Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rifkin's new book continued

Continuing from this post, on 71 of chapter 5 he discusses energy as the missing factor in measuring productivity, in addition to the usual factors of machine capital and labor performance. Thermodynamic efficiencies accounted for 86% of productivity gains in the first two industrial revolutions. This figure is misleading though in that the aggregate energy efficiency at the height of the 2nd revolution was 13%, meaning "the ratio of useful to potential physical work that can be extracted from materials" (72). He asserts given the infrastructure and fossil fuel supplies involved, there will not likely be further efficiency increases.

He notes that renewable energy (RE) energy efficiency however will have dramatic increases over fossil fuels. This is because of the exponential growth in RE development, where production prices are dropping and efficiencies are increasing at an accelerating rate much like the PC industry. Plus RE resources are virtually infinite compared to fossil fuels. He estimates that RE can improve aggregate energy efficiency to 40% or more in the next 40 years (72).

There was an interesting discussion of privacy and transparency. Capitalism was the age of privacy and individual autonomy, whereas the collaborative commons there is much more sharing and openness. Throughout much of history humanity did things much more communally and publicly, like eating, sleeping and even excreting waste products. With capitalism we moved many of these functions indoors and in our own private rooms. “The enclosure and privatization of human life went hand-in-hand with the enclosure and privatization of the commons” (75).

While the IoT is opening us again to more communal sharing, it is not a return to the kind that was pre-capitalism. Instead it is a concern with the balance between individual and communal, so that one can still have control over what private information one shares in social networks. We want to collaborate and share more, be more transparent than the capitalistic individualist, but also retain our private autonomy and property to some degree. Hence having some control over what we choose to share or not is a key security issue in the emerging IoT, as well as reflecting a worldview shift.

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