2017 February 19 Sunday
Hobbyists Could Genetically Engineer Dogs

Check out: The FDA Is Cracking Down On Rogue Genetic Engineers. Apparently the US Food and Drug Administration wants to classify genetically altered dogs as drugs. When this is done to humans will they become drugs too? I think Huey Lewis has foreseen this possibility.

A substantial part of the population is going to continue to insist on owning highly inbred genetically messed up dog breeds with serious health issues (e.g. bulldogs and pugs). If you do not want to me like them then avoid the unhealthiest dog breeds. But given that these breeds will continue to exist it certainly makes sense to genetically fix the fixable ones (some are, by breed standard, probably not fixable). So genetic engineers who want to fix dogs shouldn't have to deal with the US Food and Drug Administration classifying fixed dogs as drugs. How about a list of genetic variations that the FDA and similar agencies in Europe agree ought to be eliminated and then approval of any dogs that get fixed to no longer have them.

We will find ourselves in a situation in not too many years where there's going to be a regulatory need for preapproved allowable genetic variants for a variety of species, probably including humans. What will be especially interesting about that day: Some already existing genetic variants (or perhaps weighted combination of variants that together cause a trait) will have to be banned. For example, suppose some genetic variants make very homicidal people and that these variants occur naturally. We do not (or at least most of do not want) to see people making babies that are criminally worse than their parents.

But smarter regulation (both in terms of making safe stuff easier to do and banning dangerous stuff) would help I do not think it will avoid some pretty dangerous outcomes. My long term worry is that genetic engineering will become so easy to do that a variety of people around the world will twiddle a large assortment of species for a large assortment of goals, some of which will have calamitous effects. Some people could have religious or ideological motivations to cause mayhem among their enemies. Others will just be random people wanting to make themselves famous by, for example, creating a fish that wipe out all other types of fish in a major river or by making a plant that spells out a political message in its leaves. Lots of imaginations will think about it and once it becomes easy to do some will act on it.

We already have invasive species spreading around the world with (mostly accidental) human help. Imagine invasive species with really big downsides. Look at the funguses accidentally transported to places where they have devastated banana cultivars and other species. Or consider the bacteria carried by an Asian bug that is wiping out Florida citrus. Picture what happens if it becomes easily to develop carrier insects or bacteria or funguses that can wipe out the most valuable crops in Western countries. Some terrorist groups would probably try it if they could.

We might some day live in a world of constant genetic engineering battles to cause and stop disease attacks on humans and species we rely upon.

By Randall Parker 2017 February 19 06:09 PM 
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Bill Gates Wants To Tax Robots That Take Jobs

Check out this qz article: The robot that takes your job should pay taxes, says Bill Gates.

About 35-40 years ago secretary was the biggest job in most states. Those days are long past. As you can see by advancing the time bar for the USA states map on that page, by 2000 truck driver was the biggest job. So I have a question for Bill Gates: Do you want to tax word processors too?

Also, autonomous vehicle technology will surely wipe out most truck driving jobs in the next 20 years. Do you want to tax autonomous truck technology to slow the rate of that transition? Keep in mind that thousands of lives will be saved each year once autonomous trucks slash the accident rate, even tens of thousands of lives if we include autonomous cars.

I'm glad that one of the richest people in the world is at least aware of the problem. As I have previously pointed out there is about a 30% difference between the high school drop-out and college grad employment rates in the USA. I'm guessing (I haven't looked) the gap is bigger in Europe due to labor laws that make it harder to fire and also social welfare benefits that reduce the necessity of working. But again, I haven't looked. As you can see from my favorite Bureau of Labor Statistics web page Table A-4. Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment the 30 point gap is holding strong. That gap could easily widen due to advances in robotics, rising minimum wage, and labor law changes that make firing harder to do. I think we are headed for the equivalent of Peak Horse and probably have already passed it for Peak Routine Manual Labor.

Taxes on robots can't work for anything that gets manufactured. In the absence of high tariffs all a robot tax will do is push the manufacturing offshore. I've previously argued that high autonomy for manufacturing robots (lights-off factories) could drive capitalists to put factories on sovereign islands in order to escape taxes to support masses of unemployed. Ireland for example has a small enough population and factories where get manufacturers inside the European Union. Outside tariff zones Iceland offers cheap geothermal electric power and limited number of people to support through taxes to fund a welfare state. New Zealand also offers a limited and skilled population and is is already an escape destination for billionaires if civilization teeters on the brink. No need to go upstairs to Elysium. Living in orbit would be much less pleasant than New Zealand. Though its volcanic and earthquake activity is a concern.

At first glance taxes on robots work better for services that can not be exported. But wait. Taxes on home care robots aren't going to fly because sick old people are going to say they can't afford the taxes any better than they can afford human home care providers. Ditto for taxes on medical treatments. People want cheap health care. So expect political battles over which local robot services are suitable for taxing.

By Randall Parker 2017 February 19 02:58 PM 
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2017 February 04 Saturday
Utility Battery Projects Driven By Price Drops

For large electric power storage projects the cost of batteries has plummeted.

2008, when battery prices were 10 times higher than they are today.

This advance is timely as photovoltaic electric power prices have dropped so far that in SoCal PV is causing a growing drop in mid-day demand and therefore a much bigger spike in evening demand. Therefore there's a growing need for a cheaper way to store power generated in mid day and deliver it in the evening. You can see how much solar power output surges each day in California by clicking on some of the Daily Renewables Watch links at the Cal ISO site (the organization that manages California's electric grid).

The growing supply of wind and especially solar power is causing a huge decrease in demand for non-renewable energy in mid-day in California. This is known as the renewable duck curve and it will place a limit on the growth of solar power unless battery costs fall far enough to enable use of solar power during evenings.

By Randall Parker 2017 February 04 12:40 PM 
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