Artificial Expectations III

September 20, 2009 at 10:06 am

Continued from previous posts, I’ve been reviewing the World Future Society’s Special Report – 20 Forecasts for 2010-2025.  In Part III, I review forecasts 6-10.

Forecast #6:  Invention Becomes Automated. Nope.  Oh the tools we use will become more sophisticated.  I imagine that in a few years CAD systems will take care of much of the detail work automatically, but you will still need the engineers and designers to invent things.  Why?  Just ask anyone familiar with Six Sigma and similar problem solving techniques.

The toughest part of solving a problem is to identify it correctly.  An AI can’t do that and this article admits it, saying “… the Edisons of the next decade will spend their days writing descriptions of the problems they want to solve, and then hand those descriptions to computers to work out the solutions.”  Okay here’s one:  Cure cancer.  See, wasn’t that simple.

Defining a problem correctly and in sufficient detail to solve it usually provides at least half of the solution.

Forecast #7:  Japan Dominates the Race for Personal Robots. Wow, that’s really sticking your neck out.

Forecast #8:  Holographic 3-D TV.  A couple of years ago I might’ve groused about this one, but 3D movies have improved tremendously over just 5 years ago.  Not exactly a bold forecast any longer, but not bad.

Forecast #9:  The ‘Holy Grail’ of Computers Becomes a Reality.  This is the one that caught my attention in the first place and I discussed it here.  To be honest, this forecast is more likely when discussing the actual applications listed (driving a car or diagnosing an illness) than the ‘Holy Grail’ of truly human level AI.

Forecast #10:   Electric Cars Become Fully Practical By 2020. Not a chance.

Strike 1:  The infrastructure for internal combustion engines took decades to put in place.  The type of overhaul required to make electric cars commonplace would also take decades and cost billions of dollars – not likely in the current environment where government deficits will run a trillion dollars or more per year for the next decade.

Strike 2:  Most of the country does not have a climate equivalent to southern California.  Electric cars do not handle cold weather very well.  A midwestern General Motors EV1 that experienced a range of 100+ miles per charge in July would be lucky to get 30 miles in January.  Not because the cold effects the batteries!  The battery pack can be insulated (though the additional weight reduces your range) but because the cold dense air, cold roads and cold tires increase the power required to get from point A to point B.  Cold air and cold gasoline actually provide more energy output than their warm counterparts (basic thermodynamics) which offsets much of the penalty for driving in cold weather.  Electrics don’t have that benefit.

Strike 3:  Swapping out the battery pack instead of fueling up with gasoline sounds great until you realized that batteries are heavy.  The GM EV1 battery pack weighed over 900 pounds!

Here are a couple of old links from Steven den Beste at USS Clueless.  While not focusing on electric cars, they provide a good background on alternative fuels and alternative energy sources.

Carbon Emissions

Obscure Energy Sources

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Artificial Expectations II Pet Peeve: The plural of anecdotes is not data


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