Our brain only uses 20 Watts of electricity and is as powerful as a supercomputer. The most powerful computer in the world (2018) is the American Summit and it uses 13 Megawatts. While it may be more powerful, the supercomputer uses millions of times more energy than the humble, un-augmented human brain. Why does this matter? This episode is all about power consumption, our future and how less can be more.
If mother nature can power a mini-supercomputer with A.I (our sentience, our soul) with only 20 Watts, then should it be our ultimate guiding principle when building our society and technology? What if nature – whom we have taken much technological inspiration from — has given us a powerful clue at how evolution works?
I was watching a really cool National Geographic documentary called Year Million about our future technology and how we are likely to develop scientifically (You can find it you Youtube). At one point they discuss our energy needs and how, in order to be a real spacefaring civilisation worth our salt, we need a Dyson Sphere. A structure potentially the size of our Solar System at it’s largest. But first, what is it? Enter:
“Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts and of sciences.”
The theory was coined by physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson in his 1960 paper “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infra-Red Radiation”.
It is a great idea, some may say even logical but in order to fulfill our energy needs, why on earth do we need something so large? Why do we assume our progeny would want to expend such vast resources to build what are known as ‘Mega Structures’.
In my sci-fi multimedia eBook Cradle of Gaia. There is a planet called Natique that has a tiny exotic star that is completely stable, small and pumps out tons of energy. It is so small in fact it fits perfectly inside an earth-sized planet. The technology that gathers said energy is so advanced that it self replicates, heals damage akin to how our skin does and is effectively eternal. The sun burns so efficiently that it can last many eons comfortably. The energy gathered is more than the energy output of Sol without needing a solar system-wide structure. The whole system is contained WITHIN the planet and comfortably fuels it and provides an abundance for the population of one hundred living within a digital world upon the surface. What about that for the future? It is no more implausible than building a cover to go on our sun.
Yeah, I know this is a far off project but if we don’t start dreaming now, what will engineers and scientists have to go off of in the future? Besides by the time we can build such a thing, we will know a lot more about physics and matter manipulation. There may be no hard science to back it up now but if history is anything to go off of, if we can dream it, we can build it. Thanks for the helicopter concept Leonardo Da Vinci!
Now. Enter the Kardashev Scale. A scale proposed in 1964 by Soviet astrologist Nikolai Kardashev to classify how advanced a civilisation is based on how much energy they can harvest:
Obviously, this leaves a lot of questions about how our society would look, what tools we would have at our disposal, etc. The biggest question is what exactly will we spend all this immense energy on?
Maybe we got it all wrong? Here’s why:
We are a young civilisation (cosmically speaking) still expanding and testing the limits of nature, science, and thought. However, an older, more experienced civilisation that has had time to come to terms with their existence and their pesky primal ‘instincts’ nagging them to expand and multiply endlessly; such a civilisation will possibly tire of expansion for the sake of expansion because they will have already done it. Many times. You don’t see British and Spanish ships being sent out to colonise anymore, do you? Yet there is still unclaimed territory out there. Before you say: Neo-Colonialism! I say again: Systems, thought, policies, etc. change and we move on for better or worse.
Currently, we are so wasteful and inefficient, we are more like an infestation than a conscious, intelligent society and we spread and evolve in complete chaos without unified will and purpose. We are so many and we are multiplying rapidly, but many of us do not have access to proper healthcare, education or even food and water. People live wasted lives where their potential is lost because the resources don’t make it to them for many unfair reasons that I will not go into here.
An intelligent evolved civilisation may only consist of 300: Genius level, unified in purpose, genetically perfect, immortal people assisted by reality shifting machines and technologies that we can’t even begin to dream of.
The Universe as your Playground…
Can you imagine: You had everything you wanted. Had a solid social circle and a partner that you were madly in love with and vice versa. A strong unit of constant support. Imagine your planet was a paradise in a solar system of which you and your people had total control of. You have seven houses, an astral yacht that can dream its way across the galaxy in moments. You have a perfect, powerful body with psychic-technological powers that can shape continents at a whim. Yep, you can even talk to animals.
What if there was no suffering, no fighting, no poverty, no disease, no fatigue. What if everyone had all the knowledge that their civilisation had accumulated over eons. On top of that everyone was a master engineer, scientist, mystic, builder, writer, painter, thinker, philosopher, doctor, architect, mathematician, astrologer, cartographer etc. You never forgot anything, your memory was perfect. If there was a situation, at a thought: nano-machines would eject and fix that leaky reactor, patch that pesky volcano, rebuilt your home in moments to your whims and even blast that pesky doomsday asteroid coming your way.
Possibly your house and ship?
This hypothetical ‘Type III’ society could probably support many quintillions across a vast galactic empire but at a much, much lower quality of life and with far less unity of purpose. We can’t really fathom this system requiring such restraint based on our experiences of how society functions, having just emerged from an incredibly chaotic and fractured period of history that has had us violently competing against one other. Currently, we live in an egotistic age where we indiscriminately waste resources for the sake of convenience.
Our evolution is more than access to energy, the ability to build engineering marvels and colonising vast space. It is also about order, efficiency and a unified society of equality without suffering. Social evolution will negate the need for such a ‘big’ future but such an evolution is often overlooked but scientists and sociologists due to a lack of imagination.
That is why I am going to say it…The Kardashev Scale is wrong…an advanced civilisation won’t need much power because they may not have a galaxy-wide juggernaut of an empire to fuel. It will all be in the technological architecture and design minimising waste, making us one with the environment. Endlessly consuming is primitive. Building megastructures takes so damn long that by the time it is quick and easy, will we even need them? Halo Fans, cover your eyes.
An advanced civilisation will have no imprint. Imagine them running all their technology on a single Watt of power due to feedback systems, passive generation, even willing the energy into existence through sheer concentration, etc. Imagine our most basic copper wiring able to power their total galactic infrastructure with ease.
We are not anywhere near this line of thinking. Our philosophy of growth and expansion, in theory, could continue until there is not enough energy contained in the universe to sustain us. Let that sink in for a moment, yes I know that is impossible to comprehend the sheer number of people and colonised worlds, but realise that this is currently our model of civilisation. It is important to remember we live in the shadow of Empire, a word whose origin dates back to the 14th Century from old French and before that, Latin. A time when Empire was the model of the age for economic, technological and political evolution.
But even today, would you care if the 200,543,178th planet had just been colonised on the edge of nowhere? Just chewing up planet after planet for resources and possibly killing the native populations? Do we keep going until we need a new universe?
That is why I purpose the D’Angelo Scale. A new ideology to mark a civilisations growth milestones:
What have I based all this on? Among many things, there is the example of the humble LED Lightbulb.
Invention is not always about new stuff, it is about improving what we already have. The Incandescent to the LED is a prime example. Longer lasting, brighter, much less power consumption. Simple evolution.
It is a similar story looking at Fusion Power. Only 1 Kilogram of ‘fusion reactor fuel’ can provide as much energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel at no cost to the environment (In terms of waste material generated). The trend is about efficiency. When we need less, we will have the option of using alternative, friendlier systems of attaining resources other than total consumption. As a result, expansion slows down, as it is not economically viable to flood markets with un-required resources. Then, perhaps we have a more balanced and sustainable system with less waste, less suffering and less devastation.
It seems to me that currently we are still very much dominated by 20th Century thought of control, expansion, domination. We measure the power of a civilisation on numbers, we look at how strong their economy is, how big their military, landmass, production capability, exploitable resources, etc.
This is very primitive and repugnant. Civilisation is more complex than sheer mass. Civilisation is about harmony and creating a world of peace and prosperity for every single human, plant, and animal. This, in turn, is achieved by balance and understanding our own natures, our own individual journey and our collective place in this universe.
Further Reading and Sources.
As always, question everything. Leave the ego behind and empower yourself with knowledge as it’s your time on this Earth and your decisions shape it.
M.I.T Technology Review, When Science Fiction Inspires Real Technology.
The Simple Dollar, The Light Bulb Showdown. LED vs CFL vs Incandescent