1 November 2013

Post Scarcity Society

What happens in a future where energy supplies are so abundant they are practically free, or when we have the ability to produce things we need easily and cheaply, through technology such as 3D printing? We live where resources are scarce and thus have a higher value placed on them. Can technological advancements  effectively diminish the scarcity of these important resources, until they are abundant for all?

Cheap Energy
Sustainable Energy is perhaps the issue that defines our current modern age more than any other concept. The extraction of fossil fuels has a devastating effect on the environment and is said to be one of the major factors in global warming. If we could produce free, or near free, abundant energy, think of how it would help developing countries. Electricity for heating instead of dangerous, unhealthy and polluting fires, electricity for water purification and sewage treatment, electricity for farming and the transportation of farmed goods.
Perhaps solar energy is our best chance at cheap renewable energy. Scientists recently announced a new type of cell that can operate at 44.7% efficiency. Perhaps future advancements in solar technology can increase the efficiency of operation and power storage and the price could drop to an affordable point.

The material graphene was discovered by two scientists who won a nobel prize for their work with graphene in 2009. Graphene is a new substance that could create a new super material that is strong and durable and perhaps even be developed into a battery that could be charged fully in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

What if there were a cheap, quick and easy way to eat while meeting all of your nutritional needs. One entrepreneurial engineering graduate thinks there is, and he has called it Soylent. The idea of consuming a shake instead of enjoying a regular meal, is extremely off putting and undesirable for most people. However imagine if people without the financial means for healthy fresh food could meet all of their nutritional needs. Third world countries and disaster areas could easily be supplied with a nutritional supplement cheaply and quickly.

Some of these technological advancements may not immediately appear significant, but given time and combined with one another, they could have huge reaching effects on society. Although I might talk of a specific piece of technology or development, I would like to focus on the basic concept of the possibility of these ideas and their potential ramifications. Graphene may not turn out to be capable of what is being theorised, but what if we could fully charge a battery in an instant? And what if that energy could be easily gained for free through efficient means such as solar power? Or perhaps there is an advancement we can't even conceive of, such as Tesla’s idea of wireless energy. The same logic applies to Soylent; it may not turn out to be a viable nutritional supplement. However imagine if we could produce nutrition cheaply and easily, and what effect this would have on health care, on world hunger issues and disaster relief?

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