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July 10, 2008 Far Future Technology, Part 1

I very often wonder what technology would be like in our extremely far future. I'm specifically thinking of time frames more on the order of a thousand years or more.

Most of the interest in future technology always seems to revolve around much closer times, such as 50 years or sooner. This is a bit boring to me. It doesn't take too much imagination to estimate what these technologies would look like. To a certain extent Moore's Law of computer processing can guide our way in suggesting what computing power would be like. Though there are reasons to believe that Moore's Law will go only so far, partially due to the fact that it makes assumptions that may be breaking down soon, such as the scale of integrating microcircuitry within smaller and smaller areas, thus producing more and more processing power. Moore's Law does not take into effect the realities of quantum mechanics at these ever smaller scales and their influence on that microcircuitry. Up to now, this wasn't a concern. Quantum mechanical processes are very much being felt by these nanotechnologies and unless more novel approaches are used, will increasingly do so.

Because of the random energy fluctuations at these scales, the conductors' efficiencies decrease due to the background noise levels produced by them and therefore Moore's Law begins to break down.

To continue what my original thoughts were I mentioned my frequent fascination with far future technologies. There have been some who have ventured out to the boundaries of what advanced civilization's technology would look like taken to an extreme that would not break the laws of physics as currently known. Many have been science fiction writers, but others have been scientists themselves.

Notably, Freeman Dyson was among those who had wandered out to these depths. I am reminded of his "Dyson Spheres". Since reading about them many years ago I have since been fascinated by what potentials technology could attain. Before understanding what Dyson Spheres are we need to first understand the Russian Kardeshev's Types of Civilization.

Kardeshev's logical idea was that as a civilization expands and its technology grows, it necessarily demands an ever increasing power consumption. Compare, for example, the difference between the United State's energy needs and those of, say Papua New Guinae (I know: a wierd selection., but just to illustrate my point). Not only is the population of the United States much greater than Papua New Guinae, but it is also the technologically superior of the two and so it follows that its energy consumption is going to be much greater. This comparison is obviously not needed, it's just a truism, but it illustrates what Kardeshev had in mind when contemplating high 'levels' of technologcal civilization.

So, Kardeshev advanced the idea of 3 levels, or 'Types', of an advanced civilization:

Type 0

Type 0 Civilization

Starting from Type 0 he first imagined what our current technology consumptions are. Human society's technology is approximately Type 0 and is one reference at which the rest are measured against.

 Type 1

Type 1 Civilization

Civilizations at Type 1 are those that consume the full amount of incoming energy impinging upon their homeworld from the star that it orbits, the Sun in our case. In order for us to reach a Type 1 stage in our technology evolution, we would need to absorb the same amount of the Sun's energy, probably from space, that is equivalent to the amount that regularly and constantly falls on the full surface of the Earth. This is a tremendous amount of energy and we are very far from achieving this level, to say the least! This would require the equivalent of a 100% efficient circular solar panel with a diameter larger than that of Earth's diameter! (Obviously, since it is fundamentally impossible to create a 100% efficient anything, the difference would need to be made up in a still larger solar panel, etc.)

This doesn't necessarily mean that our energy source needs to be Solar in order to calculate this energy consumption and usage; it can be from any source: wind, water, nuclear, fossil fuel, biofuel, etc., or solar. The important comparison is in how much energy usage is occuring for the civilization.

Currently, most of our energy source is from relatively small patches under the earth's surface that contain concentrated and stored solar energy in the form of fossil fuels.

...to be continued in Far Future Technology, Part 2

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