Saturday, June 03, 2006

Money Doesn't Grow On Trees (Or Does It)

The other day I was walking around in one of the beautiful hardwood forest of northern Ohio and it occurred to me that the trees were a perfect example of molecular manufacturing at its finest. Of course it is often pointed out that biological organisms are essentially molecularly constructed beings but the point really hit home for me while thinking about the trees. I think this is because of the large mass and simple efficiency of trees. The molecular mechanisms for constructing a tree are powered directly by sunlight (no need for exotic fuels like us humans), and the building blocks for constructing the trees come straight out of the atmosphere via carbon dioxide.

So this got me thinking: all that carbon dioxide we keep dumping into the atmosphere via combustion could be a global fortune rather than a disaster. Just imagine molecular manufacturing on a global scale that produced almost every economic good out of carbon directly from the atmosphere while using sunlight as the power.

Form this perspective economic efficiency and reducing carbon from the atmosphere would be the same project. It takes energy to separate carbon from oxygen. At this time we are accustomed to combing oxygen and carbon to get energy. But this is an archaic way of getting energy seeing as how it is throwing our ecosystem out of whack and seeing as how the earth already receives more energy from the sun than we could possibly put to use. We must imitate the trees. We must use the sun's energy to separate the carbon from the atmosphere and use that carbon for all of our production needs.

Just a thought.


I thought this post:

particularly germaine to your most recent thinking. Found here:

By Anonymous Will Brown, at 4/6/06 18:59  

Thanks for the link. Good stuff.

By Blogger Micah J. Glasser, at 5/6/06 03:32  

Nice points! There are so many sources of energy and matter that we've been unable to exploit for so long, people take it for granted that they will be unexploitable forever.

By Blogger Michael Anissimov, at 5/6/06 16:03  

A seemingly little appreciated concept that you touch on here Micah is that of how complex the ordinary truly is. Phil Bowermaster links to this post with one example of that complexity,

but I suggest that the degree of technical mastery necessary for us to duplicate the process that trees use in a manner we can control is something that most people don't appreciate.

It's all very well to say, "Trees do it, so can we", but doing so in a way that doesn't emulate the chaotic process of nature adds a so-far insurrmountable degree of complexity to the effort.

One of the benchmarks of the pre-Singularity period in my opinion ought to be our ability to emulate functions that occur naturally as power law distributions in a bell curve measurable fashion, a concept my blog partner Gary and I discussed in a different context here:

That, I submit, is the distinguishing characteristic of science and technology, most particularly as in the example you provide here. Whether or not we survive as a species to achieve the Sigularity will, I suggest, largely be a product of our successfully achieving that transition from chaotic natural process to controllable technologic process.

By Anonymous Will Brown, at 5/6/06 18:11  

Very interesting Will. Now I know what book I will be reading next. Thanks. This stuff about power curves in dynamic processes sounds like it could be a powerful tool for a systems thinker. I'm excited to find out more.

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