Foresight Snippets – No. 9
[Originally published] 30 March 2001
- Waves Run This Power Plant
- The Singularity
In Snippets No. 3 (15/12/2000) we reported on the virtual windfall of the tiny nation of Tuvalu, with their desirable domain name suffix “.tv”. Well, this top-level domain is now being utilised by a new European science and technology channel that combines television with the Internet. Einstein.tv, whose slogan is “feeds a hungry mind,” will provide cutting-edge science programming — in this case through digital TV, which is lumbering to gather momentum in Australia but which is already widely used in Europe — to paying viewers. The company promises an intriguing array of topics, from deep-sea tourism to asteroid detection research. On the accompanying free Web site, visitors can read program transcripts, learn about topics in more depth, ask questions, and enter contests (I’ve got my fingers crossed for the T-shirt!). This represents a serious commercial shift into the realm of “edu-tainment” — and puts pressure on traditional providers of education. For example, given the choice between a lecture hall and an Indiana Jones virtual reality web-segment on archaeology, a new generation of students already reared on info-tainment at home (through “lifestyle” TV shows) may be less likely to choose the lecture hall option in their education.
Source: Einstein.tv web site
Waves Run This Power Plant
Alternative energy sources leaped onto the research agenda in the 1970s in a big way as a result of the energy crisis. When that subsided, the need to find alternative renewable sources of energy stopped being so urgent and was put on the back burner. However, some people are still looking to the future and preparing for the day when non-renewable energy runs out and a shift needs to be made to other sources. One such form of renewable energy is wave power. Since the 1970s, costs for wave power have come down to the point where it can be profitable. In 1999, after a law promoting renewable energy was passed, Scotland has taken a lead in energy research — and wave power is one such focus. A British government report states that the cost of harnessing wave power has fallen 10 times in the last 17 years, so it is nearly commercially viable, especially in remote areas. Meanwhile, the Norwegian government-run oil company, Statoil, is looking to recycle unwanted off-shore oil rigs into giant waterwheels that will utilise wave energy.
Source: MSNBC News
One of the most defining characteristics of the late twentieth century was the rate of change — social, economic, scientific and especially technological — which gave rise to a widespread feeling that humanity was spinning out of control. The rate of change itself has been increasing, leading to the observation that, at some point in the near future, a critical threshold will be passed, beyond which we are unable to even speculate. This threshold has become known as “the Singularity”. While the term is taken to have slightly different meanings by different observers, it is very often also taken to mean that a quantum change in humankind will take place, giving rise to “trans-humanity” — a new form of humanity brought about by advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and the “uploading” of human intelligence into computer systems. Most estimates for when the Singularity will occur range from a few years from now to something like 40, although not everyone believes that it is inevitable.
Foresight Snippets are interesting, intriguing or weird things we find during our strategic scanning which may or may not have direct obvious relevance to Swinburne, but which do provide signals about what the future might be like. Brought to you by the Foresight & Planning Unit.
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NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.