Perhaps the most useful service provided by Apple Watch is to provide some of us (humble self very much included) the motivation to prick yet another rosy balloon. There persist in being folks who assert that the Watch is just a better battery away from being the awesome device worn by cartoon cop Dick Tracy. It's such silliness. Please read Gordon's book. Technological progress isn't a matter of human imagination, pulling rabbits out of our collective hat (brain) deus ex machina, but rather figuring out how Mother Nature has put the world together. The earth, and all the resources in it, is finite. There's a lot less of them than 1800. Get over it.

We've arrived at the lithium-ion battery, and that's as far as we're going to get. At least for a watch form factor. Lithium is the smallest atom capable of supplying electrons, without the potential of blowing up (mostly, lithium batteries don't :) ). Until a neo-Edison invents a new atom, that is. For those wishing for more authority, MIT has a new piece on the problem. It fails to make the point that the periodic table has been fully populated, modulo accelerator generated nanosecond monster atoms, and thus the wall has been hit. Lithium is it. The hydrogen fuel cell has been around for a bit, but de-scaling down to laptop/phone/watch size is fantasy. To answer those banking on yet smaller chip nodes to make Dick Tracy's wrist thingee reality, I'll offer the following (admitting I'm not EE): at some node, Xnm (my guess for X is 10), control of, and compensation for, leakage and capacitance will drain more power than the Xnm node will save over X+nm. You read it here first.

It's really fun living in a time, the 19th century for example, when you know that you've only scratched the surface of that big ball of reality that is Mother Nature. Anything imaginable looks possible. Not so much when the periodic table is all there to see, thermodynamics have been codified, the Bohr atom described, and so on. Now we have productive corporations, even Apple, segueing to "services" to make moolah, because they see the end of growth from novel widgets.

We live in a Rand New World, battling with a Christ New World. In the Old World, recently ended, economic growth was driven by population growth with each new kid becoming a consumer, if only the necessities. The expansion of white folks into land lived on by others for thousands of years was a manifestation of that. Since contemporary Western economies no longer deal in necessities, population growth can't drive economic growth. We imported folks to do the heavy lifting, starting with black folks, but also Chinese and lower level European ethnics (from the WASP point of view, of course) all in service to the betterment of the few. With the industrial revolution came the problem of consuming output. In the Dark Age, when production was sorta, kinda one man makes one widget (and the widget went to the manor's Lord), that problem didn't exist. But with automated production, i.e. non-linear increase in productivity, the problem became manifest. If you invent a new automated, capital intensive, way to make widgets, how do you find consumers to soak up the deluge of widgets? The manor's Lord, and even including his spawn, won't be enough. In the last few decades, it's been an all consuming problem. Yes, that's a pun with a healthy dose of irony.

So, we have to figure out how to grow an economy with a relatively (with respect to recent history and living memory) fixed technology. If you look at FRED data, you'll see that USofA "output" has been increasingly non-widgets, not stuff, but "services". Unless the path down the road of income and wealth concentration is reversed, we'll be in a permanent Dark Age. The key to avoiding that is to solve the 1%'s refusal to admit that their wealth is mostly luck, so they shouldn't be allowed to keep it all. In order for an economy to grow, aggregate demand has to grow. The "recovery" from the Great Recession is the poster child for faux recovery. It's been driven by monetary manipulation, not demand growth. That 4.9% unemployment rate just reported is mostly the result of the denominator (the size of the labor force) shrinking. Consider that for a moment. The data increasingly confirm that most folks are still worse off than they were before the Great Recession. Hyper capitalism only works if the 99% consume the output, rather than just the 1%. They will only buy so many Ferraris. The Donald tries to hammer on that exposed nerve of angry white folks, but nothing in his history indicates that he would actually do anything good (increase aggregate demand) for the 99%. Certainly, his tax proposals are pure 1% welfare.

So, in the end, the Quixotic Quest for the ultimate battery is fantasy, propelled by dreams of 19th century invention. "We did it back then when we didn't know anything, so it should be easy now when we know so much more." Dirty Harry famously said, "A man's got to know his limitations". So does a nation. So do all nations. There are only so many elements in the periodic table (and a fixed supply of them here on the Blue Marble, and, no, mining them on other planets won't happen with chemical rockets), and they can be assembled into only so many molecules (far more on the organic side, but still true). Thermodynamics proves that there's no such thing as a free lunch. And so on. The great discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries have brought us to the walls of this box we call reality, and the structure of our society and economy will either adapt to this very different reality, or we'll end up like the rats in the experiment. We can have continuing, robust, economic growth (with or without a battery an order of magnitude more potent than lithium-ion) without burgeoning population where just 1% skim off the production. We just need to spread the wealth around. It will be spent on fancy services that all can use happily. Ayn or Jesus? Take your pick.

Views: 74

Comment by koshersalaami on September 3, 2016 at 1:32pm

"Ayn or Jesus? Take your pick." may be the best line you've ever written here. 

What we haven't hit the wall with is renewable energy. 

Comment by Zanelle on September 3, 2016 at 1:37pm

Arent the Tesla people building a new battery factory and promise to revolutionize the world?

Comment by Robert Young on September 3, 2016 at 2:24pm

-- Arent the Tesla people building a new battery factory and promise to revolutionize the world?

sort of.  a new factory, but same old lithium-ion batteries.

Comment by Robert Young on September 3, 2016 at 2:25pm

-- "Ayn or Jesus? Take your pick." may be the best line you've ever written here.

we thank you for your support.

Comment by nerd cred on September 3, 2016 at 6:24pm

Is it me or did you just focus on battery size and declare everything over because batteries can't get smaller? (And from what I've seen & what I remember the apple watch is a bit smaller than Dick Tracy's model.)

Maybe the universe is telling us it's time to put some effort into social and economic reorganization in place of technological advancement. Sweden is moving to a 30 hour work week. That would make a big dent in unemployment here but would require restructuring of the way people are paid. We could put some of our spare time into growing our own food and taking care of other needs through coops. I wonder if any of that would require a dictatorship of the proletariat to implement. Of course, the tax structure would have to change. That's one area where I'm in favor of returning to the 1950s.

So, the economy has to change it's almost exclusive focus on growth and turn to - quality of life rather than sheer consumption. Richness in areas other than capital?

The MIT piece seemed to focus entirely on development of energy storage on a grid-scale. Why couldn't the grid be dispersed? Begin with a battery in each residential unit or building charged by the house's own solar or turbine wind system.

I may be clueless but haven't scientists said more than once in the past that they have done all that can be done?

Comment by Robert Young on September 3, 2016 at 8:26pm

-- because batteries can't get smaller

not directly.  that battery energy density has met its limit, thus for a Watch the limit of energy necessarily limits the functions that the Watch can implement.  that's a separate problem from what one can usefully get from a display so small.

-- the economy has to change it's almost exclusive focus on growth

I've nothing against economic growth, actually.  my issue with the Right Wingnuts is that they assert that: 1) growth requires more humans and 2) the rewards of growth accrue only to the 1% (or so).  we can have lots of economic growth with a static or even shrinking population since aggregate demand, the requirement for economic growth, can come from the 99% if they have most of the wealth.  keeping the bulk of the wealth in the hands of those who already have more money than they know how to spend just hobbles growth.  the classical economic justification for growth is to provide necessities to a growing population.  but we've been in a no growth situation for the 99% for decades.  as The Donald says, "what have you got to lose?"

-- in the past that they have done all that can be done

depends on how far "past" is past.  science has reached real limits.  there was a time when they didn't know the things mentioned:  periodic table, thermodynamics, Bohr atom, and so forth.  while the universe may be infinite in extent, the laws and stuff which constitute it are fixed.  we just need to find them all.  we've found 99.44% of them.  science spends time in cosmology and sub-atomics.  neither brings anything to the table of everyday life.

Comment by Zanelle on September 3, 2016 at 8:57pm

There is always hope.  Im reading Michael Crichton's book TIMELINE and I love the technology he imagines...but there are lots of troubles with it.  I guess that is always the case.

Comment by nerd cred on September 3, 2016 at 9:53pm

-- science has reached real limits

That's the thing. Even Stephen Hawking doesn't know what he doesn't know. Things that are proven absolute now can still change. I'm obviously not a scientist (I have no evidence ...) but I'm pretty sure I've read about that happening. I mean - hasn't there recently been some confirmation of alternate universes? Didn't that turn something or other on its head?

This is not the first time in my life I feel bad about not taking chemistry ever. At some point I'll try to learn something about the periodic table ... maybe.

-- economic change

I still think we should all grow more of our own food and have shorter work weeks for more money.

Comment by Robert Young on September 4, 2016 at 9:18am

-- Stephen Hawking

poster child for science not connected to everyday life. he's cosmology.  the other area of continuing exploration is sub-atomics, aka the Large Hadron Collider, which makes those nanocsecond lifetime heavy atoms.  again, there's no steamboat from that either.

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