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Tesla and Ford have successfully utilized electric motors and improved batteries to produce physical objects with high precision. The speaker discussed the concept of ceasing harm and healing, and suggests that it can be applied to other domains such as economics and ecology. They discuss how changing a single variable can often produce a dramatically different outcome and how living systems possess a unique capacity to heal themselves. They also discuss how carbon markets have been found to be inefficient, and how China has been successful in subsidising the production of solar panels and batteries. Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to reduce car accidents and save millions of lives, and can be implemented sooner to maximize well-being.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that stopping the problem was enough to combat climate change, but this was deemed reckless. An alternative approach, called an "impact pulse", involves ceasing to do harm, reversing the system, healing from the injury caused, and eventually returning to a stable or approximately stable condition. This process is analogous to putting out a burning house and then repairing the damage. Strategies for navigating the challenge vary depending on what is being minimized or maximized, and the concept of a pulse as opposed to a linear path should be considered for other phenomena.
The speaker discussed the concept of ceasing harm and healing, and suggested that this could be generalized to other domains such as economics and ecology. They discussed how people often don't pay attention to the possibility of restoration when making decisions that cause damage, and gave examples from technological development and governance. Analytical tools such as systems dynamics and structural equation modelling can be used to model systems and understand how to restore democracy. It is possible for forces that cause harm to be directed to repair, as seen with Facebook, which has the potential to be a powerful force for good. Changing a single variable can often produce a dramatically different outcome, even if the rest of the system remains unchanged.
Tesla and Ford are two large organizations that have successfully utilized electric motors and improved batteries to produce physical objects with high precision. Ford has not fully recognized the potential of this technology, as it is responsible for a fifth of global emissions. Amazon is an example of a company that was able to leverage its competencies and spin them out into separate units, leading to its success. It takes an intelligent leader to understand what is general and what is specific to maximize a company's productive capacity.
Living systems possess a unique capacity to heal and adapt to shocks, such as physical injury in individual organisms and disturbance from fire or flood in ecosystems. This resilience and ability to restore themselves to a stable state is distinct from less complex and anti-entropic systems, which generally slow down the rate of impact and return to a condition of zero change. This concept of pulse behavior and restoration can be seen in natural functions and organisms, and may require a 35,000 mile view to recognize the potential of this phenomenon.
Fire can have a major impact on a forest's structure and ecology, leading to a succession process that can take decades to restore. In non-living systems such as economics or industry, there is no natural healing or restoration process. Tesla's success is attributed to Elon Musk's commitment to the environment, and neglecting maintenance in buildings can lead to severe problems that are difficult to fix.
A pulse curve can be used to chart the damage and repair of a building over time, and can be optimized to minimize the total harm incurred. To reduce costs and prevent further damage, it is recommended to carry out a renovation project as an investment. Markets can also be used to incentivize the production of something, meaning it is possible to reduce the overall cost by spending money on repair today, rather than in the future. This could even result in someone making money by being paid to nag people to fix their house.
Carbon pricing is an attempt to reduce emissions, but its effectiveness is heavily debated. Carbon markets have been found to be inefficient and corrupt, with California's trading being an example of this. Climate change has disrupted the ceteris paribus assumption, making emissions trading largely ineffective. Different countries have different approaches to emissions trading, with varying results. Solar, wind and batteries are being used to combat climate change, but it is unclear what the bigger driver is in the end.
Experts argue that policy measures can accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy, as seen in the case of China. Technology can reduce the duration of phases b and c of the disruption curve, compared to traditional approaches of environmental policy making. Social and political variables should be given less weight than technological factors in the function of the outcomes, and other approaches such as policy making, behavioural change, regulations and standards, and emissions trading should be pursued.
In 2010, people such as Ray Kurzweil began talking about the exponential growth of solar power, but policymakers and the scientific community failed to act upon it. The US had early research in solar photovoltaics and other technologies, but squandered its lead, allowing China to take the technology to market. The US chose to support the industry with financial instruments such as tax incentives, while China supported the industry with national funds. This resulted in the squashing of US producers and the success of clean energy technology, mostly solar power and batteries. This failure to recognize the potential of technology to tackle climate change has been a monumental disaster for humanity.
China has been successful in subsidising the production of solar panels and batteries, allowing them to become the preeminent supplier and giving them a competitive advantage. This was achieved through political lobbying and supporting the industry in a way other countries have not been able to. Scaling a technology from zero to one hundred is more difficult than innovating it, and took 30 years for photovoltaic panels to become mass-produced. The same problems of corruption and incentivisation that China is having in building a high quality research network are the same that the West had when building their own, requiring close attention to the details of manufacturing.
China has achieved success in mass producing solar panels, demonstrating the potential of democratic systems and the possibility of a tipping point in 2050. This success is attributed to their centralized style of management, which contrasts with the American ideal of government intervention. However, the current system is inefficient and the government should focus on major projects and regulations, such as the Sunshot program, to promote clean energy and prevent annihilation. Investment in major projects that are beyond the scope of crowds and markets is necessary for success.
Autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to reduce car accidents by 90%, saving an estimated 60,000 lives in the US alone each year. Bringing forward the timeline for this technology could save millions of lives globally. Even small efforts, like the 2017 report on transportation in China, can have a significant impact and result in the saving of tens of thousands of lives. Maximizing well-being and the impact of solutions to major problems can be done by viewing them through the lens of how many lives can be saved and how much time can be telescoped for their full implementation.
In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its fifth assessment report, which suggested that all that was needed to combat climate change was to stop making the problem worse. This thought process was deemed reckless by the speaker, who proposed an alternative approach. This approach, called an "impact pulse", involves ceasing to do harm, reversing the system, healing from the injury caused, and eventually returning to a stable or approximately stable condition. This process is analogous to putting out a burning house and then repairing the damage, which is often a more difficult challenge than simply stopping the fire.
A surge and a reversal of an impact pulse can be navigated in different ways depending on what is being minimized or maximized. For example, when fighting a house fire, the strategy would depend on what is being prevented and which thresholds need to be avoided. There are trade-offs to be made when deciding how to navigate the challenge. Going forward, the concept of a pulse as opposed to a linear path should be considered for other phenomena.
The speaker discussed the concept of ceasing harm and healing, and asked if it could be generalized to other phenomena in different domains such as economics and ecology. They discussed the idea of people not paying attention to the possibility of restoration when making decisions that cause damage, and whether this is a general phenomenon. They suggested that it could be, and gave an example from technological development where there is a kind of pollution in the new sphere.
Facebook could potentially restore democracy, but people would not trust Mark Zuckerberg to do it. In China, they are experimenting with integrating technology into governance. The same expertise that allowed the production of oil and gas can be used for carbon sequestration, which could be part of the restoration effort. Systems dynamics and structural equation modelling can be used to model systems and understand how to restore democracy.
Analytical tools can be used to identify key stocks and flows in a system, which can be thought of as analogous to variables in a function. Changing a single variable can often produce a dramatically different outcome, even if the rest of the system remains unchanged. This is why it is possible for forces that cause harm to be directed to repair; the same force can be used to create different outcomes. An example of this is Facebook, which has the potential to be a powerful force for good.
Tesla and Ford are both large organizations that produce physical objects at scale and with high precision. This is a general purpose technology or institutional technology, which is made possible by the combination of the electric motor and better batteries. This knowledge is part of Tesla and Ford, but Ford may have underestimated the importance of this technology. Carbon emissions from road vehicles make up about a fifth of total emissions, and this can be attributed to car companies. Companies may benefit from a broader understanding of their capacity and the mechanisms that constitute it.
Ford Motor Company is a prime example of an industry's productive capacity being rapidly converted and repurposed for the war effort. Despite this, Ford is struggling to make the transition to electric cars, something that could have been done by any of the incumbent auto makers. Amazon is a great example of an organization that understood its competencies and spun them out into separate units, like AWS and logistics services, leading to its current success. It takes a capable and intelligent leader to understand what is general and what is specific in order to make the most of a company's productive capacity.
Ecosystems are naturally capable of restoration, which is distinct from the way inanimate systems operate. A CEO may be blind to the opportunity of repurposing industrial infrastructure for a new purpose, such as drawing down carbon, but if one looks at the planet as an industrial system, this logic becomes more apparent. This concept of pulse behavior and restoration can be seen in natural functions and organisms, and is distinct from animate systems. It may take a 35,000 mile view to recognize the potential of this phenomenon.
Living systems possess a unique capacity to heal and adapt to shocks. This is seen in individual organisms, such as when they experience a physical injury, and in ecosystems, such as when they experience disturbance from fire or flood. In these cases, the system will naturally repair itself and return to its normal, stable state. This is in contrast to less complex and anti-entropic systems, which generally slow down the rate of impact and return to a condition of zero impact or zero change. This resilience and ability to heal is a distinguishing feature of living systems.
Fire can have a major impact on a forest's structure and ecology. After a fire, the system will go through a succession process, where new organisms compete to fill niches and eventually a large stand of trees is restored. This process can take decades, and is not automatic or natural in non-living systems like economics or industry. This lack of healing and restoration may explain why it wasn't so obvious in the climate science community, and why it is often overlooked when looking at non-living systems.
In a market, there is a brutal competition to capture and supply energy, which has been the foundation of civilization for the past two centuries. Tesla is a leader in this, and it could be argued that Elon Musk's commitment to the environment is necessary for his success. Similarly, a dilapidated building that has been neglected will accumulate damage, and as more goes wrong, more can go wrong due to the distribution of possible problems. Neglecting maintenance can lead to a severe problem that is difficult to fix.
A household example was given to explain how damage can be caused by a single problem and how it can create further problems. It was suggested that humans should be proactive in fixing issues, to reduce costs and prevent further damage. To do this, it is recommended to carry out a renovation project to get ahead of the problems, as a form of investment. This will help to minimise costs in the long run, by preventing the problems from getting worse.
A pulse curve can be charted to show the damage and repair of a building over time. This could be optimized to minimize the total harm incurred by keeping the rate of damage and repair at zero, or to oscillate between a positive rate of harm and a negative rate of harm. Markets are able to move value in time in order to incentivize the production of something, and in the example of a dilapidated house, it is possible to reduce the overall cost by spending a given dollar today on repair rather than in three months when things are broken. This can even result in someone making money by being paid a dollar a day to nag people to fix their house.
Carbon pricing is an attempt to outsource discipline and obtain utility in different ways, but there is much debate around its success. Carbon markets have been found to be inefficient and corrupt, and the actual volume of trade is often divorced from the number of credits that exist. California's trading is an example of this, with inadequate reporting and multiple buying and selling of credits. This has led to questions around the usefulness of these markets, as they have yet to function well in practice.
Climate change has posed a major problem as it has disrupted the ceteris paribus assumption, incentivizing gaming the trading instead of utilizing it to move away from old technologies. In practice, emissions trading has been largely ineffective due to the complexity of the system and agents responding in irrational ways. Different countries have different approaches to emissions trading, with Germany, California and Canada having different views. In the context of solar, wind and batteries, it is unclear what the bigger driver is in the end, as millions of man hours have been spent on climate change negotiations and diplomacy.
Elon Musk and other experts argue that the most effective way to speed up the transition to electric vehicles and renewable energy is to implement a few key policy measures. This could reduce the area under the curve of a sigmoid curve and accelerate the disruption of energy and transportation. This could be seen in the case of China, where the government implemented incentives that moved the development of batteries and solar panels and changed the cost curves. Moving the timeline forward by just two or three years is more impactful than other efforts such as taking the bus more often or recycling.
Technology has the potential to cause a disruption that could reduce the duration of phases b and c of the disruption curve, compared to the traditional approaches of environmental policy making. Technological factors should be given heavy weight in the function of the outcomes, as opposed to the social and political variables that are usually attributed primacy in environmental sciences. Without technology, it would be rational to pursue the other avenues of trying to get the problem under control, such as policy making measures, behavioral change, regulations and standards, and emissions trading.
The failure to recognize the potential of technology to tackle climate change has been a monumental disaster for humanity. By 2014, it was inexcusable not to be aware of the possibility of clean energy, clean transportation and clean food technology. People like Tony Siva were screaming about the issue, but policymakers and the scientific community were unable to listen. Had the technology not been available, the mistake would not have been made. However, by 2010 or 2012, people like Ray Kurzweil had already started talking about the exponential growth of solar power. It is a tragedy that this knowledge was not acted upon sooner.
The US had early research in solar photovoltaics and other technologies, but squandered its lead. China stepped in with larger support and took the technology to market, leading to the squashing of US producers. The US chose to support the industry with financial instruments such as tax incentives for producers and consumers. China's approach was to support the industry directly with national funds. This incentivized the clean energy technology sector, mostly solar power and batteries.
China's government has been successful in subsidising the production of solar panels and batteries, allowing them to become the preeminent supplier of these products. This has been achieved through political lobbying and supporting the industry in a way that other countries have not been able to. This has led to China having a competitive advantage in the industry, allowing them to scale their production and achieve the economies of scale. This has been compared to the idea of getting from zero to one, which is the initial technological breakthroughs, and getting from one to a hundred, which is the scaling of the production.
Scaling a technology from zero to one hundred is more difficult than innovating it. This was the case for photovoltaic panels, which took 30 years to become mass-produced. The zero to one one to n idea is flawed, as it is endlessly recursive and requires more attention to detail than is often given. The same problems of corruption and incentivisation that China is having in building a high quality research network are the same problems the West had when building their own. Science is more workaday than people think and requires close attention to the details of manufacturing.
China's success in mass producing solar panels is a reflection of the potential of democratic systems, and a possible tipping point in 2050 could prevent annihilation. This success is a testament to their centralized style of management, which runs parallel to the American ideal of government intervention in the collective interest. This is a cause for concern, as technology advances and the transitions become more difficult to handle.
Most Americans believe the role of government should be limited, but there are key areas where it should step in. Unfortunately, the system we have built is one that is inefficient and micromanages too much. The government should focus on major projects and regulations, like subsidizing clean energy, rather than the minor, niggling regulations that are often ineffective. An example of this is the Sunshot program, which is inspired by the original moonshot, but is underfunded. Governments should be bold and invest in major projects that are beyond the scope of crowds and markets.
Autonomous vehicle technology is expected to save a large number of lives by reducing the accident rate by at least a tenth. If this technology is implemented, it would result in the prevention of 90% of fatal car accidents worldwide. It is estimated that in the United States alone, 60,000 people are killed in car accidents every year, and this number is much higher in countries like India and China. If the timeline for the maturation and deployment of this technology is brought forward, it could result in the saving of many lives.
Bringing forward the timeline for auto autonomous vehicles could save millions of lives globally every year, and bringing forward the timeline for climate catastrophe could have an even larger impact. Even small efforts, like those of the speaker's team, can have an effect, as their 2017 report on transportation in China made waves and had an impact on the government's policy and plans. Viewing efforts to maximize well-being through the lens of how many lives can be saved and how much time can be telescoped for the arrival of full solutions to major problems is the best way to maximize the impact. This could result in saving tens of thousands of lives, and even a small difference in timeline can have a huge impact.
yeah so so just to quickly quickly recap and maybe i can do a better job of sort of summarizing the the thinking this time around just just to recap very quickly um my the the images that are here are all from a previous paper of mine published quite a long time ago i wrote it i wrote it in 2014 and then it was a bit of a struggle getting it published so the publication date is uh 2016 but my thinking dated back to the same year that the ipcc the intergovernmental panel on climate change um uh published its fifth assessment report so the the we are now um at the sixth assessment which was just which has been published over the course of the last 12 months it's published in sort of three major pieces and the sixth assessment is out now but when the fifth uh was published in 2014 it had um uh more or less the uh carried over the prevailing thinking at that time which is shown on the chart on the left and that is this idea that all we need to do is stop making the the problem of climate change worse uh we need to simply stop causing harm and that's it job done we can all relax kick our feet up and everything will be okay and uh to me that was a very frightening and reckless prospect because what if by and again i use this analogy and i mentioned it last time i'll just quickly repeat it now um the analogy was that i've used many times as a burning house the idea that you're not done when you put the flames out you're only done once you've repaired the damage that the the fire did um and in many ways putting the flames out is the easy part repairing the damage undoing all the harm healing from the injury that is this often a slower and more arduous perhaps more expensive and difficult challenge than simply simply uh ceasing doing harm and so um uh i tried to present a vision uh of of sort of a a general more complete pattern for the entire process of causing harm then throwing the whole system into reverse switching into a mode of healing and then eventually at the very end of it returning to some stable or approximately stable you know homeostatic sort of condition that that resembles the time prior to when you started the whole mess to begin with and uh so that's the center uh the the the figure two which is here in the middle that's that uh that a whole arc the whole journey is what i called an impact pulse and i use the term pulse as opposed to a curve because it sort of looks like you know the quintessential heartbeat pulse or or something like that where you have a
um a surge and a return um no i'm sorry a surge and then a reversal and then they return so it's a more complicated i think phenomena and uh depending on exactly what you're trying to minimize or maximize um as say for example a decision maker you could you could um you could take different journeys through that pulse uh to ensure that for example you didn't cross a certain threshold um or you know you you got the let's continue the analogy of a burning house it would depend on what you were really trying to prevent and what key thresholds you were trying to avoid would determine how you fought the fire and repaired the damage right and where you where you targeted your resources your finite resources so if you were if you know if if you really just if you want to make sure the flames never got hot hotter than a certain point um because maybe the steel and the building would suddenly buckle and the whole thing would would collapse uh well then you know that that shapes your firefighting strategy if uh if if you really want the the fire extinguished as soon as possible the whole thing extinguished so you can begin repairing well that's a different strategy if you want to minimize the expense of the whole thing well maybe you should uh you know let the fire burn a little bit longer and then let the repair process go on a little bit longer but that you know because you're not in such a rush it would be more affordable you know you could imagine that there are trade-offs to be made in deciding how you uh navigate this a challenge like this and my view is that those are the questions we really need to be asking and the plans we really need to be making um but that most of that was not even not even part of the conversation not even on anybody's real really not even on anybody's radar okay so that's a quick summary of um and sorry figure three is it is a sort of a a um conceptual illustration of you know some different paths in different versions of the impulse um the impact pulse uh different versions of the impact pulse that we could traverse based on different priorities what do we want to minimize what do we want to accomplish and so forth okay that's figure 3. so that's a very quick summary of what the thinking was here what i was hoping we could do now um having you know spent time talking about that in detail you know last week and now summarizing it here what i'd like to go do going forward is to think about other phenomena that uh where where this concept of a pulse as opposed to um
a simple ceasing of doing harm but a full pulse where you not only do you stop doing harm but you also heal as well um can we generalize that concept that that this this this uh phenomena uh in in any interesting ways to other uh specific examples of phenomena in different domains i mean in economics in in society um i've thought with one in ecology uh that that uh occurred to me i was wondering if if this idea has any utility has any usefulness beyond just this one specific example or i guess beyond the environmental domain um and is it is there anything that we can learn about that you know about um this phenomenon by thinking how it generally might generalize um it's supposed to be remaining to remaining stuck in just as you know uh one or a handful of specific examples and i think that's a very good you know fairly good uh fairly good practice in general right i mean if you spot a phenomenon and try to take it apart figure out how it works and then think does it generalize and what insights might uh might we accrue um by looking for that same sort of pattern elsewhere in the universe around us so um that's what i was hoping maybe to have a freeform uh conversation about tonight uh discussion tonight about that is that if that sounds okay um and obviously i'm more than happy to answer any questions we didn't really have uh much time to answer questions last time so we can do both of those things in no particular order or priority yeah maybe maybe to begin with uh ethan or kenneth if you if you had any questions about the basic picture here uh i can't remember but i think you were both busy last week uh i think no i was here i just couldn't speak that's right sorry oh that's right we had the audio issue did you have any questions no i think or comments or thoughts or insights i think i i'll speak up once i remember i think i had one last week but i don't remember what i thought of it now yeah yeah i think we ended last week you were asking for other examples but we'd also discussed the phenomena where well the question why don't people pay attention to the possibility of the restoration part of this curve which affects their decision making in the um what damage part i suppose you could say and whether or not it's a general phenomenon i don't know it seems plausible it could be but at least in the case of of climate and i gave another example from technological development where you could say that uh there's a kind of pollution in the new sphere from tech and uh
and the role of advertising and and online manipulation and so on uh where the people who are most responsible or in some sense also the people most able to see that this restoration part is possible i don't know i don't know what facebook would do to restore democracy but you could imagine potentially that happening um but nobody's got to listen to zuckerberg i mean if zuckerberg comes out and says well we might have wrecked democracy in the united states but we we can now see that it will be so easy to make democracy work five times better just trust me uh that's not gonna fly and yeah you can imagine how that would go down that's true on the other hand i could totally believe that right i don't think it's necessarily the case but there are probably economists on the payroll and institutional experts in democratic processes you can imagine them being hired inside facebook and with all the data they have they could probably think of ways to improve processes this is for example very much what happens in china where it's not democratic but people are thinking about governance and how to integrate technology into that and actually carrying out experiments with that in a way i think which is much more thorough going than what we do in the west in a sense because they they're both responsible for the current bad state of things and also can see how things could be better and those two things maybe go hand in hand so that was a thing we finished on last time as well yeah and i i do think that that's a very astute observation and um i can certainly think of examples where um and one with the one that we mentioned last time i think you mentioned it dan was the idea uh specifically on climate change that the the industries that have been you know egregious emitters of fossil fuel industry for example um that its ex the same expertise that allowed the production of oil and gas might also be deployed for the sequestration of carbon in this whole you know which which is is for uh has the potential to be part of that whole restoration endeavor to pull co2 out of the atmosphere out of the oceans and and sequester it um in some cases literally back right back where it came from down in oil and gas wells and so um uh i think that there if i think in terms of systems dynamics and how we model systems and there are you know there are analogous uh modeling approaches structural equation modeling for example and other approaches um in maths uh and and you know other other um
uh there are other analytical tools i think that that that you know achieve approximately similar results that will look at a so my main training is with systems dynamics and so the way the lens i would look at this through would be you could identify key stocks and flows in a system um and those might be they're not perfectly but they're they are analogous to variables in in a function and um uh i mean i suppose you can literally translate them into variables in a function but i don't mean that in such a literal sense i just made it conceptually you could think of the stocks and flows in a system um and the forces that control those as being like a variable that that can that can hold different values and uh very commonly in systems dynamics what we see is that a particular variable will exert a lot of influence over the system and changing that variable um uh can can produce a dramatically different outcome oftentimes surprisingly um uh or unintuitively it can produce an opposite outcome so one that one value that a variable might hold producing a large amount of you know say for example growth in a system um or movement in one direction uh depending what you know metric you're interested in measuring and then another value of the same on the same variable and very little else in the system changing and suddenly you have the opposite system behavior and so that is sort of a familiar pattern at least in systems dynamics now um i suppose where that where what i'm getting at there is that perhaps it's no surprise that uh the the um the same forces that cause harm uh might be directed to to uh repair by virtue of the fact that they're potent forces and that's it you know i mean if you've got something that's that is forceful something that's potent well if you direct it in one way it's it can have an impact in one direction and if you direct it in a different way it's going to have an impact in a different direction sort of you know almost in a technological sense um so i think that that's a it's not an obvious uh thing to you know sort of um i don't think it's self-evident but i think once you see it there's sort of there's sort of a quite a clear and compelling logic to it and and i think that that's a like i said i think it's a very astute observation dan and and we can imagine i think the example of facebook is is a is a disturbingly powerful one right um and one could imagine the force the force for good that it could have been you know i was thinking along similar lines just
now but i was thinking about uh technology rather than force i mean you could the example of tesla for instance so you could say there's a big difference between tesla and ford because ford makes petrol engines and tesla makes electric engines but really that's a tiny detail both of them are just large scale organizations that make physical objects which is really hard to do at scale and with high precision and so in a sense both of them are just incarnations of a certain general purpose technology which is high quality machine manufacturing for consumer goods right and you can you could say that or to a large degree i guess i don't know you must know the percentages off the top of your head what the contributions to the current carbon in the atmosphere are from vehicles is it like a third perhaps most of it's from electricity generation isn't it in factories yep it's uh it's about a fifth fifth okay the road vehicles are about a fifth right total carbon emissions so that fifth you could you could point at the car companies and say well you know they they produced that indirectly but the very same institutional knowledge of how to build an organization i mean that was part of what ford did right not just figure out how to make a car other people figured out how to do that but he figured out how to do it at scale in a factory and have kind of a reproducible level of quality and how to organize the people to do that and how to pay them and how to finance it etc etc and all of that knowledge is part of tesla they did other things but that's in a sense a general purpose technology or institutional technology on top of other or hard forms of technology which can be deployed in the opposite direction once you have another ingredient which is the electric motor and better batteries right and yeah so i think that's yeah i think that makes very very good sense and in fact it there may be a there could be some very powerful insights there oh for all i know they've been well studied um but it might be that companies uh do themselves a disservice by constraining their conception of what they actually are to you know the the to the products that are produced as opposed to the the the essential um capacity and the mechanisms that that uh constitute that capacity and um it's interesting because you you mentioned four but you know it's funny we you think ford would be would know better um uh but uh uh ford was repurposed entirely almost entirely during world war ii from the
manufacturing of cars to the manufacturing of aircraft for the for the american contribution to you know the quote-unquote war effort and um those factories are not far from where i live and the airport where all of the bombers uh the american bombers the b-17s and b-24s and and those sorts of things were so famously made it um and then and then um flown out of uh willow run airport which is you know uh 10 15 miles east of me where i from where i live and so the the you know this very very famous example um of an industry's productive capacity production capacity being very rapidly converted and redirected repurposed um uh to another end another output uh but you know it was entire it was expressly because of that of of the knowledge and the processes and the capacities um uh in the in the general or in the abstract sense that existed um and not in the concrete specifically we know how to make pickup trucks kind of sense um that was what made that possible for for uh for both ford as a company and then for the united states as a you know basically as a global power in world war ii um and it's it i wonder why that's such a difficult lesson to learn because it in many ways it seems like now to not today uh 2022 you know ford is barely able to take on you know that that the the idea that they need to just make a different kind of car in order to have much of a future they need to make electric cars and they're really slow and sluggish and you know tesla has been allowed this extraordinary success when it could have been the incumbent auto automakers instead it could have been any one of them um that you know decided to seize the the rains and and lead in electric electrification and the other things that tesla is doing and ford would be a trillion dollar company instead of a 40 billion dollar company or whatever it is well maybe this is a it is a strange thing why not maybe this is not unrelated to the question of this curve so amazon is a perfect example of an organization that actually grocked this about itself and then spun out the individual competencies as separate units like aws and uh the logistics services and so on and right and that's why it's such a large company now and not just a barely known book seller right but if you ask well why don't more companies do that well in some sense it took jeff bezos to do that and he's a very capable and intelligent leader who understood every element i mean i think it takes a lot of insight to understand what is general and what
is not right it's not trivial to see that a given capability is a general one and to be able to separate it out from all the details of what makes it work for producing a particular object and i don't know why i mean it doesn't seem profoundly difficult so you would imagine more companies might do it but but going back to this curve i suppose it takes i mean it's the the blindness you might imagine on behalf of a ceo from realizing that and the opportunity it presents maybe isn't too dissimilar from somebody looking at the industrial infrastructure of planet earth and its tendency to produce carbon and being unable to envision that the exact same industrial infrastructure differently incentivized might very rapidly transform into a vast machine for drawing down carbon right right how fascinating that is really really neat oh damn that's a very very powerful uh image sometimes yeah i mean maybe i guess i did never occur to me but maybe the 30 the the the uh the 35 000 foot view is just not high enough need me 35 000 mile view to see that but yeah that's great i love that the idea of if you were if you were looking at at the entire planet as as an industrial system then that would sort of that logic would sort of leap out almost at you wouldn't it when you're doing this you're you've got you've purposed this massive engine to this to you know it's doing this one thing um that could that entire thing could be repurposed to do this other thing um fascinating that's it never occurred to me to think of it that way oh i'm gonna chew on that one for a while very good um no that's great um but what do you want to get out of these other eggs no i was just going to ask thinking about other examples of this pulse behavior and restoration um yeah you said you thought of some in between last meeting and now is that right yeah so um the the the two that uh occurred to me um and these are these are natural uh functions not um uh not ones where there's where there's so much human intervention per se but in natural i think so so so but part of i think what the maybe what the confusion here is um not confusion but let's say let's call it a an obstacle to to immediately grocking this um is uh uh i think there's a sort of a fundamental difference between living systems so we think of organisms like us um and uh larger collections of organisms so that would be ecosystems um a sort of fundamental difference between animate and inanimate systems uh uh and and um that one of those big differences is
that living systems uh have this capacity to heal to they have a they have a resilient quality to them they have a um uh uh you know they have a complex and adaptive capacity as systems that we seldom see not never but we seldom see in less complex um uh you know less anti-entropic systems uh we we see i think less of that that potential or that that behavior in general so we seldom see a you know an inanimate system recover from a shock um in uh by uh by going into reverse and and executing some active healing uh activity much much much more often we see uh the a a system sort of um uh depending we see that we see it the pentametric of analogy we see we see the system um slow down the rate of impact uh and then return to a condition of zero impact or zero change but we seldom see this sort of the full pulse in in but that but uh in sorry inanimate systems but i think in living systems this is this is the norm this is this is you know i think it's i think it's one of one of the features um that distinguish uh living from non-living systems or and you know they're as as as you know we can all think of their their exceptions and corner cases and all the rest of that stuff um and and uh so it's you know i don't want to make any hard and fast rules here but i think it is as a general principle this this uh what i have labeled on the chart as restoration is effectively a a healing or a um resilience kind of capacity that that we often see in living systems um you know individual organisms or ecosystems and so on the one hand those are very familiar to us on sort of an intuitive uh level in our own experience now if we get hurt then you know we we stop the source of hurt and then our bodies just sort of naturally heal they repair the damage over time we just you know remove the source of harm remove the offense and the the system will sort of naturally repair itself recover heal and return to it's it's it's a normal uh stable homeostatic condition and and that's i think on one end that's really quite familiar so the other example uh other examples are things like um ecosystem disturbance so for example when uh uh i was what the specific example i was thinking of was um succession in in uh forests and other um ecologies that are shocked by fire or flood and uh forest succession is a pretty well studied uh ecological phenomena where fire regimes are a great example of this so you know australia has has these and california has these in many places where the um ecosystem is actually fully
adapted to uh fire you know they're not it's not like fire constantly but it's frequent enough that the ecology has uh you know evolved and some of the organisms have specifically evolved to um uh respond to fire in in certain ways some seeds can only germinate after they've been burned for example so um succession in the forest uh for example will say for example there's a fire fire comes in and causes a lot of damage the um the large uh wood that's standing and then the fallen wood that's fuel on the forest floor will burn and this this uh you know you you you could operationalize you know and measure the impact of that in different ways but in any case it's a major shock to the system uh the force is cleared and its structure is radically altered and then uh the system proceeds through a sequence of recovery and the recovery can become quite stark and dramatic uh where um uh new organisms are you know active and competing with one another and fill niches and then are displaced and and so forth and eventually uh the succession process will result in a large stand of um uh of trees again and it you know it's it's a long process uh it's not instant you know this we're talking decades in cases of uh some kinds of force with large trees but you have very clearly a sort of pulse phenomenon depending depending on how what you want to put on the y-axis there in fact you could even put carbon there you say okay well you if the fire emits all this carbon and then the forest regrows and it absorbs all this carbon and you would get something that looks very much like that pulse and so that's an example but it's an example from a living system where where to our intuition healing just seems like a normal very natural quin almost quintessentially natural function but in an economic system or a you know an industrial system maybe that healing maybe that uh recovery and restoration is not so automatic or natural um uh a function is to be obvious and and um so uh maybe that's why we miss it when we don't look at or when we look at non-living systems and maybe that's why maybe there's one reason why it wasn't obvious in the climate science community the need for it or or or um uh if if not the actual need for the the the um the magnitude of uh and the import of the of it as a as part of the um sequence that we're going to go through does it so the i mean the example you give with the forest fire it's not like the plants have a a lovely friendly committee meeting and decide to reforest
and you go over there and i go over there it's it's a brutal competition life or death uh for who gets to capture that sunshine and then hand it off to their descendants in a in order to crush the opposition for the next 200 years or until until the next bushfire right uh that's pretty analogous to a market uh the the restoration pulse we're going to see at least part of the reason for it isn't it that we've spent the last 200 years founding our civilization on electricity and then there's a huge liquid market for energy and a brutal competition to supply it and to run everything on it and that's tesla's one of the leaders in that but in some sense it's it could be that elon musk doesn't give a crap about the environment he seems to genuinely but it would you know in the end be that commitment seems necessary for him to have done what he to have done what he did but it could in retrospect have been motivated by purely mercantile goals just as the restoration process in a forest is not exactly a friendly process so maybe the analogy is an argument that if you want truly to restore things you should be i mean i'm not going to say unleash market forces but there's i wonder if the i mean in both cases you're kind of competing for energy right which is what's what's special about that maybe it's it's a a very large scale reward that motivates um a lot of uh distributed coordinated activity i don't know what that's got to do with a restoration necessarily it's just a general phenomenon well it could be well here's another analogy um and this one is not in a in a living organism exclusively it's sort of in a human-mediated system um but oh actually you know what works i was thinking of a well no let's not use the burning building but let's just use a dilapidated building that's okay this is okay so this is a good example so um say you've got a building and um you just neglect it you fail to do the upkeep that you need to do uh to to um keep it in you know good working order and uh so so damage accumulates and um you know at first it's not that big of a deal you know stuff's just getting a little bit run down and things are kind of uh breaking here and there little things no big deal but it as these as these as you know i think i mentioned entropy before but you know as the as it um these things happen there's there's sort of uh as more goes wrong more things um uh can go wrong that you know you you just as a function of um you know the distribution of possible problems occurring but then also because
they're connected so you know one thing goes wrong in the house and it's it creates problems elsewhere in the house um you know the air conditioning stops working or the dehumidifier stops working and then you've got more humid air and then the mold that was accumulating begins to accumulate faster and the mold that was damaging the wood um uh and the humidity that was damaged in the wood that occurred that accelerates and so you start having more structural problems and the creation of structural problems uh ben's pipes and pipes start breaking and blah blah blah you can you know you could take carry this analogy as far as you wanted and at some point the damage the dilapidation becomes a real problem because it really interferes with things now i said human mediated because let's put a person into this picture you've got a human being who's who's who's uh dwelling in this uh structure in this place um and at some point there you know you it this is just as a matter of cost and uh you know in in instrumental service to other goals you have to at some point start fixing things so you know you you you have to begin being more aggressive with your maintenance fixing problems as they are faster than they arise and then um maybe at some point you just decide well i got to get ahead on this you really got to get a handle on this it's time to renovate the house and you go through and you properly restore properly rebuild properly repair everything that's wrong with it in a very aggressive effort and then you've done the house home renovation done the house renovation the building renovation and then there are no problems for a while until perhaps that cycle gets you know gets underway again and so that would be an example where you're where the primary motivation is you know um the overarching overarching motivation is you're really trying to minimize the cost and you're undoing it's not so much that you're you're repairing all the damage but you undertake a renovation uh effort to sort of get ahead on um the you know the the cost of dealing with the harms in the long run so it's almost like it's a it's almost like that whole restoration period maybe you can think of that as an investment relative to not just the uh not just recovery from the current situation but an investment relative to uh uh the future relative to um costs you would otherwise incur in the future if you let problems persist and get even further out of hand and um there would be some lie there would be
some logic to that they would produce a pulse like this no and then yeah you can imagine that you could if you charted then you know uh damage versus repair on the um on a y-axis there you'd get something like a pulse if you you know but yeah yeah yeah yeah dilapidation and then followed by renovation for a building it would give you a pulse curve i think and then so i don't know if you've got the equivalent of a market there or or competing but maybe you've got competing priorities and it's about some somehow it's about minimizing um or optimizing like minimizing loss or or optimizing you know the optimum optimal amount of harm you're willing to incur over a given time frame results in sort of this movement of the of the rate from both the movement of a rate from a positive rate of harm to a negative rate of harm right negative harm being healing being recovery and if you're maybe you've got some overarching much longer time horizon function of minimizing total harm then you know i suppose there'd be some logic to just keeping the rate at zero but if you can't it may be this maybe this oscillation is more of a uh pattern to to to expect might be another way to think about it yeah i was just thinking through the the element of so clearly in a market the role of a price is not only to coordinate sellers and buyers but it's also a way of moving value in time right so [Music] through various mechanisms like stock ownership or investment there's ways for participants in markets to to incentivize the production of something whose value is they believe they can move demand from the future to the present in a way which incentivizes the production of things we've been become very good at that in some aspects of human affairs the example you give with a dilapidated house is a it's a kind of wisdom right where you are mentally performing that operation where you you're aiming to reduce the overall cost by not incurring unnecessary costs you you can move those costs you can kind of uh what's the right way of thinking about it by spending a given dollar today on repair you can actually get more than a dollar in value compared to spending it in three months when things are actually broken so there's you know they could conceivably be someone in a market who would actually be making money by you know you could pay somebody a dollar a day to nag you to fix your house and in fact make money out of that i don't know i suppose that's an awesome example that's hilarious but it is it's i mean
it is and you know it's funny but there are real examples of that and when we do pay we do pay for services that discipline us you know we outsource uh that those sources of dis we outsource the discipline and then obtain utility for in different ways maybe even some of it is is literally purely financial i mean we we outsource um uh nagging and decision making for savings for example by having employers make the contributions for us so that we know that money never even comes through our hands and eliminates temptation that's that's really funny and very insightful again as we've come to expect from you again oh thank you i don't know i mean i guess carbon prices are an attempt to do that but it's well this is a bit orthogonal but what are your opinions of the success so far of the various carbon markets that exist do you think they they're actually in in any sense useful or are they just gamed completely i'm aware of plenty of cases where they've been gamed terribly but overall are they doing something useful i i think it's very difficult to make a case for their usefulness they they're and and i think they're i think they're probably two maybe three but certainly two key reasons why the first is the one you mentioned which is that they're they're they they are market inefficiency and outright market failure uh is is a massive problem for those for those markets so we attempted to create a market it's a very artificial market you know it's it's a highly um constructed and contrived market um and so it's either surprising or unsurprising depending on how cynical you are that it's also an extremely inefficient market bordering on just utter failure because of the corruption and the leakage and and all of that kind of stuff stuff so that's on the one hand is that those the markets are just failed they just they just they they're they don't work very well um and you know it's easy to find examples of those california's you know the trading there were hilarious things like this you know the actual volume of the trade was completely divorced from the number of credits that existed because there was so much corruption um and and uh so much fraud uh and so you know the uh credits were being obviously being bought and sold multiple times with inadequate reporting so there's there's that that's one piece of it one it's just they haven't even if they could work in principle they they were too corrupt in practice uh too inefficient in practice to function well as markets
and then the second major problem in my mind is that in a way um those markets really do uh assume um uh well they make the ceteris paribus uh assumption that all else is gonna remain equal the system as a whole is not gonna change very much um and uh that you know that that got thrown for a bit of a loop when you have new clean technology emerge um that uh that obviates a lot of the the utility of those of that trading and so then that just incentivizes gaming the trading as opposed to utilizing trading for the purpose of specifically getting off the old technologies and onto the new ones and so there's sort of a conflict of incentives there um and so i suppose in principle in principle uh uh you you could you would think that that you know these the creating a market for emissions would result in a set of incentives that would push companies to to modernize and clean up their act and would also um uh result in actual emissions being distributed more efficiently uh across an entire industry if one polluter could you know trade with somebody else who was had already adopted clean technology and used their emissions uh allotment and so forth but in practice i think it just it was it wasn't possible to implement this efficiently enough and um too much too many other things in the system were moving and changing for it to have the desired effect on the behavior of the agents in the system had the system been static otherwise then the forces of incentive on the agents in the system would have been consistent and predictable but it wasn't there's just too much else going on and uh so instead of responding and what would you might expect to be rational ways agents just responded by gaming and corrupting the system or ignoring it and and as a result of all of that i think it was largely been ineffective that's my personal take on it um but other people have different views so and not all of them are the same the one in germany is different than the one in california is different than the one in canada so you know it's it's it's different i'm i'm a little jaded by it yeah feel free to tell me i'm going off on a tangent and yank on the leash but uh i'm just thinking about this restoration curve again and how you see it playing out and in the context of the solar wind batteries disruption and all of that in the end what do you what do you think is probably a bigger driver i can imagine in retrospect thinking that all the millions of man hours of negotiation and diplomacy involved in climate change
over the last 20 years maybe it's millions i don't know maybe all of that amounts to just a small pile of pebbles compared to just a few incentives that the chinese government put in place which moved the transition i mean the development of batteries and solar panels and the cost curves of those move them you know three years earlier or something i don't know uh maybe five oh i abs 100 agree with that and this and this is you mentioned elon musk earlier but this is his thinking as well and he's made this argument many times that tesla is doing more than other any other private company and their stated goal is just to bring just to bring the timeline forward for the electrification of vehicles that's that's their goal and and if you crunch the numbers bringing the timeline forward by just two or three years is massively more impactful um than than you know uh all of the other efforts to get people to you know take the bus a little bit more often or recycle or take shorter showers and all of that sort of stuff if you actually just look at the numbers it's clear where the where the biggest bang for the buck is and so i 100 agree there in the case of china is is hugely important and it could have been the us that did that interpret that on this could you interpret that on this graph for me like on in figure 2 uh moving the timeline early by i guess i would yeah so i guess i would say that uh the with a handful of policy measures that accelerated the time frame of the disruption what we've what has happened is we have minimized the we have or what decisions of this kind have the potential to do and what perhaps one could argue have already done in the case of china is they have minimized the area under the curves uh in areas particularly in areas b and c i think that's and and and those are a big deal right there's there's sizable chunk there um and and uh because once you once you've passed the inflection point the peak of the of the curve so the the t uh stable uh is what i labeled it originally but the the the the um the transition from c to d the area c to d in the curve once you pass that point one would have to assume that the disruption of energy and possibly as well the disruption of transportation would already be underway in order to have reached that point and then the one would naturally expect the area under the curve no understanding disruption understanding the nature of disruption and its non-linear quality and it traces sigmoid curves and so forth one would naturally expect that
however you got there once you arrive at part d at um phase d let's call them phases um then d and e are going to proceed swiftly and follow that pattern more or less irrespective of other factors and that would that would be to be that would be exp what one would expect understanding the dynamics of disruption what uh was much more subject to change based on policies choices is how long what the duration of phases b and c is and in to my mind the uh best and most effective way to minimize the duration of b and c is to bring the just the timeline of the disruption forward um so and again i i i have a technology technocentric sort of perspective on this where i personally believe technological factors which ought to be uh regarded as having heavy weight in the function of the outcomes here compared to social and political factors um obviously that's basically the opposite of what the conventional perspective in the environmental discourse environmental policy making discourse is in the environmental sciences they tend to attribute all of the primacy and all of the weight um to social and political variables in the system and not to technological ones and economic ones but um i quite firmly disagree with that and uh but i should say i don't bet i hope that answers your question and kind of explains the in terms of the curve but i should add this uh i think this is an important caveat here dan which is that um the entire logic i just laid out is contingent upon technology uh being available and having the potential to cause a disruption in the absence of any such technology and in the absence of disruption it would otherwise be rational to pursue the the other avenues of uh trying to get the problem under control that that uh you know that are part and parcel of the of the um of the efforts of the uh you know the conventional climate uh change and environmental discourse i mean that's that's uh all of those other approaches to try to get the problem under control and by that you know i'm talking about the majority of the wedges in the stabilization triangle over on the left in figure one those are the different measures that you know policy making measures and behavioral change measures and regulations and standards and emissions trading and those are those are all of those that was what was originally imagined that those were all the tools we had to work with and they weren't very effective they weren't much good but they were all that we had and we had to throw everything
everything and the kitchen sink at the problem and hope that it was enough i think what is um for me has been the biggest disappointment is how long it has taken for the community to recognize the potential of technology to to um uh exert an enormous uh uh sort of force on the function of climate change and that clean energy technology and clean transportation technology and now as well clean food technology the precision fermentation and cellular agriculture technologies that these were not 500 years away or 100 years away and pure science fiction and totally uh unachievable in the in this time horizon in which the problem was operative the failure to recognize that was in my mind monumental and um uh certainly by 2014 it was un forgivable it was it was it was it was inexcusable as a better way to say it um and uh it's certainly been a disaster for for uh humanity in many ways because we the whole community could have done what china did and it's just instead of wasting time on on nonsense like emissions training we should have thrown every bit of political capital and economic capital at just accelerating the disruptions that would have made that would have obviously been the right thing to do in my mind but we wasted we have a lot we had at least a lost decade where all the signs were there and we should have known better and people were screaming about it like my colleague tony siva and the um policymakers and the scientific community uh were unable to hear it um or listen or if they were hearing and listening they were unable to recognize and understand what was what was really going on um so it's all contingent upon the technology being available we could have encountered a problem at least one can imagine we could have encountered a problem for which you know there was no technology that could make a difference on uh an acceptable time frame um in which case it wouldn't have been a mistake it would have been you know it would have been the only call to make but i think given what we knew certainly by 2010 or 2012 maybe even earlier than that if you if you take you know the goofballs like ray kurzweil seriously i mean he was talking about this in 2004 2005 and perhaps possibly even the 1990s if you if you uh give him you know a fair bit of credence about this acceleration of clean technology he wasn't too specific in the 90s but even by the early 2000s he was already saying solar power was going to grow exponentially um and that was you know that was a full decade ahead of uh
uh uh tony siva and now that's that makes would make it two full decades ahead of the um the environmental community so i mean we should have known better but um what's your view on the institutional failure that is involved in if i understand correctly the us had a lot of the early research in solar volt solar photovoltaics and and probably other technologies as well um and then squandered that lead for various reasons and it was picked up by among others china and taken to market in a way that sort of squashed the one or two important producers of solar panels in the us maybe they've recovered i don't know um presumably there was some role for a far-sighted government officials or institutions in the early success in the us what happened exactly or did anything happen or was it just a the chinese government stepped in with a larger quantity of support yeah there are two there were two mechanisms there um the uh so there there are i mean there there are multiple ways to support a a fledgling industry driven by a new technology the uh the united states chose to make those supports in the form of financial instruments so they made uh they created tax incentives and tax uh structures but most of those were um uh i think most of them were on the supply side but there was there was a mixture of both supply side you know so the producers got tax benefits and then on the demand side so consumers of solar panels and clean technologies got tax benefits but it was mostly these financial interventions that were that were the instruments of acceleration there and we could see that in the data we could see the the um adoption curve bending up a little bit um when the united states had a strong had had and this has since sunseted but had quite strong subsidization via tax incentives uh not direct funding but but largely through tax instruments um the other big way to do it is to support industry directly you know to have national national uh funds um and uh national resources uh dedicated directly to the growing of an important industry and it's not like the u.s and europe have never done that and we mentioned you know the war efforts and so on so this is something that's no that we know how to do but that was more of china's approach i don't know the details of china's internal workings precisely as to how it incentivized and how it supported the clean energy technology sector there so that would in this context mostly solar power and batteries but i believe it was not merely with
these financial instruments and it wasn't just like loans uh to these industries at a low discount rate or low interest rate um but it was you know uh proper government funding and um you know uh basically helping get an entire industry up on its feet and scaling in a way that that um nobody else could compete with uh and so that i think is what drove us and the other major manufacturers there was there were was quite a manufacturing base for solar panels in germany for example um that drove those uh manufacturers under essentially is they just could not compete with with the massive scaling of production in china that was supported by the chinese government and the united states and europe could have done that they could have subsidized they could have supported those industries at home but there was an enormous amount of political lobbying that that undermined those efforts i mean people were calling for those sorts of subsidies subsidize clean energy to get this stuff off the ground um but you know the incumbent incumbency had perhaps more uh success fighting those um initiatives in the united states and europe uh and and um so policy making happens in a different way in china obviously and and so that the subsidization of those of the new industries was um you know achieved with much greater success in china and then china has now succeeded in its goal to become the world's preeminent supplier of batteries and of solar panels now whether or not that remains the case i mean the bat the battery demand is seems almost you know it seems so large right now that that and things are very much supply constrained not demand limited and so um probably we're going to see a resurgence of certainly battery manufacturing capacity in other places but i think that's the general picture and one more thing to add to that is that i i again i think that perhaps um there's a let me say put it this way there's a saying that getting some from zero to one is an entirely different uh undertaking than getting from one to a hundred and this is sort of an expression in entrepreneurialism and you hear it a lot in tech startups but having the initial technology the initial technological breakthroughs the underlying science and engineering prototypes that's getting from zero to one but scaling from 1 to 100 scaling up the manufacturing getting into mass production realizing all the economies of scale refining every tiny little thing everywhere along every step of the way um throughout your supply
chain and certainly throughout your manufacturing and distribution processes you know that's getting from one to one hundred and um it's i think that that uh maybe it's just cultural but i think we tend to underestimate how much larger the scaling challenge is um in many ways than the innovation challenge and so the united states had you know was certainly the source of uh innovation for uh photovoltaics going back to the first ones which were on the uh they were fantastically expensive um they were basically bespoke prototypes that were made for the voyager spacecraft in the 1970s those were the first photovoltaic panels of any size and and durability outside laboratories they were functioning devices um but uh uh you know they were they were hugely expensive but the those technologies weren't scaled in mass production um yeah it cost me 30 years paying attention to the sort of science as a social system in the us and here in australia and in china over the last few years i'm more and more skeptical of this zero to one one to n idea because well zero to one is made up of point one to one and zero to point one and zero to point one is made up to zero to point zero one and point zero one to 0.1 it's it's endlessly recursive i mean you look at sciences most of the time it's there's no genius in it you look i mean the process of science the reason humans can actually pull it off is because we don't have to be that bright to do it uh it's it's kind of a we sell this storyline of einsteins and newtons and so on but most of science is much more work a day than that you just have to show up not fool yourself and kind of try to not be incompetent and eventually things kind of work out and maybe along the way you need some really clever moments but i think it's much more similar to scaling manufacturing than people like to think this kind of a we pay very close attention to like the real details of manufacturing and we often content to leave the scientific process as a kind of fairy tale uh so thinking about the difficulties that that china is having in building a high quality science network of research it's it's kind of the same problems that they have building out semiconductors or any kind of manufacturing it's people are corrupt people can't be incentivized correctly they lie these are the problems that the west had actually building the scientific network as well right so it's yeah i don't i don't know that they're that different uh and i think this is maybe um
this is a topic for another day but i i think people pay far too little attention to for example this achievement that china made in in mass producing solar panels i think this is a much bigger i think as a as democracies we should be reflecting on this a lot more right so suppose there was a tipping point in 2050 that moving the date of the solar transition five years earlier just saved us from we'll never know but it's only conceivable that that's the case uh in which case it's not i think this is potentially a deeper critique of democratic systems than we realize because as we move forward and our technology grows in scale and power these kinds of transitions and tipping points moving them one way or the other may be the difference between annihilation or not and if as democracies we can't even handle this relatively easy one compared to you know ai or 100 other ones coming down the road this is a cause for concern right and it's also maybe another argument against this decentralization hypothesis the way that china managed to get on board this transition and rest it a few years earlier they would say it's a testament to their centralized style of management of their scientific and industrial system i might quibble with why they succeeded i think it's largely because there's lots of very smart people in the system working maybe against its logic to make something work anyway but well they should be taken at face value since they achieved it and i think there's a residual lack of respect for the achievements of china and this and other domains in the west that we should wake up from yeah my i think i agree with that i think i just to add to that i don't think this is this runs contrary i think it sort of it it runs parallel to your thinking um my general view and i think this is sort of a naive american optimism sort of an ideal that many americans hold but then you know for various you know political because of various political realities we don't realize these values in practice but i think most americans hold the you know would agree um with the general principle that uh you know government is essential where um for certain key functions um and needs to step in and uh uh intervene um in everyone's interest you know the public interest basically but in the collective interest you know those are these can be dirty words depending on you know if you're where you are in us on the u.s political map um but uh for but if you if you avoid the triggering sort of uh dog whistling
jargon and you just think of the content um most americans think there's a role for government but it's you know it's it's fairly narrowly subscribed and most uh for the most part you should leave well enough alone but there are some key places where government really needs to step in and i think what ends up happening is um what what what americans really dislike and unfortunately the system we've we've we've um uh we've got and we've built for ourselves uh especially at the federal level but at every level of government um which is very much not the one that we want for our values is a government that micromanages things and the government that has many many tiny small um niggling annoying irritating uh nonsensical regulations and and stipulations and rules and standards that that that you know perhaps there's good intentions behind them but they you know they do as much harm as good and they're very inefficient and so forth and what the government really ought to be doing but doesn't do a good job is um really seizing the reins and making big moves and bold regulations and major investments when we which are simply impossible for us to do with the distributed decentralized collective wisdom of crowds and markets and so a perfect example of that would have been that rather than governments rather than the government spending so much time and energy on minutia um you know like the tax code running to hundreds of thousands pages long and other such you know nonsense that we all complain about in in government bureaucracy and so forth um the government should really just be doing major big mega projects like uh super duper huge subsidization of clean energy to save the planet that would be something that you know if it weren't for all the other minor the irritating uh uh things that the government does and often fails to do well um we might be more supportive for large big efforts moonshots literally you know in the moonshot the original moonshot was obviously the quintessential example of that and uh i think you know the there's there is room for moonshots uh that are very much funded and sponsored and controlled by governments and and um uh something like tackling climate change probably deserved the moonshot and in fact we have a few token programs that build on the name there's the the uh the united states government has a program called sunshot which is obviously directly inspired by this the concept of a moonshot but you know it's it's it's funding is meager and
uh it's you know it doesn't the program doesn't have any teeth um and it's undermined every step of the way by the fossil fuel industry and it's very strong lobby in washington dc et cetera um so uh this this it may well be that that uh collective decision making through democracy really struggles to get some of these problems in hand but probably most people in democracy would agree there are moments when you really need you know we really need moonshot uh efforts and um if if if we've been smarter and hadn't become so politically divided on the issue maybe climate change uh could have gotten a moonshot instead of becoming this sort of divisive you know wedge issue that it became politically divided along with who is stupidly politicized right now why on earth would this why why should climate become politicized it's the dumbest thing but it did you know and maybe accidentally maybe partly deliberately um but uh i think i think that that china was able to dodge that particular set of problems um and effectively execute a photovoltaics and batteries moonshot and um thank goodness they did because uh you know the world will be the beneficiary of that there's no doubt about it um i'll give you another concrete example my team sometimes we talk about this um uh you there's the what's the right way to start this okay i'll hear hear the waves so this is the transportation and the transportation disruption and and the expectation that we have is that autonomous vehicle technology will save um a very large number of lives because once it is mature uh autonomous vehicles should have an accident rate of at least or i should say at most um a tenth of the rate of uh human drivers and so one could easily imagine 90 or more of all car accidents fatal car accidents especially being avoided if cars were autonomous once that technology is in place what that means is that if you bring the timeline forward for the uh maturation of that and deployment of that technology um you can very clearly measure the number of lives saved because you know a certain number of people are killed every hour every day every week every month every year in car accidents and it's a very large number worldwide in the united states alone it's 60 000 people a year um i think it's much much higher than that in in countries like uh india and china for example larger population and and poorer traffic um order i suppose maybe this way to say that um and so if if you for example brought the timeline of the disruption of transportation
through auto autonomous vehicle technology if you brought that forward by a year you would be saving several million lives every year globally that is a large accomplishment that's a you know it's very concrete that's you know millions of lives a huge huge big deal uh for every year that you brought that timeline forward and one could easily make the case that you know bringing the timeline forward for a burning climate catastrophe uh it could potentially be a far larger impact than that so um yeah it's i think i think that this is this is a perfectly sound uh line of reasoning and um uh you know anything that anybody does to bring these timelines forward one could argue is more well at least in the ways that you can measure is is is is uh as effective or more effective than the the um you know the smaller measures that we you know we agonize over and spend so much more time on um you know debating so yeah uh even my team our meager efforts um we like to believe that we brought um the timeline at least in china for the transportation disruption forward by a few months at least because the report that our organization published in 2017 about transportation really really made waves in the chinese government we have you know we got confirmation of that fairly quickly um of the impact that it had and that did have an effect on the um on the government's uh transportation policy and and and longer term plans um so you know even if it brought the timeline forward only in china and only by a month that's still you know tens of thousands of lives and we feel pretty good about that as you can imagine right it feels good played a part in saving lives so um but yeah this is the this is the right way i mean i know it sounds very dry and very actuarial but it probably is the rational way to think about maximizing well-being at every level is how many lives can you save and and how and how by how much time can you telescope the arrival of full solutions to major problems forward and anything everything you should be do you should do everything you should be doing should be viewed probably foremost through that lens because that is where your biggest bang for your buck is going to be right bring the timeline forward to to whenever we arrive at a full solution you can and if you can bring that forward by x amount and then you're saving lives you're saving you know financial huge financial i mean the numbers are still big they're both bottle of mine right yeah um it could be