Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

We could be on the verge of a new Industrial Revolution -- a Fourth Industrial Revolution -- and it will be one that will use new technologies to restore and revitalize earth resources, and it will start with water.

I believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be an outgrowth of planetary exigency rather than human convenience or greed, although we will most certainly witness the earlier Industrial Revolutions’ attributes of curiosity, energy, as we take that enthusiastic plunge “unto the breech” and encounter unanticipated boons and disruptions.

Use new technologies and techniques to:

· Rebuild the earth
· Renew wasted, squandered, or adulterated resources
· Recreate and regenerate resources through new sources (connate water, etc.)
· Regenerate minerals and depleted resources through new processes (chemical / biochemical / biogenic, as well as mechanical means)
· Revitalize habitats, renew distressed flora and fauna

We must become “merchants of light” (Sir Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis) as we transport knowledge from one place to another. We can do it.

Brief and Ideosyncratic View of the Three Industrial Revolutions

Here is how I’m classifying the Industrial Revolutions:

The First Industrial Revolution took place between around 1770 and 1830 had to do with steam engines and the kinds of innovations that made cross-continental transportation and factories possible. It included machines that made factories possible, along with steam power that enabled travel by steamship, railway, and canal (built by machines powered by steam). It fostered innovations in banking and in the U.S., westward expansion.

The Second Industrial Revolution took place from around 1880 – 1910, and had involved the incorporation of electricity, the internal combustion engine, and communication / recording devices.  It also included innovations in infrastructure in cities such as sewers, lighting, and water systems that made cities much more hygienic and less noxious. Factories, automation, and social mobility paved the way for dramatic upheavals in the social order, with both utopian and dystopian outcomes (Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto and early Soviet avant-garde artists could see the promise of liberating, flattening effects of technology, while many dystopian pessimists suggested technology would precipitate apocalypses and despotic surveillance societies in a way that predate Huxley and Orwell).

The Third Industrial Revolution took place from the 1960s through the early 2000s, and involved computer technology, high speed communications infrastructure, and the development of new materials, all of which made it possible to change the nature of work, economic structure, and the way we know ourselves through extreme acceleration to globalization as well as consumerism.

The Cost of a Revolution: Environmental Carnage

All three industrial revolutions were highly disruptive, which was a godsend for the visionary or simply well-positioned winners, while being absolutely disastrous for the members of society who were in the way or who possessed raw materials or assets necessary for the continued flowering of their particular industrial revolution.

All three industrial revolutions resulted in vast expanses of earth being laid waste, and the resources either squandered or subjected to outright plunder. At each step, most of the population was aware of the problems (see Elizabeth Gaskell, Benjamin Disraeli, and others describe the air and water pollution in northern England in industrial centers such as Manchester), and yet all were helplessly in thrall to the jobs, and the social change that seemed to promise more self-determination to those individuals with pluck, intelligence, and the drive to education themselves, all the while tempering the getting of resources with socially-inculcated values and ethics (for good or for ill).

Now, as we careen through the second decade of the 21st century, for every initiative to conserve, recycle, or reuse resources seems to be met with an economic shock that simply reinforces John Maynard Keynes’s observation that policies are shaped to benefit people in the short run, because in the long run we’re all dead.

I’ve observed even the most ardent environmentalist and “small footprinter” turned into a grotesque consumer of resources upon the knowledge that he/she needs certain procedures in order to live.

And, how many of us have moved from a small town to a mega-city for economic opportunity? Is a Mexico City, Houston, or Cairo in any way environmentally sustainable?  Of course not, but the fruits of the Third Industrial Revolution bamboozle us into thinking that it is.

The industrial revolutions’ fruits have also led to a shocking level of psychological hubris.  For example, just to cite one, in the jouissance of the new Baby Boomers came to consider themselves above the eternal verities, whatever those are; most having been lost in the disintegration of family and social bonds, along with the deconstruction of wisdom literature. This is not to say that questioning and deconstructive philosophy are bad things, just that the vacuum left behind was immediately filled with sensation, novelty, consumer goods.  Nationalistic ardor, patriotism, religion and family became just another set of products to be hucksterized and then worn on one’s person or placed in one’s home as a fashion statement or a lucky charm.

To add to the confusion, we have also seen a government that ostensibly protects the environment enact policies that encourage people to become passive consumers of junk food, junk images, junk ideas, and junk substances, as they weave between the formal and informal economies to the point that they lose sight that once upon a time, they were born with a brain, wits, communication skills, and at least some modicum of self-determination.

In certain ways, we can’t blame anyone for what seems to be a shocking level of blindness and unwillingness to examine their own lives. After all, extreme social inequality is one of the first fruits of all three industrial revolutions, for all the promises made that technology will result in a level playing field and equal participation.

With accelerated communication technologies, computers, and the Internet, the Third Industrial Revolution has exerted forces that have made it difficult for a person to make an honest self-assessment or to slow down long enough to examine their own life.

And, we all know the value of an unexamined life (Plato’s Apology of Socrates).

Enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Renovation, Renewal, Revitalization

I believe that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will involve the renovation, renewal, and revitalization of squandered, wasted, and adulterated natural resources, and it will start with water.

We will use the new computing techniques and the ability to harness collective minds, ideas, and muscle (concatenated computers) to develop new ways to replenish earth resources.

Again, it will start with water, then move to once depleted resources, and include air and soil.

It will require reversals of thinking and the willingness to identify what we viewed as a waste product, and then how to transform it into something that we will used to replenish despoiled or depleted resources.

The first perhaps most obvious has to do with water. If we can use water that is co-produced with natural gas, oil, and which must be pumped from mines, then we can purify it economically and use it to replenish and recharge surface water, which will then recharge the aquifer.

The second may have to do with ways we currently generate electricity and warm our homes. Improvements in alternative energy (solar, geothermal, wind) will be made.

· Work with mathematics to accommodate calculations that simplify working in complex systems so that modeling and potentially changing /materially altering reality is possible

· Decision-making that thinks of long-term impacts, and shaped by values and ethics that reflect a profound respect for all individuals, and for individual effort.

· Revitalizing refinding lost metals and minerals (zinc, lead, copper).

· Use the co-products of all processes for building materials and design for right-size communities

Future “Science Fiction Today, Reality Tomorrow” Elements:

· Airborne farms and crop sky-canopies can help air quality in cities.

· Require flower gardens on every rooftop and on all balconies

· Smart Life: Easily programmable monitoring and surveillance systems

· Expanded voice, image, shape, face recognition embedded in mirrors

· A handheld device (rather than implantable device) that can log and archive your behaviors

· Hovercraft / tricopters and quad copters for trips across expanses where there are not too many power lines or problems (Nevada desert, Texas Panhandle, lakes)

· 3D printers that are also instantaneous recyclers

· Personal paper product sanitizer and reconstitutor (paper waste automatically biogenically cleansed / sterilized and reconstituted into paper plates, bowls, cups, dog dishes, boxes, gift boxes, mailing and shipping containers, etc.)

· Household 3D printer for plastics (sanitized, reconstitute into frequently used and needed items – plastic wrap? Boxes? Storage? Sandals? Drink bottles?

· Elemental Harvester and Scavenger: Industrial-site specific materials scavenger for collecting metals, etc.

These will all be explored in future installments and meditations.

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