ThoughtStorms Wiki

In response to MoreThanJustTinkering OliSharpe says :

OK, so these are research projects that I think ought to have serious funding now. Let's start with an obvious one.

1) Cheap clean energy

This is a very obvious one, and there is a lot of work looking at this already. While we should always be prudent with whatever energy we have - we are likely to use more energy in the future not less (as a planet) and therefore we desparately need to find more environmentally friendly ways to create and use energy resources.

So I would increase funding for this research area.

2) Efficient local production lines

Our current 'economies of scale' approach to manufacturing ends up costing huge amounts in transport costs and centralises control of manufacturing into the hands of a few organisation with large amounts of capital.

We should urgently investigate ways of making small scale manufacturing processes sufficiently cheap and clean that they can become viable. Examples of this already occuring are steel smelting (I believe this is a big reason why the old steel plants in the US were really under threat - because of smaller distributed plants). (See also The InnovatorsDilemma, the book)

Another example I've heard of is small, clean incenerator plants that can produce local energy from local waste. For example a hospital can have a mini on-site power plant that generates electricity (and hot water) by burning the hostpital's own waste. Fantastic stuff.

What I'd like to see is each city having a number of local manufacturing sites that are capable of producing a very wide range of goods. In the dream scenario raw goods (that cannot be sourced locally) are delivered to the city, but then items (like cars) are produced locally to order. This would be 'just in time' and 'build to order' manufacturing taken to extreme. This should mean that we stop building millions of cars - and then trying to sell them. Rather, goods would only be manufactured when someone is wanting to have them.

Not only does this reduce wasted transport costs, but it also allows for more distributed design and a wider number of smaller companies owning and running these distributed generalised manufacturing plants.

(See also MassCustomization)

Such an approach could also give rise to open source design taking off in a big way. It would also remove the pressure for 'replacement' purchases. As there would be no big 'car maker' trying to shift cars that they've already made. Instead, once the demand for cars drops then the mini-general purpose factory would be producing other goods.

Again I would put large amounts of research money into solving the problems that currently prevent such micro-manufacturing plants from being economically viable. Once the technological issues have been solved - the politics will be relatively 'easy'

The problem is that micro-manufacturing (as described above) is currently a) simply not possible b) where possible its economically unviable (cars would cost £100,000 or something - it just couldn't compete). As soon as the technology is there to make it possible and change the economics - small companies will snap it up.

A good example is micro breweries. As soon as they were economically viable they took off around the world. Government didn't have to restrict the business of the existing breweries in any way.

Creating local, efficient manufacturing plants would have massive (possitive) implications for the distribution of wealth - primarily because it would break the current requirement to collect together large amounts of capital to build big factories with economies of scale.

Distribute the means of production and you'll distribute the wealth.

3) Industrial scale organic farming

Sounds like an oxymoron - but I think that's only if you come from a certain ideological persuation. I think our soils are indeed under severe threat from some modern farming practises. I think organic farming is a big part of the possible solution here - but we need to scale it up to feed 6 billion people - and hence it can't remain a labour intensive operation. We need to find ways to increase automation without losing the benefits to the soil.

4) Cleaner, more effecitve, more comprehensive recycling

Again, an obvious one, but one that needs addressing. As we develop our new local manufacturing techniques powered by cleaner cheaper locally produced energy, we should also be doing much better local recycling.

We will NOT get away from waste creation. We have to therefore improve our ability to process and recycle waste. Partly by getting energy out of the waste - and partly recovering precious materials.

Obviously these processes need to be getting cleaner and cleaner.

5) Healthier materials in mass production

We put a lot of bad chemicals into the goods we create. We need to find ways to stop this so that we stop polluting ourselves and the planet with regular amounts of small toxic doses. These are accumulating and causing serious damage.

6) Medical research focused on need rather than wealth

My impression is that too much research money goes towards rare diseases of the rich rather than common diseases of the poor. We should be aiming public money at researching cheap effective techniques for the biggest health problems. The reseach results should be publically owned - and then we get companies to compete to make the drugs / equipment as cheaply as possible.

I'll stop here

.... I could go on - but I've run out of time for the moment. Lots of these are issues that some people are looking into. The point is precisely that I don't trust the market to put enough emphasis on long term humanitarian research needs

So I do think this is a political issue.

I think we need to see a massive increase in government spending on research into these technology issues. The market will not fund this kind of research - as it breaks the status quo. The market invents products that will sell and make money - given the status quo. They tinker. That's why we get hunderds of new minor variations of soap powders that give us a slightly cleaner wash - that's the kind of research the market does !! It's like a market wide version of the innovators dilema - and I believe government funding is essential to break free from this.

My point is that I do not see 'public funding of humanitarian focused technology research' as being high enough on the mainstream political agenda. And I think that it is the major missing component to our current political approach / debate.

Far too many people think 'the market will invent what we need'. No - historically wars get governments to invent what we need !!!

To get such a boost in peace time we need to get this issue much higher on the politcal agenda. That's not to say that other issues are dropped. We just need to add this missing component to the mix of top agenda items.


Pretty much agree with everything, these points just supplimentary questions / issues, not counter to the main thrust that each of these technologies is worth putting more money into.

1) Cheap clean energy. Do you know of any research into anything with a comparible high energy to mass ratio as oil that isn't uranium?

2) What's the cause of OffShoring? EconomiesOfScale in super-efficient giant Chinese factories? Or low labour costs in China? (See also CheapChineseCars)

3) Doesn't "mass" define ecological problem? (IsMassNatural?) Any mono-culture big enough to feed 6 billion is a huge damage to the complexity of the ecosystem. What you need is to scale up variety.

4 - 6) Agree


Have your read [Viktor Viktor Shauberger]? ooo, i know i'm going to regret not searching your wiki here first. – HeatherJames