Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Electric Fairy

Technological advances in almost every area of the sciences have been increasing exponentially over the last few decades. I recall my wife telling her son some twenty or so years ago that he didn't need a computer, they were a fad, and would soon be obsolete. And she was right. Computers these days are evolving faster than ever. The one's in the eighties are now old and fossilized dinosaurs that were just a fad. A just-for-fun item of limited capacity and utility. My computer today can get up half an hour before me and have coffee ready in the cup, with cream and sugar, while laying out my clothes (completely color coordinated and up-to-date in style) and simultaneously checking my urine and stool sample for unhealthy microbes.
Okay, maybe not that sophisticated, (yet). But you get the idea.
I have recently read reports of single molecule graphene sheets that are completely transparent, flexible, and stretchable and better electrical conductors than copper. Reports indicate that this will eventually replace silicon as the electronic component within the next ten years! We have cars that parallel park themselves, phones that have better storage than a computer of ten years ago, can take pictures, access the internet, and still let you contact your friends and family at the touch of a button. Simultaneously.
Think of all the advances just in your lifetime. I remember my favorite toy growing up was dirt!
I have some serious doubts as to whether all of this newfangled technology is necessarily a good thing. Kids today have access to all the knowledge of humanity via the internet, yet can hardly read or write, have little to no social skills, and an entitled ideology, and think lights come on at the touch of a switch due to the auspicious generosity of the Electric Fairy.
But I'm also pretty sure technology, when understood, is almost as magical as believing in the Electric Fairy. Take the following excerpt from The Idea Factory:

...solar roads have the potential to replace America's aging electric grid, and deliver high-speed internet, cable TV, and telephone to anywhere with a road. The Solar Roadways carry power and data from the power-producing road to homes and businesses. This could revolutionize not just America's grid, but also provide much needed competition to America's high price and low-speed cable and internet monopolies.
Of course, the one stumbling block is storage. Solar energy is generated rather sporadically — the highest generation occurs when the sun is out — not continuously like nuclear power, or coal-fired power stations. This means that to go 100 percent renewable, there would have to be a revolution in storage — homes and businesses would have to be able to cheaply store energy generated in the daytime for use at night. Fortunately the nascent electric car industry and high-demand for higher-efficiency laptops and cellular phones, as well as the desire for renewable energy storage mean that there are already plenty of higher capacity, lower cost, and faster-charging battery solutions in the pipeline.
That means this is one of the most exciting energy technologies to have developed in recent years, and has the potential to completely revolutionize America's energy industry. Driving on glass doesn't have to mean a flat tire.
This is exciting stuff. Of course, Big Oil and other special interest groups will never let this happen, but imagine the possibilities!

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