Even more than other Sketchfifty entries, this definitely isn’t a prediction. However it would be rather entertaining if Burnley did make it in the big league…
The huge crowd in Burnley is silent because the home team are losing to their rivals, the top Brazilian side Flamengo. Despite their silence, however, the noise in the stadium is deafening. The cheers and chants of the Flamengo fans in bars and halls in Rio is being transmitted to the North of England, increasing the annoyance of the Burnley fans. Burnley are the only English club in the World Club League, they have a track record of success and the crowd expect to see victories.
The old town of Burnley lies close to the centre of the capital of Northern England, the huge new linear city of Hapton. This city has grown in the northern hills because of climate projections. Despite the fact that carbon emissions have now stopped, the world continues to warm slowly, storms get a little more fierce each year, and the sea level slowly creeps higher. The land around here rarely floods and the valleys provide protection from storms. The weather, once considered rather cold and wet, is projected to remain relatively benign until the climate settles down, sometime after 2300. This area has therefore become one of the most desirable in Europe.
Hapton is home to many wealthy people from across the globe. These include the nations of the Sahara, now enjoying considerable wealth from the solar farms that cover large areas of their country. They have come here because the Sahara, never a great place to live, is expected to become quite intolerable within the next fifty years.
One of the newcomers, a billionaire from Chad, is now the owner of Burnley Football Club and pours wealth into it.
The World Club League has become possible because of advances in communications. It is now possible to experience a big match remotely. Cameras provide a multitude of views of each goal. The performance of each player can be monitored. The noise of distant fans can be fed into live games.
The crowd here still contains a few long term Burnley fans. One of those, old Bill H, has been coming here for longer than anyone can remember. He can still get around on the excellent public transport system in Hapton. He watches with relief as Ronaldo, the fourth player of that name to be voted the best in the world, streaks free of the Flamengo defence and slots the ball home. A draw isn’t ideal, but Burnley could still secure the title in their next league game.
This post looks at how technology can change politics. This may be difficult! I note that politicians are forever banging on about the need for others to change and the need for obsolete industries to close, yet very slow to change their own processes. However it’s fun to think of what is possible…..
Nala is worried. This is an important vote to provide the budget for early years education. She feels that it is very important. But her screens are finely balanced.
She listens as the Education Secretary leaves the podium and is replaced by a childcare expert. The expert is good. She explains simply how the budget will be spent, and how the lessons from other countries have been learned. Nala’s screen responds.
The screen shows the views in real time of her constituents, or at least those who chose to log in. For this vote the interest has been enormous. On the one hand there are many people who see this as a vital move to improve education and improve the lives of working mothers. Others are concerned that the budget should go elsewhere, notably for coastal defences.
The fossil fuel orgy has ended now and carbon emissions are very low. The greenhouse gases that have already been emitted are however producing a gradual rise in sea level as the oceans warm and as ice sheets slowly melt. The rise is now starting to threaten flooding of some coastal cities and towns. Scientists are able to predict with some confidence how sea level will rise for the next hundred years, and decisions are needed on which areas will be defended, and for how long. The required defences will be costly. Many citizens want sea defence to be an absolute priority, and they see early years education as non-essential.
Nala does not have to vote as her constituents demand, but she has promised her constituents that she will take note of their wishes when voting. She has already briefed her constituents and recommended that the early years project should be funded. Given the level of interest in this topic it would be difficult to disregard their wishes. She feels relieved as their opinion becomes positive, and leans forwards to press the voting button.
She sometimes regrets the interactive nature of modern democracy, but she thinks that it is far better than the old way. Then, only a few years ago, people had elections every few years. After they were elected politicians went to the capital and immersed themselves in the political life there. They tended to be influenced by pressure groups, rather than their constituents. Constituents felt powerless and there was widespread discontent with politicians. Single interest groups, which could still motivate people to vote, began to dominate politics. Each election became in effect a referendum on one high key issue or another.
Now politics is quite different. There are still political parties but each has made some form of pledge to respect constituents’ views, because parties that make no pledge do not get elected. Each party has a simple manifesto showing what it stands for rather than spelling out detailed actions in many areas.
Why can’t this happen now? It is. If you have 14 minutes to spare you can watch a rather good video here. If you don’t have that time suffice it to say that the internet is already shaking our existing ideas of democracy.
Greater levels of engagement will be vital going forwards. As pressure grows on the planetary limits there will be many difficult decisions and many sacrifices required. Governments will need to be strong to resist and control commercial interests. It will be vital to engage the public fully in politics.
My last post looked at how driverless cars will benefit the disabled. This post looks their wider benefits.
Driverless cars will be ideally suited to small cities and towns. They will permit a fast low energy transport system without the heavy investment required to build a subway, a tram system, or new roads.
Most cars will be owned by the local community and will be picked up from parking areas when needed. Electronic personal assistants will show users where the nearest available car is parked. The battery powered cars will be recharged when they are parked via inductive loops in the road. There will be no need for wires to be connected. If a car does not have adequate charge for the requested journey the user will be directed to another. The frequent charging points will mean that a large battery is not required, reducing weight and the resources involved in battery manufacture.
The cars will be activated by voice, keypad, or card. Electronic personal assistants will also be able to direct the cars. Customers will be automatically charged for each journey.
Privately owned cars will also have a self-drive capability by 2050, which will be used when they are in towns.
The cars will travel relatively slowly in town, but nevertheless journey times will be shorter than existing cars because they will talk to a central computer and, for example, select their route and schedule their arrival at junctions so that they do not need to stop. A further speed benefit is that there will be no need to waste time seeking a parking spot.
Once they are underway they will be able to group together to form trains, so that they take less road space in towns and have lower wind resistance, just like road racing cycles. They will be able to do this because they will communicate, telling each other of hazards ahead. Each car will be continually monitored and will be taken out of service at the first warning of any fault.
Accidents will be rare. The sensors on these cars will never tire or be distracted. They will detect cyclists and pedestrians and take action to avoid them if required. The cars will always drive at a safe speed. They will talk to each other to avoid misunderstandings.
Cars will be lightweight with no need for seat belts, airbags, or crumple zones because accidents will be so rare. Engines will be relatively small because the cars rarely need to accelerate and because the lightweight cars will not need much power to climb hills. There will be no need for a steering wheel, dashboard, windscreen wipers and mirrors.
Inside the car arrangements will vary depending on design. I think it would be good if the seats face each other, as shown. Each seat could then be folded up allowing the car to transport wheelchair users, baby buggies, or large items. Parents will be better able to supervise their children if they sit facing them.
Parking in town centres will be much easier because each car will be shorter, and because cars will not be left parked while their owners work or shop. They will be taken by another user, or driven empty out of the town centre to wait and recharge elsewhere.
If new road space is required it can be found by making lanes narrower because these cars will drive very accurately. If necessary additional small flyovers or tunnels could be built for these cars only. Using these techniques it will be possible to provide faster journey times while increasing the volume of people carried.
The system will permit a higher standard of life for the blind, for people with other disabilities, for the elderly, for those who cannot afford a car, and for those too young to be able to drive. It will also eliminate noise and pollution from town centres, producing health benefits.
They will use less energy than existing cars because they will be lighter, will need to accelerate far less frequently, and will use electrical power rather than a fossil fuelled engine.
Much larger energy savings will come indirectly. Far fewer cars will be needed, cutting down resources used for their manufacture. The system will link well with trains, making public transport much more convenient and increasing its use.
Why can’t this be done now? The basic self driving technology is under development by Google and others. Advanced batteries already exist that could give these cars an adequate range for use in cities. The ULTRA system, in service in the UK, shows some of these attributes though it operates on a dedicated track.
There are some serious barriers to overcome before the widespread use depicted here is possible. For example cars that lack accident defences cannot easily be used alongside cars or lorries that are under conventional human control. Initial application may need to be in already pedestrianized areas, in dedicated lanes on existing roads, or on new flyovers. Alternatively these vehicles could retain some accident defences initially. Wider use may need to wait until self-driving capability is commonplace, perhaps around 2030.
Insurance is also a key issue – deciding who is at fault if there is an accident. This question is being discussed in the USA at present. Ultimately however these cars should be easier to insure than a human driver because accidents will be rarer.
Bill is 98. Lots of people are as old as that old in 2050. He is independent, but walks slowly and his eyesight isn’t great. He lives in a city, as most people do in 2050. He fancies a coffee and sets off. When he gets to the nearest road he simply steps off the pavement.
A camera has been set up near his home to watch for this type of incident, which is common because there are many old people and children in the area. It broadcasts a warning. Two cars are approaching, under automatic control. They hear the warning, and slow down slightly so that Bill can get across in front of them.
The first car contains four people who are heading out for a game of wheelchair tennis. The second contains a blind person and her child. She simply got into the car and told it where she wanted to go.
In 2050 the old, the disabled and those unable to drive will have much more satisfying lives. The driverless car will allow them to live normally, no longer imprisoned in their homes or dependent on others to take them where they want to go.
Why can’t this be done now? Well, of course this technology is being developed by Google and others. It is important to allow development to proceed rapidly because these cars will bring a wide range of benefits.
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.
Imagine the scene. A dozen people crowd into a small room. The walls light up and they are in a rain forest in the Amazon Basin. The sights are all around them. The noises of the jungle fill the room. Their leader has a remote control and they move through the jungle. Suddenly one of them shouts – a sloth comes into view. It is undisturbed by the silent camera. Then they spot a jaguar and some howler monkeys, again completely unaware that they are being viewed.
An hour later they leave, to go for lunch together. They are on a week’s safari holiday in California. Tomorrow they will explore a jungle in the Congo basin, the day after they will explore in Costa Rica. The week is costly but the experience is priceless.
Meanwhile, in Borneo, another camera is moving through the jungle. All over the world people watch an orang-utan giving birth through their phones and tablets and 3D immersive equipment. Many of them know the animal well. They regularly view this jungle. The birth will generate world-wide headlines.
There are 100 of these rain forest reserves across the planet, each with its specialised wildlife. A small reserve is 10km (6 miles) square, enough to support some big animals, and many reserves are larger. All of them are pristine. They contain a full ecosystem . The animals are valuable to collectors but the local population guard them with their lives. The insects annoy the locals but they are very careful with their insecticide. Their dogs and cats are kept out. The locals know that their income depends on that wildlife.
Each reserve is virtually undisturbed by people, except for the dozens of cameras, the tracks on which they move, and their maintenance. The animals live in peace.
The economics of all this are simple. The viewers pay. The payment varies, but averages around $400 per year in 2013 terms, a similar amount to if they were viewing sports or movies. There are 9 billion people on the planet, and 100 million of them subscribe – rather less then subscribe to sports channels but still a substantial number. Half of the annual revenues of $40Bn go to support the reserves. A 10km square rain forest reserve with healthy animal life and a few rare species can earn up to $150M per year in broadcasting rights. That is around 4 times what it would earn as palm oil plantation.
The local populations have plenty of work. They provide guards. They maintain the cameras and tracks. They provide local guides, who control some of the cameras and provide commentary in different languages. They occasionally intervene in nature when disease strikes, because the extinction of a species would be an economic disaster.
As well as the broadcasting revenue there is business from researchers who come to live near the forests. Tourists come to be near the places they have grown to love on screen and to meet the guides. The local towns are booming. The national resorts have immersive rain forest experience systems for their guests.
Significant additional income comes from international efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Local governments provide support funding because of the beneficial effects of the rain forest for drainage and wider tourism. Pharmaceutical companies pay for licences to access the many types of plant life. The business case for these reserves is strong.
Some reserves are privately owned by local business people or by big international businesses. Some are owned by the local state. All are protected.
OK – let’s return to the present. Is all this possible? Why isn’t it happening? Well partly because the technology is only just becoming available. Another factor is that it is frankly heart breaking to see rain forests being destroyed, so it makes very depressing television. That would change if the rain forests were properly protected.
How much rain forest could we save? That depends on money. People in tropical countries are often poor. The local business men will always pursue profit. They will do whatever earns the best return. In 2013 we anguish about the rain forest but pay for palm oil. The result – we get palm oil. That will need to change. If we want to go green and protect the environment someone will need to pay.
Would enough people be prepared to pay? I don’t know, but I’ve included a poll below to check views.
The poll results may interest others. If tropical land owners started to see dollar potential in their rain forests they might slow down on the burning. And if big technology companies started to see significant business in rain forests they might start to invest..
This is a link to a supporting page – Nature – Rainforests which includes further background information and assumptions. It has a few more related ideas and suggestions. It also discusses some of the weaknesses in this idea, for example that it may not save very large tracts of forest. If you have any comments or advice, please use the comments box below or contact me via the form on the ‘About’ page..