Monday, December 9, 2013

Sharing Economy - the Start Trek future is happening, again

First it was the communicator, er, ubiquitous mobile phones.

And Bluetooth

Then transparent aluminum. And, of course, that device Mr. Spock used to always carry over his shoulder, particularly when the Away Team first surveyed a new planet, the tricorder.

Now, the replicator from Star Trek may push the world into a future more like the Federation. Many posit that the future depicted in Star Trek relies on an apparently post-scarcity, post-currency, socialistic economy. In the time-line of ST, technology gets better and better, so things that are mass produced (get cheaper and more abundant). From obvious clues in the TV shows and films, in ST there exists a post-scarcity economy where anyone can replicate any kind of consumer goods. This is not some Orwellian welfare state, but a world (universe?) where energy is abundant enough (anti-matter for power generation) and computational power is so high that people have unrestricted access to consumer-grade replicators. Consider what Matthew Yglesias says in his column,

There is absolutely, obviously, still private property in the Federation: most obviously Joseph Sisko’s restaurant in New Orleans and Chateau Picard, evidencing that not just small possessions are allowed but that the land itself is still privately owned. One could argue that these aren’t really Sisko and Picard’s to own, but they are routinely referred to as “his” restaurant and vineyard so we gotta go with Occam’s Razor here and assume they do, in fact, own them.

Over at the BBC, we read that first music, then movies and novels, became the vanguard of the "sharing" (post-scarcity) economy. Now everything in "meatspace" (IRL, in real life) appears to be at risk of piracy. This is perhaps nascent steps towards the replicator of the future. The proliferation of 3D printing open the possibility where, potentially at least, anything can be made at home, And, of course, anything could be pirated.

Next up, unlimited (well, cheap) power, not from anti-matter, but from fusion. Fusion offers the prospects of an inexhaustible source of energy for future generations -- but there are (so far) ginormous scientific and engineering challenges. Research is centred on tokamak reactors which confine a deuterium-tritium plasma magnetically. Many countries take part in fusion research to some extent, led by the European Union, the USA, Russia and Japan, with vigorous programs also underway in China, Brazil, Canada, and Korea. Initially, fusion research in the USA and USSR was linked to atomic weapons development. Following a breakthrough at the Soviet tokamak, fusion research became 'big science' in the 1970s. But the cost and complexity of the reactors involved increased to the point where international co-operation is the only way forward.

All we need to complete Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future -- warp drive. And we are on it! Hello, united federation. Goodbye, alien invaders.

Of course, nerds everywhere think the Xbox with Kinect will lead the way to the holodeck...

No comments:

Post a Comment