Peak Oil? Not in my lifetime…

17 April 2008

The notion of peak oil is like the notion of peak horse manure – it becomes irrelevant before it actually occurs. I say this for two reasons; one, we haven’t yet discovered the undiscovered oil fields and technologies that vastly increase the known reserves of oil; two, new technologies will emerge faster than we think to remove our reliance on oil as the primary driver of the energy economy.

The latest news about oil discoveries off Brazil support this argument. As so eloquently put by the Economist:

The discoveries do suggest that the gloomiest pundits are wrong to predict that the world will soon run out of oil. It is not that there are still lots of huge oil fields out there: the number of mammoth discoveries is declining, Tupi (and perhaps Carioca-Sugar Loaf and Jupiter) notwithstanding. But the new finds do illustrate how the technology with which oil firms hunt for, extract and process fossil fuels is constantly improving. Petrobras’s recent success is only possible thanks to recent advancements in seismic surveys, drilling, and offshore platforms. Other technological developments are allowing a greater proportion of the oil found around the world to be recovered and are even expanding the definition of oil, as firms conjure liquid fuel from the solid tar-sands of Canada, for example, or from coal and natural gas.

Now I’ve posted before, and written MindBullets about the relative ease with which we can already convert gas and coal to convenient liquid fuels. As with most things, the economic hurdles are often the highest. But even sooner than we expect, solar power could make the big leap forward and compete with coal, never mind oil. This MindBullet poses that scenario:

Am I smoking my socks, or could we really see a complete lack of dependence on oil, gas and coal by the 2020s?

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News from the Future: Death of the Laptop

10 April 2008

This scenario is highly likely in my opinion. Perhaps the timing is inaccurate, but there’s no doubt that we are heading to a market where laptops are a common commodity you buy at WalMart and phones replace most of the functionality.

THE NOTEBOOK PC IS DEAD - LONG LIVE THE SMARTPHONE

Read the full story at MindBullets online or browse the article.

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Could GM Hydroponics solve China’s food crisis?

27 March 2008

If your immediate response is "What crisis?" then you haven’t been watching CNN or reading the Economist. We think they could and we’ve written a MindBullet to explore this scenario. Problem is, if you convert China’s medieval farming practices into high-tech low-labor agricultural industry you end up with about half-a-billion unemployed rural workers. Or do you? Maybe China could just become the low-cost exporter of staples to Asia and Africa, like they are with manufactured goods. The Philippines are certainly crying out for more rice at a lower price.

GM HYDROPONICS FEED A BILLION CHINESE

Read the full analysis online if you’re a subscriber or click here for the graphic display.

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Kids toys and video boost biotech research

19 March 2008

No, this is not a future scenario. I stumbled across this the other day and found it fascinating from two perspectives. Firstly the use of inexpensive child’s-play materials and standard office tools (a laser printer) to create innovative techniques to further stem cell research – that’s pretty exciting.

But the second thing is almost more impressive – instead of keeping it a powerful secret, go and share the knowledge, with a step-by-step video tutorial of how to do it. And this from a respectable university. In fact the whole thing is very well documented and professionally published, on the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which I’ve only just discovered.

Awesome. That’s what I call open-source innovation. There must be a million other applications for using Shrinky Dinks and laser or ink-jet printing to create useful micro cell or pathway devices. It’s a great example of lateral thinking too, and another cheap alternative to 3D printing of tools and substrates, without shelling out for a fabber.

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Robots swarming all over the place

16 March 2008

It wasn’t that long ago that Wolfgang Grulke published a MindBullet about networked robots swarming all over one’s house and garden.

Now the European Union-funded Symbrion programme is spending big money to develop exactly that – small sugar-cube sized robots that join together to overcome obstacles and accomplish tasks. Take a look a t the video on ITN:

Robots of the future

This of course has far reaching applications and implications if the technology is developed to its logical conclusion, just like the ‘spiders’ in Minority Report.

In the Symbrion project’s own words,"[we envisage] artificial robotic organisms become self-configuring, self-healing, self-optimising and self-protecting from both hardware and software perspectives. This leads not only to extremely adaptive, evolve-able and scalable robotic systems, but also enables robot organisms to reprogram themselves without human supervision and for new, previously unforeseen, functionality to emerge."

But most of the usefulness will probably be for things that benefit the average human – like unblocking drains and finding survivors in collapsed building, don’t you think?

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News from the Future: Robot Attacks President

13 March 2008

Here’s a provocative scenario for a new kind of terror attack:

US PRESIDENT ESCAPES SUICIDE ROBOT ATTACK - Kamikaze White House cleaning robot detonates battery bomb

There’s a full time-line of events behind this scenario in the online version at MindBullets.NET.

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Is energy conservation immoral and dangerous?

12 March 2008

We recently explored this topic in a MindBullet with a dateline of 2009:

Back in 2007, Dr Brian Cox, a member of the High Energy Physics Group at the University of Manchester, started a ripple that has now turned into a political and social tsunami.
"Our responsibility is not merely to look after the Earth, but also to be custodians of our civilization. We need to harness the same power that fuels the sun, and use more, not less, energy", he wrote.
"The human brain is the most complex, precious and beautiful natural structure in the universe" pleads Brian Cox, "let’s give it the freedom to explore all possibilities and realize all innovations".
Today, Cox’s thoughts have polarized world leaders, environmentalists and the general public.
"So what do you actually want us to do? Save energy or grow the economy? We can’t do both." say consumers in many first world countries as governments dither between energy conservation and curtailed growth on the one hand, or rampant industrialization on the other.
Brian Cox is clear that energy conservation is not the answer: "It is immoral because it condemns vast numbers of the world’s citizens to a harder life than my own today, and dangerous because it will prevent us from expanding intellectually, technologically and physically.
"What is required is a significant increase in research spending, to increase the number of young people moving into science and learning how to release the vast potential of future power sources.
"The goal of energy policy today should be to bridge the gap until this happens, without irreparably damaging the environment."

Are we being led by the nose with green hype, carbon buzzwords, and misguided intentions wrapped up in affluent guilt? Not to mention bad science. Consider my previous post about the cost of green energy. That was viewed 1147 times without a single contrary comment.

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MindBullet: Sony vs Apple

29 February 2008

This week’s MindBullet takes a look at the battle for the digital media space. Who will be the ultimate winner – Apple with the iPhone or Sony with Blu-ray?

SONY LOSES DIGITAL MEDIA GROUND AS APPLE SHINES - Home entertainment giant stumbles despite success of high definition TV and Blu-ray Disc

Read the full story leading up to this scenario in MindBullets online. Rate this blog using the Buzzfuse widget below.

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Mail-order organs and body parts

27 February 2008

This might sound a bit macabre, but we wrote a couple of MindBullets some time back about how, in the future, you would be able to get replacement organs from ‘Organs R Us’ or even print out some new skin or blood vessels using ink-jet printers filled with blood cells or living tissue.

Well that future scenario is happening now! Take a look at this video from CBS News, where doctors ‘grow’ a replacement bladder and transplant it into the patient, and print heart valves from cells.

MANUFACTURING BODY PARTS

I think this again raises the debate whether growing organic components will beat out manufacturing them synthetically.

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News from the Future: Energy Crisis

21 February 2008

In the not-too-distant future we may have a scenario of serious price shocks as the energy crisis deepens.

ENERGY TOPS LIST OF ECONOMIC CATALYSTS - US and South Africa double prices

Get the full story and comments from subscribers at MindBullets online.

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