A search related to the topic of IoT or 'Internet of Things', eventually led me to a book called 'The Zero Marginal Cost Society' written by Jeremy Rifkin.
In this book, Mr. Rifkin has built a case, when it relates to how the cost to produce most things in the near future will be virtually zero (0). That there will always be a 'fixed cost' associated with launching any new product/server. However, increased efficiencies, automation and a combination of other things (mentioned below) will drive the marginal cost (cost to produce more units of the same) will be driven to virtually zero. Not zero, but almost zero.
Now, I have heard of this concept of 'zero marginal cost' before. I cannot find the actual clip on Youtube. But I have heard, at least one leading Venture Capitalist making a brief mention of it in one of their talks.
There are a bunch of technologies and phenomenon that Jeremy has mentioned in this book. From what I can recall at the top of my mind. Since the book has been returned to the library and this blogpost has been sitting in my drafts folder for over a month now. Anyhow, in random order:
Alongside the introduction to these technologies (and more), Jeremy then builds a hypothesis whereby we will witness the emergence of two major trends.
The author goes into a fair bit of detail, when it comes to the History of the Capitalist economic model and also how a 'commons' model used to predate this model. The author hypothesizes that the combined effect of the technologies that have been introduced and some of the other factors will usher the return to the commons era for our species. However, in my opinion the author could have spent a bit more time hypothesizing a future systems model, whereby resource distribution can be done in an optimal fashion for 7 to 10 billion people using a 'commons model'. Maybe an advanced form of AI and certain efficiencies can help us achieve that goal.
Now, I can't say that every (technological) phenomenon mentioned in this book was something new to me. But then again, that's coming from a person who has a hacker mindset and is always on the lookout when it comes to new and upcoming technologies.
This book is a hopeful, optimistic aspiration of what part of our future could be. An interesting read. I would recommend it.
Originally published Nov 5, 2012
What would it take to ensure that all the people in the world have adequate access to the basic necessities? A model that guarantees the basic requirements, as outlined in Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
Well, there are a whole range of possibilities and options at our disposal. But, considering the threat of resource depletion, there are going to be obvious costs associated with such a move.
If the question was redefined, then we’d still be looking for true Global Progress. The challenge is to do it in a way that a) does not add excessive amounts of carbon to the atmosphere and b) does not wreak the environment. Specially considering the fact that the system is taxed as it is and resource depletion is occurring at an ever increasing rate. (peak oil, lumber, fisheries, shortage of arable land,fresh water supplies).
In order to lift billions from the shackles of poverty, the first step is to focus on coming up with a system which would allow the provision of the very basic requirements of human needs. So we are talking about the physiological needs food, water, housing. Next, or in parallel to that comes education. And I am thinking, free and open education for all.
For the first time in human history, this aspiration could be getting amazingly close to reality. Here is the (work in progress) idea in a nutshell.
Housing: Just watch this clip link about massive 3d printers (they call it contour crafting) that could pump out entire neighborhoods! We can certainly power these machines with portable nuclear power generators. The inventor does claim that these machines are completely eco-friendly and I definitely don’t see any lumber being used. So the carbon footprint is virtually zero here. I cannot think of any reason why we wouldn’t want to do this, other than calculating the carbon footprint for creating the material that would be used.
Victory Gardens (Food supply): These were gardens that popped up all over the place during world war I and world war II. Fruits, vegetables and herb gardens were cultivated in private residences, in public parks and virtually anywhere where one could grow food (sidewalks, front yard e.t.c). The intent was to reduce the pressure on the public food supply brought on by the war effort [Copied this one line from wikipedia link]. During World War II 40% of all the vegetables being consumed in America were being produced by these Victory Gardens. That’s an astounding figure. Now couldn’t a similar structure be employed for these newly developed habitat? These cities would also be the farms. One step closer to sustainable living for billions.
Micro Loans or Microcredit: is the extension of very small loans (microloans) to impoverished borrowers who typically lack collateral, steady employment and a verifiable credit history. (source:wikipedia). Now not everyone in these communities is going to be employed in growing their own food. Besides you need a plethora of other services that any community would require. And this is where the concept of micro loans comes into play. This concept has been implemented with much success in Bangladesh. Mohammad Yunus from Grameen bank has been accredited with kick starting this concept and doing so has enabled hundred of millions to dig themselves out of poverty. The rate of default on such loans is extremely low (single digits) and overall the entire investment ends up generating a healthy 8% rate of return for the investors. Well it has in Bangladesh at the very least. link
Free Education: Technology enables us to do that which might have been unthinkable for eons. No one could realistically dream of universal education during times when knowledge was shared through scrolls or even during the initial invention of the Gutenberg press. Only during this day and age can we dream of free universal education and open access to the entire collective knowledge base. The shift is slowly happening with the emergence of wikipedia, khan academy and a range of other websites. Also picking up on this trends, some of the major schools in the world have started offering a variety of their courses online, for free! For anyone to come and learn at their own time and at zero expense. This trend is definitely going to continue with the emergency of startups like udemy, coursera, udacity e.t.c
From the perspective of a delivery mechanism (as in disseminating knowledge), increasing automation has allowed the manufacturers to significantly drop the price on the hardware. Just Yesterday I noticed that there is an e-book available for 13$ in US link And while we continue paying 40$ for a crappy 5 MB connection here in Canada, the cost to setup an entire ISP [Internet Service Provider] isn’t that much. Meaning it shouldn’t be that hard to come up with a system that allows the dissemination of free and open education at the very least. Now the focus here is on the newly proposed communities, but generally you can apply these ideas anywhere.
Just combining the dots here and yes this is a very crude framework. There are tons of other details that need to be worked through. One would need health care, security provisions, infrastructure to be developed. I mean there is a very long list of things one would need to run any community. So in that respect this is not an all encompassing vision of what’s really going to happen. But we can run some litmus tests and see what has worked and what hasn’t worked. Improve and go from there.
The logistical, civic, societal implications need to be carefully thought out. As in, would it be safe to have hundred of thousands (if not millions) living in such communities or would a cluster of tiny communities, spread out over a wide geographic region make more sense. That would be good from a lot of different perspective actually, the most important one being offsetting the risks based on any given kind of event. Energy needs can be met with green tech initiatives. And I know that’s a big aspiration. What about leisure, entertainment? Most importantly, what about the sum of all experiences in these abodes in retrospect to what happens in the affluent cities. Would you be comfortable living in a society where you have these class distinctions? I honestly wouldn’t and that’s why I couldn’t see myself living inplaces like Dubai. But why single out Dubai. This phenomenon is happening all over the world.
Going back to successes coming out of Grameen Bank. We are not looking at lifelong-hand holding for entire regions. But, just to a certain level of self sufficiency. To a point where entire masses have the capability of educating themselves and for them to figure out how to move onto the next phase. What ever that next phase may be.
Most problems can be overcome. Regions that are predominantly destitute should definitely architect a design that allows their populace to dig themselves out of these poverty traps and rich nations should help. Richer nations should help in particular, because the governments in these under-developed countries are too weak to carry out the basic reforms. So, what can the developed countries do to help out? Can we use our own human capital and help launch new waves of social ventures that are focused on helping people in the developing countries? Can we virtualize this interaction, so as to increase the effectiveness. Doing so, can also help us reduce the number of unemployment here back home.
For me, this whole thing started out with a thought experiment. If we can somehow lift millions off of poverty without further wrecking our environment, then that would be an amazing achievement. Doing so would add to the human capital and who knows what kind of breakthroughs might come out of such a framework. We don’t know how many geniuses remain hidden in slums all across the world. Surely to have spent all your existence in despair and never having been given a chance to lead a normal life. There has got to be a better way. Also, lifting billions out of poverty invariably means more wealth creation. I think there is going to be another movement occurring all over the world, where we are going to keep hitting and increasing the upper limit of how much wealth can actually be created. We will see a greater number of millionaires, billionaires and I think that in as little as 10 years, we will be witnessing the emergence of at least the first trillionaire in the world.
Last but not the least. Are you a Sociologist? If you are reading this, then I’d like to connect with you in order to discuss some of these issues and ideas in greater detail. Sociologists have a pivotal role to play when it comes to the creation of the new world and when it comes to how societies should be designed. The world need to empower it’s social scientists. Developing effective social scientists, empowering them and for them to be working with engineers, scientists and business folks is an imperative need of our times.
By some estimates there are close to 1.5 Billion people in the world today, that live on a dollar a day (1.3 is the official figure according to UN link).
That’s almost 22 % of the entire human species.That’s a staggering figure and maybe part of the reason why we have so much strife in the world.
Living on a dollar a day, these people definitely do not have access to the very basic necessities, namely a roof on top of their head, adequate food and clean supply of drinking water.
The Mother of all Crisis:
Undoubtedly, there are some really wicked crisis that have been in the making for the last couple of years/decade. But in terms of a quantitative impact, the biggest crisis brewing under our feet is that of climate change. By some estimates, a 3 degree change (net increase) in global worldwide temperatures is bound to set off a series of events that will have disastrous ramifications link. As if the threat of losing entire communities in the coastal regions was not enough (634 Million @ Risk link). There is also the threat of losing arable farmland across a very large swath of the world map (Sub Sahara Africa and South Asia will be hit hard) link It would make the previous foot riots look very pale in comparison, as the impact of a rapidly changing climate has the potential of impacting hundreds of millions.
Increasing populations and depleting farm land is a recipe for disaster. It has the potential for derailing entire regions, because eventually there will be violent uprisings.
Once the physical effects of climate change start showing, it might get very chaotic very very quickly (say a couple of months as opposed to a couple of years). Our world is increasingly inter-connected for it’s food, energy and commercial needs. But not all regions have the capabilities of dealing with major crises and there is a very high likelihood that major unrest due to climate change has the potential of bringing the entire world to a stand still.
Now there is a lot of collusion related to climate change coming from a lot of different camps. Obviously there are competing ‘interests’. Fossil fuel industries would never want anyone to believe that climate change might be exacerbated or induced by the usage of oil, gas and coal. However, and to their defense, the polar ice caps have been melting on Mars link. Curiosity hasn’t exactly found any life resembling those crazy homosapiens and their penchant for burning fossil fuel. So it’s hard to refute what the “fossil industry backed” scientists have been claiming all this time. There are other pieces to this bizarre mystery, from scientist flip flopping on their stance on the Himalayan glaciers and how quickly they will be melting. But these very scientific projections do tend to change every 6 months link .
It’s hard to come to realization as to what is true and what isn’t. Specifically with news about Climate Scientists getting death threats the world over. Turns out, this was a self promoted conspiracy from the ranks of the scientists themselves, which has since then been debunked link Guess it’s no wonder that day to day conversations about climate change are generally concerned with to how the polar bears would fare in the future. Don’t get me wrong. I do care about the polar bears. But the real impact from the effects of climate change appears to be much more encompassing and as highlighted above.
The Gray Area:
The collusion, specific to climate change remains and will likely remain for a while. Then the major institutions in the world are busy tackling immediate crisis at the moment (Waning war on Terror, Economic crisis). This results in a situation where the focus isn’t so much on events that will take place down the road. Further compounding the climate debate issue (or lack there of) is the inability to exactly pin point what is going to happen and when exactly is it going to occur. The political and governance structures are for the better part concerned with what is happening now and in the foreseeable future. So the climate change bucket gets kicked down the lane in every single respect.
Nationalism trumps Collective Human Destiny:
There are a myriad number of reasons why humans fail to look at each other as part of a collective species. That is a long debate by itself. But at the crux of it, evolution has to do a lot with it. Also the very systems that the humans have designed, invariably end up creating situations whereby a crisis, any major crisis (between two seemingly separate entities) has a very high likelihood of escalating into a conflict. Some conflicts are disastrous, specially in light of the fact that a counter approach of co-operation could’ve been much more feasible. Unfortunately, the various global structures of governance in contrast with the competing national interests invariably reduce the probability, that a path of co-operation over conflict would be chosen. This here is an over simplified, yet important observation to make. If humans cannot relate to each other as part of the same species than you can forget about ever getting a consensus for fixing the majority of the world’s problems. And climate change, global poverty are no exception here. Also, how we choose to acknowledge and tackle these crisis’s, is, what will eventually decide the path that the collective human destiny would follow.
The Two Camps:
Specific to the topic at hand, there are two camps of people. One of the groups is not that concerned with the kind of ramifications that climate change would unleash in an another part of the world. The other group obviously has a contrariwise view of the whole situation. It could be vice versa and the actual sensibilities fluctuate on multiple wavelengths across both sides of the divide. Meaning some are more ‘passionate’ than the others, in both these groups. Not sure how one would go about defining this phenomenon, but would it be succinct to say that there might be a general lack of compassion in some respect. Maybe it’s apathy. Whatever the cause, the divide exists. This phenomenon is one side of the coin (nationalism is the other, as described above) which inhibits massive global change from occurring. However and ironically, no one is to blame here. As the kind of consensus, as described above, isn’t exactly the abode of any major/global institution that we know of. United Nations is obviously not that effective, if at ever. Since the 1/4 of the entire human species lives under abject poverty. So, not entirely sure what kind of “lofty” goals the UN has set for itself during it’s almost 70 years of existence.
The RealityAgain, not entirely sure how and when the repercussions from climate change would come into effect. But considering how the threat of climate change is being ignored, the “logical outcome” would probably end up being a Geo-engineering hack of sorts. That is, something major happens as a result of climate change, there is pressure on the Governing institutions. Who invariably would put pressure on the scientific community, so that a solution is put in place with the intent of counter measuring that phenomenon.
Considering the fact that, experiments Geo-engineering of a nature, have only been conducted in simulated (computer based modeling) environments. No one really knows what is going to happen, say if or rather when we inject sulphur dioxie into the stratosphere. Or say, the long term effects of dumping iron dust into the oceans. Btw, if you ever want to find out what are some of the different experiments being conducted, with an intent of trying to combat Climate Change. Then check out this one book highlighted in my blog-post here link. It’s a great read, specially if this topic is of interest to you.
For the time being, one would hope that there would be more research money pumped into getting a better understanding of what is really going on with the global climate trends. But during these times of austerity measures, that remains an aspiration. And an aspiration it shall remain.
So, to recap. We started with some present day statistics when it comes to global poverty levels. Moved right onto the subject of climate change and how it has the capability of impacting billions more. Briefly touched base on topics such as collusion about climate change, lack of will e.t.c. Also the probable outcome of what’s going to occur as a consequence (Geo-engineering) once climate change hits us with full force on a reoccurring basis.
It’s not hard to extrapolate what the outcome is going to be. At the end of the day, it’s all contingent on how extreme and erratic the weather patterns really become. Everything considered, the probable outcome of climate change is probably going to result into increasing levels of poverty and misery all over the globe. When we come to that realization, that would be the point where the entire debate becomes an ethical debate. I think in some respects, it already is, but we don’t talk about it. But, do we have to wait till that trigger point where everything starts breaking apart? Can we not have more visibility and insight into what is really going on with the climate. And concurrently, work on a model and a framework for lifting billions out of the shackles of poverty. Not entirely sure, why we continue ignoring the threat of climate change to be quite honest.
My next blog-post is going to be centered around ideas for the new world. How we can leverage some of the up and coming technologies, with a core intent of trying to lift these 1.5 billion people out of poverty, without impacting the environment.
Originally published on Jun 27, 2012
Couple of years back, I parked my car in a garage and then left the ignition running. I had to head back inside for what must’ve been 2 to 3 minutes.. As soon as I re-entered the garage, the air was thick with all the fumes and I was choking.
That experience got me thinking and I’ve been thinking about this problem on and off since then. Basically if that was just one car and one garage. What about the billions of automobiles and earth itself. As a species we have yet to devise a massive carbon capturing system. There’s no escaping from the Greenhouse effect just yet.
And then, I was reading this book called “How to cool the planet”. It’s a very well researched book and I really enjoyed going through it. The book sheds radiated light (pun intended – greenhouse effect – get it?) on actual experiments being conducted in the various parts of the world. From massive machines (prototypes) being developed for carbon capture. To modeling and simulations being conducted in order to see if the “stratospheric sulphur injections” would help cool down the planet and by what percentage. So yeah, basically it’s a book about geo-engineering and it details many other such examples/experiments being conducted across the world. The synopsis of the book was that it is a matter of time before we employ mechanisms geo-engineering of a nature and it will take that one “massive event” that will tip the favor into employing such mechanisms.
Carbon Capture is all fine and dandy. But most of the proposed mechanisms deal with storing carbon deep inside the earth’s crust or in the oceans. Now I am definitely not an expert here, so I will reserve my opinion on this one. But it got me thinking:
Why can’t we capture carbon at the source?
I spent a little bit of time reading up on and researching for my previous blog post. Reading up on awikipedia article for the Biosphere2, I came across something, that if it’s true, is quite disturbing:
<snip>Biosphere 2 suffered from CO2 levels that “fluctuated wildly” and most of the vertebratespecies and all of the pollinating insects died. Insect pests, like cockroaches, boomed. In practice,ants, a companion to one of the tree species (Cecropia) in the Rain Forest, had been introduced. By 1993 the tramp ant species Paratrechina longicornis, local to the area had been unintentionally sealed in and had come to dominate. Galagos reproduced in Biosphere 2, but a number of pollinating insects were lost to ant predation and several bird species were lost. However, many of the pollinating duties were performed by those ants and cockroaches.
The excerpt from the article at wikipedia seems a bit misleading. I did a little bit more investi-ma-gation and it appears that the various issues experienced weren’t exactly all related to each other. link