Today on the quad at my university there was a kind of showcase by potential employers, designed to lure the many brilliant, technically and scientifically minded students we have here. These firms are among the leading innovators in the world, giant tech, aerospace, and communication companies that create incredible tools for our age. You have young students who are quite literally the future of digital and technical innovation being wooed by companies that represent the present. And they brought toys-- lots of attractive, impressive, cutting age digital toys to show off.
Yet I was struck by a glaring contrast: many of the tents were being powered by a loud, smelly generator, belching out black smoke and making the immediate area rather unpleasant. It probably wasn't meaningfully different from one you could find a quarter century ago All of these near-miraculous modern technologies, produced by companies with massive resources and engineered by people who understand things I couldn't if I spent the rest of my life trying, are still tied to the burning of dirty fuels which pollute our air, warm the planet, and perhaps are coming close to depletion. You can stick as long of a power cord on there as you want; sooner or later, the chain leads to fossil fuels and pollutants. It has me thinking back to the central question of near futurism: do we have the tools necessary to end our dependence on fossil fuels? There's a great faith out there that, well, we'll think of something. We always innovate when we have to. But it's remarkable when you observe how much of the innovation of the last several centuries was made possible by incredibly abundant, incredibly cheap energy. Those invested in the idea of the singularity sometimes point out that, in their view, human progress is exponential. But is that because of some magical property of progress, or because of a uniquely powerful but dangerous set of technologies?
In the era of cheap fossil fuels, we've enjoyed the fruits of what might prove to be the ultimate kludge. Many people writing on the Internet have faith that a long term, better solution is coming, and that it will be one that won't call for great sacrifice and great hardship for a species that has grown used to cheap energy. Only time will tell. Maybe they will prove to be right. This post is all just conjecture, really, and you know what that's worth. I do believe our lives as they exist now are lived on borrowed time.