Exploring New Technologies

I’ve got some good news! I’ve been hired by Bryan Johnson to help evaluate and explain the potential of various technologies to address the problem of climate change.

Johnson is an entrepreneur who sold his company Braintree for $800M and started the OS Fund in 2014, seeding it with $100M to invest in the hard sciences so that we can move closer towards becoming proficient system administrators of our planet: engineering atoms, molecules, organisms and complex systems. The fund has invested in many companies working on synthetic biology, genetics, new materials, and so on. Here are some writeups he’s done on these companies.

As part of my research I’ll be blogging about some new technologies, asking questions and hoping experts can help me out. Stay tuned!



17 Responses to Exploring New Technologies

  1. Derek Wise says:

    That’s great, John! I’m looking forward to seeing what you write about this!

  2. ecoquant says:

    Congrats! Best of luck! I recommend hooking up with people like the Environmental Business Council of New England, specifically, Dan Moon.

    • John Baez says:

      What sort of things do they (or he) do?

      • ecoquant says:

        Environmental Business Council of New England has several standing committees and state chapters. The standing committees include (1) Climate Change and Air, (2) Dam Management, (3) Energy Resources, (4) Infrastructure, (5) Ocean and Coastal Resources, (6) Site Remediation and Redevelopment, (7) Emerging Contaminants, (8) Solid Waste Management, and (9) Water Resources. They are a consortium of businesses and organizations, including governmental, who work on these problems, many making it their business. This includes environmental sciences and engineering company, energy companies, law firms, insurance companies, government agencies and towns. I find them incredibly refreshing and attend periodically. I am not a member, however, and just pay-as-I-go.

        You can see what these are like by checking out the online presentations.

        For example, the next presentation I am attending is about Retreat, Relocation, and Climate Resilience, but that’s not at all the only program they are participating in.

        I find them refreshing. Rather than just protesting for action on climate change — which has its place — these are government and business leaders who are working to do something about it, from energy to coastal planning, and figuring out how to engineer it, and monetize it. They are about achieving concrete objectives and are willing to make tradeoffs, and any engineering and environmental project has. They include environmental and climate justice in their considerations.

        Monetization is important because government lacks the funds to stand up a lot of these projects. What that means, in Massachusetts, is that taxpayers are (at present) unwilling to accept the additional taxes to pay for things.

  3. Ishi Crew says:

    I have great news2. I made 30$ shoveling snow and putting down salt–10$/hour. All boats rise together.

    • ecoquant says:

      @Ishi Crew,

      Really? John does an AWFUL lot. I, as a friend and admirer, take your comment as an insult.

    • John Baez says:

      No need to get worked up about it. I certainly won’t get rich doing this work; the only reason for mentioning the millions of dollars is to emphasize that these technology projects should be well enough funded to accomplish something.

  4. Last time I tuned in there are only 24 hours in the day but you have obviously devised some wormhole to slip into to do yet another job! The politics of climate change are toxic and you will need to carefully strategise the message which, despite such efforts, will still probably be misconstrued I’ll watch developments with great interest.

    • John Baez says:

      Yes, I figure there will be difficulties—and yes, I’m already too busy. But this could be important.

      Behind the scenes I’m always trying how to figure how to do less of various things, but I don’t tend to blog about that.

      “Hey! I’m not thinking about X anymore!”

      It might actually be good to do this: otherwise youngsters could get the impression that life should always be about doing more.

  5. Sequestering carbon on an ambitious scale at a price that can be offset by the cost benefit is a daunting challenge. Carbon capture can also be an incidental part of many necessary services we take for granted, like agriculture, industry and infrastructure in rebuilt environments and it’s where materials and energy can be statistically linked to the potential to offset Carbon emissions. Our built environments/biosphere are clearly analogous to an Operating System. The technology sector sees this as the next wave and Alphabet is investing in a initiative called Sidewalk Labs.

  6. Keith Harbaugh says:

    JB, do you have any insight into something I’ve long been curious about:
    Why is there not more being spent into research on generating electricity through nuclear fusion?

    Research into this, which has been discussed since the 1950s, is clearly going at a snail’s pace.
    E.g., the timeline for ITER.

    Surely more money would both speed up the development of the testbeds that have long been under construction, and also allow for the exploration of alternative concepts.

    Why the U.S. government spends $30G per year on medical research, and so little on fusion research in particular and energy research and other ways to ward off global warming, is a question. Clearly there are many factors at work here, but I wonder if the scientific community has or could make the case to the decision makers and opinion leaders, in politics and the media, that more should be spent on energy/climate change research and less on medical research?

    We, the human race, can certainly survive without cures to long-present diseases being found.
    But global warming really is a threat to life as we have known it.

    • John Baez says:

      Keith wrote:

      Why the U.S. government spends $30G per year on medical research, and so little on fusion research in particular and energy research and other ways to ward off global warming, is a question.

      Most U.S. government decisions are shaped by interest groups who benefit economically from those decisions. There’s a big and powerful medical industry that benefits from federal funding of medical research. There’s not much of a fusion lobby. Things may change as the oncoming disaster that is climate change becomes more and more apparent. Or they may not!

  7. I’ve been talking about new technologies for fighting climate change, with an emphasis on negative carbon emissions. Now let’s begin looking at one technology in detail […]

  8. cgopaul says:

    Congrats John on this urgently needed aspect on the technologies side. I recall us discussing this on google plus some years ago and your eagerness. Gates recently gave a grounded talk on the harsh reality of current renewables. It would be great to balance low tech and high tech, the grounded and the far-fetched. Looking forward to reading your posts. There are so many proposed technologies – proposed for different stages of ‘disaster’ mitigation and you’re going to be well on your way to be an energy advisor if you grasp and evaluate/analyze a reasonable number.

    One humble suggestion – maybe an arxiv overlay journal (or something else that’s cheap may be a way to get experts to write and/or continue the discussions). This needs to be a portal type of thing really, where policy makers and investors can get facts and expert analyses.

    Excited to see how this unfolds.

    • John Baez says:

      Colin wrote:

      There are so many proposed technologies – proposed for different stages of ‘disaster’ mitigation and you’re going to be well on your way to be an energy advisor if you grasp and evaluate/analyze a reasonable number.

      I would like to become a consultant of this sort, and I may be starting to do that. But I need a lot of beautiful math in my life or I start feeling unhappy. So I’m trying to navigate some sort of path…

      One humble suggestion – maybe an arxiv overlay journal (or something else that’s cheap may be a way to get experts to write and/or continue the discussions).

      Some open-access journals on how to save the biosphere would be great — it’s a multi-pronged problem that goes way beyond carbon emissions, and too much of the technical material is locked behind paywalls. I don’t have the organizational skills to lead such an effort: I feel a bit overwhelmed just helping 6 grad students write their dissertations. Apparently I’m better at math and science than getting bunches of people to do things. But I’d be glad to help out.

      This needs to be a portal type of thing really, where policy makers and investors can get facts and expert analyses.

      Vincent Lafforgue is planning to set up a website where scientists trying to solve environmental problems can get help from mathematicians. That’s a somewhat different idea, which could also be great. There’s room for a lot of forums and portals like this, and I predict they will start springing up soon.

      One humble suggestion – maybe an arxiv overlay journal (or something else that’s cheap may be a way to get experts to write and/or continue the discussions).

  9. gsnprog says:

    Good for you! Looking foward to check your posts.

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