What scares me the most is the passage about them not requiring any rare materials or incredibly elaborate manufacturing equipment to build. One could literally build a warbot in his garage using electromechanical scrap and sharp items (not to mention the easily accessible black market for guns). This raises all kinds of security concerns about criminals, terrorists and other non-state actors having easy access to what is essentially “affordable WMD’s”.
Irina, spasibo :)! Cyber security is indeed a huge concern at this point – as the government services and many of the other crucial aspects of our lives (such as personal finances and healthcare) get digitized, all kinds of dystopian sci-fi scenarios become more and more realistic. Especially taking into account Mark’s post on quantum computing rendering most of the current cryptographic systems useless, I wonder whether a solution can even be found using the current internet infrastructure paradigm. We might need to be thinking about creating separate physical infrastructure (with no connection to the broad consumer WWW) to host these services.
Thanks Nick! Just wanted to add that this technology is (and I think that we can almost speak with certainty at this point) also going to be extremely important in the future situation where human labor is a very rare and precious resource – namely the early stages of colonizing the Red Planet and beyond.
Thanks Mark! Quantum computing is definitely a huge leap for humanity, and we’re yet to figure just how grand the applications might be. There’s a pretty popular theory that this is also a major step on the path to a true AI consciousness, as our own biological brains might in fact be at least partially based on quantum computing in some form. Sounds like a plot for a sci-fi story, but the possibility of various quantum effects in our brain does in fact make it possible to explain certain attributes of our thinking that the classical “electrical computer” theory just can’t.
I do believe this is a very viable alternative to human PWM’s and a logical consequence of the algorithmisation of trading in general, but I wonder whether this business model will in turn be disrupted, and pretty rapidly too. With the increasingly cheap computing power, it seems very feasible that somebody will come up with an app powerful enough to manage your finances without the need for a 3rd-party adviser.
Jessica, thanks for starting this discussion! The numbers are already staggering (2% of the total energy consumption?!), and the problem will only grow exponentially with the advent of the 5G networks and the “internet of everything” in the coming years.
An important aspect of the data centers is that they produce an enormous amount of heat and have to be cooled if you don’t want the equipment to fry, which is a substantial part of their energy consumption. An interesting solution that has been proposed is simply moving them to geographically colder regions to take advantage of the natural cooling (to the extent that’s possible). A extreme form of this is currently being developed in Finland, where they plan to use the sea water (from the icy seas) for this – it’s googlable.
Coal has an interesting trait in that it can be turned into other types of carbohydrates through chemical reactions (used to be synthetic diesel through coal liquefaction, but increasingly in synthetic natural gas through methanation). These processes require an additional energy input, which can be easily achieved by burning some of the coal, but the much more interesting opportunity is using this as a way to store renewable energy.
A basic example could be a way to monetize a coal mining region (especially a remote one, removed from the major population and industrial centers) by colocating a massive solar or wind “farm” with it. The renewable energy that is generated is used to convert coal into LNG, which is
a) Much more eco-friendly than coal
b) Substantially easier to transport
c) Can be used as fuel for ships/aircrafts/other vehicles (syndiesel can produced instead of LNG if necessary)
d) Stores not just the coal energy, but also part of the solar/renewable energy.
e) Unlike the solar/wind energy that helped create it, can be stored and used to produce energy when it is needed (helps mitigate the variability in renewable energy output)
The main problem is not even the printing paper, it’s the packaging industry. Most of the printed media is actually on the decline in the developing world, eg. the newspapers and, increasingly, magazines and books (linked to the advent of Kindle). The developing world is still a printed media stronghold, but this will change too, eventually.
However the cartonboard and the sack paper are unlikely to go away any time soon. From the cereal boxes to shipping carton containers to cement sacks – all of this is made from pulp too, and these sectors (shipping, consumer goods) grow with the GDP. There’s still a tremendous gap in the per capita GDP between the developed and the developing world, and closing this gap will lead to a massive growth in the packaging industry.
Cogeneration is a great opportunity in this industry, however many (probably, most) of the pulp&paper mills globally are still net consumers of electricity because of the inefficient manufacturing schemes of many of the older mills (many of the mills currently in operation were built in the 1960s-1980s). Eg. in Russia there are currently massive CAPEX programs underway at many of the mills to rebalance the production and get them to become net producers.
It is a really fascinating company that doesn’t get the “tech street cred” it deserves. I’ve actually worked on the distributed power strategy for GE in the Eastern/Central Europe and still have friends working on most of the stuff mentioned above (including the IoT and the Alstom integration).
GE has started its pivot back to being more of a pure tech company (I personally call it the “real tech” as opposed to the “bs tech” such as the consumer internet space) in the early 2010’s by divesting many of its financial/non-industrial assets. They are now also looking for ways to move away from the O&G space – the most recent development is the Baker Hughes deal, where GE will divest its O&G assets by merging them with BH in a separately traded entity.
Great post! And a great way to “popularize” the problem (*especially outside the US and the West in general, as it’s not such a high-profile issue elsewhere) – who doesn’t like Nutella?
This is also a part of a much larger issue – the future of agriculture in general. As the current geographic sources for many of the agricultural products become warmer and warmer, the production may eventually have to shift to the north. So even when/if Turkey becomes too hot for hazelnuts, maybe it can become a cocoa powerhouse, and Eastern Europe can take over the hazelnut production? I do believe there’s hope for Nutella :).
Jokes aside, this is going to be an enormous challenge for humanity. We can (barely) survive without Nutella, but staple crops such as grain, potatoes as rice, as well as livestock feed crops are not exempt either. The production will inevitably have to move away from the equator, into the northern and central Eurasia, northern US and Canada, potentially also Argentina and Australia (if it starts getting more rain).