Thursday, April 30, 2020

20-20 Nanometer Hindsight

It's always a good idea to ask people like me, who claim to be futurists, just how well their predictions are coming along. Even more so those of us who go so far as to say things like, "Here's what we could have and should have done, but didn't," as I did in Where is My Flying Car.

So here we are in the midst of a global pandemic, which everybody is talking about and loudly opining every which way about what we should have done, but didn't, but which most of the opiners didn't actually say anything about beforehand.

Was I any better? I think so. For example, the main thrust of the book was that we should have flying cars, as part of a geographically-distributed, non-crowded, high-energy, public-transport-free lifestyle. Much has been made recently of the fact that many of the green-inspired virtue-signaling fads ranging from crowded subways to reusable grocery bags are quite counterproductive, and amusingly have flipped from being mandatory one day to prohibited the next.

Personal flying cars are clearly a better choice than cattle-car airliners.

Here's a slightly less obvious consequence of what could have been, given we had avoided our disastrous ergophobic funk and continued to follow the Henry Adams Curve: my house, like many buildings nowadays, gets climate control from a heat pump, which in the winter is a bit more efficient that simply dumping energy into the air by simple resistance heater. But in order to get as much efficiency as possible, the system works by recycling the air, rather than continually pumping fresh air into the house. So things that people breathe out, such as CO2, build up, as I can measure using a CO2 meter.

Well, it turns out that people breathe out SARS-Cov-2 as well. That doesn't matter so much in my house, but bigger buildings where lots of people meet, ranging from restaurants to schools, and there's a lot of air being breathed at second, third, and so forth hand that didn't have to be except for ergophobia.
So yes, we should have stayed on the Henry Adams Curve and we would have been somewhat less susceptible to the rapid spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

But the one thing I particularly identified in the book which would have made a huge difference, which is blindingly glaringly obvious and on which I spent several chapters in the book: We should have developed nanotechnology.

You want an RNA sequencer in a grain of sand? Nanotech. You want a completely reliable test that you just pin to your lapel and it runs constantly (by sampling your breath)? Nanotech. You want that manufactured in 300 million quantity in two days? Nanotech. You want a mask that samples the air that you breathe in and out, but destroys (as well as counts) every coronavirus going either way? Nanotech. You want a nanomachine that mounts guard on every ACE2 receptor on your bronchial epithelial cells, destroying any virus that tries to breach them? Nanotech.
You want toilet paper by the ton? Well, do you?

1 comment:

  1. The layperson (such as me) lacks the proper technological knowledge to know how much of the nanotech theory is science, and how much is fiction.

    Considering its incredible benefits, and the time the field has been around, it's hard to be convinced we hadn't got nanotechnology yet just because of the Machiavelli Effect. Even if the theory is all true, maybe engineering at the nanoscale is just a task that's too hard for us mere humans?

    Then again, I look at fields like AI or the space industry, and it really seems like the common opinion and interest decide what frontiers we are pursuing. It's hard to judge what stands in the way of certain technologies, I'm still puzzled. But if we want to restart the development of missed opportunities, like nano and nuclear, we might need to rethink about how we lost them.