Staring into the Singularity.

28/08/2007 Written by tripwire

 If you use a finite resource it tends, well, to deplete. Espe­cially if you use more and more of it, every year, just like it wasn’t *really* finite.

We live in a para­dox­i­cal age, where every­one, at every level, wishes and believes that, mag­i­cally, hydro­car­bons will con­tinue to flow abun­dantly for some time, if not for­ever. Maybe in 20 years, they say, maybe in 30, oil will become scarce. By that time, they say, we’ll be pre­pared to man­age it.

This is very wrong. Oil is not yet com­pletely depleted, of course: but in 3 – 4 years it will be as if it were mostly gone, and nobody is ready to cope with this.

This incred­i­ble state of blind­ness is due to many rea­sons, one of them being our weak pattern-​matching skills when adverse con­di­tions build up slowly enough to go unno­ticed by our col­lec­tive ner­vous sys­tem. And, of course, we are being sys­tem­at­i­cally deceived on this sub­ject by the media and the powers-​to-​be, thanks to our will to be deceived.

Most non-​OPEC coun­tries already reached and went beyond their “oil pro­duc­tion peak” point on the curve. The U.S. oil and gas dis­cov­er­ies peaked in the ‘60s, and the extrac­tion peaked in the early ‘70s. North Sea has peaked in the ‘90s, Mex­ico and Rus­sia are peak­ing as we speak, and so on.

Mid­dle East coun­tries like Saudi Ara­bia, Iran and Iraq will peak in the next 5 to 10 years, which is why oil wars are plagu­ing the region since 1991: in a few years, the major­ity of the world’s oil reserves will be located in those 3 countries.

Offi­cially, world spare extrac­tion capac­ity today is no more than 6 mil­lion bar­rels per day (mbd), with a 2007 con­sump­tion rate of nearly 90 mbd, while energy demand is expected by the IEA to grow 1,5 – 2% a year in the next 5 years.

Fact is, there is no “new” oil ready to go online any­time soon, exist­ing wells already show dimin­ish­ing out­puts, and uncon­ven­tional oil reserves (tar sands, deep water, etc) proved to be much more tougher and expen­sive to exploit than it was expected 10 years ago. We are in trouble.

It is easy to cal­cu­late that to gen­er­ate all the energy used, directly and indi­rectly, by an aver­age west­ern cit­i­zen in 2006 (about 6 tons of oil per per­son), it takes 400 square meters of best of breed, highly expen­sive solar pan­els, not talk­ing about all the bat­ter­ies required to store those Kilo­watts. Since it takes too many bar­rels of oil to build and deploy them, most likely, they won’t be deployed.

So, do the math by your­selves: in a best case sce­nario, a 1,5% annual energy demand growth summed to nowa­days daily con­sump­tion of 90 mbd, and with 6 mbd of spare capac­ity left, means that next year (which means: from this fall on) sup­ply will barely sat­isfy the demand. In 2009, spare capac­ity will become zero. In 2010, we’ll be miss­ing some 1 – 2 mbd, then 4 in 2011, then 7 in 2012: for the first time since the begin­ning of the oil age, demand­ing more oil won’t mag­i­cally mean obtain­ing it.

Trapped in a “grow or crash” global econ­omy, with the impend­ing threats of cli­mate change and a pro­jected pop­u­la­tion growth of a half bil­lion more peo­ple within 2015, it has def­i­nitely come the time to start think­ing very fast, and act even faster, prepar­ing for the Singularity.

The global secu­rity impli­ca­tions of the sim­ple math I just sketched are so mind bog­gling and stag­ger­ing, that I’m tempted to believe I’ve missed some impor­tant point, and that this is not true. Please resist the instinct of denial, and real­ize that, indeed, it is.

Now, to wrap things up a lit­tle… We need to begin today ask­ing our­selves and our part­ners extremely impor­tant ques­tions like: will XYZ be a sus­tain­able and prof­itable busi­ness in 5 years?

How will the ads-​based web ser­vices pay the energy bills in, let’s say, 2010 (GMail, Google, MySpace any­one)? How will end users pay their band­width and electricity?

How much can we shrink con­sump­tion in order to assure busi­ness con­ti­nu­ity, in 5 years from now? How much energy is needed to run the Inter­net, by the way?

What will hap­pen of dig­i­tally gen­er­ated, trans­mit­ted and stored infor­ma­tion, in a world of increas­ing energy short­ages? How will pro­gram­ming need to change, in order to improve the ridi­cously low energy effi­ciency of today’s systems?

How will cyber-​criminals and hos­tile forces in gen­eral exploit the all-​new weak­nesses intro­duced by the scarcity of energy? In a shrink­ing econ­omy, with less and less invest­ments, will the “Moore Law” still work?

Or will we have to shut down our energy-​guzzling dat­a­cen­ters, one by one?

And so forth.


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