RE: Technology Prediction

From: Bob Seidensticker (
Date: Tue May 02 2006 - 13:41:55 MDT

Dani: And fuel cell technology was invented in 1839. Our proposed Hydrogen
Economy has been a long time coming.

Your comment about hybrids got me thinking.

The benefits of a hybrid car are regenerative braking, having extra
acceleration on startups (engine + motor), and being able to turn off the
engine when idling or coasting, knowing that you have your motor available
for instant power if necessary. But couldn't we replace the expensive and
heavy motors and batteries with a flywheel? The energy stored in a flywheel
probably wouldn't be as much as that stored in the batteries, but the car
would be much cheaper and lighter. Seems like a nice approach to a poor
man's hybrid.

I read an article about flywheel cars in the 70s, I recall (Scientific
American?). Apparently, a flywheel can in theory hold roughly as much
energy as a tank of gas.

(Sorry for the tangent.)

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Dani Eder
Sent: Tuesday, May 02, 2006 4:46 AM
Subject: Re: Technology Prediction

I would distinguish between specific technologies, applications of
technology, and composite trends.

The first gasoline-electric hybrid car was built in 1917, not long after
internal combustion engines and electric motors were developed. It took
until recently for practical mass-produced hybrids to appear because they
required improved batteries and computers to perform better than pure
gasoline- driven cars.

On the other hand, electric generators that run off an internal combustion
engine have been around for quite a while. Same basic components, but not
dependant on battery weight or computer control to function well.

Hybrid passenger cars are an application of several technologies, each of
which had its' own development history. They had to compete against gas-only
cars, which were also improving, and needed the right combination of concern
for the environment and high fuel prices for people to want to buy them in
non- trivial quantities.

I would say that the timing of an application like hybrid cars (or flying
cars, a classic one that hasn't happened) is very unpredictable, because it
depends on so many factors.

The discovery of a new
technology, such as high temperature superconductors, carbon nanotubes, or
atomic microscopes, is also very unpredictable. That is because it depends
on one person noticing something or having a bright idea.
About all you can do is say the laws of physics don't preclude a technology,
and that it therefore may be developed someday.

A composite trend, however, such as the price/ performance of computers or
manufacturing productivity, are predictable to a reasonable degree. In
those cases, the discoveries have been often made already, and it is a case
of getting it to the point of widepread use. New manufacturing equipment is
twice as productive as the average of existing equipment, so it is just a
matter of comparing the values of capital spending to existing plant in
place, and you can get a pretty good idea of the pace of improvement.


> But what evidence is there that anyone *can* draw up such rough
> estimates, accurately? It would be nice to have them, yes; but what
> makes you think they're available?
> --
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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