So apparently this aerogel technology is 83 years old and it has certainly evolved during this timeframe.
Future state and potential unconventional uses for the aerogel. I am thinking of a couple of ideas here and in random order.
This is definitely future state. Maybe 10, 15 or 20 years out.
Some of these thoughts and then some more, were inspired by this book I am reading. 'The Visioneers', written by a gentleman by the name of W. Patrick McCray. Who, by the way, was very kind in responding back to one of my tweets and even ended up retweeting one of them.
Halfway through this book, I started thinking of a somewhat new form of transportation and perhaps a new mechanism and method for manufacturing. Not so new, if you read the book, as a significant majority of the content revolves around the fine work done by Eric K. Drexler. What a great guy!
Then, I started thinking of lighter than air particles and eventually lighter than air machines. Or a combination of the two. Then I happened to be looking at some basic research being done when it relates to self-assembling nano-machines. And I thought to myself, could all of this be combined together? So that a million different individual components could come together to form a bigger structure?
Next, I literally got this idea of injecting stuff in space, over the more conventional approach of using rocket based technology. Don't get me wrong, I love the advances that have been made when it relates to rocket based technology. But in order to colonize space, we either need to build an elevator that goes into space or we need to come up with another mechanism for getting huge amounts of materials into space and back.
Hence the idea of a giant space needle, the kind that injects stuff into space and sucks it back. During that brief moment, when I started questioning my sanity. I happened to be looking out the window and saw the sun shining on a set of puffy clouds.
That's when I got my Eureka moment! Thinking, wondering if what I had envisioned in terms of swarms of machines that we can ride atop lighter than air material. Then we could theoretically transport them onto a different level of elevation. So again, clusters of machines, sitting atop clusters of aerogel. Picked up by a charge of static electricity. Taken to a higher level of elevation. Eventually transported into space. That is where the machines break free from their aerogelly mould and would then come together.
I admit, this is one of the craziest idea I've ever thought of. But, it is theoretically possible, specially with the advancements being made with certain technologies and how they will evolve in a relatively short amount of time.
These ideas compliment part of my vision for the future. Where objects move seamlessly, in a very stable method, without any noise and with very little to no human intervention. Poetry, must possess multiple forms.
A 2.5 kg brick is supported by a piece of aerogel with a mass of only 2 grams. (Source: Wikipedia)
Originally published sometime in October, 2012
We are headed towards a multi-polar world. While this phenomenon is good from a lot of different perspectives, it does have some costs associated with it.
Now, these costs are very tangible, as with the rise of global consumerism, the price for virtually everything goes up. It starts with oil as the engine of global growth and it then has a ripple effect on everything from food, to lumber, metals, precious metals, uranium to tons of other commodities. Plus the consumption necessitates increased cycles of industrialization and with our current mechanisms of production, it equals into increased carbon emissions.
The ‘engine’ that is driving this consumption is the global growth itself. As billions are lifted from poverty and towards a better life. This phenomenon is rapidly picking up pace in the BRIC countries and thenext eleven will soon follow.
One can kind of extrapolate what this phenomenon means for everyone with GDP’s and standard of living rising for billions of people. There is going to be an impact of sorts on the G-20 countries and it’s inhabitants, but between the predictions from Jeff Rubin and James Wolfensohn, I am not entirely sure what the true quantitative impact would really be. Also, one of the major points to consider is that we haven’t really seen the full impact of globalization due to the economic lull since 2008.
* Before we get into the details, it’s a fairly common observation that in order to grow economies of scale you need energy. That is why I decided to start this blog-post and it’s title with a focus on energy. Part of the same observation is that our world runs on Oil. If the production of oil gets substantially impacted due to any given reason, then the repercussions for the world economy would be disastrous. Actually it reminds me of the article that Asimov wrote, titled the Nightmare Life without Fuel. Too bad Time Magazine requires a subscription to view this article. But like I said, the predictions (by Asimov) were nothing short of dire/end of the world kind of scenario.
In terms of a litmus test: Now maybe this is a really crude mechanism, but generally I just compare theBaltic Dry Index with the Price of Oil and I’m thinking that we should get ready for some serious turbulence in the immediate future. That is, when the global economy eventually picks up steam.
But before that, there are a couple of very dynamic changes occurring. These changes, might offset the repercussions when it comes to the rising cost of commodities. Oil being the first and foremost amongst all of them. Also, a very crucial element to consider is that if the cost of oil in particular keeps increasing the way it has been increasing, then it has the potential to further wreak havoc with most of the developed (nascent recovery) economies.
Specific to the topic of dynamic changes, the key points to consider are:
There are also some really interesting news item, such as the one about China and it’s aspiration for putting a man on the moon by 2024. China wants to mine the moon for Helium 3 link While it appears that mining the moon for Helium 3 and then shipping it back to earth will not be that sustainable by conventional methods. Nonetheless, it will set the precedent for setting up a lunar colony and then potentially venture out further in space for mining other minerals (by mining asteroids e.t.c). link and link
So like I said, really dynamic mix and the possibilities are indeed endless. But there needs to be a collective will to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels and then using our imagination to think of the possibilities. Off topic, but I am increasingly beginning to believe that a lot of the crisis-es come to existence due to a) a collective failure of our imagination and b) failure as a result of the very institutions and experts that we have created. And how major decisions that have the potential to impact hundreds of millions or lives (quality of) are made by one or two expert analysts! –> without any kind of consensus from a wider body. One genius can maybe think of a majority of the possibilities, but they will always miss one or two crucial aspects of the Big Picture. Better to consult with the crowd for some of these perplexing problems. c) Failure of these institutions because they were not designed to handle the growth of 7 billion inhabitants? These very failures have resulted into these institutions (I don’t even know what these institutions are btw) using weird tactics. But that’s a different blog-post.
There are answers hidden in the collective human intellect and maybe even the collective human consciousness. But the various systems and mechanisms we have designed, never even allow these questions get out of those very systems! So how can we expect to find answers? In short, I see bad systems design (systems thinking) which leads to bad policies, which leads to really bad problems. But on the flip side I also see how Technology (the Internet) is bringing people together and how institutions of various kinds are leveraging technology and systems (crowdsourcing) to find answers to question that they have been unable to fix inside the firewall. I truly hope this trend of global collaboration, transparency, problem solving continues and that it gives birth to a culture of global honesty.
* The next portion of this blog-post was supposed to evolve into the topic of prosperity. But that too is a very wide and varied topic, involving a dynamic mix. In an ideal world, prosperity itself, doesn’t just have to do with growing economies of scale and increasing net exports. Actually, I am getting tired (lol), but I am reminded of this one talk by Hans Rosling at the Ted Talks. It manages to harness how the entire world is doing in that respect, as Hans talks about poverty and how the world is digging itself out of this menace. link. The part I like the most about this talk is the enormous positive changes going on in Africa.
* The last topic that I wanted to focus on was, the Carbon Footprint. One of the fundamental dichotomies if not the most fundamental, is for the species to tackle this problem. It’s a dichotomy, because we need to grow economies but it doesn’t need to come at the expense of destroying the environment. So that is why it is very important to wean off of fossil fuels, to stop, stall and then reverse deforestation, to protect our fresh water systems, to stop the loss of Eco-systems and subsequently the loss of the millions (yes millions) of other species that inhabit the planet along with us and that have also evolved with us for hundreds of millions of years. Some have proposed that the only way for this to occur is for the human race to go back to a hunterer-gatherer era. I don’t think so. Rather, we just need to make sure that our actions and the industrial growth is sustainable. We can certainly develop the technology to get us there, but it’d need a collective will before that happens. It’s really not a wide scale conspiracy that the impending threat of climate change and the impact of non-sustainable industrialization continues to be ignored. But it rather has everything to do with how the circuitry in our brains is just not wired in a way (anymore), that would allow us to acknowledge and act against these threats. link
A massive, wide scale shift in consciousness is required, unfortunately I am not sure how that is going to be accomplished at this time.
Maybe, this is really it. By just talking to each other openly and honestly.
Originally published on Feb 14, 2013
One of my childhood dreams, to see the creation of vehicles, that can levitate. That includes most land-based vehicles. Trains, automobiles and even skate-boards like they show in "Back to the Future". Marty McFly's skateboard. In-fact, I think that's where I got the idea from the first time I saw that movie. I wonder why we don't make movies like that anymore.
Anyhow, I decided to collaborate with an artist. The scope of this particular project of our, was to envision a world where:
- Clean energy is abundant and over-flowing
- We have cars that can levitate. And all the (efficient) benefits derived from such a model.
Here are some of the conceptual designs that we came up with:
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.