Mac looks at his watch. It has been a long evening in Newcastle. He got here in time to celebrate with Singapore. Every hour a new country comes on line. The screen is impressive – the presence very close. His electronic assistant translates effortlessly, there are no language barriers in 2050.
In Bamako, the solar rich capital of Mali, they can afford the very best entertainment and they are in the same time zone. It will soon be midnight.
Mac smiles with anticipation. His personal assistant can deal with every language and dialect in the world, but it still can’t make sense of Auld Lang Syne.
This is a milestone week for human stupidity. We commemorate the end of World War One, a dreadful waste of life which could have been avoided by an agreement in 1914. To demonstrate that we have learned nothing, one hundred years later we are about to drift into another disaster. Scientists have been warning of the dangers of global warming for over 20 years. Their latest report predicts long term consequences that are even worse than the First World War. Those effects can be reduced by an agreement in 2015 and rapid action thereafter. If not, things will get out of control. Will we learn the lessons of history?
As my contribution I show a low carbon High Street in 2050, to demonstrate that the changes we need to make are really are not that difficult!
What’s the difference? The Café looks normal. There are cars parked. The shops are busy. The changes are inside the shops.
The shop beside the café provides home services. Tax on carbon emissions (see QTax) provides the bulk of government revenue. As a result employment taxes have disappeared except for the very wealthy. It is now relatively cheap to get cleaning, decorating, washing and home repairs done by specialists. See this for how employment patterns will change.
The second shop hires out tools. Many people enjoy gardening, or doing other work at home. This shop stocks many tools and can get hold of specialist tools from a network. This saves the emissions resulting from manufacturing new tools that sit around in people’s garages doing nothing . The shop also provides face to face advice. Customers can collect tools or they can be delivered to their homes from the back of the shop using relatively little energy (see robobike).
The third is a clothing shop. Clothes in 2050 are of the highest quality and tailored to individual needs. Customers can come here, get personal fashion advice, and use the latest technology to see themselves in various fashions before they buy. The clothes are then made at a city 10 miles away and delivered to the shop later in the same week. This system avoids the material waste that comes with cheap mass produced throw away clothing.
The food shop is busy, though most people have food delivered, many eat out, and many use the robo-bikes to deliver it cooked. Food tastes have changed because of personal health monitoring systems, and there is much less waste. (see waste). There is also much more fresh local produce.
The e-assist shop helps people with their personal e-assistants. These devices make everyday life far easier. Their software is developing very rapidly. This shop helps with problems and carries out updates when required. Update and repair have become relatively low cost compared with buying a complete new device.
The pub at the end is thriving too. People can enjoy a range of local beers. Tonight the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid will attract a full house. Advanced technology will make the experience compelling. The crowd noise will be awesome, the camera angles stunning, the shared experience unforgettable. Many will also have a meal. Low employment taxes mean that the cost of beer and food is relatively low. Sharing the video experience is more enjoyable than watching alone at home, and avoids the need to manufacture individual entertainment systems.
The cars in the street are driverless electric taxis. They are recharging from loops buried in the road. Shoppers will use their phones to say when they want to go home and the system will tell them which taxi to take. Shared journeys will be normal, though a rapid individual transport option will be available at extra cost. Energy requirements for transport will be less than 25% of current levels. People with disabilities will have a better life, given independence and safety by these new vehicles.
The street does not need parking space for personal cars, though they remain an option and many people keep old cars for use on special occasions. For normal life cars are seen as a nuisance, always needing recharge, hard to park, and costly because they are underused assets with a significant carbon input required to build them. Another benefit is that accident rates in 2050 will be very low because driverless taxis are safer than human drivers.
The electric taxis generally carry multiple passengers so that there are fewer vehicles on the road. They travel steadily, their computers rarely making driver errors. This means that the roads are safe for cyclists. Those who live on hills simply use electric bikes, requiring a fraction of the energy needed by a car.
The street thrives because money is not being wasted on energy. There is no great flow of money out of the local economy to fossil fuel companies. Everyone can earn a decent living because they have access to great education through the internet and because technology permits a better work-life balance, especially for women. People therefore have money to spend on the High Street.
Compared with 2014, this street:
Allows everyone to continue their lives, generally with some improvements.
Uses less than half, perhaps only 25% of the current energy input. This is important because without action world energy requirements will fourfold over the next hundred years due to population growth and spreading prosperity. This street could hold global energy requirements near current levels, giving us a fighting chance of supplying the world from low carbon energy sources.
Why can’t this happen now? There is no reason at all why some of the reduction in emissions shown here cannot be achieved by 2020. Some of the technology requires development but given intense work it could be available within a few years, so this High Street could in fact be reality by 2030.
Why isn’t it happening? Much of the change depends on the tax regime. World governments seem totally unable to grasp the importance of taxing carbon pollution. Taxation is an effective way to change habits quickly. We must raise the price of those activities that produce carbon emissions, and reduce the price of less polluting options.
International action is needed to ensure tax is fair, and to set levels for taxation of international trade. Countries that take action need to be able to tax imports from highly polluting countries. Without such a tax countries with cheap coal energy will prosper and attract industry from virtuous countries – a bad outcome.
Rather than impose a proper cost for carbon pollution, and allowing the market to sort out how to respond, the nations fiddle in the market, imposing whatever solutions politicians find attractive. They make promises to cut emissions, then find some way round them when it becomes politically unpopular. The result is ineffective chaos. Carbon emissions continue to rise.
Nations also seem unable or unwilling to focus research activities into radical technologies such as those highlighted in Sketchfifty. Research money is going into those areas that are profitable now – health, small improvements in efficiency for cars, new ways of extracting fossil fuels, and traditional types of renewable energy. That is because companies understand those areas, whereas genuinely new technologies involve high risks and long development times. We need the most intensive research into any technologies that could possible make a major contribution, so that these options are available to our successors. They include desert solar power, nuclear power, robo-bikes, and new transport technologies such as SWIFT and bus-trains.
We also need non-technical research into how to make systems like the QTax work, and to define the best approach and how to implement it. Any change will be unfair to some people so tax changes need to be carefully designed and explained.
What can you do to make the required changes? If you live in a democracy, get in touch with those who represent you. At present they think you care more about other things. It was probably just the same in 1914.
Asha works for a software company. It is a fast moving business where competition is fierce. She is a project manager, a demanding job. She has two children, one aged 4, the other 7.
Her company produces personal software that measures food intake by continuously analysing images taken by the wearer’s spectacles. It isn’t too hard to measure piles of potatoes and meat, or to understand the contents of processed food since that is available from the producers. However one of the weak areas of all food intake software is added salt. People shake salt pots onto their food, and it is very hard to know exactly how much has been added. Likewise cooks casually toss salt into home cooked food.
They have been working with a University in Nairobi to solve this problem. The software analyses images in very fast time to assess the number and size of the grains of salt. They are having problems. She needs the software to be in use by October 2050 to combat other organisations that are beginning to take their customers.
Asha gathers her team around a conference board. The Professor and Researcher in Nairobi explain how work is going. Her own team look for answers. The conference board listens and displays relevant information and its own ideas and questions. It searches the internet for relevant research and announcements. People move ideas around in 3 dimensions on the board. Costs and timescales of various options are generated and compared. Asha can look her team members in the eye to assess their level of assurance and commitment. Eventually they agree a way ahead.
At 3.15 Asha and her entire team go home, because an adult education group has booked the office. Their working day follows a pattern which is quite common in 2050. They start the day by working at home. They go to the office from 9.15 until 3.15. They work again from home at some point during most evenings. It is a working day that leaves time for the family. The early morning and late evening sessions allow conversations with those in other time-zones. They also allow time for continuing professional development which is key to business success in 2050.
Asha lives in one of the new linear cities. Her commute to work is only 10 minutes by bike. The children go to a nearby school so it is easy to collect them. Her partner works similar hours in another company. If they worked in an 8 ’til 6 company they would be disadvantaged because they would be considered to be part-time. Organisations in 2050 offer varied working patterns to attract the best staff. Her company attracts people in their thirties and forties with growing families, a rich pool of talent.
Why can’t this happen now? To an extent, it is. However change will occur much more rapidly in future, driven by the fact that the world will become more complex and talent like Asha’s will be able to dictate employment terms.
p.s. I’m sorry about the picture, it is harder than I thought to sketch people!
Jim has a beer in the centre of his town. The beer is local, brewed the same way for 200 years. The buses also look fairly conventional, but the truth is that they are 5 times more efficient than buses in the old days – for example in 2014.
Some of that improvement comes from their engineering. Most of it however comes from how they are operated. In 2014 buses simply drove around to a schedule and people waited at bus stops. Sometimes the bus was full, and people got annoyed. Mostly the buses operated nearly empty. In 2050 all that has changed.
Jim will need a bus home. He reckons it will take him 15 minutes to finish his beer and mentions it to Pat, his electronic assistant. Pat comes back in 30 seconds and tells him the bus will arrive in 19 minutes and he has seat 25. The bus comes as predicted.
The main reason that the bus is so energy efficient is that it is nearly full. In 2014 buses in the UK operated with only 9 passengers on average. Most countries operated with similarly inefficient bus systems. Buses were more efficient than cars in terms of emissions per passenger kilometre, but the difference was not huge. In 2050 buses carry 30 passengers on average. The bulk of the efficiency improvement comes from that fact alone.
How is it done? Everyone signals the journeys that they want to make. Buses are sent when there is demand. Sometimes two or three buses must be used. They link together where routes intersect, and people transfer as in the picture above.
The bus company computer controls the buses. The roads are much less congested because far fewer journeys are made by car, so bus arrival times are predictable. There is much heavier demand for buses so they can operate frequently.
What if Jim needs to leave urgently and there is insufficient demand for a bus right now? Pat will scan the options and come up with the best. Jim may have to pay more, and incur greater environmental damage perhaps by using an electric taxi for part of the journey. If so he will pay extra Q tax. But that an unlikely event. Public transport can normally get Jim everywhere he needs to go, at the time he needs to travel.
Shouldn’t the buses be streamlined? These are slow buses for use in town only. I’ll show long distance buses soon.
p.s I apologise for not posting for a few weeks, I had some projects to complete. Note also that even in 2014 it makes environmental sense to use a bus. It will run whether you use it or not, and if you use it the extra fuel burned will be negligible. In contrast if you take the car, however efficient it is, significant extra fuel will certainly be used.
Jim is a man of the 2050’s. A busy man, keen to stay fit. His electronic assistant Pat is a tiny computer that Jim carries with him. Jim’s words are black, Pat’s are blue.
Jim can spend his entire day focussed on work – which will be the subject of a separate post. Pat only interrupts when Jim has spare time at breakfast or when walking. Pat talks to Jim normally, via an earpiece. Jim talks to Pat normally if alone, or via his wrist watch if in company, which has a touch screen for simple answers. So – what about after work?
The ingredients come precisely packaged in the correct amounts and to the highest quality and freshness. The delivery methods will be the subject of a later post. Pat does not duplicate anything that Jim already has. Amounts are calculated to meet personal needs. There is no waste in the ordering process.
During the cooking of the meal Pat helps Jim by scheduling everything. Jim can focus on the cooking. Complex food is expected in 2050, with several small courses. Pat looks out for problems, and reminds Jim when things need doing so that everything will be ready for his guests. There is no food spoiled during cooking.
The close of day report from Pat covers input of all major nutrients. It compares those with recommended inputs for Jim’s age and weight, for his exercise level, and for his sporting aims. It draws his attention to any unusual readings, for example if recovery time after exercise is too long.
I chose Jim for this first example because, as a single man, his out of work life is relatively simple. A later example will deal with how e-assistants can help women and families, where they will cope with greater complexity and provide much greater benefits.
The key things that make Pat effective are:
Pat handles all purchases, so he knows what food comes into Jim’s house. He knows the content of processed foods because he gets that from the seller. He pays for all restaurant meals and snacks and drinks.
Pat can see, because there are cameras built into Jim’s glasses. However he can do more than see – he can understand what is going on. Pat recognises plates by their shape, he can read the labels on packets, he understands the colour and texture of different foods. Pat’s vision is stereoscopic so he can also estimate the shape and size of a pile of food on Jim’s plate, and by looking again at the end of a meal he can estimate how much Jim has eaten. The information stored at breakfast includes a list of everything that Jim has eaten. It also includes the amount of food left in cupboards and fridges, so Pat knows when to re-order. If Pat isn’t clear on some point, he will ask. For example he might not see how much cereal is left.
While Pat acquires images, he does not store them. He extracts the basic information he needs, then discards them. This is considered polite.
Pat can hear and analyse speech in any language, but again it is polite to only store certain types of information such as dates, times, and promises. E-assistants communicate their recording status and ensure they are ‘polite’. Pat will tell Jim if his friends are recording what goes on over dinner.
Pat knows how much exercise Jim takes by looking at movements and Jim’s speed.
Pat can sense various body functions such as breathing, pulse, and brain activity. He knows when Jim is happy.
Jim has agreed that he can share personal data with the e-assistants of his friends, including Kat and Al. So Pat can say exactly what food will suit everyone’s tastes.
Pat scours the internet for local bargains or well regarded local businesses. In 2050 the amount of such marketing information is beyond the capacity of humans to adsorb. Pat handles all order placement and payments, with no involvement from Jim except to approve the more important things that Pat proposes to buy.
And how does all that stop food waste? Because Jim buys no more than he will eat, and only eats what his body needs. The load he places on planetary resources is far less than an average 2013 western man. See the related articles below for different views of how much we waste by eating too much red meat. See also the background page link at the end of this post.
Why can’t we do this now? Firstly because the technology is too bulky, and image analysis is too slow and unreliable. Those things will change and this technology will slowly become more convenient and reliable.
Secondly it takes time to build the required conventions. Restaurants and food sellers will need to provide information in an agreed format. That will take time. Likewise it will take time to develop a ‘polite’ mode so that cameras can be worn to dinner.
For more information and the logic behind this see the Food Waste background page.