January 09, 2017

Global technological disruption and the predicted pace and scale of possible disruptions

A bit more looking at where things are with areas that nextbigfuture believes are areas where radical positive change are most likely to occur.

These areas should mostly see some progress in the next 5 to 10 years. However, some are more long term or are areas where political will and effort are needed to bring what is possible into reality.

1. Pro-growth Policies

This is an area which is very dependent upon political will in different countries.

Nextbigfuture expects Republicans to pass tax cuts and stimulus. China is focused on policies for maximizing economic growth.

Policies that achieve national or global economic growth may not be policies which help most individuals to have economic gain.

Globally large build out of infrastructure in Asia, Africa and Europe with One Belt One Road could move the global growth needle.
Urbanization progress is already baked into current GDP growth forecasts.
A certain level of new technological progress is also baked into GDP growth forecasts.
An upward surge from new technology would require one or more big technologies boosting productivity far beyond what was experienced in prior years.

Self driving ride sharing vehicles could be deployed quickly with a large growth impact over a 5-10 year period. This could alter cities and productivity.
Universal quantum computers combined with advanced deep learning AI would provide a boost by improving the solution high impact optimization problems and could provide boosts in drug discovery

The Haber–Bosch process is the main industrial method for producing ammonia from diatomic nitrogen and hydrogen Between 3-5 percent of the world's natural gas used to create artificial fertilizers, new research could have major implications for both the agricultural and energy sectors. Research indicates that a 9% increase in ammonia production yield can be achieved using hydroxylated graphene and related species. This is an example where materials technology and artificial intelligence and deep learning (rapid search of materials space) could yield large gains in overall industrial efficiency.

2. Energy Efficiency - superconductors, thermoelectrics, improved grid

Superconductors seem to require technical breakthroughs with room temperature superconductors and then production breakthroughs to ramp up production to have broad disruptive impact.
Having solid metallic hydrogen pan out as a room temperature superconductor and then figuring out how to scale it up or figure how to modify some form of hydrogen-sulfur or other material to be a room temperature superconductor could enable superconductors to truly breakout in a big disruptive way.

The grids of the world were built over 100 years in the developed world. The supply chain for transformers and other parts of the grid are scaled to barely maintain what gets broken. So the pace of change is mostly 1-2% per year. China is building twice as much grid over about ten years. So only in fast energy growth developing countries is it possible to build out or change a lot of new grid. In other countries changes are dependent on making the grid smart with new relatively easy modifications that change the functions of very old and big hardware. There is also the addition of batteries either by utilities or with people buying a lot of electric cars.

3. Energy Revolution - Mass produced fission, fusion, and maybe cold fusion

A true energy revolution is hard. About 10% of the world economy is spent producing or increasing the energy that we have today.
All of what China and India and other developing countries are building could double the world energy production by 2050.
All of the 30-50% growth in solar power over decades has been to get solar power to about 1% of total world energy.
The Fracking boom shifted world energy production to 10% less coal power and 10% more natural gas.
Horizontal drilling and other oil production increases doubled US oil production over 15 years. This was about 6% of total world oil production.

In 2015, China added 19,370 MW of new hydropower capacity, including 1,230 MW of pumped storage, bringing the total installed capacity in the country to 320 GW. Pumped-storage hydropower is also complementing the growing nuclear power capacity in the country. In 2015, China produced over 1,126 TWh of hydroelectric energy, a 5 per cent increase from 2014, while fossil fuel production dropped by almost 3 per cent. Hydropower accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s total power production.

The 22,500-MW Three Gorges project is almost what is being added to China's hydro production each year. In about 5 years China will have dammed most every river that would economically worth damming. The Three Gorges plant -- located on the Yangtze River -- generated 98.8 billion TWh through the end of 2014. China hydro power is currently equal to 12 Three Gorges dams. China is likely to double its electricity usage by 2035-2040.

In the developing world where there is no electricity or where kerosene and other power is very expensive, then there are huge productivity gains to having more power and cheaper power. It would take time for people and companies in the developing world to determine how to use more abundant and vastly cheaper power.

Smaller localized (non-global) energy revolutions can be very impactful.

4. Additive manufacturing

This is a multiple billion dollar industry already. But overall manufacturing is a multi-trillion dollar global industry.

Being able to make new products or vastly better products is where there would be more impact.

Additive manufacturing to make new organs would have more impact than just its economic effect.
Being able to additively manufacture whole airplanes or satellites or rockets with fewer parts that were lighter and improved would provide capabilities beyond the direct size of their economic market.

5. Not so mundane - neuromorphic chips, quantum computers, photonics

Providing solutions which are vastly better than current approximations can have benefits far beyond the size of the economic market.
Getting to a world where quantum chips or neuromorphic chips are in every computer device would far later than having solutions provided via a cloud setup. Having better solutions from supercomputers replaced or enhanced by AI and/or quantum systems would begin boosting the overall rate of progress in optimization or technical advancement.

6. Automated transportation (leading to robotic cars and planes)

A clear win for the Great Predictor. No doubt. Planes, no. Cars, yes. Trucks, no.

7. Urbanization MegaCities

China's megacities and increasing urbanization will be a long term work in progress. While steady progress will be made, it will likely not be until 2050 where China reaches about 80% urbanization and solid integration of its major megacities.

8. Urbanization Broad Group skyscrapers, Tata flat packed buildings

This will happen but whether it is with a dedicated company like Broad Group or by other global construction companies go from 50% factory production to 95% factory production over a few years is the issue. This and additive manufacturing in item 4 and 9 will have more impact if industry and nations/cities reorganize around the economic speed that can be gained by fully using these capabilities. Radically changing the approach and what can be built can be used to accelerate item 13, development and industrialization of space.

9. Robotics

There are three main areas of robotics impact
* boosting overall productivity (industry and cities)
* job displacement and industry disruption
* expanding into space in a major way

10. Hyperbroadband

* gigabit and multigigabit internet is available in Hong Kong and some small city markets
* Complete (every square meter) of the planet should have hyperbroadband and millimeter precision GPS. This will make full scale deployment of robotics and robotic cars and flying drones easier and more impactful

11. Supermaterials

Stronger and lighter materials or materials with other property advantages can have the impact of going from stone to bronze or bronze to steel or the introduction of plastics.

12. Improve medicine and public health

This topic was mainly referring to improving medicine and public health at a global level.

In 2015, the WHO released its annual update on the progress of the Global Vaccination Action Plan (GVAP). It’s a worldwide strategy launched in 2012 to eliminate preventable diseases through vaccinations by 2020. Encouragingly, the goal to introduce new vaccines, and expand coverage of underutilized ones, for diseases like hepatitis B and rotavirus, is well on track. Four out of five objectives for 2015 haven’t been achieved, says the report. 2015 marks the fourth time in 15 years that the world has missed its target to entirely eradicate polio. Goals for reducing the prevalence of measles and rubella, and increasing vaccination rates against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus, were also not achieved.

Assuming that regular public health actions continue to only make slow progress, then what can change the situation ?

Very cheap solar power for individuals is here. This matters because this can power small refrigerators.
Also, vaccines can be made that do not require refrigeration.
Part of what is holding back vaccination is that vaccines need to be kept cool. This is difficult in countries that do not have complete electrification.

Public health would also advance with soot free cookers and lighting without burning kerosene. This would eliminate indoor air pollution. Again it is becoming cheaper for solar power for electrified cooking and solar power for LED lights.

Off grid solar is making progress, but it will take concerted government and corporate action to achieve universal electrification even though the devices are now cheaper than kerosene for the users.

An estimated 1.2 billion people – 16% of the global population – did not have access to electricity according to WEO-2016, 15 million fewer than reported in the previous year. The off grid solar projection is to provide up to 200 million people or so with off-grid solar with the right policies over 4 years. It would then take 15-25 years to achieve nearly complete global electrification.

In WEO-2016, more than 2.7 billion people – 38% of the world’s population – are estimated to have relied on the traditional use of solid biomass for cooking, typically using inefficient stoves or open fires in poorly ventilated spaces. Developing Asia and sub-Saharan Africa once again dominate the global totals. This is a tougher problem that just electrification and lighting.

Solid state RF microwave cooking technology is emerging. They currently cost about $200 and need 200 watts. This looks like technology that could rapidly drop in price over time and get increased efficiency.

13. Space

Nextbigfuture will discuss space development more and add links to other articles on this topic

14. Synthetic biology and recombineering

Nextbigfuture will discuss CRISPR and other synthetic biology more and add links to other articles on this topic

15. Sensors everywhere

To be added.

16. Education transformed and accelerated innovation

To be added

17. Supersmartphones, exoskeletons and wearable systems

Previously discussed we are near modular exoskeleton and power clothing adoption

18. Memristors and other significant computing and electronic improvements.

Memristor to replace Flash matters for the companies making it and provides some bump in computer performance.
Large scale memristor usage for brain emulation would have more futurist impact.

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