09 June 2017

The Long, Slow Decline

How much computing power would be needed to simulate the Matrix? A whole lot more than every computer combined. Unless there's some quantum leap in computing it may even be impossible.

That's just like a realisation I had a few years back. I wrote a piece called "Dreams of Foreign Suns" (it was all the way back in 2013, was it?) and again in "A Future I Did Nazi Coming".

At least three factors seem to be working together against creating the science fiction future:

1. Declining rate of technological advancement.

We've already seen the decline in shrinking processors. Processor speed is able to increase because we're adding multiple cores to processors, but the miniaturisation of transistors will reach a hard limit very very soon due to the quantum effects on individual silicon atoms.

At the same time we're seeing decline in advancement in other technologies. It's been decades since new antibiotics have been developed, and with the disaster of antibiotic resistance, the age of wonder drugs will also reach a hard limit probably over the next generation. We'll once again return to the era where a papercut could be life threatening.

There's also a decline in new energy technologies. I did a study in 2004 for a landscaper about the cost effectiveness of solar power. Scanning the literature last year I discovered, to my dismay, that the efficiency of photovoltaics has not increased at all in 12 years. Not to mention the fact that to manufacture solar cells requires an input of more energy than the cells will produce in their entire lifetime and creates tons of toxic waste, the whole technology is a bust. Add to that the reality that acquiring energy basically means pumping water into low pressure gas wells to re-vitalise them, and the endless political hurdles facing thorium power, our future energy prospects seem grim.

We're also running out of key resources like phosphate and potable water. There's likely another two centuries of "fossil" fuels remaining, even at the current rate of consumption, but ground water will definitely be gone in the next 50 years (and probably sooner) unless some drastic change is made. Once water and phosphate are depleted the Earth's population drops from 8 billion to 1 billion, because that's how much food traditional agriculture can produce.

2. I'm going to call this the "Energy Cliff".

The amount of energy it takes to become a spacefaring civilisation is absolutely astronomical. It's possible, as I've pointed out before, we've known how to travel to at least the nearest stars within a single human lifetime using technology that is reasonably within our capability, it's just not very practical. We could use nuclear pulse propulsion, such as Orion, and even though the fallout would likely only kill three or four people, the EMPs produced by the 800 nuclear explosions needed just to reach orbit would destroy the technology that's keeping billions of people alive. To say nothing of the tens of thousands of new nuclear warheads that would have to be produced to fuel the rockets.

It doesn't seem likely that we'll find the power to keep China's endless construction of ghost cities afloat, let alone colonising say just the Moon and Mars. If we're going to do this in human time scales (one month to Mars instead of 14, 50 years to Alpha Centauri instead of 40,000) there is going to have to be a quantum leap in the ability to produce energy to get the damn rockets into space. Kerosene and liquid oxygen just won't cut it, and neither will setting off a ton of nukes.

3. Humans are becoming more anti-social.

Call it "affluenza", or vermin paradise*, or whatever you like. The more people move to cities the more anti-social they become. Anti-social humans are the perfect useful idiots for gigantic, bloated bureaucratic governments that either don't want to or are unable to tackle problems 1 and 2. The European Union passed a law regulating the acceptable degree of bend in bananas, thousands and thousands of tons of fish are caught and thrown away, lakes of wine and mountains of butter are destroyed to meet arbitrary quotas set by bureaucrats. And the rapefugees. Millions of rapefugees are imported to keep the criminal debt-based banking system solvent.

The more people move to cities the more they become anti-social and the more likely they are to vote for these kinds of obstructionist governments that, ironically, call themselves "progressive" while stonewalling any real technological, economic, scientific, or cultural progress. The more "progressive" human society becomes the less actual progress humans will make toward developing new energy, medicine, and aerospace technologies.

And there doesn't seem to be a way out.

By the way, I'm not suggesting going back to the 1950s. I'm not suggesting that radical "off the grid" "rugged individualism" or just becoming more like redneck 'muricans is the solution either. It's not. That's the problem that I've been trying to point out for several years now. Neither the "right" or the "left" has the solution to these problems. They both seem to be in a state of arrested development.

Drilling into Mt. Rushmore to get more oil won't solve any of these problems. Neither will driving gas-guzzling tanks just to piss off environmentalists, nor will wind turbines and solar panels.

The "free market" or anarcho-capitalism won't solve these problems.

Communism, socialism, or "social democratism" won't solve these problems.

Feminism, MIGTOW, transhumanism, AI, the "singularity", or any other utopian visionary bullshit won't solve these problems.

None of these positions will be able to solve these problems because they can't even see the problems. The very existence of these -isms is the heart of the problem.

A dramatic quantum leap in human psychosocial and technological evolution is required. And I don't think that's possible. I think humans are just too damn stupid. You can graph the ability of an animal to socialise by brain size, and even though human intelligence affords 10,000 times less interpersonal conflict than is seen in chimpanzees, it's just not enough. The upper limit on any totally cohesive human society is 5,000 individuals. Unless the fundamental limitations of the human brain are either transcended or global society itself is radically altered to accomidate those limitations, there can be no solution.

And that's very depressing if you think about it.

*There was an experiment with rats or hamsters or something (vermin) where their every need was instantly met. The population exploded until a certain population density was reached, then the rats became anti-social, stopped breeding, and they all died out.

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