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The start of a decade is traditionally ushered in with a flurry of predictions. Those usually turn out to be wrong, but are illustrative of the expectations of the current age. Errors are informative, and show our limitations, our fads and misunderstandings. Looking back at predictions can be fun. Hindsight allows us to feel superior. We imagine that, if we could travel back in time, we could be of great use to our ancestors. Probably not. We would be chattering to them about scientific advances we did not fully understand, based on supportive technologies which would not be available, and without an accurate appreciation of what they already knew. They might find us arrogant, ignorant and pretty useless. For example, without looking it up, help your ancestors build a two way radio.

Prediction is not impossible: some bright and very diligent people can people can achieve accuracy by doing their homework on specific topics, as Philip Tetlock has shown. The trick seems to be to understand the background statistics in some depth, (say the number of times a government in power gets re-elected) and then make small adjustments in line with new circumstances, but rarely any dramatic ones. Business as usual seems to be a wise bet.

https://www.unz.com/jthompson/the-tetlock-forecast/

I have neither the wit nor the application to be a super-forecaster, but to reveal my current expectations, here are some wild surmises about the world in 2030.

1 Very few people will be using flying taxis, other than those already using conventional flying taxis.
2 Very few people will be being driven by autonomous vehicles.
3 Most cars will be powered by internal combustion engines.
4 Batteries will be only a little better than they are at the moment.
5 People all over the world will be richer and healthier.
6 Population growth will stabilize, except in Africa.

As you have seen, I can generate many testable predictions about very general subjects. Will I be any more capable if I make predictions about intelligence research?

I think the field will continue to flourish. “Ordinary” intelligence research, about what it is related to what in ordinary life, and how intelligence contributes to people’s achievements will continue to account for most published work. People will try to boost it by training techniques, and mostly fail. New ways will be found to test it, and turn out to contribute little. Some people will continue to doubt it can be tested, and is of any significance.

Brain scanning will improve, and with any luck will be carried out on larges samples of representative people, doing intellectual tasks which can be measured reliably, thus leading to better understanding about the links between brain activity and problem solving.

Artificial intelligence will be used as a tool to replace some routine pattern identifying tasks such as in medical screening, and in generating game playing strategies in simulations so as to design new materials and medicines. It will be the adjunct of choice when solving new problems. It will probably be used in almost every setting, and then become better understood and refined to deal with those tasks humans find too dull to dwell on for long.

Particularly, the study of genetics of intelligence will flourish. It is the best game in town. There is a risk of repetition, but further analyses will sharpen findings, and this will teach us more about our origins than has been known ever before. That is to say, by 2030 we will have learned more about our origins than previously known.

If debates about racial differences in intelligence are to be taken down to a genomic level, it will be necessary to assemble million person samples of non-Europeans, particularly Africans. It would be good if this were to happen in the next decade, but I assume such data will be collected in China, not Africa. Central governments have to be well-organised, positive about science and capable of delivering education and other basic public services for good statistics to be collected. Epidemiology tends to be a Scandinavian disorder.

I think there will be an increased acceptance of the screening of IVF embryos for health reasons, including for severe retardation from any cause. Journalists worry about “designer babies”. I think it far more likely we will move slowly towards “disease resistant humans”. As part of this process, if those few parents undergoing IVF choose the healthiest of their several possible embryos, there could be a boost of about 4 IQ points for those few children, which will be useful but hardly noticeable.

Currently, the moral issue revolves round embryo selection: given that a choice has to be made, what is the moral choice? “Do no harm” is the Hippocratic injunction. Is it moral to choose an embryo which will grow up to suffer a preventable disease? Most parents will probably feel that it is not, particularly if there is a family history of such a disease. Eventually, such families may feel that it is not moral to pass on the disease genes. Some children at maturity might start asking health related questions about the extent to which they were genetically screened, and be resentful if left carrying preventable genetic risks. This won’t happen this decade, but might become an issue for those born in the next one.

A justified concern about unintended effects, plus laws which prohibit such experiments, will prevent or at least delay attempts at genetic engineering. China has put He Jiankui and two colleagues into prison and banned them from receiving further research funding. It is unlikely that there will be any further CRISPR-cas9 type tinkering with human genomes for quite some while, and not by 2030. Work in other species will provide comparative data on the rate, extent and consequences of unintended effects. The rate estimates from mice is that they will be lower than 1% and usually minor in terms of consequences, but that is still high if contemplated for humans.

Looking further ahead beyond 2030, some people have made startling predictions about what genetic engineering might achieve in boosting human intelligence. I haven’t paid these much attention, arguing to myself that such speculations were premature and exaggerated. Using 4 IQ gains from embryo selection as the base rate, I saw little reason to get excited. Ever cautious, I thought I would check whether my caution was justified. I asked people in the business what might one day be possible, if it was both legal and possible to remove the currently known intelligence-reducing genes and ensure that everyone had all the currently known intelligence-boosting genes. To be clear, this estimate does not require further discovery of the links between the genetic code and human intelligence. It takes the current state of knowledge and assumes that gene editing techniques are good enough to go through the list of “intelligence genes” and make sure everyone has a full house.

Asking around, the answer seemed to be that CRISPR will probably not be an effective technique for making multiple changes in a single genome. So, the first point is that current technologies won’t work. CRISPR can handle short sequences (inserting and replacing) but not the longer ones required for the intelligence-boosting task.

Second, if one makes the leap of assuming that eventually there will be a new technique which can handle longer sequences, there is still a significant problem. Most of the hits mentioned in current research papers are not the causal sites, but merely correlated with the true causal sites. Much further work would need to be done to identify the causal sites. Only then can the manipulation of those sites be attempted.

Third, the potential overall boost to intelligence would need to be worked out in detail, causal site by causal site, and at the moment can only be estimated very roughly.

There would be an increase of about 10 standard deviations.

If that ever happens, all the other bets are off.

Enjoy the decade.

 
• Category: Science • Tags: AI, IQ 
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  1. It will happen. Kicking and screaming, but it will happen. The culture will eventually concede that the best way to select a good child is to select a good mate.

    • Replies: @Corvinus
    , @Corvinus
  2. Corvinus says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    “It will happen. Kicking and screaming, but it will happen. The culture will eventually concede that the best way to select a good child is to select a good mate.”

    Except that is happening already. Each man and woman is selecting for themselves who they want to date and procreate with.

    There will be that niche market for someone who begins the courting the process with “Let me see your DNA profile”, but as far as people who believe that will become standard operating procedure moving forward, there is one word for that–no.

  3. unit472 says:

    I would hope that CRISPR technology can do one thing by 2030. Make it possible to use genetically modified pig organs for human transplantation. This would save oceans of money and prolong hundreds of thousands of lives in the US alone. Unfortunately, the medical industry doesn’t spend much on this kind of R&D because it isn’t as profitable as marketing patented drugs. Currently a transplant recipient must take immuno-suppressants for the rest of their lives so finding away around this using pig organs isn’t in their self interest.

  4. @Corvinus

    Genetic profiles are far cheaper than the $40 – 200K people already spend on assortative mating. So this will be market-driven.

    Also, per usual, you’re not really grasping the point.

    • Replies: @Corvinus
    , @res
  5. Corvinus says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    “Genetic profiles are far cheaper than the $40 – 200K people already spend on assortative mating. So this will be market-driven.”

    A genetic profile will serve as ONE of several criteria when it comes to men and women choosing who to date and mate. But if you are inferring that it will be the primary means of selection, guess again. We human beings are particular, peculiar, and fickle.

    “Also, per usual, you’re not really grasping the point.”

    The point is that people need not be virtue signaled to death for selecting allegedly “r-selected” rather than “k-selected” ways to produce offspring.

  6. Lee says:

    Forgive me for what might be a stupid question but I don’t have a quantitative background (medicine) and can’t really figure this out.

    Suppose a significant proportion of the population makes use of embryo-selection for IQ and we get polygenic scores that can raise the IQ by an average of 8 points (a reasonable expectation given the rapid growth of the predictors in the past 5 years), twice Dr Thompson’s prediction.

    Would this mean that we can expect the normal distribution of that subset of the population to simply shift to the right with concomitant changes at the tails? Because if so that would be completely game-changing. Because of assortative mating, the upper-middle class or ‘cognitive elite’ or whatever can be thought of something like a caste anyway, at least over the short-term in terms of generations. A right-shift of an already high-average IQ subgroup will certainly massively increase the numbers of the extremely gifted in society.

    I can see a state like Singapore making such a use of embryo-selection. In Singapore, the population already spends hundreds of millions annually on ‘extra-education’ that has little to no effect on grades anyway – so imagine Singaporeans being told that they could select embryos to maximize ‘educational attainment.’

  7. A123 says:

    Most of what you state seems very reasonable. The only one I would significantly question is:

    2 Very few people will be being driven by autonomous vehicles.

    For good reason, the penalties for drunk driving are very high. An autonomous mode that can get an impaired person home as a non-driver is a huge risk mitigation feature that will be rewarded by insurance rates.

    How many parents have more children than drivers? The ability to send a pre-license 14 year old to an event in a vehicle that is restricted to the event location and home has huge upside potential. As a luxury feature it is one that people will purchase.

    Certain commercial areas are problematic. There is a huge crawl of trucks from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to ‘break bulk’ facilities in the East edge of town. Robot vehicles can travel slowly 24 hours a day, while government regulation about human drivers imposes limits and costs.

    And, there are more scenarios that I have not raised. Any one of these applications could offer enough cash to justify rapid deployment. There are so many different forces pushing for self driving vehicles that it seems likely one of them will break thru.
    ____

    While I agree with your prediction, the other one to watch is:

    4 Batteries will be only a little better than they are at the moment.

    A large number of firms are chasing battery alternatives such as graphene (1). After the number of problems, such as fires, with lithium batteries odds are testing will move this beyond 2030 for mass rollout. However, it is not unreasonable to anticipate more advanced batteries will be appearing in limited applications before then.

    PEACE 😇
    _______

    (1) https://sciencetrends.com/will-graphene-battery-power-tomorrows-tesla-car/

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @res
  8. der einzige says: • Website

    my old song

    GMO
    such blah blah blah but it’s really all about
    step by step
    supposedly in the name of progress and crap like that
    to introduce human farming
    men will be custom-made
    bought as products
    the new brave world begins
    kind of human GMO
    soldier, athlete, worker, slave
    mascot for fun
    the new brave world begins
    kind of human GMO

  9. Corvinus says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    “Armed with genetic data and eugenic technology, ambitious families will encourage marriages at fourth and greater degrees of consanguinity.”

    So that would mean a lawyer and, say an elementary school teacher, would turn out to be a bad mix.

    “The syndicates will draft legal codes and negotiate sojourners’ rights. Equity and membership rights and, importantly, leadership in the syndicates will pass by inheritance, motivating strategic marriages and adoptions.”

    Only if there is World War III or a meteor hits the Earth, with billions dead, will neo-feudalism make its triumphant return.

    • Replies: @The Anti-Gnostic
  10. @A123

    Together with many others I crowd-funded a graphene battery a year or two ago. It is very thin and works fine, but I am in no position to test it fully.

  11. Travis says:

    IVF usually fails. The success rate remains below 30%

    A typical woman will undergo 3 IVF treatments before she has a child. Not much opportunity for embryo selection with current technology , since the implanted embryos usually fail to develop into babies

    Future parents are more likely to choose a male embryo over a female embryo , even though females are healthier with a better chance of surviving to adulthood.

    Parents will choose embryos with genes to be taller and stronger over genes which add a few IQ points. Future embryo selections will probably increase the height of children more than their intelligence, because this is how females select their sperm donors.

    Currently women have the ability to select high IQ sperm donors, but they always favor the taller males , especially those with Blue eyes. Embryo selection will just continue this trend. The only set requirement to donate sperm was a height minimum of 5 feet, 10 inches….this is because 100% of women choose sperm donors based on the height of the male, and no female will select sperm from a male who stands 5’9″ tall or less. Women have little regard for the IQ of their sperm donors, but care about the donors health, strength and height. Same will happen when they can select embryos, the short ones will be discarded.

    • Replies: @Realist
    , @res
  12. Realist says:
    @Travis

    Women have little regard for the IQ of their sperm donors, but care about the donors health, strength and height. Same will happen when they can select embryos, the short ones will be discarded.

    Yes, many women are petty, inane and superficial.

  13. res says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    Also, per usual, you’re not really grasping the point.

    At this point I am pretty sure that is intentional.

  14. res says:
    @A123

    Another factor I would add to that is baby boomers (1946-1965 birth) in the US starting to age out of being able to drive themselves safely. In 2030 they will be 65-84 years old. In many US communities being able to drive is important for mobility.

    You can see a population pyramid for the US at https://www.populationpyramid.net/united-states-of-america/2019/

    I think this is the kind of thing Tetlock means by “background statistics.”

  15. res says:
    @Travis

    IVF usually fails. The success rate remains below 30%

    Most women undergoing IVF have fertility problems (I think, any idea if that has changed recently?). Any idea what the success rate is with a more typical population? For example, here is what the success rate looks like by age.
    https://www.centerforhumanreprod.com/services/infertility-treatments/ivf/success-rates/

    • Replies: @anon
  16. res says:

    Those look like fairly solid predictions to me. Though there are some wildcards. For example, decent chance battery technology has a leap, but I still think you are betting the right way. Those things tend to take longer than expected–especially to penetrate all the way to the mainstream.

    For the car predictions an important factor to consider is fleet turnover relative to fleet size (a classic stock vs. flow issue https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_and_flow ).

    Global car sales seem to be flattening over the last four years at 77 million per year (after large increases over the preceding twenty years).
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/200002/international-car-sales-since-1990/

    Wikipedia shows (in thousands! which I will also use from here on) about 970k cars and 350k trucks and buses in 2016 with car increase at about 50k per year. This allows us to estimate fleet retirement at 27k per year (77k – 50k). So doing a simple linear extrapolation 2020-2029 we will see 770k cars manufactured and 270k cars retired giving a total auto fleet size of about 1500k. So about half the fleet will be vehicles on the road now.

    That has obvious implications for electric car uptake. I would say your ICE cars being most in 2030 is likely. Even if electric cars take off in amazing fashion. Perhaps a better question would be whether electric cars will be 50% of new vehicles in 2030? (or is that what you meant?)

    Of course, all this extrapolation could be thrown out the window by a major change. Say an oil shock causing faster obsolescence of older cars.

    P.S. One of the things about Tetlock’s super forecasters is they tend to estimate probabilities well (which is what they are measured on). So as guesses your battery prediction might be 75% and your population prediction 99%. Would you care to take a stab at probabilities?

    • Replies: @iffen
  17. >There would be an increase of about 10 standard deviations.

    is this a typo. That would probably require creating a fundamentally new species

    • Replies: @res
    , @James Thompson
  18. dearieme says:

    In 2030 President Hillary Clinton will be about half way through her third term.

    “What?” I hear you say. “Do you understand the background statistics in some depth … say the number of times a government in power gets re-elected?”

    “What?” I reply. “What will elections have to do with it?”

    About batteries: in the mid 80s I did a consulting job for a chemicals firm that wanted to know whether battery-powered cars were imminent. I concluded that they weren’t. When they would become close was unknowable since there was no fundamental physical obstacle to improved batteries and it was impossible to predict whether, or when, a breakthrough might occur.

    Is it still the case that there is no fundamental physical obstacle to improved batteries? Dunno.

  19. Muggles says:

    While articles about predicting the near future are usually interesting, they rarely contain any new insights. Most of the radical unexpected developments in the recent past weren’t predicted ten years ago or are simple extensions of past trends. Sure some, but few.

    I once wrote an editorial (somewhere obscure) titled “Prophesy & Amnesia.” The point was these are two linked concepts. Prophets are usually amnesiacs. Why? Because they are rarely correct and if so, are accurate only about easy stuff. And the shelf life of such predictions is about a month.

    So where are the articles about predictions of early 2010? Surely some were written. But does anyone care to dig them up and discern who was smart and who was trite? “Flying cars?” Yes that’s now a joke meme. Do people think this would be a good thing? We already kill > 50K people on roads with vehicles usually firmly attached to the ground via gravity (when not, bad things happen.) So what about bad driving, mechanical failures, bad weather, etc. when “cars” are at death dealing heights? Not until anti-grav underwear is invented.

    Not to carp about predictions here. But who predicted the Neo Puritanism of #MeToo ten years ago? Other than the Simpsons writers, who predicted Pres. Trump? Oh, and still in Afghanistan.

    What would be helpful is for someone to write a review of the 10 best prophets from 2010, and the worst (too many probably). Then maybe we might learn something. Who has insight and who doesn’t.

    • Replies: @res
    , @Justvisiting
  20. res says:
    @Muggles

    What would be helpful is for someone to write a review of the 10 best prophets from 2010, and the worst (too many probably). Then maybe we might learn something. Who has insight and who doesn’t.

    If you haven’t read Tetlock’s book yet, you should. But first read Dr. Thompson’s blog post about it linked at the start of this post.

    • Replies: @Muggles
  21. res says:
    @grey enlightenment2

    I doubt it is a typo. Steve Hsu talks about +30 SD as a thought experiment, but seems more comfortable arguing for the practicality of +8-10 SD (I agree with him). Some relevant posts:
    https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2016/08/greg-cochran-on-james-millers-future.html
    https://infoproc.blogspot.com/2016/04/this-is-for-pz-meyers.html

  22. anon[414] • Disclaimer says:

    if those few parents undergoing IVF choose the healthiest of their several possible embryos, there could be a boost of about 4 IQ points for those few children, which will be useful but hardly noticeable.

    Whoa, Dr. Thompson, you have vastly underestimated the immediate potential for embryo selection! Try several hundred embryos! The cost is trivial in light of the benefits and will continue to come down quickly. At this scale, we will be able to select extreme outliers in intelligence. I’d be interested to see a revised estimate of average IQ gains on this scale.

    This is totally possible now and I expect it to catch on rapidly — a real game changer!

    I personally know several couples that have done IVF recently — a lesbian couple and two others that had fertility problems. They did not do embryo selection, as far as I know, but they easily could have.

    This is going to be big!

  23. anon[414] • Disclaimer says:
    @res

    Great point — it’s a non-issue.

  24. Factorize says:

    Happy New Year Dr. Thompson!
    Great content in 2019 and I am looking forward to another great year of psychometric content in 2020.

    Happy New Year res!
    You have earned your gold star.

    Your fighting back against every inch of misrepresentation, distortion and egregious factual errors is greatly appreciated. There is no social justice without truth. We need to throw down the rhetorical gauntlet and make it very clear to those intent on the exploitation of vulnerable and disadvantaged people through the manipulation of scientifically established objective reality that this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. There are too many examples to mention where ignoring truth ultimately victimizes those who are the intended nominal beneficiaries.

    Regarding the list of the future:

    1. I agree (and indeed fervently hope) that flying taxis do not enter an exponential uptake in the next decade (or ever). Bad technologies should be discouraged as much as possible.

    2. I am not as sure about few people being driven by autonomous vehicles.

    The major transport revolution of this decade will be robobuggies. London is at the leading edge of this transformation. We have continued our hunter and gatherer lifestyle into the modern age — going here going there, in search of objects needed for survival (or amusement)– usually in carbon dioxide producing vehicle. Robobuggies will change all of this. Robots can hunt and gather for you while you attend to more pressing concerns. Great! Does anyone actually enjoy shopping?

    How does this relate to moving people autonomously? Robobuggies would be an ideal way to move those who have had a few too many at the bar. Why hasn’t this already been introduced? Oversized robobuggies (boozer buggies) drive home from the bar those can’t using the already functioning infrastructure in place for robobuggies. Fortunately, midnight strolls on the neighborhood sidewalks are not a particularly popular past time in my parts. Perfecting full scale autonomous vehicles at typical driving speeds on roads and highways might take years to be accepted and legalized. A boozer buggy might rapidly be accepted and prevent substantial carnage.

    3. Given the comment above, one could imagine a parallel transport system developing with electric cars (robobuggies) that used the sidewalk instead of the road. Pedestrians might then demand their own lane again.

    4. The big news in energy technology has to be solar cells. Prices have evaporated. 90% in the last 10 years? I recently checked the solar module prices: $700 for a kW? It is difficult to imagine. Prices have fallen and fallen and have kept on falling.

    Grid parity has already been reached in some places. If kwh prices could fall another 70%, then our gas furnace could go out for recycling. My directly generated CO2 emissions would fall by 100%. The carbon dioxide economy is within sight of being economically non-competitive.

    5. Yes, I agree that people will be richer and healthier. The dramatic improvement in respiratory health over the last few decades had escaped my attention. This has been one of the most significant medical advances of our era and yet it has received little commentary. In high income nations, there has been upwards of 75% declines in various aspects of pulmonary health over this time interval. Very impressive.

    Regarding the next ten years, another victory for the UK, will be the launch of reduced methylene blue as an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s. Two phase 3 trials have already established a halting of dementia progression over a one period. There has never been a treatment even remotely as effective as this. The reported p-values were <0.0001 and lower. Another phase 3 is underway for some reason or other. A new era of active vitality into older age without progressive cognitive impairment is approaching!

    6. Can't argue with the demographic momentum.

    7. With genetic enhancement of IQ, my hunch is that we have already reached the starting point of our journey to Cognitive Singularity. Never fall behind an exponential wave. Before 2017, no human SNPs had replicated in GWAS for human intelligence after decades of intense searching. The 2018 Nature Genetics article reported hundreds of genome wide SNPs. 18 SD equals 270 IQ points; there was also 30 IQ points of causal SNPs. It is not difficult to predict that during this decade essentially
    all of the SNPs for human IQ will have unlocked. The expected future headline of the discovery of these 1500 or more IQ points worth of SNPs in a GWAS will make it abundantly clear that we have entered a very different epoch of human possibilities.

    Is it really that implausible that ~100 CRISPR edits could not be made to an embryo to yield a 2 SD increase within the next decade? A grand scale science project has not even been announced, nonetheless CRISPR gene editing has already been achieved in humans. The unspoken truth is almost too obvious to mention: multiple CRISPR editing of human embryos is already within our technical grasp, though some want it beyond our reach.

    Of course, now it is no longer even worth arguing whether IQ enhancement is in fact possible. It is .. now. 4 point enhancement is a reasonable estimate given current embryo technology, per generation without strenuous selection of mates. Humanity has crossed an important milestone. The goal posts change. Increasing intelligence through genetic engineering was not possible before 2018. Welcome to a new era.

    4 points can be dismissed as non-consequential? Will 1 SD within a century or perhaps less also be regarded as non-consequential? Considering the substantial economic value of high human cognitive ability, generation time might start to reduce more than some might imagine.

    After ~30,000 years, Asians have evolved a ~5 IQ point advantage over Europeans. A single generation could erase this? A 1 point enhancement over a 1,000 years was considered a brisk pace in ancient times, yet here we are and 150 points per millennium is the new base rate with only partial knowledge of the genome. Humanity has embarked upon a new adventure.

    What if there were a society wide effort to optimize genomes so that embryos were chosen so that some chromosomes had high polygenic scores for each strand. In such a scenario, mates both having such an arrangement of chromosomes would produce embryos guaranteed to have high polygenic scores for these chromosomes. Within 5 generations of such a plan, the genomes of the entire population could be fixed to high IQ chromosomal strands. Regression to the mean would no longer occur.

    The Cognitive Singularity is approaching. The next decade could see 4 points, or possibly 10 SD, or more? People need to know which. Parents-to-be need to make sure that their children would have a future. With 10 SD enhancement (or more) unenhanced children would not have any future. With such instability present, the likelihood for a race to genetic enhancement increases.

  25. Muggles says:
    @res

    I did read the linked Unz article. Some interesting discussion.

    He basically dismisses public punditry “forecasting” or prediction as meaningless and not quantifiable. However I’m sure many 2010 predictions for 2020 included the notion that “by then, the US will have elected a woman president or vice president.”

    That is verifiable.

    I doubt if published pundits would be regarded as great prophets, but most of them write as if they are and have proven track records.

    These prediction cycles occur annually or every decade or some point of lengthy significance (end of Civil War, etc.) I have to wonder if anything is ever gleaned from those. Are they over optimistic or pessimistic? I seldom encounter anyone who can honestly brag about predicting some unusual event.

  26. Alfa158 says:

    Regarding 2 and 3; alternative energy sources for vehicles have a real uphill battle because of the physics and chemistry involved. Battery and internal combustion both use chemical reactions to generate energy but IC has a several inherent advantages.

    First, a battery vehicle has to carry the entire energy source around with it. IC vehicles only have to carry part of the energy source, the fuel. The rest of the material for the energy release reaction is oxygen which is pulled from the ambient air. By mass a gasoline engine draws 14 times as much air as the gas it consumes. Oxygen makes up about 20% of air so the mass of material it gets for free is almost 3 times the mass of the fuel that has to be carried. If your car had a 20 gallon gasoline tank, and had to carry its own oxygen supply, that would be around 300 pounds of oxygen. Carrying that much oxygen as either a compressed gas or LOX would make IC non competitive.

    Second, the energy density as a function of mass is much better for combustion products. Gasoline is a complex molecule with a lot of bonds that are tying up lots of energy. Burning it dismantles the molecules down to water and CO2 releasing that energy. With the additional advantage of obtaining the oxidant from ambient air, gasoline when burned releases about 45 million joules of energy per kilogram.
    Batteries use simpler chemical reactions that don’t involve breaking down complex molecules with a lot of bonds, so even lithium ion batteries are struggling to reach 1 million joules per kilo.
    A Tesla with the 85 kilowatt-hour battery holds about 300 million joules of energy. The 20 gallons of gas in your tank releases about 2400 mega joules of energy.

    Third, recharging the car battery involves reversing the chemical reaction that released the battery’s energy. Your gasoline car is “recharged” by taking fuel that has been assembled elsewhere and simply pouring it in.

    Electric cars can be as competitive as they have become because they are far more efficient in turning the energy into work. IC systems squander lavish percentages of the energy they release.

    Electrically based energy systems probably have some room for improvement. Modern smokeless gunpowders release about 6 million joules per kilogram, and there are experimental fuel cell systems that can also get in that range. An electrical storage system that could achieve that would be a game changer, but that system would also have to have meet requirements for recharge abilities.

    It therefore seems we will see up further improvements but i agree it is unlikely that we will see order of magnitude breakthroughs in batteries by 2030.

    And of course even then there is the problem of building an electrical generating and distribution system for that electrical energy. One study by Purdue estimated that if all fossil fuel ground transport in the US was replaced by electric vehicles the electrical power grid would need almost three times the current capacity.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  27. anon[414] • Disclaimer says:

    Speaking of predictions: I know an economist who predicted the 2008 collapse to the year … in 1997. Might want to follow him! He’s called Fred Foldvary. It was a lucky guess — cycles are messy, but he correctly identified the problem. I’ll see if I can find the paper so you all can judge for yourselves… curiously, he’s now predicting a depression in 2026.

    • Replies: @anon
  28. @Corvinus

    LOL. You literally cannot stay away from me. And I’m still not letting you post on my blog.

    • Replies: @Corvinus
  29. @Muggles

    The “climate change” predictions for 2020 were hilariously wrong.

    Their stupidity means they have to remove the signs from Glacier National Park:

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jan/8/glacier-national-park-to-replace-signs-saying-glac/

    Then there are the wild and crazy NASA predictions:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/20/science/space/nasa-planning-return-to-moon-within-13-years.html

  30. Corvinus says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    “LOL. You literally cannot stay away from me. And I’m still not letting you post on my blog.”

    How vain of you to say.

  31. @Corvinus

    “Each man and woman is selecting for themselves who they want to date and procreate with.”

    With 70% of black kids born out of wedlock one has to wonder; what are these criteria by which black women are choosing?

    More likely, high on booze, weed and coke she’s going on pure instinct and is in no condition to exercise any rational choice. True, that’s assortative mating but not of a type that will uplift the gene pool.

    Dream on.

    • Replies: @Corvinus
  32. Corvinus says:
    @ThreeCranes

    “True, that’s assortative mating but not of a type that will uplift the gene pool.”

    To what extent are normies focused on “gene pool” when they go out on a date?

    How do you plan on convincing this group to begin asking questions of their prospective mates like “What is your IQ”, “What is your genetic admixture”, and “How do we plan on ensuring that our future offspring will make smart mating choices to maintain or increase our own gene pool”?

    Please elaborate on these two important questions.

  33. I agree that most cars in 2030 will be powered by ICE, but thats not much of a prediction, I think more than 25% of cars will be fully electric and another 10% plugin hybrids

    Also I think by 2025 SpaceX and Blue Origin will have people on the Moon and on the way to Mars

    • Replies: @Justvisiting
  34. @(((They))) Live

    Do dead people on the Moon and Mars count?

    They better bring body bags.

    • Replies: @(((They))) Live
  35. @Justvisiting

    Of course it counts, getting the landing wrong and killing the first crew would just be a small set back, the fact that somebody has a rocket large enough to attempt a Mars mission is the important part

    • Replies: @Justvisiting
  36. @(((They))) Live

    This isn’t like building a transcontinental railroad in the 1800s where a bunch of dead workers during the construction process is “acceptable losses”.

    We live in a very litigious age–my prediction is these private space companies will all be bankrupt long before they have any businesses operating on the Moon or Mars.

  37. @Alfa158

    Yes, I was arguing this purely on the basis of the physics and chemistry: not enough energy density in batteries, and ICE cars get the air for free without having to carry it. I also assumed that fleet turnover would slow down, simply because drivers might want to nurse their ICE cars for as long as possible, to avoid the total loss of zero second hand values at (possibly legally forced) changeover to electric. Also, more likely that electric engines will improve than that batteries will improve, and that improvement could make a difference and run against my prediction.

    • Replies: @(((They))) Live
  38. @Factorize

    Yes, solar panels have come down in cost, but away from the Equator they produce least when wanted most: in long dark winter nights. Batteries bump up the price too high. Their within-day matching with personal requirements is also poor.

    The Singularity. Well, I think we have some way to go. However, Greg Cochran reasonably argues that a better editor that CRISPR will searched for, and probably found before too long.

    Meanwhile, an average 4 IQ gain will be valuable to any society.

    • Replies: @Factorize
    , @iffen
  39. @James Thompson

    Electric motor efficiency or cost won’t improve by much, by 2030, but I would expect batteries to be at least 10 to 20% better in almost every way but motors will be more or less the same, if solid state batteries happen then things will get interesting

    Which EVs have you tested ?

    Most people don’t really understand EVs until after they drive one

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  40. @(((They))) Live

    Have been driven in one, and discuss them with owners and motor journalists.

  41. Factorize says:
    @James Thompson

    Dr. Thompson, you probably have a much better grasp on the cost of solar than I do, though the prices that I see quoted online are almost beyond belief. A large solar project was recently announced at under 2 cents per kwh with another 1 cent per kwh budgeted for storage. 3 cents per kwh? These prices are startling. The storage cost is expected to fall by 50 % over the next 10 years.

    One online source called 1 cent /kwh as “free energy”. My understanding is that at 5 cent per kwh our natural gas furnace/water heater would no longer be competitive with electric replacements. 5 cent per kwh is already achievable in my community. However, the electric company has a great deal of plant costed well above the current market rates. Simply writing-down these assets to current market valuation would allow us to immediately move to a non-carbon economy as carbon based energy sources are no longer economically competitive.

    For a heating application it might not even be necessary to include battery storage. Water has one of the highest specific heat capacities of any substance. Perhaps water could be used as the “battery”; a thermally insulated bath tub could hold perhaps 80 k BTU. This heat could be stored during the day while the sun was shining. We might need only I heavy duty water heater for the whole house with several thermally insulated “tubs” for storage. I find it remarkable that we are already approaching a price range at which a zero carbon green technology is the most economically competitive option available.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  42. @Factorize

    Let’s do thorium salt reactors, already. We already have enough plutonium to melt the crust of the planet.

  43. @Factorize

    In sunny countries, solar heated water makes sense. As you say, it can be stored in tanks for a day or two until needed. I was thinking of solar photovoltaics, which produce electricity in the day, when it is needed at night. Batteries have to bridge the gap.

    I did not anticipate there would be a glut of photovoltaic panels, driving the price down so much. It is now rational to use the up current stock. I assume, but do not know for sure, that they are energy positive, that is, how long it takes for them to generate enough useful electricity when people need it, to cover the energy required to make the panel in the first place. The Energy Return on Energy Invested figures I have seen for commercial SolarPhotoVoltaic farms are reasonable in Southern Spain, almost neutral in Southern Germany, and not worth it in Southern England.

    All this may change as the cheap panels proliferate, and will depend on how long they last, and produce reasonable power. The story could be much better than I had previously anticipated.

    • Replies: @dearieme
    , @Factorize
    , @Wency
  44. dearieme says:
    @James Thompson

    I know nowt about PV panels in the British climate. The rooftop ones: how do you clean them? If you don’t clean them how much does output suffer? Do enough people plunge to their deaths from the rooftops that a “cost” should be attributed to that? How about the corresponding storage batteries – are they typically Li-ion batteries? If so how many houses will they burn down?

    As you doubtless know, doc, there are signs that the long term increases in UK life expectancy may be fizzling out. If true I conjecture that it is caused by people cutting down ventilation in their houses too far, and running their central heating too hot. As a result they live in a permanent fug of volatile organics and small particulates. In other words, could indoor air pollution be killing codgers? If so, what will UK life expectancy at birth be by 2030?

  45. Factorize says:
    @James Thompson

    Dr. Thompson, solar cell technology is super exciting; you look away for a year and then prices have fallen quite a bit more. We have now reached price points in which large regions have solar cell kwh prices lower than those offered by the electric company. Online estimates suggested that even those living in New York state would derive a $10,000 net present value benefit by going off grid and buying solar cells for their house. In line with some of the other non-predictions, the solar revolution can only truly start up when people wake up, smell the coffee, and accept the 10 large check: That could take a day, 10 years, or perhaps longer?

    What I had in mind for a combo solar cell hot water system was to use the electricity from the solar cells to heat water that could then be used especially at night for space heating. This idea is motivated by saving the expense related to the electric storage cost (i.e., batteries, etc.). $5 trillion was quoted in one online article as the capital which would be required to store a day’s worth of electric energy supply for the American market. Yet, this would still seem to suggest that if there were one completely cloudy day, then the national energy storage would be completely drained. Storing the energy in the form of hot water instead of electrochemically would likely be much cheaper and perhaps could ride through the short term fluctuations in solar electricity production.

    I am not sure how effective my thermos bottle approach would be; it would depend upon how cheaply one could preserve heat through time on a smallish scale. In colder regions, a direct solar water heater concept probably would not be effective as there is often not much thermal energy to capture.

    An obstacle obstructing a carbon free future in space heating is the economics involved. In sunny places that can produce 1 cent kwhs, customers can be quietly charged 10 cents per kwh, while the new technology helps the environment by displacing more polluting alternatives.

    Yet, in colder less sunny regions, enticing those burning hydrocarbons for space heating to switch to electric would require sending a clear price signal (i.e., prices would have to decrease a substantial amount.). I believe electric heating price parity is reached at ~5 cents per kwh. This price point is already achievable at the current solar cell prices and would in a large amount of growth in the market for electricity if offered to customers. However, to move down to these prices, there would need to be very large scale write-offs of the stranded high cost electricity capital. There must be many tens (hundreds?) of billions of dollars of electric generating capital that is no longer price competitive with the latest solar cell prices. Electric companies might continue to charge cost plus prices in non-market environments (possibly for decades) in order to avoid disclosing the presence of the stranded capital on their balance sheets. Of course, such behavior would prevent us from moving towards a more sustainable environmental policy.

    The figure below highlights that it is not so much that there is a solar cell glut as there has been ongoing large scale long term price declines. Solar cells can now economically outcompete all other energy sources in a wide-range of markets. The fact that we have already seen tariffs applied to solar cells indicates that solar cells are having economic impacts in established energy markets.

    dearieme, I am greatly looking forward to the air quality benefits that a non-combustion economy will bring to us. While there are many interested in a DIY approach to solar, the very large solar farms greatly outcompete single roof installations on price. There are a great many quality of life improvements that solar offers us. Hopefully, there will be a path that will allow us to capture these benefits.

  46. Anonymous[330] • Disclaimer says:

    Statistically, the “action is in the tails”.

    If there is a four (some here suggest eight) point increase in mode IQ that’s good. But ‘way down two standard deviations we are in the 70 level, and much of that level is from physiological issues. Many of those sub-optimal traits that can be identified, and selected against.

    People below about 80 IQ generally have a hard time making an independent living in first-world societies, and use far more resources than they can contribute…in short, an economic burden.

  47. Wency says:
    @James Thompson

    A lot of these discussions only seem to be covering variable costs, or at least are only capturing a small part of the fixed costs, which are a very large part of the equation when it comes to electric power generation. The grid is built for peak utilization (at least in developed countries where frequent brownouts aren’t acceptable). This is going to be some multiple of average utilization (even average utilization on an average winter’s night).

    The trouble is that solar meets basically 0% of your need for peak utilization, so you still need to maintain all the other plants, all their employees, etc. You’re mainly just saving money on fuel. Which, at highest, won’t be more than 40-50% of the expenses at a fossil fuel plant, much less at a nuclear plant.

    The rates charged by the electric company include the fixed costs of maintaining all this infrastructure so that you have reliable power. So when it comes to rooftop solar and places that compensate you for returning energy to the grid, there will need to be a reckoning with this fact at some point.

    • Replies: @res
    , @James Thompson
  48. res says:
    @Wency

    Good point. I think the “duck curve” idea captures this load/demand imbalance in a memorable way.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_curve

    Based on that all we need to do is store the energy for a few hours to make a big difference in peak demand/supply imbalance. Sounds like a job for supercapacitors.

    Affordable solar has profoundly changed the California retail electricity market. It basically eliminates the ability of the utilities to overcharge for excess use to subsidize the rest of the market. The people previously paying the exorbitant tariffs are those most able to pay for solar and financially savvy enough to see the benefit.

  49. @Wency

    I agree with you, hence my skepticism about the value of solar photovoltaics. Demand should be calculated by when people want power, not when producers want to supply it. Winter evenings in the North are when people want light and heat, also early mornings. During the day, a bit less urgent.

  50. Factorize says:

    res, this is superexciting!

    The duck curve that you noted emerged over the last 8 years for the very reason that solar cells can finally offer unbeatable prices from 9-5 (when the sun shines). No great skill at future divination is required to predict that the duck curve will become the giraffe curve, as non-renewable electric generation is pushed to zero during daylight hours over the next several years. The figure shows that 1 GW of midday California electric power has been transferring to solar from non-renewables annually for the last few years.

    Even the problem with storage does not appear to be insurmountable. A recent announcement of a large California solar farm reported the cost of the solar cells at < 2 cents per kwh and of the storage at ~1 cent/kwh. The projection is that this solar farm would provide stable power from 7AM to 11PM. An energy revolution has begun! In fact, it has only begun: a new wave of research might push prices below 0.1 cents/kwh.

    The potential to consume electric power and convert it into a thermal energy store has me very excited. Most days I might consume 20 kwh through the use of my computer, lighting, occasional toasting, etc.; nothing overly invigorating. Yet, my primary energy usage (especially during the winter) is natural gas heating (water and space heating). We have a 10 kW natural gas water heater and a 70 kW natural gas furnace. In my community, if 1 cent kwh were available, then there would be a near instant conversion to electric heating. Electric energy demand would increase massively.

    As a simple electric light bulb is nearly a 100% efficient heat generator, one could imagine people leaving lights on 24/7. Filling bathtubs (thermally insulated) with hot water during day to keep warm during the night would then be entirely realistic. We are much closer to saving our planet from carbon dioxide than I had imagined. We are already rapidly transitioning away from a carbon economy. It should not be a surprise that at some time in the future very large write downs of stranded capital in electric generation will need to be acknowledged. Considering how much money can be made by doing the right thing, why would anyone want to be a villain?

    With the California electric market and the duck curve it is more of a re-balancing of a fixed market size as non-renewables are replaced with solar. Dividing the pie up into different slices without the pie actually growing very much. I do wonder, though, why there has not been more growth in midday energy consumption. Couldn't the same thermal strategy also apply there? Instead of storing the heat they could store the cool. At some price point it would not be sensible to run freezers at full capacity at the cheapest kwh and store ice for air conditioning requirements day(s) or possibly week(s) in the future?

  51. Sean says:

    There would be an increase of about 10 standard deviations.

    I would give long odds against adult humans being at that level before Artificial Intelligence is. An AI with the general intelligence of a termite being invented tomorrow would be a harbinger of AI too smart for humans to completely understand by 2030.

    Artificial intelligence will be used as a tool to replace some routine pattern identifying tasks such as in medical screening, and in generating game playing strategies in simulations so as to design new materials and medicines. It will be the adjunct of choice when solving new problems. It will probably be used in almost every setting, and then become better understood and refined to deal with those tasks humans find too dull to dwell on for long.

    This makes Artificial Intelligence sound like Einstein in the Swiss patent office. He was so efficient at his duties that he performed calculations to pass the time.

  52. Factorize says:

    Sean, thank you for bringing the conversation back to the Singularity. The Singularity is the central issue that we now confront.

    It is finally close enough that social apprehension should become increasingly apparent within this decade. Alpha-Go has demonstrated the emerging high cognitive ability of artificial intelligence; the next 10 years should offer us many other instances. The sociopolitical implications of AI might become all too obvious: What happens when computers outperform humans on a wide range of activities? What role will students have when computers can write their high school essays for them? Even more ominously, … when computers can write high school essays better than any human can? The next decade will provide ample opportunity to contemplate the consequences of a foreseeable world in which artificial intelligence could outcompete everyone.

  53. iffen says:
    @res

    Those things tend to take longer than expected

    Yeah, I’m still waiting on electricity that is too cheap to meter produced by nuclear fusion.

  54. iffen says:
    @James Thompson

    Meanwhile, an average 4 IQ gain will be valuable to any society.

    It sure as hell would help me.

  55. Factorize says:

    Somehow we managed to miss that the end of human civilization was already underway when this thread started. Predicting the corona virus pandemic towards the end of January was less clairvoyance and more looking out the window. While I live in a place that has a keep calm and carry on attitude, life is becoming alarming my way. Supermarkets have been completely cleared of inventory; panic buying is occurring.Even still the UK appears to have been ahead of the curve and has scored another impressive goal (in addition to the UKBB) by possibly incubating a technology that could be deployed to contain the outbreak.

    The robobuggies that I mentioned in a previous comment above would be an ideal method of allowing people to acquire sustenance without having to expose themselves to the risks associated with shopping in crowded supermarkets. Hard versus soft quarantines clearly make much more sense. Oftentimes innovations can create so many add-on benefits that at first glance are not apparent. I am so envious of those in London and elsewhere in England who have access to this service now. Hopefully other locations around the globe might now embrace robobuggy technology (especially those who might have resisted it in the past). Even now an accelerated roll-out of the technology probably could meaningfully deflect the trajectory of the pandemic.

  56. Factorize says:

    Another prediction that might now seem counter-intuitive is that pandemics (similar to the one we are now experiencing with corona virus) will likely never occur again. This would have been my prediction before this current episode, though it is even more true now. How could this be true?

    The current pandemic largely has occurred because there is a highly centralized system of detection of infectious illness. Typically governments are not politically rewarded for maintaining an optimal level of community infection surveillance. Even after the alarm bell has been sounded it still has taken months to produce the needed COVID kits.

    The development of Oxford Nanopore’s consumer level genetic sequencing technology could dramatically change the narrative of infection. Oxford Nanopore has been developing their technology for several years and have only recently started to move in the direction of a Nanopore sequencing for all strategy. If this had been more developed at this time, the current pandemic might not have happened.

    Detection of infection could be devolved to the level of individual citizens. Every good, morally guided citizen could maintain their own infection control lab. The r0 could then conceivably be moved close to zero. As it is even now, many of those who are infected with the virus are probably not aware of it. This might need not even be some far off vision of the future, ramping up nanopore sequencers and their flow cells for consumer consumption would not be a bad idea, though the company is already supplying their kit to government agencies all over the world.

  57. Factorize says:

    There it is. This device will prevent all future pandemics: Oxford Nanopore’s SmidgION.

    “SmidgION uses the same core nanopore sensing technology as MinION and PromethION but will be designed for use with smartphones or other mobile, low power devices. It is designed to cater for a broad range of field-based analyses; potential applications may include remote monitoring of pathogens in a breakout or infectious disease; the on-site analysis of environmental samples such as water/metagenomics samples, real time species ID for analysis of food, timber, wildlife or even unknown samples; …”.

    SmidgION is intended to be an inexpensive DNA/RNA sequencer that is within the budget of typical consumers and within the technical competence range of those with basic high school lab ability (or less). Without the spread of an infection in the community initially being unrecognized by highly centralized testing labs, pandemics could never occur. Everyone could be part of a global infection control network.

    Those with a moral conscience will purchase one of these devices (when supply conditions have stabilized) in order to help insure that pandemics never revisit us.

  58. Factorize says:

    These sequencers truly would be an overwhelmingly good workaround for our present difficulties. Governments should have put this out for an open source solution right from the start instead of doing their own private huddles.

    Rough game plan would be to have the Chinese manufacturing skill set assigned to making a large number of these devices (~ 1 billion). Oxford Nanopore could be in for $5-$10 licensing fee (if that is what they wanted) per unit. With this product priced at a reasonable consumer level price (probably < $100), then the technology could be widely dispersed in the population.

    Whenever someone wanted to leave self-isolation they would be required to run the nanopore sequencer in order to determine their COVID status. This might take roughly 5-7 hours (so when arriving home from work etc.). The testing could be widespread. At a population scale such intensive testing would mean that the pandemic could not be sustained. The R0 would rapidly approach 0. If this technology were present right now, the spread of the virus would stop almost immediately. As it is now, the medical system does not even know who is infected anymore because there are not enough test kits.

    This idea makes a great deal of sense. Current opinion suggests that the global economy might be shut down for months. That represents tens of trillions of dollars of economic value. Going big with the nanopore sequencers could dramatically change the evolving pandemic at a highly affordable price, while also preventing medium term collapse of the global medical system and the potential for large scale human illness.

    Please comment! Anyone out there think that this might be a good idea? Anyone in for a 100 to save humanity? I am sure that if there were clear interest in this idea, then it would not take that long for the factory line to start churning them out. Just wave your credit card around and interesting things start happening.

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