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  1.  (10574.1)
    Sorry but I disagree.

    Repairing comsats and Earth observation satellites, adjusting their orbits and de-orbiting space junk are all viable business opportunities- and also just happen to require the development of technologies that will enable missions beyond Earth orbit.
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2012
    If manned repairs are viable business opportunities, then we'll see businesses doing it. Time will tell. I'm betting we won't see that happen. I'm betting improvements in automation and reduced costs of satellites themselves will eliminate the need for humans in orbit.
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2012
    I kind of feel that this is steering away from the topic at hand. Can we maybe just assume, regardless of the reason, that going in to space is off the table and focus on other things the future might hold for our planet? Please?

    Evil Space Badgers. There we go. That's preventing people from going in to space. And we can't kill them.
  2.  (10574.4)
    Okay, here's a thought.

    Pretty much all the discussion so far has been around the future of the developed world - primarily the US. When the other 80% or so of the human race is discussed its mainly in the context of how we can help them.

    What I think we're going to see though is the other 80% of the human race increasingly taking control of their own future - and thereby largely determining the future of the whole race.

    (People will go back to the moon regardless of what the US does because India and China are committed to doing so.)

    Since around 1980, about one billion people mostly in the developed world got access to personal computers and the internet.

    There's about another 4 billion people out there, mostly in the developing world, with mobile phones who in the next few years will gain similar access.

    Old mobile phone designs don't die, they just get shipped to Africa. When Samsung, for example, brings out a new design, the old chip set and the machines to make them don;t disappear. They just drop the price and sell the old designs in the developing world.

    Internet access and home computers effectively make us smarter (provided we sty off Youtube comment threads), the human race as a whole is going to get a lot smarter over the next decade or so.
    • CommentTimeMay 5th 2012 edited
    What I think we're going to see though is the other 80% of the human race increasingly taking control of their own future - and thereby largely determining the future of the whole race

    Yes x1000! I think it will shock the developed world how much the rest will not need us very soon.

    An interesting dynamic that arises out of the cell phone thing... Whole regions of the planet leapfrog the need for classes of infrastructure. They will not ever need the expensive and burdensome land-line or cable information infrastructure, they'll just be wireless from the start, therefore conceivably more able to pivot to what comes next. If you live in the USA you've experienced how weighed down we are by legacy information infrastructure. Established companies that dominate old channels don't want their business disrupted so they drag their feet and throttle and overcharge and under deliver.

    The other 80% doesn't have is problem. They have 99 problems, but AT&T ain't one.

    I'll bet in the future we see massive amounts of cross pollinated innovation that arises from less developed regions, and increasing attempts by the financial centers of the world to capture wealth out of innovation in those places, as opposed to mineral resources, as is currently the case.

    I'd be especially interested to see some unanticipated political innovation coming out of failed states that still are globally connected. I have a hard time imagining a better system than some form of democratic capitalism with socialist safety nets, but I take that as a sign of my deep immersion in a culture born of that arrangement. Someone living where there is no solid governance, but who can read about everyplace in the world, what will come out of that, I wonder?
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2012
    I might drunk so apologies in advance if this sounds like bullshit. But what I imagine doesn't involve failed states becoming stable, functioning states in the same way we see them now. Instead, I reckon we'll see lots of small, local democracies that function with varying degrees of success, and which choose to be loosely federated with each other, within the borders of those former states. Pure speculation, of course.
      CommentAuthorCat Vincent
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2012 edited

    I suspect a lot of the future is, hopefully, going to look like the little Yorkshire towns of Hebden Bridge & Todmorden, who are combining John Robb-style resilience with a smart eye to repurposing existing infrastructure. Piece in The Guardian today on Tod's free home-grown fruit & veg initiative & other projects gives a flavour.

    It's no coincidence that I'm moving to Hebden in (hopefully) ten weeks. Places like this have a much better chance of surviving and even thriving in a Grim Meathook scenario.
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2012
    ^ Yes, yes, yes. Good luck with your move! As the story admits, it wouldn't necessarily work the same way if applied to another town, but it would be brilliant to see communities elsewhere applying their own versions of the Hebden Bridge model. That said, those communities need to be visibly and sustainably thriving before governments even think of withdrawing support for them. I'm tired of seeing our current national government using localism as an excuse for palming its responsibilities onto local authorities that can ill afford to bear them.
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2012
    Re: Space colonization, overcrowding and what we can learn from the 3rd world

    I suspect that the rest of the planet might actually consider loading a bunch of ship full of American and European folks and blasting them off into space a not altogether bad idea. Douglas Adams already thought of it.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2012 edited
    Thinking about 3D printing for a second: this may be another area where the developing world leapfrogs the developed world.

    We have well-developed retail chains that deliver all sorts of goods to us with minimal effort on our part. Just liek we had a land-lien phoen service that met most of our basic communications needs.

    So in the developed world, we'll see hobbyists buying $500 -$2,000 home 3D printers to make bootleg Warhammer figures and personalized fleshlights.

    Meanwhile in the developing world, the same people who run interent cafes and phone kiosks out of shipping containers will be churning out flip-flops, combs and cheap eye-glasses and dentures.
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2012
    I'm a bit of a skeptic about the replicators too, but largely because of the feedstock. It's plastic, right? As in, requires petroleum to make. So, as the world is on the brink of a push to move out of petroleum for fueling transportation, we're speculating the global adoption on a massive scale of another technology that will use petroleum to mass replicate discardable garbage. I kind of don't want that to happen.

    There are economies of scale in the centralize and then distribute model of manufacturing at will probably always make it more cost effective than widely distributed manufacture, so the replicators will probably, I think, play only a fringe role for genuinely hard to reach places.

    I have a hard time seeing them really take off like say cars did, something they are often compared to as having been a hobbiest pursuit once and look at them now. But I'm less confident about that doubt, this could be a blind spot for me.
  3.  (10574.12)
    Yeah, there's been a serious lack of discussion about the sustainability of #D printing - and about the economics of it.

    A couple of points:

    - Yeah, most 3D printers use some form of plastic although the high-end ones tend to use metal and some start from a solid block and carve out the final product.

    - IF you could make t5he plastic recyclable, it could make the whole process much more environmentally sustainable depending on the energy required.

    - There are big potential savings (both financial and material) in the supply chain. Rather than having to buy a pack of six tumblers, you can print off three. If one shoe wears out first, print a replacement. Wal-Mart could replace thousands of different products with tankers full of liquid monomer - and never get stuck with excess stock.

    - Remote mines and scientific bases (in Antarctica for example) could save an enormous amount of money (and resources) by printing off spare parts rather than spending lots of resources transporting them.

    - Eventually smart matter will be able to do many of the things we want to use 3D printing for and will be reprogrammable and reuseable. Imagine sub-cubic milimetre gizmos each with a microchip, an antenna to receive power; micromechanical actuators and a means (such as permanent magnets) to link together. Stick them in a gadget the size of a microwave oven that beams power to them and instructs their microchips how to rearrange themselves.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 22nd 2012
    Oksy: this is a plug.

    If you want to help build that new better project go here:
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2012
    IF you could make the plastic recyclable, it could make the whole process much more environmentally sustainable depending on the energy required.

    Chemically I can see no reason this cannot be acheived. There is already technology in widespread use that can sort and pelletise plastics into separate polymers and colours - so theoretically it would not be impossible (though not necesarily economically viable) to collect used petro-plastics for reuse as feedstock for 3D printing.

    Of course this then leaves the question of whether or not the carbon-cost of moving small amounts of feedstock to a high number of miniature manufacturing sites is better than having large centralised hubs doing the manufacturing Like @oddbill I am a little wary of the 'faddish' move to lionise the small/independent manufacturing atelier over the economies of scale provided by bigger production units - though there will inevitably be a number of them to cater to the high end small- run type of good that will command a premium over the mass-printed mainstream product.

    Previously I have given some thought to the prospect of future generations seeing robotic Van Neumann machines scurrying over landfill sites mining petro-plastics and other reuseable materials - strip mining the profligacy of our past for the scarcity of our future.

    I agree about the supply chain/logistics savings - possibly *the* selling point of the technology for lean managed/just in time production situations - the only problem then will exactly how much monomer you will require to keep on stock....
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2012 edited
    I was positive I've seen interviews and such where they say that various 3D printers use biodegradable plastic as standard. Obviously, I can't remember specifically where I heard this or which 3D printers it applied to, but I'm SURE I heard that. Some of them even take returns on discarded items you've printed and recycle them into new feedstock.

    Also, there's a TED Talk about cost-effectively recycling plastic into base plastic pellets:
    TED Talk
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2012 edited
    @Mag - Thanks, Closed Loop recycling/manufcturing is exactly what I was talking about :-)

    FWIW, I actually work in the waste recycling industry (and the company I work for has the highest recycling rate of any in the UK, believe it or not..) so I can assure you a bunch of stuff he was talking about already happens, but as a whole the industry is not as good at PR as doing a TED talk an example, one plastics recycler I deal with has a contract to supply a certain well known sugary-flavoured soft drink manufacturer with PET flake from recycled plastic bottles to make new plastic bottles.

    In the EU we have a Landfill Tax Escalator, which means that each year the cost of landfill goes up £8/tonne - which is a driver for companies to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, and makes the alternatives more economically viable in comparison - if someone will take your waste away for less than the prevailing landfill rate then you've effectively saved money.
    • CommentTimeMay 23rd 2012
    Hahah, I must have glossed over your post, as it does cover a lot of the same ground I did in mine. Sorry about that. :)

    It's weird how in some areas it seems having something made from recycled plastic is a boon while in others, they try to avoid talking about it.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2012 edited
    A shift of topic:

    One thing we need is a new business model for intellectual property - one that puts money into the pockets of the creators and owners and yet allows free or near-free access to consumers.

    Free-to-air television and radio has provided this over most of the globe for decades.

    So why can't internet distribution of audio, vidoe and the written word?

    Some thoughts:

    1. The Kickstarter model. I would gladly pay $50 or $100 for a new Brian Hughart Master Li novel. Fans of a creator could simply take up a subscription to finance the creation of a work which would then be distributed under the creative commons model.

    2. The ad-supported model: finance material solely based on product placement. You could embed a program on a site and then electronically modify background billboards etc and get payment on a per-view program - or simply run a textcrawler of ads during the program.

    3. Legalize the pirates: simply strike deals with Pirate Bay et al to share their revenue with creators.

    4. The public lending right model. Charge a small tax for data transmission, then pay a proportion of it to creators based on how frequently theri work is transmitted.
  4.  (10574.19)
    Of those I have problems with (2) and (3). (2) because really, I'd rather just pay than put up with that crap. (3) because while the pirates may be making a profit, it's not going to look like much once you share it out among the creators. If they were, they'd essentially have to be doing (2).
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMay 24th 2012
    Ben, would it really bother you if a car drove past a Ford billboard on one viewing of a TV program and a Chrysler billboard the next time?