CENSORED "ref ...................." by order of “Frobisher” authorised by “The Commandant”.
Erasmus : Let’s consider the tech opportunities/dreams/problems of today in the world of tomorrow. Predictably, some of our greatest successes may well threaten to become our greatest horrors. Technology is neither good nor evil. However, it can be used for either purpose by human beings.
Kinkajou : Consider the threat posed by technologies enabling fast travel.
Erasmus : The Stargate of Science Fiction – perhaps a method of transcending the quantum world where distance does not exist could be used for incredible evil. Imagine an enemy with lethal intent capable of travelling instantaneously to one’s front door. Within minutes a quiet peaceful civilisation could well face military disaster. A similar scenario being in Robert Aspirin's - The Bug Wars".
Too often in the past, it is obvious that the advantage lies with the attacker. The attacker is able to “plan” to overcome defences. The attacker is able to gather resources sufficient to overcome defences. The attacker is able to choose a time and a place for conflict.
General George Patton once said that an army that is not mobile – an army that is in a static defensive position – is an Army waiting to be defeated. The ability to drop one's troops into any part of an enemy’s territory, to cause mayhem and damage and destruction, and then to withdraw is a tool that is very difficult to defend against.
The aerial infantry of the future poses such a threat. The ability to mobilise large groups of men. The ability to engineer heavy support for such troops means that an enemy can cross a frontier up to several hundred kilometres, dominate a region and escape, withdrawing.
Kinkajou : The limiting factor today may well be the cost of the technology. Yes we can move men and equipment. But we need a lot of equipment to move a lot of men. Supplying these men can be difficult.
Erasmus : Troops limited to the speed of walking would pose a much more limited threat to the defenders of a country under attack than mobile troops – such as mobile mechanical infantry able to travel at “sustained” speeds of say 40 km an hour, rather than the walking speed of heavily burdened troops of a few kilometres per hour. Speed also allows the bypassing of pockets of enemy resistance, making defence difficult.
Troops such as mechanical infantry can handle much more varied terrain than can trucks, even in the civilised world of today. Our mechanical infantryman would be capable of carrying much more equipment than a simple human being. Our mechanical infantryman would be capable of carrying much heavier weapons than the infantryman of today as well.
Kinkajou : The technological advanceinherent in aerial infantry and mechanical infantry could well redefine warfare.
Erasmus : Once upon a time the Roman Empire dominated the world with its technology – the organisation of its armies, weapons and armour. The next great advance was the threat to civilisation of the nomadic horsemen – the Mongols. They created an empire that extended across much of the Asian continent to the edges of Europe and much of China.
The development of projectile weapons obviated the need for walls for cities and made obsolete much of the armour of the era. It has taken many years before the development of ballistic Kevlar armour, the steel infantryman’s helmet and the tank has made armouring technology much more mainstream and relevant again. For much of this century, the ultimate infantryman's armour has been a hole in the ground - the slit trench or "shellscrape" as it is known in the Australian Army.
Perhaps aerial infantry and mechanical infantry may well define the armies of the future – mobile and heavily weaponed. This may well be the next progression to the nomadic horsemen of bygone eras.
Kinkajou : The next frontier: the development of gravity generation may well trigger a space race and a space arms race the like of which the world has never seen.
Erasmus : True.
Kinkajou : I think the biomass of humanity creates its own problems.
Erasmus : The growth of the human population on this planet defines its own threats and opportunities. The vast human population makes technology a progressively exponential development – especially as more of the people become more affluent, more educated and more able to partake of technological civilisation. It creates a world where production is a commodity. Goods are becoming cheaper for everyone, allowing more people to enjoy the fruits of the technological advances of the century – in their daily lives.
Erasmus : One incredibly simple development which has redefined our cities and our civilisation is the “sewage” pump. Sewage can be pumped to centralised treatment plants, no longer dependent on gravity to be moved. One has only to look at some of the cities in the Middle East – where sewage drainage infrastructure does not exist to see the calamity which occurs from the absence of this technology. Traffic jams of sewage trucks travelling to treatment plants can be kilometres long. Thousands of trucks.
Without the sewage pump moving human waste, cities may well not be possible. Pollution would cover many aspects of the world. I remember a friend visiting Kashmir in Central Asia 40 years ago. Sewage travelled from people’s houses, through pipes to open gutters. Cities could not exist without rivers to carry away wastes. And the contamination of the water supply would guarantee widespread disease.
Kinkajou : What do you think of the disaster theory of the rise and fall of civilisations?
Erasmus : I am particularly enamoured of the calamity theory of civilisation. Civilisation is a process of technical innovation and progressive optimisation solving the problems engendered by population growth. Optimisation of these processes allows ever greater population growth. Eventually a single failure in a subsystem can create a cascade of failures, causing a collapse of cities and civilisations.
Population is dangerous. But population has created the technology and opportunities of the world today.
Kinkajou : Having said that, we haven't seen this happen in our civilization to date. Local disasters like famine and disease have not become disseminated problems. Even the Irish potato famine could well be described as a failure of local social engineering as much as a crop failure. It certainly was not world wide. But the potential exists.
Our food stocks are adequate to our needs and "aid' is given to those in need-
Erasmus : At least where the absence of war does not paralyse the distribution infrastructure.
Kinkajou : as I was saying, Our food stocks are adequate to our needs and "aid' is given to those in need- but we have very little capacity currently to synthesize food stocks and to bypass the need for agriculture.
However, new technologies such as Chlorella farming in closed environments. suggest that there may be technological enhancements of agriculture that may enhance food production. And this could be done in closed environments- enabling the use of arid wastes such as in Australia. Once the system is set up, losses can be minimised to essentially create closed loops, requiring only the replacement of outputs , but not losses - such as water to the environment.
Erasmus : I think true disaster is a "two" stage process. War + famine is a combination far more likely to create death and destruction than either alone. Human beings do tend to work together- at least when they are able to. Again this combination could well be described as a failure of social engineering as much as poor climate / rainfall or crop diseases.
Dark cities – where many of the inputs and outputs of the human population of a city are produced and recycled on the spot – is one optimisation that will help the burgeoning human population, and could well minimise the impact of "two stage" disasters.
Kinkajou : Any other food production technologies that could feed the multitudes?
Erasmus : Food production is critical to feed the expanding human population. The glucosification of lignocellulose offers significant opportunity in feeding a population even up to 70 billion people on this planet, with a lower footprint on the planet than 7 billion people have today.
I think there is one significant misconception about this technology. Lignocellulose does not need to be broken down to glucose and then re - engineered into food to feed the human population. Lignocellulose only needs to be broken down to a point where it is digestible by the average human being.
In the world of the future, natural food may well be a rarity experienced only by a wealthy few. Higher yield and lower cost may be essential to maintain huge populations on the planet. Human beings of the future may well look back with envy on even the poorest person today.
Erasmus : Climate control is another such optimisation for human civilisation. However it creates its own conflicts. More rain for one nation may well mean less rain for another. Conflict exists today over the management of water courses through dams and the removal of water. Downstream nations suffer substantially from the redirection of water upstream into farming and into water supplies for cities. Rain in one area may well take away rain in natural habitats – with impacts on the flora and fauna of our world.
Kinkajou : And we can generate light via LEDs to enhance plant growth.
Erasmus : perhaps a few problems there.
Fusion technology promises a limitless source of “clean” energy for the people of the future. And in the circumstances it also promises a limitless source of heat for the civilisations of the future. The people of the future may well look back on the civilisations of the past and how much simpler it was when we just burn coal for energy. More people means more energy production and more energy usage. As the cities of today are environmental phenomena, the hot cities of the future promise even more environmental impact than has been imagined even today.
Kinkajou : Anything else?
Erasmus : One of the growth areas of technology has been the combination of communications development such as the optical fibre with computer technology. This has changed the world of today. Mobile phones have supplanted land- lines. Cheap easy communication has redefined work practices and recreation. A simple example is the use of the mobile phone in ticketing. People no longer need to have a physical “ticket” to partake of many activities. E-mailed tickets allow entry to cinemas, trains and concerts. Mobile phones allow instant access to the limitless pool of information on the Internet.
Sprites promise to be at the new frontier of this technological development. The combination of GPS locator with processing power and sensors give humans an unprecedented power to monitor and to impact to the environment. And the process is continuing an ever faster pace.
But this development has potential for both good or evil.
Erasmus : There are simple changes which can create huge impacts in the world which many people have never even considered today. Consider the impact of immigration on the "personality" of a nation. Civilisation developed in Mesopotamia (a land defined by the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers). Civilisation was likely engendered by enneagram “sevens”. "Sometimes fools rush in and get the job done", is the creed. The “one” civilisation of the Indus Valley never achieved the same growth and pinnacle of technology as developed in Mesopotamia.
Consider the changes in the outlook and energy of a nation through widespread immigration of enneagram “ones” and enneagram “nines”. It is possible as has been proposed, that civilisations would rise and fall not through any fault of their own – but as a product of their own success bringing in immigration and changing the essential nature of the people of the country.
Kinkajou : Do you think that perhaps in the future, some of the saviours of mankind could come from other planets.
Erasmus : One perhaps anticipated horror in the world of tomorrow is the promise of SETI. The galaxy should be teeming with life. A burgeoning civilisation spreading at a relatively low rate of 0.1c should well fill the galaxy within a few tens of thousands of years. Yet this has not happened.
One theory is that alien civilisations do appear and grow for a while. However, the periodic appearance of a paranoid and inimical civilisation could well cause the destruction and extinction of its neighbours. These in turn coming into conflict with others like themselves. Life throughout the galaxy could well be wiped clean again and again. And it may well be that other civilisations regard us with horror – our anger and our conflicts being something which their own civilisations have not experienced. The Daleks of our science fiction may well have a counterpart in the real world.
Erasmus : Civilisation also creates its own horrors. Disease has long been one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.
There are many science fiction movies where diseases spread across the globe extending to the human race over a period of weeks to months. Reality is that disease can actually spread faster than this in our world. When the swine flu appeared, one of my friends remarked that a case of swine flu had presented at his office having travelled from South America, days before the initial announcement on the TV. People in aeroplanes can travel literally anywhere across the globe in the space of 24 hours. And if the people carry diseases, they spread inordinately fast and well.