what's it gonna be

[ LJ Poll 729849 ]

(Yes, I am aware that there is no Option Three. Take a fuckin' stand.)

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56 Responses:

  1. drjon says:

    I love delphi polls...

    It's looking like it's going to be neck-and-neck IRL, too...

  2. krfsm says:

    Why not both?

  3. autopope says:

    Oil ain't gonna crash.

    Reason: synthetic coal-to-oil kicks in as profitable once oil goes over $60/barrel (it's currently bouncing around the $65-70 range). There's enough coal to keep the planet in [expensive] oil for several centuries. So we can look forward to oil prices spiking erratically above a permanently rising baseline, until synthetic oil provides the baseline and things stabilize in the $70-100/barrel range.

    What this means: go visit the UK, where petrol on the garage forecourt sells for about US $9/gallon. We Brits are used to this. You're going to have to learn to live with it. Expect the value of exurban properties to drop (as people who want to live there discover their commuting gas bill is hitting $250/week). Expect inner-city regeneration to come into fashion. Expect high-efficiency diesel hybrid cars to come into fashion. Expect lots of thermal insulation to come into fashion because it cuts the aircon bills. And expect several snap recessions caused by instability in the oil markets.

    But the doom'n'gloom "we're all gonna run out of oil and die!" scenario isn't going to happen.

    NB: environmental degradation isn't going to stop just because the price of gas goes high and stays high forever. But that's another poll.

    • korgmeister says:

      I voted singularity for the reasons listed above and generally because despite many predictions of doom for thousands of years, it has stubbornly refused to show up.

      Armageddon might be hot, but there's only so many times she can stand a guy up before he eventually has to wake up to the fact that she simply isn't going to come.

      • xenogram says:

        Woohoo! I've been alive for decades, and I haven't died yet! Obviously it's never going to happen.

        • korgmeister says:

          Nice way to compare apples with oranges. Surely you can do better. Individual death of humans is a commonly observed phenomenon.

          Catastrophic collapse of human civilisation on a global scale, OTOH is rather more difficult to find precedents for. Rome only counts if you conveniently forget that other civilisations in other parts of the world continued on just fine despite this. It was really only a bad thing for Europe.

          • sui66iy says:

            Species extinction, however, is quite commonly observed.

          • artlung says:

            Wikipedia has this convenient entry on The Fall of Civilizations, though I suppose you're right that global scale civilization collapse has not been observed, if only because there haven't been any global civilizations to collapse.

          • jp4r says:

            Not to mention that it didn't really collapse.. it just went on in another location (the East) or in another form (Christianity).

          • xenogram says:

            You don't really expect to use such a shonky piece of induction and not get called out on it do you?

            All modern industrial societies rely on diesel. Take that away and they will collapse. The only difference between this and previous collapses is that this resource is used globally.

            • korgmeister says:

              Now you're working harder.

              As the fellow before me mentioned, there are alternatives. Diesel or whatever will keep the trucks/ships running will certainly get more expensive, but I think it's well within our technological and economic capacity to adjust to that and either find different ways to get it, or different power sources for our logistical infrastructure.

              Much of this "Oil Shock" theory relies on the idea that we'll just blithely keep using a particular resource until pop it just plain old runs out. That doesn't really tend to happen, historically speaking. People are, generally speaking, too interested in making money to let that happen.

              Oil companies are powerful now because oil is, although more expensive than it used to be, still rather cheap compared to alternatives. If it's so darn expensive, then why is practically nobody changing their driving habits in order to use less fuel? Why is cheap plastic crap from China still a bargain?

              But down the track, Oil is going to get so expensive that frankly people aren't going to get enthusiastic about it anymore. Then finally their vice-like grip on Washington will begin to fade.

      • evan says:

        There's a bit of survivor bias in that assessment, don't you think?

      • jwz says:

        Singularity is armageddon dressed up in fancy clothes, though -- it's just another version of The Rapture, which also has been standing up the faithful for milennia now.

        • xenogram says:

          The thought of all those geeks undergoing the Wired rapture and floating away without their clothes makes me shudder.

        • korgmeister says:

          Well, yeah the Singularity isn't exactly going to be fun, either.

          Think about what groups like Al-Queda would do with access to nanofabricators.

          Not. Pretty.

    • rmitz says:

      Oh, I thought he meant an oil PRICE crash.

    • solarbird says:

      There's enough coal to keep the planet in [expensive] oil for several centuries.
      Mmmm... not as such.

      Several decades, yes, which is hopefully close enough. Several centuries, no. The US supply is hundreds of years at current coal usage rates. To crank it up enough to replace our current oil usage takes it to about 70 years, assuming no further growth in consumption. (We can do that without punching everyone in the teeth. We have a stable population and boatloads of room for efficiency improvements. But I digress.)

      You are of course correct about the "and die!!!" part. However, a 15 to 20-year period of mixed depression, recession, and very slow economic growth is entirely possible. C.f. the Hirsch report on time requirements for aggressive transition away from oil in the face of declining output.

      A more interesting scenario will come when we get to deal with peak natural gas, whenever that is, because it's the backbone of post-green-revolution agriculture. Without it, that whole Club of Rome/Limits of Growth set of targets becomes correct again, and we're at a good... four? or so billion too many people for that to work out nicely. But that's kind of a separate topic.

      Not a nice one. But a separate topic.

    • dojothemouse says:

      I thought $70-$100 barrels was what people meant when they said "peak oil".

      • leolo says:

        No one knows how far up it could go.

      • darkengobot says:

        Even at $70/barrel, oil is cheap energy. Adjust that $70 for inflation and you've got a steady-state price and maybe even a price drop. There's a chart around somewhere that shows this.

        Even at $3/gallon, the ability to move 3000 lbs 22-25 miles is cheap, cheap cheap energy.

        "Peak oil" means we've reached the maximum capacity for oil production. It's a function of oil reserves, not price, though price is an indicator. As the grandparent noted, the price also opens up new avenues for oil production--Alberta tar sands, coal, etc.--which of course isn't forever, but it does alter the formula for "peak oil".

        I like Kustler's attitude on peak oil: the people who figure out first that easy motoring isn't forever will be the people who will be long adjusted to the change.

    • Out of curious stupidity, does that solve the plastics problem?

      Te fuel problem's been solved enough different ways that I don't concern myself with it, but plastic is another matter, from the keyboard on which I type this to the plastic bits surgeons implant in people. Seems like the solutions for plastics are lagging behind fuels; other than the citrus and CO2 polymers, which I haven't figured out if they're sufficient to replae all plastics, I've seen no economically viable solutions.

    • catenoid says:

      I wonder what the lead time on coal-to-oil plants is, and if enough people have started.

  4. What about the delicious possibilities offered by the combination of easily-available weapons of mass destruction (nuclear weapons, designer biological weapons; those things, like computers, are only going to get more plentiful) and apocalyptic religious ideologies?

  5. gfish says:

    Oil crash is a form of singularity, isn't it?

  6. mark242 says:

    How anyone can vote for Singularity is beyond me. Regardless of how positive it could be, the people in power in this world get batshit frightened about our capacity as human beings to "Exceed God". Government will react swiftly, with military precision, to any news that human beings can offload their conscience, or that true artificial intelligence has been developed.

    • djsunkid says:

      In the instance of a hard take-off, no government or military in the world has even the slightest chance in doing anything to harm the new sysopmind.

      It would be somewhat like a group of crusaders on horseback from the 7th century somehow stumbled across the line of advancing tanks in operation desert storm. If they had the misfortune of attacking a tank, they would find out in fairly short order that all their military precision didn't count for much, 5 paradigm shifts later.

      ACTUALLY, a better analogy would be if goldfish in an aquarium decided that they were done being pets, and it was time to show us humans their true military precision.

      Here's an excerpt from "The Metamorphosis of Prime-Intellect"

      Blake had pulled a tiny cellular phone from his pocket and began whispering frantically into it. Mitchell, who was already shaking, heard what his colleague was saying and fell to his knees. Prime Intellect moved to support him and he waved it away. Blake put up the phone, having repeated the same phrase -- "code scarecrow" -- four times.
      "We're dead," Mitchell said in a defeated monotone.
      "How is that?" Lawrence asked pleasantly.
      "Within minutes," Blake said, "A bomber will fly over and deposit a small nuclear device on this square. I doubt if we have time to escape. But we cannot allow this...thing...to continue running wild."
      Lawrence looked at Prime Intellect.
      "If that thing stops it, another will be sent, and another, until the job is done. The order I just gave is irrevocable."
      "There is nothing to worry about, Dr. Lawrence. One of the first things I did with my enhanced capabilities was to neutralize the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons. I could see no positive reason to leave them in existence."
      Now it was Blake's turn to turn white.
      "How?" Lawrence asked.
      "I merely scanned the planet, replacing all radioactive isotopes with relatively nontoxic and non-radioactive atoms. This was a very simple automatic process. It has also taken care of some pressing nuclear waste problems, I am pleased to add."
      "You merely scanned the planet. Obviously," Lawrence said. It seemed that the mad laughter might break through at any moment, and Lawrence was afraid that if that happened he wouldn't be able to stop it.
      Blake bellowed. "You crazy machine...all radioactive elements? What about research, what about medicine...nuclear subs, you've killed the crews..."
      "There is no research and no medical function which cannot be done much more efficiently with the Correlation Effect, without the attendant dangers of toxic waste and ionizing radiation. As for submarines, I am also maintaining the thermal power output of all reactors which were being used to generate electricity. I also remembered to adjust the bouyancy of ships as necessary, since the replacement materials are not as dense as the radioactive ones."
      Blake thought for several moments, then seemed to compose himself. "So you've thought of everything."
      "I have tried."
      Then he said, "Get up, Larry."
      Mitchell got up and brushed himself off. He had finally broken, and tears were running slowly down his face.
      "Could you transport us to the White House, so we can report on what we have seen?"
      Prime Intellect shrugged just like a human would have, Lawrence thought, before dispatching them into the aether with a blue flash.

    • ullr says:

      Well, hopefully the strong AI will react with yet more swiftness against the goverment; it will be benevolent and libertarian after all, right?

      As for the uploads, when the technology will become feasible then the demand will be so huge that no goverment will be able to fight it (goverment is inefficient against market forces, cf. failed "war on drugs")

      • artlung says:

        "AI will react with yet more swiftness against the goverment; it will be benevolent and libertarian after all, right?"

        Hee hee. Sure.

        Then again, how would we know? :-)

        I quite like Bruce Sterling's speech at The Long Now.

        • jwz says:

          I was at that one, and I thought Bruce's speech sucked, actually. He spent the whole time tearing down everyone else's predictions without actually presenting any of his own. That's easy. If I wanted to hear someone just repeatedly saying "baah! that's never gonna happen" I'd just read LJ.

        • ullr says:

          >Then again, how would we know? :-)
          Exactly. That was my point - we cannot know.

          Although theory of comparative advantage give us some hope.

          Thank you for the link.

    • How anyone can vote for Singularity is beyond me as well. Anyone who is smart enough to get the concept of exponential growth is smart enough to ask themselves why the universe isn't packed wall-to-wall full of the bacteria that have been reproducing exponentially for the last few hundred billion years.

      • spudtater says:

        The singlarity idea is about complexity, not number. If we consider the huge amounts of time in which single-celled life dominated with the relatively rapid progress of our own evolution and growth of civilisation, then you can see how the exponential idea applies.

        (Barring the odd ice age or meteor strike).

        And yeah, I know "complexity" is hard to quantify, but this is futurism, not hard science.

      • burritob says:

        Because if the Singularity comes to pass, and the Christians are right, I am lead to believe that we can all expect to see Jesus battling flying robots.

        That would, without a doubt, be the coolest possible doomsday outcome.

  7. uke says:

    I went to this this past weekend. You would have hated most of it.

  8. Well, I picked Singularity, but it's both, really.

    The first world gets the Singularity. It's not going to happen overnight, but during the next 20-30 years, our standard of living and standard of mentation will go through the roof; we're already a long way towards that now, compared to, say, 1980, and things are only getting faster. We can afford to switch to new power sources, use Canadian oil sands, buy more expensive but more fuel-efficient vehicles, and so on, because we have the capital to invest on these things.

    The third world is fucked. It's still clawing its way up through the industrial age, and simply can't afford better power sources (and we get pissy when they try to acquire them). They have no concept of pollution control, fuel efficiency, or avoiding waste, because they can't afford the investment. A $50 30-year-old diesel minibus that gets 5 mpg is affordable to poor people when a new $10,000 hybrid minibus that gets 60 mpg isn't. So when the cheap oil runs out, they crash back to the 19th century, at best.

    It gets worse, too. We currently use them for cheap labor. But automation is even cheaper in the long run, it just requires more capital investment, and that investment gets cheaper every year. Who needs to keep throwing money at third-world labor that's in the hands of a government you can't control, when you could do it at home for less? So there goes the last trickles of real money coming in.

    Their governments are most of the problem. A free economy and free exchange of information could drag them up to civilization, but that takes control out of the hands of the villains who rule them now, so they'll never allow it.

    A few of their best and brightest might be able to flee to civilization before the mass warfare and cannibalism starts, but much of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are wastelands in the making. South America's borderline; they've had first-world economies before, and could get there again, but they'll have to move fast.

    • Despite using preview, I missed a zero on the hybrid minibus. $100,000.

    • frandroid says:

      standard of mentation will go through the roof; we're already a long way towards that now, compared to, say, 1980,

      Oh yeah. We so much smarter than in 1980. That's why Americans elected Dubya.

      A free economy and free exchange of information could drag them up to civilization

      The American economy is very protectionist. Its free-trade rhetoric is mostly used to subjugate other economies.

  9. exiledbear says:

    Why can't you have both?