TCS Daily


21st Century Davids

By Edward B. Driscoll - March 6, 2006 12:00 AM

In an era where the news is frequently gloom-and-doom, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to realistically predict a rosy future without sounding Pollyannaish. Glenn Reynolds manages to accomplish this in his new book, An Army of Davids, and in doing so, he amply fills some pretty big shoes.

Over two decades years ago, it was against an even worse backdrop of daily media doomsaying that Alvin Toffler was able to illustrate the promise of the future when he wrote The Third Wave, his sequel to Future Shock, published in 1970. And for American big business, the seventies were a shock: the railroad industry required not one, but two federal bailouts (Amtrak in 1971, Conrail five years later); the steel industry imploded; and the Arab oil embargo contributed to the American auto industry being rapidly surpassed by Asian automakers with their emphasis on fuel efficiency.

But in 1980, Toffler was able to see beyond those crises and place them in perspective. They weren't part of an overall economic meltdown on the road to a second Depression; they were a clash of the last element of what Toffler called the Second Wave -- the Industrial Revolution -- butting up against the Third Wave, the high tech future.

The Second Wave was dominated by a rust belt economy and gigantic machines: locomotives, steel mills, and assembly lines. All massive machinery promoted by mass advertising within a mass media and all consumed by nearly identical mass men.

But if the machine set the tone for the Second Wave, the microchip would set the pulse for its successor, allowing for infinitely more economic, media, and even lifestyle diversity.

And few have demonstrated the power of media diversity more so than Glenn Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor, proprietor of the hugely popular InstaPundit.com Weblog, a TCS Daily Contributing Editor and now author of the aforementioned An Army of Davids.

Snapshot of Life in the 21st Century

Reynolds' book is the photograph of life at the dawn of a new millennium; it explores what the next 25 to 50 years will bring. In describing his approach to the book, which grew out of his essays on TCS Daily, Reynolds says he tries to find "the pockets of the future that are already here, and then imagine what they would be like if they were more evenly distributed".

Like Toffler, Reynolds' optimistic look at the near future comes in an era in which the news generated by the mainstream media is a seemingly infinite calamity: terrorism, war, partisanship and political scandals.

But these days, there's a second media -- the Blogosphere -- spearheaded by Reynolds himself. Bloggers are but one of the Armies of Davids that Reynolds writes about, but arguably their most visible division. And they're part of a much larger trend.

Goliath Is Beginning To Actively Help David

"We've been in a period that's been sort of a blip in human history," Reynolds says, and it's been one in which technology "happened to favor large organizations. In which economies of scale and scope were really the big thing and the problems that small persons or organizations had were exacerbated. And we've now come full circle on that."

Reynolds notes that for the first couple of million years of human existence, "technological improvement pretty much worked on the individual level": fire, the slingshot of Reynolds' title character, the spear -- "that was all stuff that empowered the individual."

The Industrial Revolution began to change that, though. "It was only when we get to the steam engine and the telegraph and stuff like that, that big organizations start to look more functional."

Although Reynolds believes that period is rapidly being superseded, he doesn't think that big businesses are going away anytime soon. However their focus is starting to change.

Increasingly, the businesses that are most successful are those that benefit other, much smaller businesses, even down to sole proprietors. Certainly, that's the case with UPS and FedEx, office supply chains such as Staples and OfficeMax, and employee-hiring outfits such as Manpower, Inc., and Monster.com.

"I think the way that you make it in the 21st century is going to be figuring out a way to help a lot of people do what they want, rather than as in the 20th century, trying to figure out a way to make them do what you want."

That's especially the case with eBay, which warrants several mentions in An Army of Davids. Reynolds says that "eBay lets lots of little guys make it, and they're able to make it while they're little, because eBay is big. And it does sort of replace a lot of the old big business infrastructure. It replaces it, but it doesn't abolish it: it provides a lot of the same services. You talk about disintermediation, but eBay tends to re-intermediate by providing a trusted framework for buyers and sellers to get together, by making it easy to find what you want -- and among other things, by providing health benefits. And that's a fairly dramatic thing. Those are the kinds of things that whole offices used to do.

"It's not by any means the only one, of course. There's Amazon.com with their affiliates and associates programs, and a bunch of other online programs. And for that matter, a lot of the drop-shops that let people sell on eBay without having to have eBay accounts themselves are providing a similar kind of service. Likewise, I think that's what the Blogosphere is about in a way."

Not surprisingly for one of the most popular bloggers on the Web, there is a chapter devoted to the topic in An Army of Davids. Blogs have taken off partially as a response to media bias, but also because technology no longer rewards size alone. "Big newspapers that we think of as classics are themselves a function of a particular technology that made it economical to print 100,000 papers and not that economical to print 1,000 papers and not at all economical to print 100," Reynolds observes. "And now it doesn't matter."

Leaving The Cradle

Of course, the widespread growth of technology isn't entirely a panacea. When I spoke with Reynolds, his copy of Verner Vinge's Rainbows End had just arrived, and Reynolds was entranced with the veteran science fiction author's theme of an apocalypse occurring within two decades, quoting Vinge's line that "anyone having a bad hair day" could eventually ruin the world. "When you the have the equivalent of giving everybody nuclear weapons, the trouble is, some people will be idiots," Reynolds notes. "And we do have to deal with that."

But Reynolds, unlike Vinge, has more faith that the collective power of individuals will in fact deal with those bad hair days. Perhaps in a similar way to big software companies inviting hackers to help hack-proof their products.

This optimism about individuals and private businesses ties into the theme of one of the last chapters in An Army of Davids: the importance of privatizing manned spaceflight. Reynolds is particularly excited over recent efforts by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, and flamboyant Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson. "You now have a generation of rich guys who, like me, grew up on science fiction. And really want to make this stuff a reality."

And these efforts can't come at a more opportune time, with the combination of NASA's ever-increasing bureaucratic constipation and the growing odds of an Osama-wannabe having his own "bad hair day."

Which may be why the second half of that chapter in Reynolds' book diverges slightly from the book's main thrust, to focus closely on what technologies could propel manned deep space probes, and not all that surprisingly for a high-tech law professor, what sort of language would be contained within the constitution of an Earth colony on Mars.

It's going to be quite some time before lawyers will be drafting the Red Planet's legal structure. But that subchapter is the exception to the rule in the future of An Army of Davids. Just as Toffler extrapolated then-cutting edge technology of the late-1970s to accurately predict life in 1980s and 1990s, most of the technology in An Army of Davids is already here and, barring a bad hair day or two, will be radically reshaping life for the next several decades.

Ed Driscoll is a TCS contributing writer.

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18 Comments

straight line extrapolation
If only environmentalists would shut up and regulators would get out of the way, laissez faire capitalism would produce a high tech utopia.

Now, suppose the doctor says my kid needs an expensive medical procedure to correct a condition that will cause problems only in adulthood. I might get a second and third opinion. Eventually I face a choice, either shell out for painful and slightly dangerous procedure or keep looking until I find a doctor (maybe a quack) who disagrees then dismiss all the others as pessimists. This is the Glenn Reynolds/tcsdaily approach to global warming.

We can have a bright future, but only of we watch for threats to it and take the serious ones seriously. It's like studying for a test, you can predict a good score or you can study. Predicting a rosy future will not make it happen.

Except that...
The life-denying pessimists have always been wrong, long-term. Typically the life-denying pessimists are so because they have something to sell you. Typically, they have this system that only they know about and understand and can set up. So really, the life-denying pessimists are all about power grabs. That's why Leftist-liberals are all life-denying pessimists. Except for the true ideologues, who simply hate humans.

Another Perspective
In a similar vein, the Sovereign Indidivual book expounds on this idea as well.
The internet has enabled individuals, and the nation state governments will and are catering to individuals effectively making individuals sovereign.

The Whacked Out Left Approach to Global Warming
Now, suppose the doctor says my kid will die. Oh he might live to be 100, he might die in a car accident at 30, or some terrible childhood cancer. The doctor adds "everybody dies eventually". I on the other hand know better, I know that death only entered the world in the last few decades, prior to the advent of industrial capitalism, everybody lived to be a ripe long age. I therefore spend all my time, effort and emotion on trying to convince the rest of the world that my kid will live for ever, if they just embrace my mostrums.

I live in South Central Pennsylvania. Less than 90 miles North of here, are a variety of glacial remnants, boulder fields and a "pothole" that date back 10-50 thousand years. Underneath the ground are fossils of plants millions of years old that grew in subtropical regions. Today its 35 degrees-there'll be no glaciers and no subtropical flora here anytime soon.

So, should we be lamenting this climate change? Clearly we didn't cause it but ASSUMING we could change it, which prior climate should we be shooting for?

The odd thing about the left is that for all its positing of relativism-the modern left is a most insular, close-minded dogmatic philosophy-which is why, whenever challenged, it retreats first to condescension as a tool of argument and judicial fascism as a tool of implementation.

Of course it does make reasonable exceptions to its strictures-usually based upon the basest of concerns-coin. So while Joe Sixpack is criticized for having an SUV because its essential that he get to work, the Hollyweird "stars" jetting about the globe don't merit a peep (as long as they keep the pimple-faced nihilist brats in moveon.org awash in cash, of course)

Bootstraps and Batteries
Super Battery
Wired, Issue 14.03, March 2006

...The M1, based on the same lithium-ion technology used in your cell phone and laptop, is the first product from MIT spinoff A123 Systems. Cofounder Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials science professor, succeeded in shrinking to nanoscale the particles that coat the battery's electrodes and store and discharge energy. The results are electrifying: POWER DENSITY DOUBLES, PEAK ENERGY JUMPS FIVEFOLD (the cells pack more punch than a standard 110-volt wall outlet), and recharging time plummets.

...But Chiang's real target is your car -- A123's cells could lighten a Toyota Prius' 100-pound battery by as much as 80% and help boost any hybrid's performance. The quick recharging time -- the M1 TAKES FIVE MINUTES TO REACH 90% CAPACITY -- plus high peak power also would be ideal for plug-in versions of gas-electric vehicles...

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.03/start.html?pg=9

AGW
The quacks are the ones pushing the catastrophic AGW myth.

The worst case scenario is the earth warming up by a few tenths of a degree celsius.

Combined with longer growing seasons, faster growing and healthier plants, thanks to enhanced CO2, the future is looking brighter all of the time.

problems
1) to recharge a car's batter to 90% in 5 minutes, would require a circuit capable of handling at least 500 to 600 amps for the whole of that 5 minutes.

2) If the country were to switch to electric cars, we would need to increase our electric capacity by close to an order of magnitude. (And that's assuming everyone charges at night.)

3) Since the full chain efficiency of a battery car is only slightly better than that of an IC car, if the electricity is created by burning oil, there will be very little decrease in CO2 production, if it is created by burning coal, CO2 production will go up substantially.
The best cars are about 30% efficient. The best power plants are about 50% efficient. However you loose between 1% and 10% of electricity in each of the following steps.

Transformers stepping voltage up to transmission levels.
Transmission wires
Transformers stepping the voltage down to distribution levels.
Distribution wires.
Transformers stepping the voltage down to household levels.
Household wiring.
Voltage regulator (in battery charger)
Charging the battery.
Discharging the battery.
Voltage regulator (between the battery and the motor)
Electric motor

----

Depending on where you live, between 1% and 3% of gasoline/diesel production is used in the distribution of gasoline/diesel.

Concerns
I am concerned about Osama wannabes, but I am also concerned about people, on the left and the right, who want to use govt to control the thoughts and minds of the rest of the population.

In the past, those who valued freedom over security, could hop on a boat or a horse and head for the frontier.
Until space exploration gets much further along, we are plum out of frontiers.

Step by step
Hybrid engines already provide a significant improvement in fuel economy and CO2 emissions over traditional combustion engines -- the M1 would further enhance those improvements. Improved battery technology will also stimulate solar cell technology and local electric generation.

Bootstrapping.

look before you leap
Several recent studies have shown that the reality of hybrid cars fall way, way, short of the hype.

In best case scenarios, lots of stop and go driving, hybrids do manage to do a few percent better than standard drive cars. In other situations, they do worse.

The problem with solar cell technology, is that it takes more energy to make one, than you can reasonably expect to recover from the cell during it's usefull lifetime.

It's nice to have dreams, but if those dreams aren't based in reality, you end up wasting time and resources.

Honda Civic Hybrid - 2006 North American Car of the Year
Hybrids do much, much better than a "few percentage points" -- I know because I have owned a first-generation Honda Civic Hybrid for three years now. And in case you doubt my word...

One-Year Test Update: 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid
MotorTrend, September 2003

Over the past 12 months, our One-Year Honda Civic Hybrid has made a circuitous route around North America, from California to Michigan to Florida and back. All told, 23,649 trouble-free miles clicked over the odometer during its tenure with us, and it's made us believers of hybrid power...

Our main concern with the Hybrid is that helping to save the environment does have its costs, as in the $5000 premium over the LX Civic sedan. You'll save around $650 in fuel outlay over a year, but it would take nearly seven years to make up the difference...

http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/112_0309_2003_honda_civic_hybrid/

*Note that MotorTrend's estimated fuel savings were calculated using 2003 gas prices.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid Review
ForbesAutos.com, September 7, 2005

...EXCLUDING ANY TAX REBATES, the Civic Hybrid's $2,000 premium over a comparably equipped conventional Civic EX could take about THREE-AND-A-HALF YEARS TO RECOUP, considering the money you'd save at the pump while driving 15,000 miles per year and paying $3.00 per gallon. After that point, you'll be saving money -- not to mention POLLUTING LESS, WHICH IS A SIGNIFICANT FACTOR -- and covering more miles per tank of gas than any other Civic and most other automobiles on the market.

The Hybrid qualifies as an Advanced-Technology PARTIAL-ZERO-EMISSIONS Vehicle in all 50 states...

http://www.forbesautos.com/reviews/2006/honda/civic/hybrid/feature.html

VCs betting big on Clean Energy
Clean Energy Boom Forecast
Red Herring, March 6, 2006

The market for biofuels, solar energy, wind power, and fuel cells is expected to QUADRUPLE in the next decade, a report Monday said, as the price of these alternative energies decline and the world becomes more concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuels.

Collectively, global revenue from these fuels is seen growing to $167 billion by 2015 from $40 billion in 2005, according to the Clean Energy Trends report from Clean Edge, a Portland, Oregon-based research firm.

...Venture capitalists have been taking notice. Clean Edge teamed with Nth Power, an energy tech venture firm based in San Francisco, to chart the growth of VC funding in the clean tech sector. CLEAN ENERGY INVESTMENTS TOTALED MORE THAN 4% OF THE $21.7-billion U.S. VENTURE CAPITAL MARKET.

http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=15976&hed=Clean+Energy+Boom+Forecast

Would you like to evaluate the future of global warming yourself?
Predicting a rosy future will not make it happen.

LiberalGoodman, are you interested making your own evaluation of what will happen regarding global warming?

If you are seriously interested in attempting to make an unbiased evaluation of what future global warming will be like, I'd be happy to lead you through one.

I've seen the civic
The reason it saves gas has more to do with it's tremendously small size and improved aerodynamics.

Put a standard engine in the same chasis, and you would still save lots of gas.

Write science fiction?
You write science fiction?

i agree. GW joins ETS and anti-fat police to curb individual choice
You have the right enemy Mark.
And attempts to control people are all any of these are. There is little evidence, and no empirical evidence, that fat intake causes health problems, that environmental tobacco smoke has any notable health risk or that GW has anything to do with man's activities. All three may seem to make sense, but so far science has come up null on all three.

Yes, many groups have extrapolated facts they like from the studies and science to "prove" their pet theories; but the studies themselves show no evidence and little probability of any connection on all three. It is all about trying to legislate rules as to how you live.

These are just the tip of the iceberg, but they are among the most high profile of politically motivated "science" to legislate you into living the way someone thinks is proper. Liberals who want to use government to dictate how others live; your day is coming as well. Each freedom lost, no matter how trivial, is usually lost forever. And each one leads to another until therre is nothing left but a dictatorship. Our founding fathers knew that a so-called democracy could become nothing more than a dictatorship with a lot of dictators or, worse yet, a case of pure mob rule.

Don't think it can happen to you/ better pay closer attention to the eminent domain issue. The more power government has, the more it wants. The more laws you allow it to make curbing your freedom of choice, the more it will limit your freedom in life.

I don't trust government, but I trust less those trying to use government and the courts to get their way and force others to conform to their ideals.

Look again
Tremendously small size?

I hope you realize that the Honda Civic is no smaller than its competitors (ex. Toyota Corolla) and MOST MODELS are equipped with a standard, gas-only engine. My guess is that you have confused the Honda Civic Hybrid with the Honda Insight.

I hope you also realize that the Honda Civic is one of the MOST POPULAR VEHICLES sold in North America EVER, so you're displaying your ignorace to a very large audience.

automobiles.honda.com/models/model_overview.asp?ModelName=Civic+Hybrid

Motor Trend & Kelley Blue Book
...Every year, the editors of Motor Trend magazine extract a winner from a field of new vehicles. After extensive examination of 28 contenders to measure overall superiority, value and significance in the marketplace, the all-new Civic has been selected as 2006 MOTOR TREND CAR OF THE YEAR.

...The all-new Civic was named by KELLEY BLUE BOOK as the "BEST REDESIGNED VEHICLE OF 2006." The 2006 Civic was selected by the editors of kbb.com for its significant improvement in design, safety, comfort, performance and fuel economy.

http://automobiles.honda.com/models/awards.asp?ModelName=Civic+Hybrid&Num=1

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