China may have been on the verge of an Industrial Revolution at that point; steel production in southern China was very high at that point (and also was during the earlier Southern Song dynasty). But then a political struggle resulted in a major change of 'party' at the imperial court. And China suddenly turned inward. They BURNED the ocean-going ships! They became isolationist. In the words of one scholar, China 'erected a Great Wall of the mind against the outside world'.

    If you want to explore all the various theories as to what caused this Chinese decline, I would heartily recommend the book The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress, by Joel Mokyr, economic historian at Northwestern University (and one of our very BEST economic historians, IMO). He has a whole heady CHAPTER on what caused the rather abrupt Chinese decline.

    And then China SLEPT. Napoleon said China was "a sleeping giant", remember? They were. They woke up in the late 1980's, when Deng replaced Mao.
    Last edited by BigLeRoy; 26th June 2017 at 07:41 PM.

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    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    From the OP: And widespread application of horizontal farming can increase the food supply. Moreover, if humans quit eating meat, the availability of calories would increase a lot just from that.

    I wonder if you meant vertical farming here. This is the idea of devoting some skyscrapers in big cities to simply growing food. You could grow food on EVERY level.

    And I think we can bring about a shift to synthetic meat over the next quarter-century. This would be a WONDERFUL thing for the environment, and for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. And there is EVERY reason to believe we can create meat that is BOTH much healthier for us AND better-tasting.

  4. #14
    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RNG View Post
    Without breaking the laws of physics as we know them, space isn't a viable alternative. Getting enough oxygen to Mars in itself would be prohibitively expensive. And other galaxies is a warp drive fed dream.

    And even so, to save maybe a few dozen people?
    As you say, space is CERTAINLY no 'solution' for overpopulation here on Earth. The Earth's population is growing by about 80 million people per year. There is NO conceivable technology that could get 80 million people a year off the planet, EVEN IF we could build a space elevator, which current thinking says we probably can't.

    But dealing with overpopulation is NOT the primary argument in favor of space colonization, and in particular the idea of colonizing Mars. You do that for very different reasons: to greatly increase the PROBABILITY that the human race will survive (and expand!), to satisfy our intrinsic curiosity, for the sheer adventure of it, because it's THERE. But we don't need to lug oxygen to Mars! There is PLENTY of BOTH oxygen and water on Mars. The oxygen may be tied up in the atmospheric CO2 and in water, but it's there!

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigLeRoy View Post
    From the OP: And widespread application of horizontal farming can increase the food supply. Moreover, if humans quit eating meat, the availability of calories would increase a lot just from that.

    I wonder if you meant vertical farming here. This is the idea of devoting some skyscrapers in big cities to simply growing food. You could grow food on EVERY level.

    And I think we can bring about a shift to synthetic meat over the next quarter-century. This would be a WONDERFUL thing for the environment, and for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. And there is EVERY reason to believe we can create meat that is BOTH much healthier for us AND better-tasting.
    Good catch. Yes, I meant vertical farming.

    But another comment on China. I find it absolutely fascinating that the Chinese invented gunpowder but only used it for celebrations and fireworks whereas the Europeans instantly invented guns when they came across it.

    A different mindset?
    Thanks from BigLeRoy

  6. #16
    Radical Centrist BigLeRoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RNG View Post
    Good catch. Yes, I meant vertical farming.

    But another comment on China. I find it absolutely fascinating that the Chinese invented gunpowder but only used it for celebrations and fireworks whereas the Europeans instantly invented guns when they came across it.

    A different mindset?
    China was (during most periods of its history) a monolithic empire. Europe, that continent of peninsulas, has NEVER been completely united, and was always FULL of vigorously competing states (that were in the process of becoming nation-states when gunpowder arrived in Europe).

    In China, the cities became instruments of imperial control. In Europe, the cities became dynamic centers of change, many of them sharply resisting imperial or national control.

    But yes, the mindset was different, too. I could go into that in a different post, I guess.

  7. #17
    Galactic Ruler Spookycolt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RNG View Post
    Without breaking the laws of physics as we know them, space isn't a viable alternative. Getting enough oxygen to Mars in itself would be prohibitively expensive. And other galaxies is a warp drive fed dream.

    And even so, to save maybe a few dozen people?
    We can build underwater, underground, straight up in the air and we can build housing in orbit.

    We have the technology to do all that.

    We can make all the water we need and farm enough to feed 10x the amount of people we currently have if not more.

    We don't lack the know how, we lack the will to do it.
    Thanks from Southern Dad

  8. #18
    Galactic Ruler Spookycolt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RNG View Post
    Good catch. Yes, I meant vertical farming.

    But another comment on China. I find it absolutely fascinating that the Chinese invented gunpowder but only used it for celebrations and fireworks whereas the Europeans instantly invented guns when they came across it.

    A different mindset?
    More competition.

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    Bizarroland Observer Thx1138's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thx1138 View Post
    [video=youtube;h1BQPV-iCkU]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1BQPV-iCkU.

    Thx
    This one could have been a theme piece to that movie.^



    I think it's a love song.^

    Thx

  10. #20
    Master political analyst Dittohead not!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RNG View Post
    Good catch. Yes, I meant vertical farming.

    But another comment on China. I find it absolutely fascinating that the Chinese invented gunpowder but only used it for celebrations and fireworks whereas the Europeans instantly invented guns when they came across it.

    A different mindset?
    We back then they realized that the human population needed to be controlled, so they decided to do something about it.

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