11 June, 2012 - 17:58 By News Desk

Our kids will start off poor but retire rich

There seems to be lots to worry about at the moment, but we'll get past it.

Right now, in government terms, we can choose between the awful and the terrible.

Environmentally we have polluted and over-fished our seas and damaged much of our land ecosystem, too. Economy-wise, we are in a mess, our education and health care standards have been falling well behind the rest of the world.

We have even sacrificed privacy and freedom on the altar of crime control, with little to show for it. Common sense seems to have disappeared. It often seems that we are living through an idiocracy.

It could get worse still. Our government still seems intent on rushing as fast as possible to spend as much as possible on the most inefficient forms of renewable energy before the costs tumble and people have recognised the green nonsense behind the policies.

All the while, failing to address massive overspend in the public sector, ensuring that the economy struggles with high tax and low growth for as long as possible, while Eurocrats want to waste still more propping up the failing Euro business model. So the economy could and might decline even further.

Even bad things come to an end eventually and we will get through this bad patch, though its impacts will linger for decades. In the background, science and technology have continued to develop (even though a few areas have been polluted by politicisation).

The main factors that will bring increasing prosperity over time are:-

• Continued miniaturisation, resulting in lower resource costs for a given functionality. More for less. This will allow more people to live in higher comfort and the trend will outpace increasing population, especially as population growth starts to level off. Nanotechnology and other materials technology will also allow much better materials for fabricating objects or structures, so again we will do more with less.

• Virtualisation will work in partnership with miniaturisation, and make redundant large areas of IT such as TV screens, ipads and mobile phones. All of these can be replaced easily with a small sector of a HUD such as video visor, along with input devices such as mice and keyboards. Virtualisation also allows a single room or building to have huge number and variety of overlays that will also greatly reduce the amount of materials needed. It even lets people change appearance virtually, and in combination with wash-free clothes, this again could greatly reduce environmental impact.

• Asteroid mining will start to develop towards the middle of the century, and although it won't be cheap, it will fix some scarcity problems, particularly where only small amounts of an element are needed and the costs can be justified. Other materials may simply be substituted, either by direct substitution or by opting for alternative solutions. Space technology generally will become a bigger industry sector.

• Genetic modification and its child synthetic biology will solve many problems in food supply, resource extraction, disease control, environmental maintenance and cleanup, while protecting and even restoring much of the ecosystem.

Collapse of fisheries will have forced more sensible regulation of fishing as well as encouraging better husbandry and farming. So we should expect the seas to recover, too.

Population growth will also help. By mid-century, we will have up to 10 billion people, but population increase makes more brains available, more creativity, more work effort, so progress can accelerate even faster. There will be more mouths to feed but easily enough food to provide. Where there is starvation, it will result from mismanagement or conflicts rather than lack of food production. Desalination will provide enough clean water for everyone.

A rich range of energy technologies, mainly nuclear and solar variants, but still some fossil fuels such as shale gas and methane clathrates (but very little wind, which will never be competitive without subsidy) will provide abundant and cheap energy for all our needs, though increasing efficiency in IT and transport particularly will reduce the need.

Finally, robotics and AI provide a beautifully elegant positive feedback loop, whereby development helps further and faster development. All in all, smart machines will be greatly increasing bother the physical and intellectual resources available, thereby enabling rapid economic growth, without damaging the environment.

So, some severely painful years ahead, but we can already see some of the foundations of much better years later in the century. Our kids will start off poor but will retire rich.



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