Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shrinking Big Energy to Digital-Size

No one who's in touch with the world of human events can be unaware of the issues the world is having with energy. No one disagrees with the proposition that we need to wean ourselves off the teat of fossil fuels. It's running out, it costs too much, and it's bad for the environment. That's where consensus ends.

Why does it seem an impossible task for us to find a solution to the energy problem. There's a short, simple answer about which no one in the mainstream media appears to have any understanding. Energy is still a centralized commodity that has not made the transition to the information age. As long as these factors remain in place, we will be energy poor and vulnerable to shortages caused by other nations and natural disasters.

In stark contrast to this state of affairs stands information technology, becoming more abundant, more efficient and less costly every day. Because the Internet is so distributed it is much more resistant to attack and disruption than our power grid, oil supply and refinement capacity.

How can energy production and distribution become digital? How can it become information technology? First, through the development of nanotech, much more efficient (read low-cost) solar panels can be manufactured, such that they will completely replace fossil fuels as the world's source of energy. As Ray Kurzweil points out, only one percent of the U.S.'s land, covered with efficient solar panels, could supply not just our current needs, but our future needs. When solar panels can be fabricated at the atomic level, they can be made this efficient.

Second, for storage of energy, nano-manufactured fuel cells would be feasibly installed in everything from our homes and cars to our cell phones and PDAs.

Each family could have their own energy source and storage systems, making us much less vulnerable to disruptions. It would then be a distributed energy system, rather than a cumbersome and stagnant one.

But how would it be digital? It would become an information technology because the the actual physical solar panels and fuel cells would be sold and design data. The manufacture of the systems from cheap raw materials could be performed virtually anywhere, once the design data is obtained. Improvements and upgrades would all be in the form of digital information and thus subject to the law of accelerating returns.

An overly optimistic view? We will know soon enough, so stay tuned.

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