The Order of things – Old and New.
I was getting itchy to write, and kept wondering. And then I remembered having this conversation with dad, a long time ago over some late night coffee. I think he wanted to discuss my grades then, and those discussions have never really been my strong suit. And so I smartly thought of fooling him into making him believe I wanted to have a more meaningful and intellectual conversation. The most important inventions by man, was the best I could come up with. I couldn’t have felt smarter.
How amazing it is that we drink water from a tap (pretty much) and never once worry about dying forty-eight hours later from cholera.
Now, I’m reasonably certain that inventions haven’t really made our lives happier as such. Because if we believe they have, it would be assuming that our grandparents and their grandparents and so on would have lived extremely sad, grumpy and unfulfilled lives. And that would be extremely brain-less of us to believe. There’s no way we can know exactly and for sure, but it’ll be something like how people once thought the sun revolved around the earth.. Where we just can’t think of anything else except that our 100 years of life are/have been the most special.. Ever.. It is a) not true and b) amazingly idiotic.
But it’s certainly made things easier. And science has told me that since I was in grade 5. Machines help make work easier.
So then, in the 10000 odd years of recorded history, which are the top inventions which have shaped life like we know it?
Despite the impossibility of fairly comparing, i’m pretty sure most of us would have the same answers. I’m listing mine down. These are based on their significance on humanity in general and on me as a subset. (Some questions one thinks of because we want the right answer. Some you value because no answer is really right. This might be one of those)
My TOP FIVE
- The Wheel: The Undisputed no 1. It allowed us to farm, move, make pulleys, do pottery and countless other things. Made us less nomadic and then almost every other invention happened. What is particularly fascinating is that man’s use of the wheel could not have been in mimicry of nature, since they only occur in microscopic form. Humanity continues to have the hugest dependence on the wheel.
- Controlled Fire: Enabled people to cook food, landscape manage and fend off the predators. We would probably still have been competing with lions and tigers but for learning how to control fire.
- Electricity: And then there was light. Modern society is probably more dependent on electricity than any other thing. Personally, I think I am just incapable of imagining a world without electricity.
- Internet: The flag bearer of the digital age. Information and connectivity was never so accessible, democratic and real. The world became flat again and nothing deserves the credit more than the world wide web. Also, we probably have only begun to see the power and effects of the internet.
- Plough: Compared to some of the gleaming, fancy inventions that fill our lives today, the plow doesn’t seem very exciting, or high profile enough. I wonder who invented the plough, and when. It probably developed independently in a number of regions. Plough made work easier and faster. And that made farming so efficient that people could harvest more. Trade was the spin off, which led to the era of the great civilizations.
MY NEXT FIVE:
- Religion: Opium of the masses. The most stupid invention. EVER.
- Printing press: This was the turning point at which knowledge began freely replicating and quickly assumed a life of its own. The diffusion of knowledge it created gave billions of humans the education they needed to create their own inventions in the centuries since.
- Paper: So we could outsource the job of memorizing. Also, created the possibility of a central barter system (money) – the abstraction at the core of the modern economy.
- Gunpowder: Outsourced killing to a machine. And since, the world has never been stable enough.
- Optical lenses: Refracting light through glass is one of those simple ideas that took a mysteriously long time to catch on. But it was centuries before the invention of eyeglasses dramatically raised the collective human IQ, and eventually led to the creation of the microscope and the telescope.
Other important ones that I could think of: Cotton, GPS, semi-conductors, cement, boat, calendar-system, internal combustion engine, plastics etc.
BUT WHATS THE POINT…..
So does innovation and invention raise the overall wealth of this earth. Personally, I think only temporarily, because once you consume, what’s left behind is only the mess. And then you need a new innovation to take care of that mess. And then u just get embroiled into a crazy loop.
On a universal time-line, the overall wealth can only decrease. Because everything comes from the earth and consumption can only result in loss, and inventions increase this rate of consumption.
Nature shrinks as capital grows. The growth of the market cannot solve the very crisis it creates. And so we must realize that the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment. Not the other way around.
For our era, the major problems that technology has helped cause, are environmental, demographic, and socio-economic. Environmental – because of the crazy and unsustainable burden being placed on the oceans, skies, soils, and nonhuman life-forms; Demographic, because advances in lifestyle, medicine and other such stuff are rapidly pushing up the median age and so everyone now is troubling the earth for a slightly longer time; and Socio-economic, because a globalized, high-tech economy is making the rich richer, and the poor poorer.
Also, if we take a moment to think, outside of the sciences and technology, and apart from the legacies created in each family, humanity is struggling today for a sense of cumulative achievement. I have been a science student, and then I have been a business student, so I’m hoping I don’t have the yogi bias towards our current lifestyles.. but pertinent questions remain pertinent.. Are today’s statesmen an improvement over those of our grandparents’ era? Or are there really substantial improvements in music.. Or with architecture. Or literature…or philosophy… Your guess is as good as mine. And this is my point.
Some facts that freaked me out:
- The earth is 4.6 billion years old. Let’s scale that to 46 years. We have bin here for 4 hours. The industrial revolution began 1 minute ago. In that time, we have destroyed more than 50% of the world’s forests. And we some-how still think its sustainable.
- By the time you finish reading this sentence, 3 acres of forests have been cut down.
- Up-to 28000 species are expected to become extinct by the next century due to activities of mankind.
- According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, the earth’s temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century. More than half of this increase has happened in the last 25 years.
- The Arctic ice is melting rapidly. By 2040 the region is expected to have a completely ice free summer, or even earlier. The Montana Glacier National Park has only 25 glaciers instead of 150 that were there in the year 1910. Sea levels have risen about 7 inches in the in the last 100 years, which is more than the previous 2000 years combined.
- The CO2 levels have been the highest they have ever been in the last 800,000 years.
- Sea levels will rise by 7-23 inches by the end of this century due to global warming.
As the deniers say, the science is unsettled. But behaving like an ostrich and being oblivious to these problems is just not crazy, it’s evil.
We really are an insane species. We worship an invisible god, and continue to destroy a visible nature.
The central question then, for techies is.. Whether innovation in the material and productive realms can be sustained? And like the statement we’ve all heard– is our generation capable of leaving our planet in a better position than how we inherited it.
Sorry for the distressing facts, because this was not this post’s intention when it started. But I hope it’s distressing you now. Coz it’s serious, and we just fold our hands and sit back, we are going to be fucked.
SO WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS:
Before finding solutions, we need to first understand which direction we need to run towards, for finding the solutions. Is the objective of existence ‘EASIER’ or ‘HAPPIER’. I’m assuming we all have the same answer. And here-in lies the problem. Because I think what we all are looking for is meaning. That fuzzy little thing that doesn’t talk much… But if we can find meaning in creating a happy sustainable earth, I guess our planet would be sorted.
So then, what could come in the future which could potentially make it a top 5 and hopefully solve some of the mess we have created.
Here is what my mind can think of.
- Currency: A new mode of barter system, that takes into account acts of kindness. To hell with economics as we know it. The current system has fucked us in more ways than one, and the basics I think are just wrong. So consider that you wanted to go buy vegetables. You would get them for free from the farmer. The farmer would get kindness points, which he could use somewhere else. Kindness points would also be rewarded for other random acts. Say helping an old man cross the road. I had written about it earlier as well, in the post titled UTOPIA.
- Sustainable Energy: Have listed a couple of options. I’m sure there are lots more.
- Magnetic levitation: If we could perfect this art, we could soon have floating cities, complete with green forests, mountains and urban centers. The floating platform would rotate, generating energy as it spins and theoretically fueling a completely sustainable society. Unfortunately, like most utopias, this idea is likely to remain a pie in the sky. Smaller concepts are def. doable in the near future, like super high speed rail, space launch systems, 3D cell cultures, flying cars etc. Possibilities are endless. Along with solar energy, it adds up as the renewable energy source, we are all so desperate about.
- Solar paint: So we could soon paint our houses with color that would double up as solar panels, capable of harnessing the suns energy and powering our houses. Low CO2 production, renewable and recyclable, this could soon be extended to our cars and most other things. Solar paint technology is based on Organic photo-voltiacs, an emerging 3rd generation plastic based PV technology. Capabilities are end-less. .
- Artificial reality: A simulated environment that can emulate physical presence, this could be fun. At a 2D level this is already happening everywhere in our lives.. like what you are currently staring at. Or the voice you just heard from your telephone. Or that video game. Or the movie that you just saw. However, what could potentially be game changing is complete 3D replication. That which is indistinguishable from reality. A metaphysical transportation to an altered state. Like put on these goggles, go nowhere, and be transported anywhere. This would give each of us access to so much, that currently is out of reach physically, and also greatly reduce the need for physical travel (which usually brings along its friend called pollution) With Face-book purchasing the company Ocular VR, this possibility could be closer than we think. Number of other companies as well.
- 3D printing: What’s cooler that the stuff you can 3D make today. The things that you can 3D print tomorrow. I shouldn’t be using the same adjectives, but this could be game-changing as well.Stuff 3D printing may be able to do
- Houses: it could build entire houses in less than 24 hours. Home prototyping, disaster recovery, low income housing etc could all be a reality, which could mean lesser wastage,more appropriate use of physical materials among’st others.
- Trees: Technically its 3D printed wood. According to some research on 3D bio-printing, cells can be cultured to excrete non-living material, like wood. The earth could be green again in hours. Also, astronauts could bring wood to space without carrying heavy trees. Mindblowing.
- Meat and Leather: Imagine being able to chow down on a steak or wear fashionable leather – minus the whole slaughtering animals thing. The process is completed using cellular matter known as bio-ink. I know nothing more, but it’s quite hot and the world is excited about it.
- Complex Organs: New advances on the horizon of 3D bio-printing could soon make organ donor waiting lists a thing of the past. Scientists and biologists are hoping to soon print a functioning heart in one go.
- Food and Flavours: A 3D printer in each house with the ability to print healthy meals from everyday powders, laced with our favorite flavors, and with a shelf life of 15 years. Amazing, considering the amount of wastage they might potentially reduce.
- Memory Implants: Imagine conversing in fluent mandarin without ever having heard the language. Imagine managing to by-pass tedious years of schooling, and much more with the help of simple brain chips. I won’t get into the deep- science, but this is definitely doable. This possibly means all of us could become experts in everything. From thinking like Einstein to moving like Jagger and playing like Federer. Possibilities are maddening and endless and we would not have to waste half our lives just trying to learn a fraction of the knowledge this universe possesses. What this means, is far more useful lives, raising the entire baseline aptitude multi-fold and hopefully lesser strain on physical resources.
I totally hope that these possibilities listed above can see the day, and soon. And if they are kind-meaning-ed, just like they should be, we can surely hope of leaving behind a brighter world. And richer. With richness and brightness hopefully not being calculated by our methodologies of money and markets.
It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions. – Nicolo Macchiavelli
Other Fun Inventions:
Invisibility cloak: Seems straight out of a fantasy book, but some scientists may be close to creating it. The basic science is that one has to re-create the mirage effect to in-effect create invisibility. Sounds fun, crazy and can create pretty weird situations.
Teleportation: Now I do not know how this could be done, but this would be extremely fun. The Hindu Gods did this all the time, so its def. possible. A random theoretical argument could be that everything is energy and energy can change forms hence this could one one day, be possible. And btw, Einstein did teach us that mass and energy can inter-change if theyr really in the mood.
Time Travel: This would create havoc. It’ll be creepy, weird, strange and every other bizarre thing all rolled into one. Theoretically it’s possible, provided one can travel faster than the speed of light. Or even close enough to the speed of light. Einstein showed us that time is an illusion, it’s relative. Acc to Special Relativity, a surprising thing happens when you move through space-time and when your speed relative to other objects is close to the speed of light. Time goes slower for you than for the people you left behind. So, for instance, if you begin your journey at close to speed of light in 2014, it would have taken you maybe only 5 years to travel to the year 2050, whereas it would have taken all of your friends on earth 36 years. Basically you have been travelling at a rate faster than 1 hour per hour, and hence time traveling. Traveling into the past is slightly more complicated and slightly more weird. Also with a lot of paradoxes. (eg grandfather paradox)
If you have ever fantasized about other such crazy concepts, please share. It’s always fun. 🙂
Sidharth – nov ’14
Conserve energy future
Michael Kaku’s “Future of the mind.”
Lots of other cool websites.
Lots of other cool people.