2015 April 30 Thursday
Tesla Announces Home Battery Packs

Tesla has announced home battery packs. They can be used for shifting home PV electric power usage from day to night and also to lessen the impacts of grid outages.

If your utility is willing to sell you electric power at discount at night and for a higher price in the day then home batteries might pay themselves back in electric power costs reduced.

One version of the Tesla home battery will cost $3500 for 10 kwh plus installation costs. Lets put that in perspective. 10 kwh is about a third of an average US home's daily electric power usage.

In 2013, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,908 kilowatthours (kWh), an average of 909 kWh per month. Louisiana had the highest annual consumption at 15,270 kWh, and Hawaii had the lowest at 6,176 kWh.

Suppose you want to run your home for 2 days during a power outage. You are looking at a number north of $20k for enough Tesla batteries to get you through the 2 days without a lifestyle change. Of course, you could stretch the electric power longer by foregoing home vacuuming, TV watching, and other optional activities. Better to keep the fridge and freezer cold than clean the carpet.

If you have enough solar panels to power your home every day then you could get by on lower battery capacity and have only enough batteries to get you through the night. But in the winter the days are short and the battery discharging nights are quite long.

Musk thinks with enough installed batteries we could switch to solar and wind coupled with home and business battery power storage.

Musk even had some numbers for what would be required. To transition the US to use renewable energy, you would need 160 million PowerPacks (the 100-kWh models) that could accept green energy when its made and deliver it when needed.

If battery and PV panel prices keep dropping then the financial position of electric power utilities could be threatened, especially in areas with high electric power prices and lots of sunshine. Southern California comes to mind.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 30 10:21 PM 
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2015 April 26 Sunday
Lightning In Erupting Calbuco Volcano

Check out the lightning from the Calbuco volcano in Chile:

A time-lapsed view:

So far the Calbuco eruption does not look to be as big as Mount Pinatubo in 1991 or Mount St. Helens in 1980. Pinatubo lowered global temperatures by about 0.5C. The big eruptions matter because they can cause climate changes that cause crop failures. An eruption on the scale of the 1815 Tambora eruption would cause massive crop failures and famine in many countries.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 26 05:58 PM 
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All Job Increases Since 2001 Are In Non-Routine Work

If a job involves executing a series of rules or a simple series of physical manipulations it is a candidate for automation by increasingly powerful computers. Routine work in the United States is down about 7% since 2001 in spite of a growing population.

What I find interesting: the routine brain work (bank teller, clerk) is down as much as the routine brawn work (machine tool operator, other factory worker).

The drop was very steep going into the 2008 recession. Possibly the drop in demand and profits spurred companies to go implement labor-saving technology that already existed.

If you work in a routine occupation

What are routine occupations? In the field of economics, these refer to jobs that involve a limited set of tasks. More importantly, those tasks tend to be “rule based,” in that they can be performed by following a well-defined set of instructions, and require minimal discretion.

For example, production occupations are a prime example of routine manual jobs: jobs that are both rule based and emphasize physical (as opposed to cerebral) tasks. As examples, factory workers who operate welding, fitting, and metal press machines fall into this category, as do forklift operators and home appliance repairers. Similarly, office and administrative support occupations are routine cognitive jobs that focus on rule based “brain” (as opposed to “brawn”) tasks. These include secretaries, bookkeeping and filing clerks, mail sorters, and bank tellers.

A growing literature demonstrates a profound implication of technological change on the labor market: many of the routine occupations that were once commonplace have begun to disappear, while others still have become obsolete.11 This is because the tasks involved in these occupations, by their nature, are prime candidates to be performed by new technologies.

The other two groups comprise occupations that focus on non-routine tasks: those that are not especially repetitive or rule-based. This means they might require flexibility (either cerebral or physical), and involve a variety of tasks. They also tend to emphasize greater degrees of human interaction, communication, or discretion. Non-routine cognitive occupations include jobs such as public relations manager, financial analyst, and computer programmer. Non-routine manual occupations include janitor, home health aide, and personal care aide.13

Some of the janitorial work is going to get automated. I expect 10 or 15 years from now robots will do most floor polishing and vacuuming. We can already buy automated floor cleaning devices for home use, though the products have reliability problems. Industrial versions will get much better. Home versions will as well. I'm waiting to see how well the Dyson 360 robotic vacuum works. Have high hopes for it.

Another area I expect to fall to automation: fast food restaurant food prep. It is a really big business with standardized procedures laid down by the big operators. So there are clear tasks to automate. McDonalds restaurants alone have about 841,000 employees just in the United States. Order taking and payment could be automated today. Many restaurant chains are already automating order taking with tablets which customers can use. You can order a pizza online and walk in and pick it up 20 minutes later.

Moley Robotics (click thru and see their demo) is working on a home cooking robot. I like it.

This video from Wired UK gives background on Moley's plans:

The tech will of course mature, get faster, get cheaper, get better at preparing and cleaning up. This will change personal relationships. Why marry a good cook when you can buy one?

By Randall Parker 2015 April 26 09:58 AM 
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2015 April 25 Saturday
North American Boreal Forest Productivity Drop With Biodiversity Loss

Lower plant biodiversity cuts tree productivity in the boreal forest that spans across Alaska and Canada.

Empirical evidence from Alaska's boreal forest suggests that every 1 percent reduction in overall plant diversity could render an average of .23 percent decline in individual tree productivity.

alaska_boreal_forest.jpg

I've previously argued that boreal forests could be selectively harvested to sink carbon underwater so that new forest growth to replace the falled trees could pull more carbon out of the atmosphere. This would need to be done in a way that did not impact forest productivity.

The boreal forest of Canada and Alaska is the world's largest remaining intact forest ecosystem. If it deterioriates then it'll release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. So I pay attention to research on its health and productivity. Lost biodiversity was shown to cut ecosystem productivity in areas of the Canadian boreal forest that were partially developed by humans.

"The loss of biodiversity is threatening ecosystem productivity and services worldwide, spurring efforts to quantify its effects on the functioning of natural ecosystems," said lead author Jingjing Liang, a forest ecologist from West Virginia University.

Mining, deforesting, and the like decrease forest biodiversity.

When the amount of disturbed land in a study area began to exceed 50 per cent disturbed a threshold was reached and the researchers found fewer and fewer plant species. "We found that when more than half of an area was visibly changed by human use, the number of native boreal plant species began to decrease," Mayor said.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 25 02:59 PM 
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2015 April 22 Wednesday
Chinese Scientists Try Gene Editing On Human Embryos

Chinese scientists used the CRISPR-CAS9 genetic editing tools to genetically edit human embryos. No, they did not implant the embryos in human wombs. They did not even start with embryos viable enough for implantation. The goal was to genetically test the results and measure the accuracy of the genetic edits.

The scientists found the genetic editing was not precise enough. Not all embryos got the desired modification. Some got undesired genetic mods. The tech is not mature enough. Will improved CRISPR-CAS9 techniques eventually become viable or will other approaches be necessary?

Some American scientists want a moratorium on attempts genetically alter germ line (egg, sperm, embryo) DNA. But I do not see a problem with using left-over embryos from fertility clinics to try out various genetic editing techniques. These embryos aren't going to become humans.

I've previously discussed some of the ways governments might respond to germ line genetic engineering. China will not be slow about embracing offspring genetic engineering. They'll probably criminalize genetic edits that create personalities that the the state sees as a threat to public safety or political stability. But I expect the Chinese government to embrace efforts to cut genetic load and create much more highly productive Chinese.

What I want to know: does it make sense to use human embryos at this state to test genetic editing accuracy? Will genomes of other species have substantially different error rates in editing?

By Randall Parker 2015 April 22 10:18 PM 
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2015 April 18 Saturday
The World Divided Into 7 Regions, 1 Billion People Each

This is amazing. Look at just a portion of India and Bangladesh.

By 2050 Africa will have more than 2 pieces of 1 billion each and 4 pieces by 2100. The planet as a whole will have 10 pieces of 1 billion each some time in the 2050s.

If you want to go see wild big animals in Africa do not wait too long. They'll be gone from human expansion and poaching.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 18 10:29 PM 
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Trading Off Between Living Standard And Health Care

On Twitter Andrew McAfee asked:

To which I replied:

Unfortunately, for most people 2014 health care does not do all that much. If you have a chronic untreatable condition in 2014 then all the advances since 1964 aren't helping you much. If your doctor just told you that you have fatal cancer with months to live you might get a couple more months today than in 1964 but you are still checking out of the Life Hotel.

By contrast, imagine you could get full body rejuvenation. But it came with a big trade-off. How much of a reduction in living standards would you be willing to take in order to get it? How much other tech would you be willing to give up?

The toughest thing to give up for me would be the internet. But the biological age of an 18 year old and the ability to maintain that age would trump the internet for sure.

The older you get the bigger the trade-off it makes sense to be willing to make. A young and healthy person does not get much out of today's medical technology. But add about 40 years of aging to their body and suddenly the benefit of rejuvenation becomes enormous.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 18 04:25 PM 
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Airware Software For Drones

A VC-funded start-up, Airware, is supplying a software solution to drone makers. This will reduce the barriers to entry for drone developers. The software is going to contain most of the design for regulatory compliance. So each drone developer will have an easier time passing muster with regulators. Plus, each drone application developer will only have to develop code for their own application area, not all the pieces needed to develop a complete drone.

Examples of current human jobs where drones will cut labor and other costs:

  • Some lifeguarding at beaches.
  • Inspection of pipelines, bridges, dams, and large complex industrial facilities.
  • Forest and game wardens. Hunt for poachers.
  • Home delivery.
  • Search and rescue planes for the search part.
  • Some police pursuit vehicles and helicopters.
  • Some police and helicopter patrols.
  • Some private security patrols.
  • Crop spraying.

When I use the term "some" above to indicate that humans still have to get involved but the need for humans will be reduced in a variety of ways. So, for example, police will still be still needed to make an arrest. But drones can reduce the amount of labor needed in pursuit or watching for suspects. Also, lifeguarding ins really two functions: spotting someone in trouble and then doing something about it. Drones could cover a large area and signal for a human lifeguard once someone is spotted in trouble. A drone could even drop an inflatable life raft right next to someone struggling.

A pipeline inspection drone tied to image processing software could inspect pipelines more often and the image processing software back on a server could flag a small fraction of the images taken for human inspection. Similarly, drones will check out long distance high voltage lines, fences in large livestock operations, and dams.

Cow herding with drones:

By contrast, sheep herding with helicopters.

Make the drones smart enough to act as an autonomous network and I can imagine dozens of drones (perhaps with speakers for sound effects) driving large numbers of sheep with little human involvement.

Usage of drones is going to go up by 3 or 4 or 5 or more orders of magnitude. My biggest worry: noise pollution. I do not want to see them very often.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 18 01:33 PM 
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Wal-Mart Cutting Layer Of Management, Raising Wages

We've heard that Wal-Mart is going to raise the wages of their lowest ranked employees to $10 per hour. What's more interesting: they are cutting a layer of management in stores while boosting department manager wages as high as $15 per hour.

What will these stores be like 10, 15 years from now? Automated shelf stocking. Automated floor cleaning. The remaining staff will be better paid customer specialists. You will go to a store in order to get human help when buying. This will cut into the already bleak employment prospects for the least skilled.

Imagine check-out 20 years from now. You will arrive at the front of the store and a display will tell you how much you owe. Before you even get to the front as you put each item in your cart imagine processing software will tally up what you owe and you'll see a running total bill. Unless you want bags you'll just wave your phone (or chip embedded in your hand) over the payment station to pay the bill and walk out.

Automated delivery (robotic trucks and flying drones), younger generations growing up accustomed to online shopping, and better shopping software will cut into in-store spending. I think I'm an outlier on this. With online buying I've cut my grocery store visits in half and my department store visits to maybe a few times a year or less.

What keeps you going to stores? Sudden needs? Lack of grocery delivery? Delivery costs?

By Randall Parker 2015 April 18 12:58 PM 
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2015 April 15 Wednesday
Better Body Software Will Make People Less Equal

DNA upgrades will be most beneficial for future generations. But those already alive who can afford it will get gene therapy, cell therapy, and replacement organs that will have lots of fixes to the DNA. What will be the impact at the societal level? Yuval Noah Harari tells Daniel Kahneman that medicine will increase the gap between the richest and the poorest. I'll slightly amend that: biotechnology will increase the gap in abilities, drive, and therefore achievement. But we might not call it medicine.

After medicine in the 20th century focused on healing the sick, now it is more and more focused on upgrading the healthy, which is a completely different project. And it's a fundamentally different project in social and political terms, because whereas healing the sick is an egalitarian project ... you assume there is a norm of health, anybody that falls below the norm, you try to give them a push to come back to the norm, upgrading is by definition an elitist project. There is no norm that can be applicable to everybody.

And this opens the possibility of creating huge gaps between the rich and the poor, bigger than ever existed before in history.

What will drive this the most: embryo genetic testing and, later, offspring genetic engineering. The embryo genetic testing to select for performance-boosting genetic variants will come first. Fast genetic sequencing tech will allow detailed genetic testing on cells extracted from embryos. Embryo selection driven by genetic sequencing will appeal more to upper classes. They'll be better able to afford it too.

Embryo selection using genetic testing is already done on a small scale. To date the benefits are low because we do not know the impact of millions of genetic variants. But sufficient understanding will come in the next 10 years. Then the most successive and driven will opt for pre-implantation genetic testing of multiple embryos to select a genetic profile with the most promise..

Other technological advances will reduce the need for humans for manual and dangerous labor.

But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value.

Signs can already be found for this trend: the gap in employment rate for high school drop-outs and those with at least one college degree is now 30%.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 15 09:05 PM 
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2015 April 09 Thursday
200th Anniversary Of Tambora Volcanic Eruption

The April 10, 1815 eruption of Tambora in what is now a part of Indonesia caused 1816 to be known as "the year without summer". Crop failures due to freezing temperatures in New England caused migrations toward the midwest.. Migrations, civil unrest, hunger, and disease happened in Europe as well.

A volcanic eruption of this magnitude is rare but could happen again at any time. If it does expect very expensive food and freezing temperatures on some summer days.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 09 10:20 PM 
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2015 April 06 Monday
Airline Pilots Manually Fly Airplanes For 3.5-7 Minutes Per Flight

The Germanwings suicidal/homicidal depressed and narcissistic pilot is providing the impetus to speed up development of remote and robotic ways to control an airplane. Already pilots spend very little time controlling an airplane manually. Boeing pilots work twice as hard as Airbus pilots. Does that make the Airbus pilots lazy? Or the Boeing pilots overworked?

In a recent survey of airline pilots, those operating Boeing 777s reported that they spent just seven minutes manually piloting their planes in a typical flight. Pilots operating Airbus planes spent half that time.

NASA is going for remote control by ground operators - which is how UAVs are controlled today. But remote control seems like a transitional technology until computers on the airplane do it all.

I expect complete flight control automation will have the biggest impact on smaller aircraft where the pilot and co-pilot salaries make up a larger fraction of total operating costs. We'll get more direct flights between small airports once pilots are no longer needed.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 06 09:14 PM 
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2015 April 05 Sunday
Overpumping California Ground Water Reduces Storage Capacity

In California's Central Valley a drilling frenzy to get more water for farms is reducing the future water storage capacity of underground formations..

Scientists say some of the underground water-storing formations so critical to California’s future — typically, saturated layers of sand or clay — are being permanently damaged by the excess pumping, and will never again store as much water as farmers are pulling out.

Southern San Joaquin Valley ground water is most severe in overdraft.

California's problem is hardly unique. At current rates the Kansas section of the Ogallala aquifer will be depleted by 2040 and nationally the rate of draining of aquifers has accelerated since 2000 to more than double the average 20th century rate. You can check out a US Geological Service national map of aquifer depletions.

These depleted aquifers put us at much greater risk should a really long and big drought hit the West. If we hit a drought that lasts for a decade or two we will not have fully stocked aquifers to fall back on. Since I expect humans to do foolish and short-sighted things on a massive scale I have an interest in whether massive expensive engineering projects could help in a mega-drought. I'd like to know more about the cost of doing that since a warming planet makes mega-droughts more likely.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 05 07:03 PM 
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2015 April 04 Saturday
Regulations For Offspring Genetic Engineering

CRISPR-Cas9 has made the prospect of offspring genetic engineering seem a lot more real. The prospect of genetically much altered future generations is no longer in the distant science fiction future but rather in the "some of the people reading this will live to see it on large scale" future. So lets think about how governments will respond.

In different countries the populations, elected officials, monarchs, and dictators will react to biotech for gene editing the germ line (embryos and cells that eventually become embryos) in different ways:

  • Outright ban.
  • Allow only for prevention of genetic defects.
  • Mandate editing to eliminate genetic defects.
  • Allow a restricted list of alterations and ban other uses.
  • Mandate a specified list of genetic edits.
  • Allow any alteration that keeps the result a recognizable human.
  • Anything goes.

The mandate to prevent genetic defects might be combined with the mandate for specified list of genetic alterations. Massive amounts of DNA sequencing and a lot of analysis of the data is going to turn up thousands of genetic mutations that are mildly harmful. Some governments (Singapore comes to mind) could mandate that you not pass along any of your own hundreds of mildly harmful mutations to your offspring.

What additional kinds alterations does that leave for a government to mandate? Quite a few. Think of any reasons a parent might want to make their kids different and add some more. Governments are going to tend to focus on social, criminal, and loyalty considerations.

For example, suppose scientists discover lots of genetic variants that contribute to psychopathy. Well, the government of Singapore could mandate that a couple who between them has quite a few genetic variants that each contribute a little toward psychopathy should be limited on how many of these variants they can pass along to offspring. That sounds reasonable to me with reservations. Why? The right sorts of psychopaths can be very effective chief executive officers. They can make the decision to kill a project or manufacturing plant that lots of normal managers become too emotionally attached to.

Some more competitive governments might mandate genetic editing to put a floor on intelligence. Want a first class high tech economy? Allow no kid below 120 IQ. The first government to do that will have the highest per capita income economy in the world 50 years later if not much sooner. Perhaps some smaller East Asian governments will either adopt IQ mandates or perhaps offer a cash bonus for each set of edits that boost IQ 1 point.

We also come to obedience and faith. A government like the one in North Korea could figure out which genetic variants make people gullible believers in propaganda and mandate that those must be put in embryos of future North Koreans. Or a government that sees its role as protector of the faith could mandate genetic variants that make people more predisposed to feel good about embracing a religious faith.

My expectation is that differences in regulatory response to germ line genetic engineering technologies will cause the populations of the world's various countries to diverge in a variety of ways that will be immediately visible when you travel the world. For example, you will be able to recognize the countries where genetic editing for beauty is allowed. You will also be able to recognize the countries where genetic editing for height or athletic prowess is allowed.

While governments won't all adopt the same regulatory regime for offspring genetic changes even if they did the impact on future generations would vary greatly by country. A country with a lot of hard core world football fans is going to get a lot of babies highly optimized for that game. A country whose population puts great value in getting into top colleges and mastering hard science and engineering subjects will go for IQ-boosting genetic edits with or without government mandates or incentives.

What will governments do? Most elites are very competitive, wanting every advantage they can give to their kids, So the elites will feel strongly motivated to persuade governments and populaces to allow the use of genetic editing tech creating future generations. Therefore I expect quite a few governments to allow this tech. But some governments could allow it 10 years before other governments do. Early adopter countries will get big economic competitive advantages that will last for years as their first generation of enhanced kids enter the labor market. This will become a national security issue as some nations fear about being left behind and dominated.

East Asian countries seem like good candidates for early adopters. I expect the US Food and Drug Administration to make approvals in the USA take much longer. Will the EU adopt a single standard? Will some non-EU European governments go ahead of the EU? Some people will travel to get treatments for their embryos. Early adopters in the West will probably go abroad.

By Randall Parker 2015 April 04 04:54 PM 
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