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First lab grown burger. (copyright Reuters 5-8-2013)

First lab grown burger. (copyright Reuters 5-8-2013)

About a month ago I wrote an article about the drawbacks of traditional farming methods and the drawbacks of organic farming. One of the solutions to the problems of meat production would be to grow the meat in the lab. Instead of needing an entire cow you would only need muscle and fatty tissue. (and blood vessels if you want to grow anything else than minced meat).

As you don’t need any organs, skin bone structure etc. you’ll save a lot on the resources. It is projected that it would save up to 40% from the traditional methods and when you need 15.000 litres to grow a kilo of beef you can imagine the savings you’d get. Greenhouse gasses are even reduced up to 90%.

Growing meat in a lab is quite a challenge as you might imagine and has eluded us in spite of decades of research. Today, however we had a worlds first: The first lab grown burger. It cost about €250.000 and could do with a little bit more fat for juiciness and flavour but overall it tasted all right. As you can imagine it might still take a decade more before it will be commercially viable. Growing an entire steak is even further out.

Lab grown meats biggest problem is it’s image. A lot of people might have a problem with Frankenmeat at first. I however project that eventually people will come round to this as they have done to so many artificially created products (The introduction of car and rail road weren’t smooth sailing either yet we wouldn’t think twice about using them today). I think that over time people will start to prefer artificial meat to natural one because of animal cruelty and health risks (mad cow disease for instance).

Vegetarian mc2 Burger. (copyright De Vegetarische Slager)

Vegetarian mc2 Burger. (copyright De Vegetarische Slager)

Lab grown meat isn’t the only contender to replace meat in the super market however. Vegetarian products are getting better and cheaper by the day. One producer of vegetarian products even claims to have made a product that is indistinguishable from beef which he also presented today. It looks the real deal if nothing else and with a price of €2,89 per two is a lot cheaper. However if the selection of vegetarian products in my local supermarket is an indication it will not get close to real meat by a long shot.

Anyway if you want to get your own lab grown burger you can buy one today for just €200.000 because of better production methods.

Robot workforce: A bright future

Artist rendering of a space mine (NASA, 1977)

Artist rendering of a space mine (NASA, 1977)

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Now the last story.

As money on a governmental level has been abolished we will have an unprecedented opportunity for great projects which are now hampered by available funding. Programs (largely) abandoned for economic reasons or just sheer technical difficulty can once again flourish. Even projects not even attempted yet can get a go ahead.

We will see permanent bases on the Moon and Mars. Maybe even on Europe, a moon of Jupiter, which is likely to be covered in a liquid ocean. Both the Moon and Mars might eventually see their population reach in the millions, even if it will take a while. We will send robots first preparing the land and building the colonies until humans can come. The moon will be a premium location for space tourism because it is close to earth and because it still has gravity. True micro gravity (which you have in the ISS for instance) makes many people sick, not what you’d want on your holiday.

We will start terraforming Mars. We will build factories which put greenhouse gasses into the air, warming the planet. It will melt the ice eventually and we will seed the first plants on it’s surface (or actually moss, which precedes plant life on earth). Eventually making Mars a relatively lush planet, at least near it’s equator. When the oxygen level gets high enough we might see cities that mirror the cities on earth. Even if, due to the lower gravity, the buildings might be a little more imposing. The hardest part might even be to create a stable biosphere with diverse plant and animal life.

New Mining opportunities will arise.  Space and deep sea mining will become normal. In space we can mine asteroids and comets for water, organic compounds and precious metals. It might be the key for interstellar travel. The hardest part of building large spaceships is getting the required materials into space.  To escape the gravity of a planet you need tremendous amounts of energy, which is why we need rockets. Of course if we used materials mined from the moon we would safe on fuel due to the lower gravity but it would still require a lot. When we have a complete production line in space there will be nearly no limit to what we can build in space. We could start relatively simple by reclaiming the space junk in earth’s orbit today having the bonus of not having to refine the mined ores you’d get from asteroids.

Deep sea mining in some ways is even harder then mining in space. Although you need not worry about extreme temperatures you do need to worry about extreme pressure. The pressure difference between space and earth is one atmosphere the difference between sea level and the bottom of the ocean can be over a 1000 atmospheres. still deep sea mining is interesting since over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in ocean’s. The first steps of mining under water are already under way. For instance off the Namibian coast the seabed is mined for high quality diamonds. The use of robots could potentially keep the environmental impact down.

We will see innovation and exploration on a scale unprecedented in human history, it can be a great time. When this will happen is impossible to know. Some technologies needed are developed as we speak. I think for instance that professional drivers (pilots, captains, taxi drivers and truck drivers) will be replaced by robotic drivers within my lifetime and rather sooner, say before 2030, then later. Other technologies, like space mines might be a little further off. But I truly think that we are one of the last generations that knows what it is to work for our money.

Robot workforce: The end of money

By Vmenkov (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. We are halfway now with our third story.

When (nearly) all of our jobs have been replaced by robots and computers we will find that our current economic system is obsolete. The trouble with nobody having work is that nobody gets paid. When nobody gets paid nobody has any money to spend to keep the economy running.

Well we could think about doing away with money altogether but we will find it is impractical.  The problem we have without money is that not all goods will be readily available. We only have one Earth, space will therefore still be at a premium, we just can’t all live in a villa. Other goods are limited by the available resources. The government could decide to issue certain premium goods each month in an extreme communistic fashion. This, however, would limit our freedom so much that most will find it an unacceptable proposition.And even if we were able to find a way with doing away with money we would find that trading is engrained in our core being. We have been trading for millennia maybe even for millions of years, it is part of our DNA. This means that we would be uneasy without any form of money or trade.

Best way to go therefore is a midway. Governments issue an amount of credits per person which you can spend as you wish. If you want more space you buy a bigger house but it means you cannot spend the money on the latest gadget. This allows the government to preserve the individual freedom while also controlling the space and resources available so shortages won’t arise. As a society we would all basically become upper middle class people, not just in the countries which have the power today but in the entire world. Poverty could actually be abolished.

On an intergovernmental level money could be abolished altogether. Governments can tackle any project they want provided they can get the necessary resources for the project. This will open grand new possibilities which I will examine in a later story.

This might seem like a communist idea but the difference between a true communist government and this neo communism is that it can have a multi party government. Each party with different agenda’s. The production in mining, agriculture, industry and services will be higher than ever because machines do not care if they get paid or not, how long they work and under what circumstances and just produce things as it is needed. (with technologies as 3D printing factories might even be able to switch instantly between products). Even the capitalist ideal of a true 24/7 economy will become a reality in this society.

This transition won’t come easy though. There are a lot of forces acting against it. 90% (this is a wild guess) of the world would become (a lot) richer. Trouble is the richest 10% will become (a lot) poorer. And let those 10% be the people who have a lot of power. They are politicians, CEO’s and other influential people. It would also require a new level of intergovernmental cooperation to distribute resources equally. One country might have a lot of coal while another has a lot of iron ore and a third has, basically, nothing. If the governments with natural resources do not share with governments without natural resources a new kind of poverty could be born. Some countries, like the Netherlands where I live, do not have many natural resources but can rely on urban mining (fancy word for recycling) to still participate in the global new economy if needed. Mostly countries without natural resources and which are poor today (which means they don’t have a lot of stuff to recycle which will be of value) would be left out.

Robot workforce: Turbulent times

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In these articles I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Today the second of five articles.

The first countries to notice the shift in employment are of course the third world countries. The least educated are always the first to suffer and the least educated can be found in third world countries. This will mean the income divide between rich and poor countries will once again grow and that any progress made in the recent years will become undone. Food shortages will lead to riots and revolts. Third world countries do have an advantage to other countries because a relatively high percentage of the population is still employed in the agricultural sector and those people can, in effect, feed themselves. For people in cities the economic downfall might be harder.

In the typical European welfare state we won’t see all that much at first. The jobless will get benefits from the state. Businesses might pay a higher income tax helping the state deal with the higher unemployment. Unfortunately this cannot last and eventually the welfare state collapses. In several years at best or in several days in a worst case scenario many people will be without income of any kind. Countries without this support system will find more and more people roaming the streets. Welfare organizations will be overwhelmed. When the support system collapses protests and even riots may be prone in many cities. It is not unthinkable wars for resources will break out.

We will see a rise in anti technology parties similar to the extreme right fascist parties. They will not target foreigners (as much) but will orchestrate terrorist attacks against companies they feel are responsible for their misfortune. As unemployment rises the fascist parties might even gather a considerable following. Some countries might even get fascist governments distrusting other countries which seemingly embrace these new technologies. This will potentially destabilize the area in which such a country is situated creating tension in the region.

Fascist government or not all governments will initially react by suppressing the advancement of robotics in the workplace. It is human nature to shun new things and try to hold on to what you had, especially when you were in the lead. We have seen this for instance with the entertainment industry trying to fight a losing battle against internet piracy. This is a temporary measure and cannot work in the long run. Countries embracing the new technologies will eventually find themselves in the lead. Their increased production will help to undercut prices in other countries helping them recover from the recession. When others get in on it we will see a new global economic boom and a new society structure will emerge.

Robot workforce: The robots are coming

As robots become more complex they will replace more and more jobs. In the coming months I will examine the implications of increasing unemployment. Today the first of five articles.

As computers get smaller and more powerful and robots get more sophisticated more and more jobs will be replaced by technology. Eventually there won’t be enough jobs left to keep the entire population working. We have seen a steady increase in automation for years and it is likely that it will continue into the future. Jobs like the telephone operator are a thing of the past. Nowadays we see bank tellers being replaced by ATM’s and internet banking; factory workers are being replaced with an ever increasing automated production line and the first automated vehicles are on the road today threatening to put every professional driver out of work eventually.

We won’t have much of a problem for years to come seen as the increase in technology will create jobs we haven’t even thought of today. The workers which are unnecessary in one field will find work in another. Eventually, however, there just won’t be enough jobs any more to go round. An ever increasing number of people will never have a job in their life. The single reason we still have to work today in production plants is because robots cannot replace us yet. We are more nimble than a robot and thus can complete tasks way beyond a robots dexterity. Robots however are getting more nimble all the time.

In the services industry we still are ahead in thinking creatively and in understanding one another. But with a computer winning Jeopardy it is only a matter of time before they will beat us in that department as well. You can even see it happening as automated costumer services are starting to replace human interaction for larger companies. Some websites allow you to ask the computer a question which it will try to answer as best it can.

You might feel irreplaceable right now and think this is a long way off.  You might reason that a computer is a long way off from a human and cannot do what humans can. The trouble is that they don’t need to. A computer only needs to be good at the task that it is designed to do. It doesn’t need to be good at darts if we want it to do the weather forecasting.

Of course the first to suffer here will be the least educated workers. Their work is usually easiest to replace. But eventually more and more highly educated workers will find themselves obsolete. Even the boardrooms of the major corporations will not be filled with humans eventually. Everyone will be laid off from a cost and efficiency perspective.

You might think about becoming a scientist or a programmer in the hope of not being replaced. However when  artificial intelligence become sophisticated enough they can start designing themselves and at a pace that will be far to fast for humans to keep up. Some will say that computers cannot be creative and thus cannot design themselves. However creativity in the end is just a algorithm in our heads. In a recent competition programmers designed a program to let the computer make a painting like the Victory Boogie Woogie by Mondriaan. It ain’t much yet but it’s a first step towards true creativity.