Looking Ahead

The other day I read a very real and frightening story about humans and the available resources on this planet. The article was very interesting and talked about how certain resources could be depleted in as little as 10 years. There was one metal in particular that is in a lot of electronics, such as cell phones, that was especially rare that could be depleted very soon. Experts say that if the metal or any other resource is depleted one of two things will happen. 1) using our craftiness we will find an alternative, or 2) there is no alternative and it will have to be replace with something that is inferior resulting in electronics that do not perform as well.

For most resources there are alternatives but for a select few there are not, and these are the ones that make our electronic devices run smoothly and efficiently. This begs the question, will there be a point in the future where almost all resources have been depleted? I have mixed emotions about it, part of me thinks that this is a real possibility and one day in the future there will be no more gold, iron ore, silver, or countless other things left to mine from the earth. In a sense the Earth will have nothing left to give us, more or less a very real rendition of The Giving Tree. The other school of thought I have is that if this happens it will be so far in the future that I, and anyone who reads this blog (so all three of us), will all be dead and no longer have to worry about it. There is also the optimism that despite the dwindling resources that technology will enable us to locate what we need anywhere on the planet and extract it with laser precision. Also, there could be advancements in any number of technologies that enable us to recycle more efficiently and refine minerals better, producing less waste in the process.

I believe that any three of these is a possibility, but a mesh of all three will probably be the ultimate outcome. Sometime in the future our resources will indeed be stretched thin, but advancements in recycling and manufacturing will help sustain the demand. I am not writing this post with any political or ulterior motive, but simply looking at the future and how it can be sustainable. I like my lifestyle and am not ready to do without as I am sure most other people on the planet.

One thing that is interesting is that when computers were first invented, they were massive beasts taking up whole rooms weighing many tons. Most of these early computers used a system of vacuum tubes. So the technology at the time was making better tubs that would help computers faster and more efficient. Eventually there came a time when the vacuum tube was coming to the end of its life. Engineers could no longer find a way to keep improving it and it was at the end of its life cycle, they needed something else. Enter the transistor which would eventually pave the way for the integrated circuit, it is also known as the semiconductor chip. Eventually all of this would lead to the microprocessor, which is what currently powers your computer. Only when push came to shove, as the life and practicality of the vacuum tube was coming to an end did engineers and scientist start to buckle down and create a revolutionary new device that would take computing to an entirely new level. This process took 30 or more years but you can see the progression.

Maybe that is what it takes for us as humans to change, something big. I have read that scientist are running out of ways to improve on the microprocessor for a variety of reasons including the materials to make it. I am by no means saying that we will not be able to make any more microprocessors, all I am saying is that we are running out of ways to improve upon the design. Couple that with the fact that some of the materials used to make the device may be running thin as well.

Something new, like the transistor, compared to the vacuum tube is needed. Some speculate that quantum computing is going to be the next stage of evolution. There was an article the other day that I read about how a group of scientist used the ideas behind quantum computing to send information. I am not sure exactly how it works but it could be an interesting break through. This technology is in its infancy but again if the microprocessor is at its end then that need will drive the next generation of evolution for computing.

There are many similar happenings of this across history. Necessitate is the mother of invention, as they say. So I think that in the future if, and only if, resources start to dwindle only then will we look to our intuitive nature to come up with an alternative or redesign things to circumvent the problem.

For humans it is near impossible for us to plan for the future, it is a biological and psychological flaw that we possess. That factor by itself may be the single biggest deterrent for our prolonged existence as a species, our ability to be reactive rather than proactive.


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