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I, Robot

In robot form, I will give a talk at Google on "Energy, the Environment, and What We Can Do". The CEO of Anybots will give me a lesson in how to use one of their robots before I give this talk.

I'm not sure when it'll take place - currently it's scheduled for Wednesday January 25th at 4 pm PST, but Mike Stay was only able to book a 20-person room then, and I'd like to drum up more interest and get a crowd of reporters to attend, so we may push that date back.

Curtis Faith inspired me to talk about ways to massively reduce carbon emissions. Can you folks help me find good references on this? I've found some already in a book Low Carbon Communities.

Here's what Curtis said:

I've been looking on various transportation and energy and environment issues for more than 5 years, and almost no one gets the idea that we can radically reduce consumption if we look at the complete systems. In economic terms, we currently have a suboptimal Nash Equilibrium with a diminishing pie when an optimal expanding pie equilibrium is possible. Just tossing around ideas a a very high level with back of the envelope estimates we can get orders of magnitude improvements with systemic changes that will make people's lives better if we can loosen up the grip of the big corporations and government.

To borrow a physics analogy, the Nash Equilibrium is a bit like a multi-dimensional metastable state where the system is locked into a high energy configuration and any local attempts to make the change revert to the higher energy configuration locally, so it would require sufficient energy or energy in exactly the right form to move all the different metastable states off their equilibrium either simultaneously or in a cascade.

Ideally, we find the right set of systemic economic changes that can have a cascade effect, so that they are locally systemically optimal and can compete more effectively within the larger system where the Nash Equilibrium dominates. I hope I haven't mixed up too many terms from too many fields and confused things. These terms all have overlapping and sometimes very different meaning in the different contexts as I'm sure is true even within math and science.

One great example is transportation. We assume we need electric cars or biofuel or some such thing. But the very assumption that a car is necessary is flawed. Why do people want cars? Give them a better alternative and they'll stop wanting cars. Now, what that might be? Public transportation? No. All the money spent building a 2,000 kg vehicle to accelerate and decelerate a few hundred kg and then to replace that vehicle on a regular basis can be saved if we eliminate the need for cars.

The best alternative to cars is walking, or walking on inclined pathways up and down so we get exercise. Why don't people walk? Not because they don't want to but because our cities and towns have optimized for cars. Create walkable neighborhoods and give people jobs near their home and you eliminate the need for cars. I live in Savannah, GA in a very tiny place. I never use the car. Perhaps 5 miles a week. And even that wouldn't be necessary with the right supplemental business structures to provide services more efficiently.

Or electricity for A/C. Everyone lives isolated in structures that are very inefficient to heat. Large community structures could be air conditioned naturally using various techniques and that could cut electricity demand by 50% for neighborhoods. Shade trees are better than insulation.

Or how about moving virtually entire cities to cooler climates during the hot months? That is what people used to do. Take a train North for the summer. If the destinations are low-resource destinations, this can be a huge reduction for the city. Again, getting to this state is hard without changing a lot of parts together.

These problems are not technical, or political, they are economic. We need the economic systems that support these alternatives. People want them. We'll all be happier and use far less resources (and money). The economic system needs to be changed, and that isn't going to happen with politics, it will happen with economic innovation. We tend to think of our current models as the way things are, but they aren't. Most of the status quo is comprised of human inventions, money, fractional reserve banking, corporations, etc. They all brought specific improvements that made them more effective at the time they were introduce because of the conditions during those times. Our times too are different. Some new models will work much better for solving our current problems.

Your idea really starts to address the reason why people fly unnecessarily. This change in perspective is important. What if we went back to sailing ships? And instead of flying we took long leisurely educational seminar cruises on modern versions of sail yachts? What if we improved our trains? But we need to start from scratch and design new systems so they work together effectively. Why are we stuck with models of cities based on the 19th-century norms?

We aren't, but too many people think we are because the scope of their job or academic career is just the piece of a system, not the system itself.

System level design thinking is the key to making the difference we need. Changes to the complete systems can have order of magnitude improvements. Changes to the parts will have us fighting for tens of percentages.

Comments

  • 1.
    edited January 2012

    It would be cool to have a video with a split screen, the lecture room on one side and you operating the robot on the other side. Putting that up on youtube would probably get more attention than getting a bigger lecture room.

    Comment Source:It would be cool to have a video with a split screen, the lecture room on one side and you operating the robot on the other side. Putting that up on youtube would probably get more attention than getting a bigger lecture room.
  • 2.

    We're getting a bigger lecture room, in any event. Currently the plan is for me to give my talk on Monday February 13. But I need to find more suggestions for how to massively reduce carbon emissions!

    Comment Source:We're getting a bigger lecture room, in any event. Currently the plan is for me to give my talk on Monday February 13. But I need to find more suggestions for how to _massively reduce carbon emissions!_
  • 3.

    I doubt I know of any good reference that you don't know yet. Maybe it would be interesting to have a look at

    • Launder, Thompson: "Geo-Engineering Climate Change", Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    What about reducing travel emissions?

    From my personal experience as a software developer: Cooperation with people in India and East Europe (Poland) works quite good via video conferencing and chat tools (we use Microsoft's Office Communicator). There need to be opportunities for people to meet in person every couple of months however, for sentimental reasons: People like to know their collaborators in person.

    But: The reason why we don't travel much is an economic one: because it is expensive! The flight, the hotel and the time you loose...

    That's why I don't quite understand why others are talking about how to reduce travel via plane. If you have a capitalistic economic system, cooperations will themselves try to reduce travel costs and time (and already do so). The best way to reduce it further is to make it more costly. For example: German airlines don't need to pay taxes for their kerosine (because other airlines from other countries don't have to, too).

    Comment Source:I doubt I know of any good reference that you don't know yet. Maybe it would be interesting to have a look at * Launder, Thompson: "Geo-Engineering Climate Change", Cambridge University Press, 2010. What about reducing travel emissions? From my personal experience as a software developer: Cooperation with people in India and East Europe (Poland) works quite good via video conferencing and chat tools (we use Microsoft's Office Communicator). There need to be opportunities for people to meet in person every couple of months however, for sentimental reasons: People like to know their collaborators in person. But: The reason why we don't travel much is an economic one: because it is expensive! The flight, the hotel and the time you loose... That's why I don't quite understand why others are talking about how to reduce travel via plane. If you have a capitalistic economic system, cooperations will themselves try to reduce travel costs and time (and already do so). The best way to reduce it further is to make it more costly. For example: German airlines don't need to pay taxes for their kerosine (because other airlines from other countries don't have to, too).
  • 4.

    Thanks for that geo-engineering reference. I should indeed talk about geo-engineering!

    In academia, the main reward of a successful career is more opportunities to travel, and a maximally successful academic (e.g. a Nobel prize winner) can easily find themselves flying every week.

    In business, travel may reduce as it becomes more expensive, and making it more costly would be one solution if people do it, but I think you'll still find a lot of businessmen travel a lot, and improved telepresence can reduce that.

    Small meetings are easy to do by videoconferencing. Meetings that involve lots of socializing in large shifting groups (e.g. academic conferences) are harder and may require good robots. Finding nice telepresence alternatives to tourism will be even more challenging.

    Comment Source:Thanks for that geo-engineering reference. I should indeed talk about geo-engineering! In academia, the main reward of a successful career is more opportunities to travel, and a maximally successful academic (e.g. a Nobel prize winner) can easily find themselves flying every week. In business, travel may reduce as it becomes more expensive, and making it more costly would be one solution if people do it, but I think you'll still find a lot of businessmen travel a lot, and improved telepresence can reduce that. Small meetings are easy to do by videoconferencing. Meetings that involve lots of socializing in large shifting groups (e.g. academic conferences) are harder and may require good robots. Finding nice telepresence alternatives to tourism will be even more challenging.
  • 5.

    Finding nice telepresence alternatives to tourism will be even more challenging.

    Perhaps this is a step in this direction, although it doesn't allow communication with local people, I guess, and it's not possible to get sunburned either.

    http://www.tourwrist.com/

    Disclaimer: I didn't explore their website, I just took a quick look.

    Comment Source:> Finding nice telepresence alternatives to tourism will be even more challenging. Perhaps this is a step in this direction, although it doesn't allow communication with local people, I guess, and it's not possible to get sunburned either. [http://www.tourwrist.com/](http://www.tourwrist.com/) Disclaimer: I didn't explore their website, I just took a quick look.
  • 6.

    I liked what Curtis wrote in your quote John and I agree. MacKay SEWTHA,ch20,21 had a lot on individual and living space efficiency you might check that.

    Also many meetings can be done remote , Skype (free and secure tru encryption), WebEx, and there are also many other companies who provide similar services.

    Comment Source:I liked what Curtis wrote in your quote John and I agree. MacKay [[SEWTHA]],ch20,21 had a lot on individual and living space efficiency you might check that. Also many meetings can be done remote , Skype (free and secure tru encryption), WebEx, and there are also many other companies who provide similar services.
  • 7.

    Thanks for pointing me to a specific portion of SEWTHA, Staffan!

    There's some nice discussion happening over here on the blog, too.

    Comment Source:Thanks for pointing me to a specific portion of [[SEWTHA]], Staffan! There's some nice discussion happening [over here on the blog](http://johncarlosbaez.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/i-robot/), too.
  • 8.

    I will give my talk at 4 pm Monday, February 13, 2012 in the Paramaribo Room on the Google campus (Building 42, Floor 2). Visitors and reporters are invited, but they need to check in at the main visitor’s lounge in Building 43, and they’ll need to be escorted to and from the talk, so someone will pick them up 10 or 15 minutes before the talk starts.

    With luck, Google or someone will film this and make a video publicly available.

    Comment Source:I will give my talk at 4 pm Monday, February 13, 2012 in the Paramaribo Room on the Google campus (Building 42, Floor 2). Visitors and reporters are invited, but they need to check in at the main visitor’s lounge in Building 43, and they’ll need to be escorted to and from the talk, so someone will pick them up 10 or 15 minutes before the talk starts. With luck, Google or someone will film this and make a video publicly available.
  • 9.
    edited February 2012

    I just tested out a robot at Anybots and talked to Trevor Blackwell, the head of the company. It feels strange rolling around talking to people. The sound quality was poor on my laptop, but when I do the real thing I'll use headphones, which should help.

    I'm allowed to log in and roam around the Anybots building in robot form whenever I want, to practice!

    A preliminary version of my talk is available here. This is the version I'll be giving at Macquarie University on Tuesday this week. I'd appreciate comments!

    Over on the blog, my comments about nuclear power caused the most objections. I think I can explain my point in a more nuanced way in person - the text on the slides is just a fragment of what I'll say. I don't want to turn people off but I do want to let them understand that 'all options should be on the table' if we want to have a good chance to significantly slow global warming.

    Comment Source:I just tested out a robot at Anybots and talked to Trevor Blackwell, the head of the company. It feels strange rolling around talking to people. The sound quality was poor on my laptop, but when I do the real thing I'll use headphones, which should help. I'm allowed to log in and roam around the Anybots building in robot form whenever I want, to practice! A preliminary version of my talk is available [here](http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/what/what_macquarie.pdf). This is the version I'll be giving at Macquarie University on Tuesday this week. I'd appreciate comments! Over on the blog, my comments about nuclear power caused the most objections. I think I can explain my point in a more nuanced way in person - the text on the slides is just a fragment of what I'll say. I don't want to turn people off but I do want to let them understand that 'all options should be on the table' if we want to have a good chance to significantly slow global warming.
  • 10.

    Hi John,

    I'll try to take a look at your slides if I can find time, but the link doesn't seem to work (Firefox 10 on Windows 7)

    Comment Source:Hi John, I'll try to take a look at your slides if I can find time, but the link doesn't seem to work (Firefox 10 on Windows 7)
  • 11.

    There was an unnecessary quote mark at the end of the URL - my fingers are used to doing links in HTML, not this markup language! Try again now.

    Comment Source:There was an unnecessary quote mark at the end of the URL - my fingers are used to doing links in HTML, not this markup language! Try again now.
  • 12.
    edited February 2012

    Yes, it works now.

    My only comment would be: "is the majority of the audience from Australia?" (or is this to avoid focusing on the USA?)

    (Added:)

    This is the version I'll be giving at Macquarie University

    I see...

    Comment Source:Yes, it works now. My only comment would be: "is the majority of the audience from Australia?" (or is this to avoid focusing on the USA?) (Added:) > This is the version I'll be giving at Macquarie University I see...
  • 13.

    Hi John,

    perhaps some additional suggestions for what individuals can do to focus more on the positive side

    I'm not really sure about my next lines (especially about the formulation, I'm quite settled with the underlying idea)

    (a) [to complement fly less] invest more time in the place where you live. If you live in a nice area why would you want to leave too often (and if certain places are not nice to live, it also depends on who's living there, certainly for Western cities I think). This could also be motivation for joining into a Transition Town movement. Ok, other places can have different cultures and climates (so if you travel stay there a while)

    for example, what if the people from the middle ages would have all been tourists instead of building beautiful cathedrals and temples for us to visit now. (to my taste the beauty of a building usually scales inversely to the time it took to build)

    (b) [slightly related to educate] even though material resources are finite on a finite planet, there is still a lot of margin to expand what's in the brain, which has practically no additional carbon offset

    in case someone comments that this sounds too much like cheap positive thinking, I reply that one can also think that people only travel to show off to other people because traveling is what only the rich were able to do in the past ;-)

    Comment Source:Hi John, perhaps some additional suggestions for what individuals can do to focus more on the positive side I'm not really sure about my next lines (especially about the formulation, I'm quite settled with the underlying idea) (a) [to complement fly less] invest more time in the place where you live. If you live in a nice area why would you want to leave too often (and if certain places are not nice to live, it also depends on who's living there, certainly for Western cities I think). This could also be motivation for joining into a Transition Town movement. Ok, other places can have different cultures and climates (so if you travel stay there a while) for example, what if the people from the middle ages would have all been tourists instead of building beautiful cathedrals and temples for us to visit now. (to my taste the beauty of a building usually scales inversely to the time it took to build) (b) [slightly related to educate] even though material resources are finite on a finite planet, there is still a lot of margin to expand what's in the brain, which has practically no additional carbon offset in case someone comments that this sounds too much like cheap positive thinking, I reply that one can also think that people only travel to show off to other people because traveling is what only the rich were able to do in the past ;-)
  • 14.

    John you wrote on your transparencies:

    "I believe we need nuclear power. There are calculations arguing that without nuclear, we’re stuck but with nuclear, we’ve got a chance. If you disagree, find and fix the mistakes." Of course safety is an issue: we need to build reactors that turn off, not heat up, when something breaks. This is called ‘passive nuclear safety’.

    I'll be very brief, since you seem to be convinced anyways: Economic pressure might eventually lead to the promotion of non-passive reactor types and other not overly save features - moreover there is also the problem of nuclear waste, that is there are basically no (free) market mechanisms, which will take care for the recycling or diminishment of nuclear energy waste, so one is here in a similar situation as for the CO2. And there are more problems. (see here http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Recycling+runaway+effect) so actually the use of commercial nuclear power generation to fight global warming may turn out to be rather out of the frying pan into the fire.

    But calculations show coal causes at least 1000 times as many deaths per kilowatt-hour as nuclear! If you disagree, find and fix the mistakes.

    I remember you showed the resource to that assertion on google+ (cant find it right now) . If I remember correctly the ressource claims that for example Fukushima has a death statistics of one additional death. This is seems to be QUITE unrealistic.

    Comment Source:John you wrote on your transparencies: >"I believe we need nuclear power. There are calculations arguing that without nuclear, we’re stuck but with nuclear, we’ve got a chance. If you disagree, find and fix the mistakes." >Of course safety is an issue: we need to build reactors that turn off, not heat up, when something breaks. This is called ‘passive nuclear safety’. I'll be very brief, since you seem to be convinced anyways: Economic pressure might eventually lead to the promotion of non-passive reactor types and other not overly save features - moreover there is also the problem of nuclear waste, that is there are basically no (free) market mechanisms, which will take care for the recycling or diminishment of nuclear energy waste, so one is here in a similar situation as for the CO2. And there are more problems. (see here http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Recycling+runaway+effect) so actually the use of commercial nuclear power generation to fight global warming may turn out to be rather out of the frying pan into the fire. >But calculations show coal causes at least 1000 times as many deaths per kilowatt-hour as nuclear! If you disagree, find and fix the mistakes. I remember you showed the resource to that assertion on google+ (cant find it right now) . If I remember correctly the ressource claims that for example Fukushima has a death statistics of one additional death. This is seems to be QUITE unrealistic.
  • 15.
    edited February 2012

    Thanks, Frederik! Nadja: you can find the sources for my claims by clicking on those claims in my slides. My point, which will be clearer in my talk than in my slides, is that people who wish to avoid nuclear power, or indeed any potentially promising way to significantly reduce carbon emissions, should present detailed quantitative plans describing how they might still succeed. I give one link arguing - quantitatively - that renewable power will not be enough to get the job done, and another arguing that with nuclear power it's just barely possible. It's hard to feel confident about the numbers in these arguments, but without numbers it's too easy to convince oneself of absolutely anything.

    Comment Source:Thanks, Frederik! Nadja: you can find the sources for my claims by clicking on those claims in my slides. My point, which will be clearer in my talk than in my slides, is that people who wish to avoid nuclear power, or indeed any potentially promising way to significantly reduce carbon emissions, should present detailed _quantitative_ plans describing how they might still succeed. I give one link arguing - quantitatively - that renewable power will not be enough to get the job done, and another arguing that with nuclear power it's just barely possible. It's hard to feel confident about the numbers in these arguments, but without numbers it's too easy to convince oneself of absolutely anything.
  • 16.
    edited February 2012

    Here's the final (I hope) version of my Google talk:

    Opponents of nuclear power may be happy to hear that I changed the sentence 'I believe we need nuclear power' to 'we may need nuclear power'. They're both true, but I think this may convey my point a bit better. What I actually say will be more detailed. I hope and believe that Google will film this talk and make the video available in a while.

    Comment Source:Here's the final (I hope) version of my Google talk: * [Energy, the Environment, and What We Can Do](http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/what/google.html), 13 February 2012. Opponents of nuclear power may be happy to hear that I changed the sentence 'I believe we need nuclear power' to 'we may need nuclear power'. They're both true, but I think this may convey my point a bit better. What I actually _say_ will be more detailed. I hope and believe that Google will film this talk and make the video available in a while.
  • 17.

    To see the source of any piece of information in these slides, just click on it!

    A very minor comment: do you have certain stylistic reasons for making the links black? I think it would be more clear if there were in some other color (doesn't need to be blue, maybe some dark gray or italics if you want to avoid colors). I personally find it easier to see the linked word groups from a distance than to have to move everywhere with the mouse until I can see the arrow turning into a link (while I read I with my eyes I don't follow with the mouse, usually, but here I have to).

    Comment Source:> To see the source of any piece of information in these slides, just click on it! A very minor comment: do you have certain stylistic reasons for making the links black? I think it would be more clear if there were in some other color (doesn't need to be blue, maybe some dark gray or italics if you want to avoid colors). I personally find it easier to see the linked word groups from a distance than to have to move everywhere with the mouse until I can see the arrow turning into a link (while I read I with my eyes I don't follow with the mouse, usually, but here I have to).
  • 18.

    In the slides for the talk I don't want the colors to distract people from what I'm saying. But you're right, in the slides on my website I should make them dark blue or something. I have some paper in LaTeX that I cowrote with a smart grad student who knew how to adjust the color... I'll find that and copy it.

    Comment Source:In the slides for the talk I don't want the colors to distract people from what I'm saying. But you're right, in the slides on my website I should make them dark blue or something. I have some paper in LaTeX that I cowrote with a smart grad student who knew how to adjust the color... I'll find that and copy it.
  • 19.
    edited February 2012

    Okay, now the links are dark blue!

    Comment Source:Okay, now the links are dark blue!
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