Arnold Kling  


Lectures on Macroeconomics, No... The Crisis Prophet Speaks...

When the real world gets you down, it's always nice to read about technology and the future. So I recommend the latest world question center from John Brockman, et al. His question for this year is, "What will change everything?" One of the answers is from Juan Enriquez.

99% of species, including all other hominids, have gone extinct. Often this has happened over long periods of time. What is interesting today, 200 years after Darwin's birth, is that we are taking direct and deliberate control over the evolution of many, many species, including ourselves. So the single biggest game changer will likely be the beginning of human speciation. We will begin to get glimpses of it in our lifetime. Our grandchildren will likely live it.

Read all of the answers. A lot of them talk about being able to physically re-engineer ourselves. Is that a real prospect, or is it what a society of aging baby-boomers most wants to imagine?

UPDATE: Another interesting one, from Jonathan Haidt:

I believe that the "Bell Curve" wars of the 1990s, over race differences in intelligence, will seem genteel and short-lived compared to the coming arguments over ethnic differences in moralized traits. I predict that this "war" will break out between 2012 and 2017.

Read his whole answer, and think about it.

The most concise answer comes from John D. Barrow:


That would, indeed, change everythingl.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (10 to date)
RL writes:

I, too, imagine a very, very good battery in the future. Likely from the government.

Assault, as well...

MattYoung writes:

Automated, residential delivery vans.

R Pointer writes:

Reading Karl Sabbagh made me angry.

Does he understand the biological usefulness of violence? Selfishness? The day we eliminate the ability to do harm to 'others' is the day the lions start eating us.

gcochran writes:


I much prefer having other people write about my stuff - saves me having to blow my own horn, which is vulgar. Haidt thinks that the "war" will break out between 2012 and 2017: there's he probably wrong. I'd guess faster. Although I tell you, it'll be utterly boring.

I'm personally hoping that my Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture will change everything. The goal: no less than changing the culture through the arts and humanities to make it more pro-market. I'm also working on my own creative works that will contribute to this needed cultural change.

Dr. T writes:

My vote is for reliable and inexpensive fusion power. Cheap fusion power would allow us to use hydrogen as fuel (by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen). It would also make desalinization plants practical.

Genetic engineering will not be making radical changes in people for many years. We know techniques for fixing single-gene problems, but we have no handle on multi-gene issues such as cancer resistance, atherosclerosis, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and intelligence.

Cyborg-style engineering also has many years to go. Right now, we can barely make decent prosthetic limbs. We cannot make artificial eyes. We are many decades away from implanting microcomputers in our skulls. The Six Million Dollar Man is not possible today, 34 years after the show aired.

A very, very good battery (which I'll define as >75% efficiency and an affordable cost) is not possible. Converting the energy derived from chemical reactions into electricity is inherently inefficient, even if you can convert some of the "waste" heat into electricity.

tjames writes:

Dr. T writes "A very, very good battery (which I'll define as >75% efficiency and an affordable cost) is not possible."

I think your defintion of battery is too limited here. When most people think of batteries, they think of powering things without having to hook them to wall power, or to a generator, or (in the case of vehicles) to an internal combustion engine. They also consider, in many cases, the ability to recharge the batteries as a big feature. So, the things that are valued in batteries are cost, size, weight, rechargability, capacity, maximum power (i.e. the ability to deliver the most energy over the shortest time) - there are just a lot of ways to think about batteries being useful. It may be possible to optimize along one or more of these dimensions and enable a whole host of applications not currently feasible.

Also, not all "batteries" are chemical. I have worked with application where we have considered the use of supercapacitors instead of batteries, because we need a rechargeable power source that could deliver high currents for short periods, and this fit the bill better than a traditional chemical battery.

Alright, sorry for getting geeked up. For a brief moment, the econ blog wondered onto more familiar turf for me.

Dan Weber writes:

It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future, but here goes:

- Automation of the transport system. We will start by having cars broadcast basic information about themselves, like location and speed and acceleration. Later systems will transmit things about what the car is going to do, some of which is easy to grab from a built-in nav system, some which can be predicted based on the driver's behavior. Other cars will interpret this data starting with HUDs broadcast on the windshield, eventually moving towards a video-game like interface where you see 360-degrees around your car. Soon after that we will get cars that can mostly drive themselves, like in Minority Report.

- The geneticists will probably start isolating specific diseases and knocking them out, but new ones will take their place, so we will only get a few decades of added life. Which is fortunate for now, because if people lived forever then we would see our entire legal and economic system forced more towards a "let's preserve the past" and away from a "let's create the future" model. More than it is now, I mean.

- The best I hope for with cybernetics or AI is a "personal Google." I wear it or have it implanted and it records and knows everything about me. I don't have to worry about any nonsense like importing data or sync'ing. I will have out-sourced a huge portion of my brain. (I used to know dozens of phone numbers, now I'm lucky to keep 4, because I've offloaded that to my cell.) This may be good (if the added freedom let's people become more creative) or bad (if it causes people's brains to become sedentary and leads to even earlier senility).

Oh, and for the battery: efficiency isn't really the problem. The electric car is 80% or 90% efficient, from power plant to wheels, while the internal combustion engine can only get about 25% of the energy out of the gasoline in the tank. If "efficiency" was the real concern we would all be driving electric cars already. The real issue is the density of energy per mass.

Snark writes:

Discovery of Higgs boson.

floccina writes:

@Dr. T
There are already batteries that charge and discharge at greater than 90 percent efficiency.
The problem with batteries is cost. Here is a company that gives me hope on that:

Also animals can turn the chemical energy in hydrocarbons into motion, electricity and light (fireflies) at greater than 90% efficiency, if we humans could learn how to reverse engineer those processes…. It is our knowledge that is the big limit.

Hosea 4:6: My people are destroyed by a lack of knowledge.

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