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August 18, 2003

Robotic economics & the last Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

GNXP alum Joel Grus,the guy who suggested "Gene Expression" as the name for the blog and slapped together the logo above, has an interesting post titled "Robotic Nation" over at the blog he abandoned us for (to be fair, version 2.0 of his old blog) He asks the question, when the left side of the Bell Curve is made redundant by robots, what will they do [1]? And how will the plutocracy delude them with dreams of a splendiferous future when even their paltry analytical skills can deduce the math and intuit the implications?

As a libertarian I still prefer free trade, free exchange of ideas, blah, blah, blah.... But let me step back from my axioms for a milli-moment and embed myself in the reality of this world that might be less pleasant, for lack of a better word, more Derbyshirean, than I like to be. Is Jo-Schmo who lacks initiative beyond reaching for his next can of beer going to start his own company when he's down-sized? Go back to college when he couldn't get trigonometry back in 12th grade? I have stated frankly that there are cultures, whole nations, that are poorly suited to the modern world. If history is a path with the post-industrial world as the inevitable destination, some peoples are much further behind than others, but the reality of the situation is that the destination has raced back to meet the laggards. Well, there are also individuals poorly suited to the modern world, and it seems quitely like that the percentage of these people is increasing as modernity marches on. The reductio ad absurdum is the arrival of true A.I. as a higher actualization of the concept of sapient beings, something envisioned positively by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, and less glowingly by his colleague Frank Herbert.

And yet in early 21st century America, we have already witnessed the reemergence of "organic robots" a century after the Progressive Era banished them by fiat of the law, they are called "undocumented workers," and they do the dirty & dangerous jobs for a fraction of the cost of real workers. Economist George Borjas has done research on the erosion of wages & employment opportunities that lower income Americans have had to deal with because of the arrival of cheap labor in the form of organic robots. Now, the robotic maw is chewing its way up the occupational food chain. Today, IT is facilitating the export of IT overseas, to the horror & distress of the IT hordes (yes, including me).

Of course, the standard response is that human initiative is all that is lagging in such situations, and my friend godless has asserted that out-of-work scientists should start their own companies. There is something to this, after all, many out-of-work white collar folk have gotten used to cushy make-work jobs where they sign-off on the sweat & labor of cheaper & younger co-workers. Let's not shed too many tears. But in the end, I wonder if the last employed workers, le creme de le creme, will be reporting to an A.I. CEO and supervising robotic foremen, a thin layer of lubricating biochemistry between electon clouds & metals in motion? (yes, far more plausible that the A.I. will control the robots directly, but let a man have his dreams!)

Well, there is another alternative, rather than a distinct organic layer between inorganic entities, cybernetics might swallow a portion of the human race into a chimeric super-organism. This portion might be genetically engineered so that the term "human" has to be used in the context of lineal descent rather than morphological qualities. In such a scenario, the question of organic vs. inorganic is moot, and our limited conception of the universe will be transformed in such a fashion that I am likely a fish blowing bubbles at the bottom of a pond from the perspective of the post-human consciousness.

[1] An observation. Humanoid robots were supposed to be here in 1980. 1990. 2000. And so forth. In contrast, though we don't have "true A.I.," computers have far more power and flexibility than many futurists predicted, each iteration of the Turing Test being overcome by a new and more powerful incarnation of the machine mind.

Godless comments:

Big problems with this article:

1) It assumes that robotics technology is going to leap ahead of cybernetics/drugs/genetic engineering, all of which will be able to boost the left-hand side of the curve to do creative work. If we're talking future technology advanced enough to produce autonomous robots with human-like vision processing, we're talking germline engineering, artificial chromosomes, bionic eyes, drugs better at warding off sleep than caffeine and more effective at boosting IQ than wannabes like gingko...the works. There won't be a left-hand side of the bell curve around at that point in time.

2) It ignores the fact that EVERYTHING will become ultra cheap through roboticization (costing essentially power + spare parts) and nanotechnology, and even a little bit of human work will provide for quite a lot of food/entertainment/etc.

3) It ignores the fact that previous waves of automatization have not
yet eliminated unskilled labor. Remember, this is what Marx bitched about too, 150 years ago. All kinds of exciting new professions will open up for the unskilled: experimental test subject, human drug factory, etcetera ;)...anything that leverages their biological substrate.

Of these objections, I think #1 is the most fatal for Marshall's scenario. There's no way we will make robots smarter without also gaining the ability to make humans smarter.

Posted by razib at 03:14 AM

CEOs are the first category that I would LOVE to see replaced by low cost robots; and the CEOs severance pay should be put in a bank account for the maintenance of the robots. All those politicians and the president--make all of them robots. We can vote on the preferred features. Soldiers of course--robots. No more suffering and plenty of work for maintenance mechanics. While we're at it, let's replace all those degenerate Hollywood actors with digital versions. Then nobody would have to worry about aging there.

Posted by: MaryClaire at August 18, 2003 05:12 AM

Godless points out the most salient reference, Marx, so this fear of replacement has been around for a couple hundred years (this is what motivated the Luddites). What you have to remember is that all productivity improvements imply a replacement of less efficient methods, and these people and materials are then relegated to their next most productive use. Given the multitude of services humans can provide, and the limitations of AI, there will be value to 'the right side of the bell curve' until that final big asteroid in the sky kills us all.

The limitations of AI are deep, as even closed problems (ie, those with completely stated objectives and constraints) have taken a long time to figure out (good chess programs). More open ended problems, the ones humans solve every day, like how best to compete, or how to manage an IT department, would completely, utterly, befuddle and AI algorithm. "Cyc", Thinking Machines, and all those other naive AI projects have been way underperformers(even my hero Richard Feynman naively extrapolated what AI could accomplish).

I get excited about this because I was involved in modeling a technical problem and competed at one point against a physicyst who though Neural Nets and all these other trendy AI algorithms would be optimal. If you have a stationary process with lots of clean data and an explicit criterion, these methods are great, but the 'right side of the bell curve' isn't working on those problems now anyway.

Posted by: eric f at August 18, 2003 07:10 AM

A lot of low-paid jobs now are personal-service jobs such as daycare, waiting tables, elder-care, and stuff like landscaping and housekeeping. As one side of the curve gets richer while the other side stays poor, there will be more servants.

Posted by: zizka at August 18, 2003 08:34 AM

Wow, this is a great post.
A couple of problems:
Godless wrote
There won't be a left-hand side of the bell curve around at that point in time.
But most of the breeders(I don't mean it rudely, but the people who actually have children) are reproducing more casually and traditionally than is consistent with any sort of soft eugenics, sperm/egg/embryo selection) that is on the horizon soon. Plus the fastest groing major religions in the US and on Earth, the LDS Church and Islam may have problems with their followers using enhancing designer drugs. Mormons can't drink caffiene, will they use the next generation of performance enhancing drugs? I think the left hand side of the curve will be around for a long time.
Zizka said:
As one side of the curve gets richer while the other side stays poor, there will be more servants.
Is that a good thing all around? Lots of countries have wealthy elites and much poorer servants, Mexico comes to mind. So does the American South, at least up to some point in time, and that just worked out poorly in the long run

Posted by: rob at August 18, 2003 09:26 AM

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because something *can* be automated, that doesn't mean that the automation will be cheaper than having a low-paid worker do it. When I worked doing mechanical design for place that made machinery for manufacturing PVC windows, I saw that they had a multi-million dollar setup that would allow you to put PVC feedstock in at one end of the system and have pallets of frames or sashes come out the other, with no need for any human worker (other than I suppose someone to keep an eye on the thing). But in actual application most of our customers bought a set of low-end machines ($50-100K) that needed one human to operate a PVC cutter, another to position the mitered PVC and push various buttons to actuate the functions (clamp/weld/release) in sequence, and perhaps a third to carry stuff around from one station to another.
Point being that just because you have robotic tech that can do something, that doesn't mean it will be cost-effective compared to some guy making $10 an hour.

Posted by: bbartlog at August 18, 2003 11:57 AM

I really see the US developing in the direction of Singapore regarding democracy, and Brazil regarding class. I don't like it one bit -- I'm the leftist of this group.

During my years working in and around a medical school / research university, I would occasionally even see the MD-PhD's (and students) sucking up to really big money (finance, management, inherited wealth). George Bush loafed his way through school and he can buy and sell the whole bunch of you techie-science guys here on this board.

Posted by: zizka at August 18, 2003 12:40 PM

Incidentally, it's assumed that robots etc. mostly replace unskilled labor. It's pretty random I think. One trade which was pretty much eliminated by computers was "insurance adjuster" -- a very wonkish white-collar job. I think that there have been enormous inroads in accounting too. Meanwhile, daycare, andscaping, and housekeeping jobs are plentiful, at $7-9 per.

Posted by: zizka at August 18, 2003 12:48 PM

GC, I think you are missing a few points here:

  • IQ enhancement for the germline will be available for the smarter affluent sooner than for the dumber and poorer. At least initially the gap between the brightest and the dumbest will widen.
  • There will be billions of existing dummies living for many years after germline IQ enhancement becomes possible.
  • Life extension technologies will extend the lives of dummies in affluent societies because they will vote for the money to be spent on them. Though they might also vote for money for IQ enhancement treatments as well (and that'd probably be a good use of tax dollars since they'd become more productive).
  • We need more skull room to grow more neurons. Existing dummies have smaller skull sizes on average and they won't want to lose their existing memories to have them replace with smarter neurons. So they won't be as easily enhanced biologically as the smarties will be.
  • Some people will resist IQ enhancement because they will resist thinking of themselves as dumb in the first place.
  • Computers may be automating the jobs of dummies for two or three more decades before the first IQ enhancing genetic engineering techniques become available. Once that tech becomes available for germline genetic engineering it still will take a couple of decades to raise up the resulting children to produce the first from-birth IQ-enhanced adults.

In a nutshell: You are flashing ahead to the utopian future without looking at what it will be like for all those decades between now and that utopia when everyone is (presumably) a genius. We will live thru all those intervening decades. Those decades will be a time when there is a surplus of low skill workers and their declining status will cause us all problems. Heck, we are already feeling the effects of the technological trends that are increasing the ranks of the poor in the United States.

Posted by: Randall Parker at August 18, 2003 01:08 PM

I have to second Bart's comment above.

Fundamentally these robots have to cheaper and more productive than literally billions of wage slave potential out there.

If you can hire 10 humans for $2/day to churn out 1000 $20 t-shirts, you'd have to find a robot to do the work and have it cost less than around $35,000 (5 year expense of the workers). AND it'd have to be flexible enough to do different clothes, etc.

That's a tall order.


Posted by: David at August 18, 2003 02:00 PM

But if the same gains in efficiency and productivity are also realized for those goods that the 'wage slaves' want to buy, then in principle they can just continue to work for less and less, maintaining their competitive position. The problem only arises when automation suddenly is applied to a particular area, or when there are goods everyone needs/wants that don't become cheaper in this wonderland of automation. Land, for example. Housing, for the moment, but that is beginning to change.

Posted by: bbartlog at August 18, 2003 06:07 PM

Many mechanics own their own tools; why must robotic tools necessarily be used to put workers out of jobs? Ownership of robots might become a requirement needed before applying for certain jobs. Robotic tools need an awful lot of maintenance - that will not change. Anyone who thinks that robots give 24 hour operation, 100% productivity every day has never worked with one... the things break, get out of alignment, and need to be positioned and fed raw materials constantly.

The history of technology is one in which humans have been given access to greater employment opportunities to make ever more money and the ability to produce ever more and more. There is no reason to believe that this has changed or is about to change. Robotics is a human productivity enhancement technology. The human race is getting richer, which implies greater leisure time, and robots will make us richer yet. The limiting factor to human potential and wealth is the cost of energy, not the availability of technology. You can be afraid if you want to be, but I, for one, embrace the future. There used to be a fear of the petroleum fields going dry, until they were observed to be filling from below. These technologies are not a threat to humanity; they are enabling our further freedom and the expansion of the human mind. Greater human potential is the future, not Malthus' calculations. Humans are a positive factor, not a drag, on the environment.

Posted by: Michael Gersh at August 18, 2003 08:13 PM

Ownership of robots might become a requirement needed before applying for certain jobs.

Possible - but we were talking about the fate of the unskilled or semiskilled worker. Someone who has their own robotic tools is probably in the upper half of society, skillwise.

Posted by: bbartlog at August 19, 2003 06:52 AM

Big money is made through marketing and sales, not through being skilled at something else.

Bill Gates is ultra-rich, but it's not because he actually programs stuff himself anymore, and probably hasn't since the 1970s. He's probably a much better sales person than people give him credit for.

The part of technology that's ruining stuff for the workers is the part that allows jobs to be transferred to China, India, or wherever else people are willing to work for slave labor-like wages.

I truly believe that the globalization of business will cause America's middle-class to shrink away.

The key to the good life in America will be OWNING capital, not WORKING for someone else.

Posted by: Gordon Gekko at August 19, 2003 10:38 AM

Gordon, do you have a blog?

I'm too lazy, but has anyone worked out how long it'll take China and India to reach the per capita income of the US at, say us growing 2% a year and them growing 10% a year? Because at some point labor in India and China could become so expensive that using americans is no more expensive, like using Western Europeans.

Posted by: rob at August 19, 2003 10:57 AM

This question is not native to this forum, but I'll ask it anyway. Is it environmentally possible for India and China to reach an American standard of living?

Economists have no problem at all if you try to estimate the carrying capacity or productivity of a unit of land in terms of sheep or wheat. Doing so is a necessary part of pricing land and estimating production.

Economists adamantly refuse to even talk about the carrying capacity of the earth in terms of middle-class consumers. It's in no sense an irrational or unintelligible question. The limiting factors are especially fresh water and topsoil, with energy only third and minerals not especially important.

I am aware of the Simon-Ehrlich bet. Scratch Erlich. Simon has made some incredibly loopy statements.

I personally do not believe that the earth can support continued population growth (which is a factor even if relatively slow, e.g., 1% every 10 years will eventually be significant).

The assumption that "there will always be new supplies found" is nutty. The earth is finite. The assumption of substitution requires proof; at this points there are no economic substitutes ir new sources for water or topsoil. Infinite technological innovation (Simon's out) cannot be taken for granted as obvious. Colonization of other planets can't be taken for granted either. It comes down to blind faith in progress in what I've seen, which odd stuff to hear from people who are cuttingly skeptical and scientistic on most other topics.

Posted by: zizka at August 19, 2003 11:33 AM


Yes, in fact I have been trying to maintain a blog.

And no, you can't have to link to it, because I don't want to have my real identity linked to a website that contains politically incorrect articles about race and intelligence.

Posted by: Gordon Gekko at August 19, 2003 12:32 PM

So, The limiting factors are especially fresh water and topsoil, eh? You see no possibility for technology to provide an unlimited supply of both? OK, so instead of topsoil we may have to go to a substitute, so the only limiting factor is energy, and that, as well, is eminently available, so the only limiting factor is then price.

Some may have a need to forsee doom, but anyone taking the side of Erlich against Simon believes hope over proven fact, and a hope for disaster at that.

And insofar as The assumption that "there will always be new supplies found" is nutty, haven't you ever heard of recycling? Again the only limiting factor is the price of energy.

Posted by: Michael Gersh at August 19, 2003 02:11 PM

Gersh: Simon was the guy who explained that since a line can be divided into an infinite number of points, we will never run out of resources. Simon is an idiot, whether or not Ehrlich is. Possibly both are. I think that I made it clear that I was NOT taking Ehrlich's side.

It's for people who think that there will be a substitutes for topsoil and fresh water to explain what they are. With infinite energy I suppose we could substitute for water in agricultural quantities (I'm not talking about enough water to wash your face in an flush toilets), though that isn't a gimme.

Your post perfectly justified my closing sentence: "It comes down to blind faith in progress in what I've seen, which odd stuff to hear from people who are cuttingly skeptical and scientistic on most other topics." You really didn't respond to what I said at all.

Godless: the premise of this thread is people bitching about low fertility in developed countries. So I know about that. Why are people bitching, though, if it's a good thing? When I suggested that we (the US) import children and scientists because we don't produce enough of either, that was my solution to that problem, which was not accepted by anyone here.

So I got bored and raised a new topic. First of all, your demographics predictions are more or less familiar to me (not in detail), but demographics is a soft non-predictive science. And in some of the stuff I've seen, a small net increase was treated as if it were nothing. But in geographical-demographic time, small increases add up.

MY main point was not population growth. It was combined population growth and increased standard of living on a global basis. A smallish developed population tends to place a heavier load on the environment than a much larger subsistence population. (Not an absolute rule, some subsistence agriculture is tremendously destructive). So if India and China develop, the load will be multiplied with or without population increase. (The prosperity especially of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea, total population about 150 million or so, has placed enormous pressure on fisheries).

I have serious doubts about infinite energy, nuclear or other. With infinite energy you could have infinite water, but production and delivery of agricultural quantities (e.g., irrigating the whole West with desalinaized sea water) would be an enormous task and I don't think that it can be assumed. The topsoil problem remains.

In most areas of discussion you go over facts and possibilities in a careful way and figure out what you know and what not. In this discussion, people on the cornocupian side (Lomborg's self-designation) quickly start denigrating the opposition, cutting off discussion, and asserting infinite energy and infinite technological progress. Not tough-minded thinking, is it?

Posted by: zizka at August 19, 2003 05:53 PM


"It comes down to blind faith in progress in what I've seen, which odd stuff to hear from people who are cuttingly skeptical and scientistic on most other topics."
I hear what you're saying. I have a different take on the problem. My concern is much more with the effects of cultural and political forces on science, technology and economic growth. I don't doubt that the technological solutions GC champions are plausible and doable but I am equally certain they will never happen.
By 2050 the majority of the US population will be semi-literate and completely innumerate and belief in faith-healing, astrology and witchcraft will be predominant. Knowledge of math, free market economics and grammar will be limited to a small group of older people who are ignored entirely by both the general population and their demagogic leaders (who will make Al Sharpton look like an Edwardian statesman.)

Availability of large quantities of energy WOULD make all the difference and nuclear power stations, larger and more efficient than what we have now, could deliver that. But nuclear power is the poster boy for my case: irrational fear has suppressed research, development and implementation of this technology to the degree that it is simply ignored in public discussion of energy solutions. The recent blackout also demonstrates my case. It was not a shortage of power but rather an underfunded, overly complex grid structure that caused it. And the cause of that in turn was the political forces arrayed against having localized power generation.
What is true of nuclear power now will prove true of GM foods, robotics and genetic enhancements of Man. They are feasible but they will not be allowed to develop.
Maybe competition from China will force these things through but maybe not. China has numerous rigidities in its own society and threats to the ruling elite from too much dynamism might be suppressed there as well.
I believe the future is actually quite bleak but not because of concerns about resources, population or energy. The future is bleak because of the political, economic and educational system we have in place today. That will finish us, not resources.

Posted by: John Purdy at August 19, 2003 08:57 PM

Nobody has responded to my specific concerns except to assure me that there are technical solutions for everything.

One problem with nuclear power is that uranium is finite too. Another is disposing of the waste. Nuclear power is a messy public-private partnership: benefit-private / costs-public. The fact that the statist French are the most committed to nuclear power shouldn't enthrall libertarians.


And just in general, why shouldn't people be asking what the carrying capacity of the earth is?

Posted by: zizka at August 19, 2003 10:16 PM

Godless, I have not proposed an answer. I've just said that it's rational to ask the question. What is the carrying power of the earth in terms of middle class consumers?

The ability of the earth to support its present population is due in considerable part to the fact that most people are still very poor.

Throwing names of discredited individuals around (Erlich, Malthus) is not an argument. I'm saying what I'm saying, not what they said, though yes, I'm sort of like them (guilt by similiarity).

Breeder reactors do not make uranium from nothing. They change one specific isotope of uranium into another one.

I'm thinking in the long term. 10 billion people is imminent, so we darn well better be able to feed that many. After a century and two centuries, what will the population be? Even if population growth is tiny, compound it for a few centuries and what do you get? Birth rates go down only when middle class consumption levels are reached. Will that happen?

The myth of progress is continual increase of standard of living. So the 10 billion people not only have to be fed, but continually getting better off.

The Lomborg-Simon dogma is that technology will advance fast enough to make all this happen. This is partly based on extrapolation from the last few centuries, which is a very weak and treacherous kind of induction.

Some of the things I've been talking about have already happened. The Mediterranean area and Central Asia used to be much more productive agriculturally, and some fisheries have been destroyed (Atlantic cod). We're on the point of having water wars in the Middle East. In the American West they've been mining water (lowering the water table) to water their lawns for decades.

There is not a lot of good potential agricultural land left, except in war-torn areas. (Rain forst soil is very poor, BTW.)

To me the epidemics and nuclear war are not solutions but problems.

The limiting factors on agriculture are soil and water. But remember, we're not talking about keeping people alive with beans, rice, yeast, and plankton. I was talking also about bringing India and China up to a middle class standard.

Point to the place where I have expressed a faith in calamity. What I have said is that I think that it's rational to ask what the carrying capacity of the earth is. It's a fact of recent history that many who have asked that question have jumped to pessimistic conclusions, but to me the resistance to asking that question at all, based on extrapolations of progress, is more alarming.

One category of technological optimist actually agrees with me -- the space colonizers. I have grave doubts about what they're saying too. My own belief is that we can be optimistic about the future, but that doesn't mean that we should go for broke with cornocupian fantasies. We really should look at what we're dealing with and ask whether there are going to be limits.

Posted by: zizka at August 20, 2003 08:34 AM

Zizka, Brazil has a big underclass, yet Embraer (http://www.embraer.com), a Brazilian airplane manufacturer, competes with Airbus and Boeing (http://www.washtimes.com/business/20030625-092844-5574r.htm).

JetBlue Airways recently placed an order for one hundred Embraer 190 aircraft (http://www.jetblue.com/learnmore/pressDetail.asp?newsId=179). JetBlue could have opted for the A-318 (http://www.washtimes.com/business/20030625-092844-5574r.htm) or the Boeing 717 (see http://www.boeing.com/commercial/717/overview/index.html for 717 info.) but chose the Embraer 190 instead.

BTW in Texas a plurality of live births are to Hispanic women. Most live births in Texas are to "disadvantaged minority" women (black and Hispanic).

At a certain point in the future Texas will likely be a Democrat state like California. If Texas becomes a Democrat state, the Republicans may have difficulty winning the Presidency, given the importance of Texas to the Republicans' recent presidential victories (http://nationalatlas.gov/elections/elect13.gif; http://nationalatlas.gov/elections/elect12.gif).

For an analysis of the Republicans' future presidential vote share see http://www.vdare.com/pb/swept_away.htm.

Fewer secretarial jobs in the next few years (http://icpac.indiana.edu/careers/career_profiles/100189.xml/empout).

Posted by: Proborders at August 20, 2003 11:56 AM

Godless, there was a lot of assertion and assumption in your post.

I hope that we do end up with negative population growth. I don't think that anyone should have too much confidence in those projections, though. My bet is that there are all kinds of projections out there, as well there should be since this is not a uniquely determinist process, but a contingent one. To the extent that leveling-off presupposes that the whole world has become middle-class (and secular too), other parts of my argument come into in play (overpopulation was not what I started off talking about).

The odd part here is that when negative birthrates ARE achieved, people bitch about THAT too. (Previous thread.)

Again, there are probably ways to restore the Atlantic fisheries. These will involve, among other things, a controlled yield, and will amount to estimating the carrying capacity of that part of the earth. I'm just generalizing that.

Again, I was not thinking about the human race dying out. One thing I was thinking about was developments that would reduce the carrying capacity of the biosphere. Salinization of agricultural land is an example.

If food becomes more expensive, people become effectively poorer and with the negativities of poverty the birth rate might well increase until famine/malnutrition reduce it again. That to me is one of the things to avoid, like plague and nuclear war, rather than a solution.

Sometimes progress can be extrapolated in a straight line and sometimes not. (I am thinking of the Green Revolution and GM crops). Simply assuming that straight-line extrapolation is possible, though, is a mistake. (In the past, when someone said something wasn't technically possible, were they ever right? Cornocupians cherry-pick the bad pessimist predictions, but on the other hand we still can't square the circle, invent a perpetual motion machine, travel faster than the speed of light, burn water as fuel, produce Maxwell's demon, etc. Technological optimism of the Lomborg sort -- where does it come from? It is not a form of scientific knowledge in any way. At best it's a weak, very hopeful induction).

To a certain extent my original question was loaded. Already, being "middle class" is defined by luxury consumption. So once high-yield GM food becomes prevalent, then old-fashioned non-GM foods will get increased value as luxury consumption. You'll end up with a billion Chinese who still think of themselves as poor, but are no longer undernourished.

Posted by: zizka at August 20, 2003 12:44 PM

Talking about using up our planet's natural resources is like crying wolf becuase everytime it was predicted, technology has always found a way around the problem.

Nevertheless, I'm going going to predict that the world, by the year 2050, will face a massive problem of too many people and not enough resources. There will be mass starvation as people die off.

The key resource we are running out of is petroleum.

People have correctly pointed out that we have hundreds of years worth of nuclear power with which to generate electricity, but electricity isn't a very good replacement for petroleum.

Our transportation infrastructure runs on petroleum distillates. No one has shown how a car or truck can be powered by electricity in an AFFORDABLE and PRACTICAL manner.

Also, peotroleum is used to make plastics and a whole host of other chemicals that our modern society will find painful to do without.

With China beginning to industrialize, this creates a big new demand for petroleum, and there isn't enough supply there to meet that demand.

Posted by: Gordon Gekko at August 20, 2003 02:35 PM

Thanks, godless. It'll take me awhile.

Posted by: zizka at August 20, 2003 06:25 PM