The World in 15 Years

It’s been a while since I’ve just written something for fun without justifying myself, so I decided to make a post where I just make shit up. Basically, I’ve been thinking about something I heard a while back, which went along the lines of: science fiction is about personalizing issues in the present day and bringing abstract problems to a level in which the characters deal with it directly. While I disagree with the statement to some extent, I also agree with it the more I think about it. Fallen Angels makes climate change a very tangible force that the characters have to deal with, for instance. Power Nap (a webcomic) expands the sense that corporations take advantage of their employees for productivity beyond reasonable limits, and personalizes it for the protagonist.

So, I momentarily abandoned my plans for writing a space opera. Most of all, I just wasn’t ready for a writing project of that magnitude. But more importantly, it didn’t MEAN anything to me. I wanted to write a story that took some problem or idea that affected me and make it very real and tangible. With the latest set of vicious storms in my area knocking out power for days, even disabling emergency services and perhaps water utilities for a time, I began thinking about how reliant our global society is on electronics and the electricity to power them. This coupled with the thoughts that had been stewing about in my head ever since I casually skimmed a National Geographic article. The article was not that interesting, but the subject matter was one that hadn’t really occurred to me before: a freak solar flare, like one that happened in 1859, could essentially fry the entire power grid and all of our electronics. This, to me, proposes a much more interesting and up-to-date apocalyptic scenario than the standard nuclear armageddon.

That got me thinking about the near future, and so I’ve compiled a list of some things I think will be likely to occur in the next 15 years. I tried to not be too optimistic. Yes, I know that some of it is inconsistent, and some of it is much more detailed than other parts.

Geopolitics
Asia
-China becoming more democratic, but increases censorship nonetheless
-Huge number of economically successful high-tech countries in East and Southeast Asia
-Pacific Rim emerges as haven for free data sharing, as well as Eastern Europe

Africa
-Poor countries still poor
-Communication technologies become even more widespread
-Corrupt governments overthrown in continuous cycles of bloody revolution
-Raw material supply becomes unreliable
-Poor corrupt countries may fall into anarchy

America
-Rest of world becoming more socialist in terms of government handling of resources
-USA increasingly resistant to government regulation of resources and thus begins to lag in large societal changes and technological adoption
-More and more unrest as the US government fails to agilely address new problems
-Increased attempts by media-industry-controlled government factions to eradicate un-supervised data sharing on Internet
-USA oversteps some boundaries trying to persecute free data sharing companies in Asia, world becomes weary of US intellectual property pushes

Europe
-Everything goes to shit in Greece with communist election, pulls out of EU
-Spain pulls out of EU because of financial collapse
-Germany pulls out of EU in anticipation of EU and Euro collapse
-Euro goes to hell
-European economy collapses, lots of companies migrate their finances to US or Asia in anticipation
-Several brief civil wars break out in countries hit hard, tourism in Europe goes to shit, causes more economic decay

Technology
Space
-DARPA project kicks off space recycling
-Retired space stations are cannibalized
-Expanded commercial industry, competition with SpaceX
-Asteroid mining just starting, expected influx of resources (Earth mining becomes ridiculously expensive as resources are depleted)
-Plans for mars still just plans (commercial and governmental)
-Commercial space station with sponsors (Red Bull module?)

Computers
-More advances in mobile technology
-Competition in information glasses (see Google Glass)
-Increased presence of laplets (netbook / tablet hybrid, see Microsoft Surface)
-Increases in high-speed Internet availability
-Cloud gaming (processing on external machines, screen streamed)
-Some cities are implementing ubiquitous wifi
-Self-driving cars prevalent
-Resource sharing via private companies becomes more accepted

Medicine
-Cures for blindness, etc
-Advances in prosthetics, mind-controlled apparatus
-More use of robotics, especially in operations
-Cancer research still unable to cure cancer
-Pushback against genetic engineering to solve rampant problems (e.g. anti-sepsis bacteria, clotting-inducers, artificial immune boosters, disease-vector re-engineering)
-Technological advances in molecular synthesis jeopardizes pharmaceutical industry

Transportation
-Niche markets of supersonic flights and new efficient airships are filled
-Ocean drilling for oil becomes extremely common, Gulf spill stigma overcome
-Oil synthesization expanding as a market, more viable as oil is used up and Middle Eastern oil is unavailable
-Price of flights start to increase, flying starts to become less popular

Environment
-Increased reliance on new breed of safe fission power
-Global warming still “on the rise”, even though it has been partially linked to various natural processes
-Carbon emissions significantly reduced in Europe and America, increased in Asia
-Attempts to limit number of chemical rockets used, rejection
-Anti-desertification movement gains momentum, Saharan reduction initiated
-Still huge pushes towards recycling


I might update this post with some short descriptions of why I make some of these predictions, but until then you should leave a comment agreeing or disagreeing. Also follow me on Twitter @mattlevonian if you like my blog.

Advertisements

The Chicken or the Engine?

When designing an application that has separated functions for created and displaying data, the developer faces a dilemma. It is difficult to test the application that displays the data without an existing test set. However, it is hard to create a data set by hand, and it is difficult to know whether your data creation program is operating correctly without being able to view the product in the display program. It always ends up being a balancing game; develop a small part of the display app with a limited hand-crafted data set, then build the creation app, and then try to develop small modules in parallel until you have a robust enough codebase.

Really the problem is the development cycle itself. Say I want to create a game. So maybe I decide to use a preexisting engine so I don’t have to create my own renderer (by the way, my 3D game engine is coming along nicely, albeit slower than I expected. I need to rework a lot of the math behind it, but once I’ve built the basic graphics part I expect it will get easier). First you strip down the engine, but then what the hell do you do?

I suppose you code game mechanics, or at least the UI and then the way user controls interact with the game. Then you start to build up a set of game entities, until you have the basic game and then you can add in features. You can create test assets as you add features. Once the main meat of the game is coded, you can pass it off to the environment designers, etc. After that you can continue to polish the game and add features that don’t change asset requirements or level design needs.

But that’s only if you start with a pre-built engine. When building an engine from scratch, you need some sort of test data, such as a 3D model or XML file. You need it to be be simple enough to debug, but that may involve a lot of hand work. Often you need the display codebase to build the test data in anyways! Hmm. Not sure where this is going. I guess it was more of a complaining session than anything else.

Power Down Day

Today was a lot of fun; I got to antagonize environmentalists! In coordination with student groups, my school sponsored a Power Down Day. The school turned off most of the lights in the school and encouraged people to cut back on use of electrical devices. As you can imagine, I immediately began trying to find a flaw with the idea. This is when I recalled a nifty economic theory (widely acceptable although hotly debated) called Jevons Paradox.

In economics, the Jevons paradox is the proposition that a technological advance which increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.
Wikipedia

It was postulated by William Jevons in the 1800s after he observed that increased efficiency in coal-burning technology resulted in more coal usage, rather that less. This can be applied to any current technology, however. Take cars for instance. Although there are a lot of factors I am not taking into account, these are fairly indicative numbers. These graphs represent the Efficiency and the Consumption of fuel by passenger cars since 1960. Please note the scales of the horizontal axises.

Average MPG (image link broken)
Average fuel consumption (image link broken)
Data from infoplease.com.

This is a great illustration of the Jevons Effect. Even though fuel efficiency has been increasing, fuel consumption has increased as well (after the initial leap in car technology). This goes against the first intuition. The same goes for lightbulbs. Lightbulbs used to be rather rare. In the current day, we have numerous lights not only in every room of every building, but also in cars, on pens, even on shoes. Because lights are cheaper, we use them for more things; or everything.

Now, Power Down Day was not flawed in itself. Although you can use Jevons Paradox to argue that initiatives to increase efficiency are actually hurting the environment more than helping, it doesn’t apply to situation where you are just not using power. Using less power doesn’t necessarily decrease energy prices like more efficient electronics would. However, the whole conservationist effort stems from the same force that pushes for more fuel efficient cars and bans on incandescent lightbulbs. For instance, someone thought it would be a good idea to get a bunch of those useless rubber bracelets made with “Power Down Day” on them. It probably took more energy to make 500 of those wristbands than was saved by “powering down”.

The energy saving effort doesn’t actually save much money, despite that being a major argument point. That only works if you stick with the scheme in the long run. In a gymnasium, for example, there are 3 fluorescent bulbs per panel and the panels might be arranged in a 6 by 6 square. Assuming a wattage of 10 Watts per bulb, thats almost a kilowatt. Over the course of a day, that will save somewhere on the order of $2. With a majority of lights extinguished, that number could be brought up to maybe $50 a day. Which is not bad, but if you are going to keep the lights turned out all the time (thus actually making a legitimate amount in energy savings), you could have saved even more money by never installing them in the first place!

%d bloggers like this: