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Bits Versus Stuff: Peter Thiel Asks Why Has Innovation Stalled
We have a background assumption that we are living in a technologically-accelerating civilization. Peter Thiel has a different view of where we are headed, and he says we need to fight hard to improve our future prospects.
"It would be hard to imagine the President of the United States declaring war on Alzheimers," Peter Thiel says, "because our pessimism about technology has started to seep into the system." That's right, we are pessimists whether we want to admit it or not, and it can be seen in our diminished expectations of progress in a wide range of fields.
Thiel delivered these remarks at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas that was held last month on Nantucket, Massachusetts. If Thiel's keynote address may have seemed like the buzz kill of the weekend, that may be because, as he says, the experts that we often hear from "are insanely optimistic about everything." Indeed, experts are incentivized to view innovation with rose-colored glasses. Doom and gloom doesn't get scientists research dollars. And Thiel says that venture capitalists, a group he belongs to, can be some of the most incorrigible optimists.
This wild-eyed optimism prevails, Thiel says, despite our diminished expectations for the kinds of problems that technology might actually be able to solve. And so we continue to operate with "a background assumption that we are living in a technologically-accelerating civilization." Thiel has a different view of where we are headed, and he says we need to fight hard to improve our future prospects.
What's the Big Idea?
Thiel notes that "horizontal growth" -- achieving progress by copying things that are done well in advanced nations -- is great for the developing world. That's China's plan. And yet, Thiel also identifies a corresponding pessimism in 'advanced' nations, a pessimism that implicitly suggests "there is nothing left to do in the developed world."
Sure, we've had progress in computing, and that progress shouldn't be downplayed, Thiel says. But we tend to mistake progress in computing for progress in all areas. However, if we survey our rate of progress in many different industries, the outlook is fairly bleak. When it comes to transportation, Thiel says "we're no longer moving faster," literally. And part of the reason we don't have things like supersonic planes, he says, "is due to the failure of energy innovation."
Just how bad is our stagnation in energy innovation? Thiel says we still haven't recovered from the oil shock of the 1970s. Clean energy companies are going out of business while "you wouldn't want anyone to go into nuclear today," Thiel says, because that industry "has been on a very bad trajectory" for decades. If that picture isn't depressing enough, Thiel also points to deceleration in health care and food.
This diagnosis leads us to a rather complicated question: how much value gets created by bits versus stuff? While it's hard to measure the growth in technology versus progress in the science of making stuff, Thiel looks at the fundamental economics of it.
From 1932 to 1972, average incomes in the U.S. went up by 350 percent. "This was a world where people came to expect that things would get better every year," Thiel says. From 1972 to the present, on the other hand, we have seen only a 22 percent rise in average incomes. In other words, we are "running harder and harder and faster and faster to stay in the same place." Thiel points out that our current stagnation is rarely diagnosed this way, but the implications of continuing on this path point to a future that certainly isn't going to be as good as the optimists expect.
Watch the video here:
What's the Significance?
"What's extremely dangerous is when you have a belief in progress and you act on it and it doesn't happen," Thiel says. For instance, there would be no problem with the government borrowing a huge amount of money "if you had enough growth to make that borrowing manageable." But that is not the case today.
So what has caused our present stagnation? Thiel points to a number of popular hypotheses that are, not surprisingly, based on political ideology. "If you're liberal," Thiel says, "you would say we haven't invested enough in science, engineering and education." If you're libertarian -- which is Thiel's political bias, as he points out, we have too many regulations. In other words, he says, "we've outlawed innovation." The conservative argument, Thiel says, is that progress requires sacrifice, and that is why so many of our advances can be linked to military innovations. The problem with that view is, as Thiel puts it, "Why should we work 80 hour weeks to build faster and better rockets" if we're going to be friends with the Russians?
Thiel also points to non-ideological arguments, such as the notion that "all the low-hanging fruit has been picked." In other words, there are no easy innovations left to be found. Another hypothesis is that we're living in a much more skeptical age that no longer "views technology as an absolute good."
So how do we re-accelerate technology in the coming decades? Thiel breaks down two different mindsets that people have. The optimists say everything is working, don't change anything. The pessimists, on the other hand, say our situation is hopeless. Since, there's nothing we can do, "just be a hipster ice cream salesman," Thiel says. To translate these viewpoints into what our views of 'American exceptionalism' may be, Thiel says the pessimist is essentially saying that it's fine for America to be ordinary. The optimists, on the other hand, are like people "who've taken too many self-esteem classes," Thiel says. "We're the best, and we don't have to do anything."
Thiel rejects both of these mindsets. "We should accept there has been stagnation," he says, "and we should find ways to fight hard" to change our prospects for the future.
Image courtesy of Meghan Brosnan
To learn more about The Nantucket Project and how to attend the 2013 event visit nantucketproject.com.
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.
But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.
Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.
If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.
If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.
Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.
According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.
The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.
But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.
Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.
Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.
We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.
Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).
With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.
The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.
- How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
- One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
- Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.