You what Zoe?

In needs to carve out technological advance, indeed, modernity itself as its natural territory: if the retreat behind borders is backwards-looking, what would forward look like? A European super-grid and coordinated renewables programme, building on Danish surpluses and German ambition, British technology and Austrian rigour, to turn itself into the Star Trek continent, running on limitless free energy, boldly going where no state has gone before.

The continent where wearing a red shirt means you die?

And, err, limitless free energy? From renewables? Umm, you have heard of capital costs have you?

152 thoughts on “You what Zoe?”

  1. This is what happens when someone falls under the spell of a”public intellectual”.

    . You would think that someone describing themselves as such would be a warning to stay well away, but Zoe can’t get enough of him.

  2. i challenge you to live on $4 worth of food a day. Hopefully you would starve to death quickly and spare us your opinions. Rot in hell.

  3. Although…. I might be doing the scientists of Britain down, but I’m not sure they will be able to come up with a way for a few Danish wind farms to power a continent, as she suggests. Perhaps I lack ‘German ambition’.

  4. Actually that is very far from her worst article – and indeed I would be over the moon if the ‘Yes’ campaign ran on such an optimistic platform – it would be manna from heaven for Brexit proponents – they could park themselves outside the lobbies in Strasbourg and Brussels and watch MPS presage the invention of the transporter by signing in and sodding off after 10 minutes to pocket a thousand Euros for their ‘daily expense allowance’. The contrast between the sordid reality of the European bureacracy and its real world activity would be ruthlessly exposed…..

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    This is the same old tosh we got when the water industries were being privatized waters free.

    Asking people if they would get up at 4am to fix a burst water main or work in a factory that makes water pipes or even at a sewage farm, all without pay, elicited quite a few blank stares.

  6. Those against Brexit are trading on fear, rather than presenting a bold vision of what Europe could be like

    If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

  7. Limitless free energy from Denmark?! Have the Danes quietly built a fusion reactor without telling anyone?

    People fell for this sort of crap in the sixties and seventies, we are understandably a bit more cynical now. They still try though.

  8. There have been several analysis of the implied corporate-socialist Utopia that is supposedly the background world of Star Trek. In this “United Federation of Planets” Earth appears to be some kind of benign yet hierarchical tyranny with lots of uniforms and bureaucratic titles such as “Under-Secretary for Agriculture” as in The Trouble with Tribbles episode. There are no adverts ever shown in the world of the Federation and any businessmen–Cyrano Jones or Harcourt Fenton Mudd are shown as crooks. Not to mention The Ferengi who are basically pirates obsessed with profit. They tried to make them the main villains in TNG show but they were too ridiculous. Clearly the Trek universe is some kind of socialist fantasy.

    Which is exactly what this daft cows “thoughts” about the EU are as well. Ridiculous utopian leftist wanking fantasy.

  9. In any case, this is another article that shows that Grauniad folks haven’t the slightest clue how infrastructure works and is paid for.

    For instance, if I build a perpetual motion machine that only works when someone is staring at it, the energy is not “free”, since a) capital cost to build; b) ongoing maintenance and repair; c) rent or purchase cost to put it somewhere; d) the salary cost of someone to sit and stare at it.

    Totally obvious. Unless Grauniad.

  10. So Much For Subtlety

    A European super-grid and coordinated renewables programme, building on Danish surpluses and German ambition, British technology and Austrian rigour, to turn itself into the Star Trek continent, running on limitless free energy, boldly going where no state has gone before.

    Austrian rigour? From the people who gave us Kafka and Freud? OK. Whatever.

    Danish surpluses? What is Denmark’s energy production?

    At the end of 2014, Denmark’s capacity stands at 4,792 MW,[23]

    In 2005, Denmark had installed wind capacity of 3,127 MW, which produced 23,810 TJ (6.6 TW·h) of energy, giving an actual average production of 755 MW at a capacity factor of 24%.

    So let’s go with 6.6 TeraWatthours. German electricity generation is on the order of 550 TW.h.

    Thanet Wind Farm covers 35 square kilometres and generates 960 GW·h.

    So here is an exercise for the reader – how much space would be needed to generate enough power for the whole population of Europe at Germany’s relatively low levels? Limitless? The North Sea is only so big you know.

  11. @smfs – but denmark has a surplus. What else do you need to know?

    The rest is just numbers blah blah. Neoliberal sophistry und alles.

  12. Ah, I think we’re misinterpeting ‘German ambition’ here.

    What this actually means is that Seimens provides a cheat mode in the software that proves that the entire continent’s electricity is being supplied by those few Danish wind farms.

  13. I like Star Trek but it only works if you ignore that it has a big flaw. In Star Trek
    i) replicators exist which can create anything you want
    ii) trade in goods exists despite the fact that (i) should have destroyed all trade in goods (apart from perhaps software/books etc).

    Therefore its economics is rubbish. I am amazed that she could watch it and not work this out very quickly.

  14. Latest available data on world energy Denmark generated less than 24% of its energy consumption from wind in 2014 http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/energy-economics/statistical-review-of-world-energy/2014-in-review.html
    Denmark relies on Norway (outside the EU) and on Sweden’s nuclear reactors for reliable electricity.
    Austria actually produces a greater proportion of its energy from hydro than Denmark does from all renewables put together.
    Don’t bother your pretty little head with facts, Zoe

  15. SMFS: Austrian rigour?

    Perhaps not intellectual rigour but more the Fritzl type. Or Waldheim.

    Austrians certainly can do rigour.

  16. To be fair, taking capital costs into account, we’re about to enter an era of limitless, almost free energy. The inputs to production of solar panels are energy and labour. Automate the labour, get energy from almost free solar panels.

    Capital costs? What are they? If you build the factory using robot workers, and zero-incremental-cost solar energy, they’re going to be minimal at the highest.

    One way or another, as Tim’s pointed out, the solar revolution is coming. Give it a few decades and we’ll see something very much like limitless, free energy.

  17. And when needing to cut demand due to supply being short, just do it for the small islands off the coast of Europe.

  18. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Austrian rigour.

    There’s one particular Austrian, whose rigour we could have well done without.
    And to be fair they are rigourously trying to stop Hinkley Point from being built.

    Dave: “Give it a few dacdse” like nuclear fusion perhaps ?
    There’s a time and a place for solar panels. During the daytime in a sunny spot.

  19. anon,

    “I like Star Trek but it only works if you ignore that it has a big flaw. In Star Trek

    i) replicators exist which can create anything you want

    ii) trade in goods exists despite the fact that (i) should have destroyed all trade in goods (apart from perhaps software/books etc).

    You end up with an economic system where you either have to have protections (so, someone inventing a Ferrari can’t have it copied) or the state funds designs.

    The problem is that all products lead to layers of abstractions that end up with humans somewhere behind them. Maybe you have replicators. And then, machines making the replicators. But who designs the replicators? Who does the quality control on them? And in the Trek universe, how does that work when it’s about the “common good” rather than the money? Who’s going to want the dull-but-useful quality control jobs when they can spend all day in the holodeck with Marion Cotillard and Anne Hathaway?

  20. Stigler

    Ah, but we know from ST:Voyager that the replicators need energy to produce stuff and energy was not limitless when stuck in the Delta Quadrant. Also replicated stuff is not as good as “real stuff”, explaining why ST:DS9’s Captain Sisko’s father made a living as a cook.

  21. The World of Williams is indeed a wondrous place, where reality shall never intrude. I’ve seen previous proposals for what she is describing, and the cost runs into the hundreds of billions, with cables going everywhere, and even then a high pressure sitting over the whole of Europe in Winter, which is not unknown, would render it useless. It is insanity on stilts. Expect to see huge wedges of your tax money wasted on it over the coming decades.

  22. In a decade or two, it might be possible to get solar down to a decent price and if we ever get high temperature superconductors right, we might be able to produce power in North Africa and send it to Europe. (We need the superconductors if we are not to lose too much power in the transmission process and so far progress has been slow).

  23. we might be able to produce power in North Africa

    Even assuming the technological aspect can be overcome, do we really want to be absolutely dependent on the good citizens of Algeria, Libya, and Egypt for our power?

  24. BnliAustria>

    No, not like fusion power at all. We don’t need some breakthrough or other, we just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing, improving manufacturing techniques and automating the process. Solar panels are not too different from giant computer chips, so the same things that led to processor prices tumbling year after year for decades are at work.

    Bear in mind that prices have already started dropping massively, so this is hardly contentious. The only bit up for debate is how far the process will go.

    “There’s a time and a place for solar panels. During the daytime in a sunny spot.”

    Well, yes, obviously that’s where power production will be at a peak. If they’re cheap enough, at that point you can synthesise oil with the power and it’ll still be nearly free. Similarly, (in the future) as long as there’s some light, some power production, it may well be worth installing solar panels simply because they’re so cheap.

    And, on the other hand, it’s not just about sunny days. When cells are cheap enough, you’ll probably get a phone/laptop/tablet* with a screen on one side and a solar panel on the other, with commensurate improvements in battery life. (*Or an electric car…) Going off-grid will get much easier, and so-on.

    Ken>

    Synthetic oil seems so much easier to me. Keep the existing infrastructure, the sunk costs in cars and so-on, and even if the efficiency’s a bit low, we just shove some more panels out in deserts.

  25. Dave,

    You’re right, but that’s not an argument for being in the EU, is it? Elon Musk announced a more efficient solar cell. The Google boys are investing in trying to lower production costs. All excellent stuff. And we can buy that stuff from them.

    Even if Denmark and Germany will build massive fields of solar cells and can produce more than they need, we can buy that electricity from them. We don’t need a superstate for that. We don’t have a global government to manage ATM networks. We have a bunch of common rules about cards and chips and pins, how data is sent around, and the cross-charging of transactions. With electricity, we’d just need standards on electricity transmission and a group to approve where cables can go. Sometimes, across borders. Then let the market build the cables, add a little onto the price for doing so.

  26. Tim Newman>

    Yes, of course I do. You seem to have trouble with the idea of a factory factory, producing factories using robots just the way current automated factories produce widgets.

    I take it you have read at least some of Tim’s pieces about what happens when the robots take all our jobs, right?

  27. The Stig>

    I wasn’t aware any such argument was being made. It’s not obvious from the section Tim quoted.

    Now you raise the subject, though, I’d say it’s a good example of how we could really do with a decent bit of European union, even though that’s not true of the European Union as it currently exists. A bit of co-ordinated planning would be no bad thing in many areas.

  28. Yes, of course I do.

    Then you’d know that the design of each factory is unique, wouldn’t you?

    You seem to have trouble with the idea of a factory factory, producing factories using robots just the way current automated factories produce widgets.

    You sound like the Frenchmen in my office who seem to think that onshore facilities can be replicated in the same way offshore facilities are. Given you know how factories are built, might I ask you to confirm the first on-site task and how you think it could be automated?

  29. I take it you have read at least some of Tim’s pieces about what happens when the robots take all our jobs, right?

    I assumed they’d be taking your job. Mine, I can assure you, is quite safe.

  30. Tim>

    So I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then? Suggest you read them and stop wasting both our time.

    (Candidly, etc…)

  31. So I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then? Suggest you read them and stop wasting both our time.

    I did read them. Robots building robots building robots. Uh-huh. Dreamed up by somebody who has obviously never run an automated system.

    Now, about that factory construction…

  32. Dave, Solar panels are not too different from giant computer chips, so the same things that led to processor prices tumbling year after year for decades are at work.
    That’s not true. Moore’s law of microelectronics is a consequence of the constant increase in the number of components (and hence complexity of function) that we can print on a given area of silicon.
    Solar cells are just encapsulated slivers of doped silicon & hence do not benefit from this complexity/price law curve, although they may gain a small assist from refinements in silicon manufacture.

  33. Tim Newman>

    Really not sure what you’re objecting to. Robots building robots building robots is happening right now. There are automated factories making automatic machines for other factories which make things like Roombas. That process is only going to continue, not go backwards.

    Jeremy T>

    It’s a good approximation of the truth. Most of Moore’s law wasn’t down to going smaller, but to manufacturing efficiencies.

    “although they may gain a small assist from refinements in silicon manufacture.”

    Pricewise, that’s the bit that’s important. And one of the main costs of that is energy input.

  34. Really not sure what you’re objecting to.

    The notion that robots can build factories. They can’t, and never will. If you knew how factories are built, like you claim, you’d see why.

    Robots building robots building robots is happening right now. There are automated factories making automatic machines

    Automated does not mean autonomous.

  35. TN>

    “Automated does not mean autonomous.”

    You’re the only one here who’s suggested it might. I’d have thought the difference was obvious, so I’m not sure why you’ve brought it up.

  36. My experience here is that we get free hot water almost all year round from a cheap collector on the roof…

    But I’ve seen people try and live off grid with a vast array of solar panels and a garage full of batteries and inverters and fail miserably.

    It seems to me that the only way you can survive on PV is to use external energy sources (i.e. gas) for heating and cooking… which somewhat defeats the objective of having half your land covered in PV and a garge full of batteries.

  37. BiC>

    Sounds about right to me. Right now, battery storage is a problem, and one that may never be solved adequately.

    On the other hand, if PV panels get cheap enough, you won’t be concerned about the efficiency loss of converting power into synthetic gas/oil.

    The bigger point I was trying to make is that it’s one thing when your solar setup costs maybe five figures (including batteries) for a decent output, and quite another when you can buy a bunch of panels and associated gubbins for a few hundred quid.

  38. I’d have thought the difference was obvious, so I’m not sure why you’ve brought it up.

    Then what is so special about robots building “robots” if the system is not autonomous? You might as well say robots build microwaves.

    And by the way, I very much doubt those Roombas are assembled by machine: they’ll be hand-assembled, at least in part.

    Any luck on the factory construction thing yet?

  39. TN>

    Snarking at each other aside, I think we must be talking at cross-purposes. I’m afraid I don’t understand what you think I wrote that you’re taking issue with. You appear to me to be arguing that mechanisation doesn’t increase productivity, which, while fun to take potshots at, is probably not what you actually intended me to understand.

  40. >i challenge you to live on $4 worth of food a day.
    >Hopefully you would starve to death quickly and
    > spare us your opinions. Rot in hell.

    There is a phrase in the startup culture “ramen cash flow”, how much you need to live off ramen noodles till your startup clicks and gains traction.

    But, somewhat more prosaically … My Regents scholarship paid full freight at a state university, but only about half the ride at Columbia. I’d cook up a big pot of red beans & rice & sausage that would last me for 3 days. That would probably cost about $8 in today’s money

  41. When Eskimos can rely on solar panels in winter, we can relegate fossil fuels to the history book.
    In the meantime we need to work on improving energy efficiency, generating efficiency, reduction in transdmission losses, educating people on use of energy (such as getting women to wear clothes in trhe office), halting the destruction of the tropical rainforest etc., etc.

  42. @ Tony C
    My scholarship of £60=$168 was 46c/day but my college had been subsidising undergraduates’ food for 700 years. I actually had to watch my weight

  43. A longer answer: those people who think robots will build robots which will build things like factories are the same people who think driverless cars are just around the corner. They’re not, because automated systems cannot exercise judgement very well, all they can do is measure a rather limited number of parameters and attempt to interpret them. Even those systems you think are fully automated have an awful lot of human intervention.

    So, the first step to building a factory is to do two surveys of the proposed site: topographical and geotechnical. The first will identify, amongst other things, the nearest water course and hence where your rain wnd drain water should flow. The second will give you core samples which are interpreted to tell you how much weight the soil can take and hence what size and type of foundation you’ll need.

    Good luck getting a robot to do that, and if he doesn’t, your factory will fall over even before it floods.

  44. I actually thought about doing the “SNAP challenge” in Switzerland, converting it at PPP.

    When I did my preliminary research, my conclusion was the following:

    1. In principle, it’s easy. 2000kCal + enough protein, vitamins etc is easy, particularly if you take vitamin supplements.
    2. You’ll be eating lots of rice and pasta. Lots. 2000kCal of that is about 0.50-0.60.
    3. You won’t be eating much meat or cheese doing this in CH.
    4. Surprisingly, not much bread either (cheapest = 3.-/kg, so about 2x as expensive as rice or pasta, which are about 1.15/kg.
    5. Protein = mostly eggs at .30 each
    6. So lots of simple stirfry and veggie pasta dishes.
    7. Not much coffee, lots of “Schwarztee”.
    8. Breakfast is porridge or cheap muesli.

    I reckoned I could do it for a week and have a takeaway pizza at the end of it.

    Never got around to actually doing it though.

  45. TN>

    At what point do what stop saying that a man dug a hole using a JCB, and start saying the JCBot dug the hole? Is it only when the JCBot decides for itself when and where to dig, and the size of the hole?

    Clearly, we’re still a long way from the machines running the show, but we’re equally clearly a long way from having people do every single task using only rocks and sticks.

    How far away are we, though, from something like clearing a patch of land and letting the robot construction team know where to place standard factory #8 or whatever? Currently a lot of the arguments against having robots do jobs come down to energy efficiency in one way or the other. If we end up with seriously cheap solar power, then that’s obviously going to feed into increased automation, which will then feed back into even cheaper solar: that’s the kind of circle the technological singularity* will be based on.

    (In the wholly inaccurate, but rather more useful, non-AI sense.)

  46. TN>

    Interesting.

    “people who think driverless cars are just around the corner. They’re not, because automated systems cannot exercise judgement very well”

    I’m one of those people, but I agree with your comment on judgement. I think it’s that thing about an expert outside his field, though. The ethicists and roboticists should ask some professional drivers, because it’s perfectly possible to design an autonomous car not to need to make judgements. Everyone acts like having the car come to a halt momentarily is out of the question.

    One recent example from an ethicist was about an autonomous car coming across people in the road at the same time as oncoming traffic, and whether, if it’s unable to stop, it should hit the people or steer into traffic (where there would be more casualties one way or the other, depending on just how the question is put). It’s a perfectly reasonable hypothetical discussion, raises knotty moral and ethical questions, but it’s completely irrelevant to actually building autonomous cars. Very simply, as pretty much every driver actually knows as a matter of instinct if not theory, if you can’t see ahead of you for the whole of your stopping distance, you’re going too fast for the conditions: the car will not be driven by an impatient human, so will not be going too fast, so will be able to stop.

    And further to my earlier point, I think we’re just arguing semantics on the robo-factory thing. Or possibly timescales.

    “The first will identify, amongst other things, the nearest water course and hence where your rain wnd drain water should flow. The second will give you core samples which are interpreted to tell you how much weight the soil can take and hence what size and type of foundation you’ll need.”

    Unless you’re doing all of that without the use of any tools or machinery (and obviously, you don’t walk there, or take core samples with your teeth), that’s already partly automated. Maybe in a few years you’ll turn up at a site, program the core sampler, and set it to work. Maybe a few years after that, you’ll do it all remotely. These things don’t happen overnight, in single radical changes; it’s a gradual process.

  47. How far away are we, though, from something like clearing a patch of land and letting the robot construction team know where to place standard factory #8 or whatever?

    At a guess: several centuries.

  48. Unless you’re doing all of that without the use of any tools or machinery (and obviously, you don’t walk there, or take core samples with your teeth), that’s already partly automated.

    It’s about as automated as a blender.

  49. @ Dave
    Your example is exactly what happened in my first accident – I was driving at 29 mph followed by a (possibly mildly irritated but) patient guy and a stupid girl looked at the traffic, stepped back onto the pavement and then walked out straight in front of me generating a five-car accident because I hit the brake and the car behind braked but had inferior brakes*, so hit mine, the third car (an MG with superior brakes) stopped but the two behind didn’t adequately so he got shunted into the Citroen which did more damage to my car.
    How would a computer system prevent that except by having ever car the full stoppimg distance from the car in front and wht happens when someone switches lane in front of you?
    *Or perhaps the driver had inferior leg muscles – is that a crime? Anyhow perfectly decent chap: calmed down idiot in MG when he suggested I shouldn’t have stopped to avoid hitting a pedestrian.

  50. @TimN
    “people who think driverless cars are just around the corner. They’re not, because automated systems cannot exercise judgement very well”
    I’d profoundly disagree with you there. It’s people don’t exercise judgement very well. Why modern airliners fly almost entirely on autopilot. Meat pilots have a nasty habit of flying them into scenery. Even when you’re taught to fly hands on, they keep banging into you “Use the bloody instruments”
    Because we’re really not very good at controlling moving vehicles. Our distance sensing equipment isn’t good out past a few feet. We’re lousy at judging relative velocities & vectors. Hopeless with accelerations.
    Driverless cars would get rid of all those error of judgement accidents. The pulling out without seeing the other car; puts two in intensive & one in a box. And the unappreciated risk accidents. Of course I can get round that bend at seventy. So you’d be left with the odd systems error crash. And a few “System suspects something that isn’t actually wrong. ” And defaults to STOP.

  51. Who’s going to want the dull-but-useful quality control jobs when they can spend all day in the holodeck with Marion Cotillard and Anne Hathaway?

    Those who haven’t yet passed the captain’s qualification who want to boldly go etc.

  52. TN>

    One more for you: why does some idiot always try and answer a rhetorical question? 😉

    “It’s about as automated as a blender.”

    Quite. I have a knife-wielding robot in my kitchen.

    “At a guess: several centuries.”

    Probably. Maybe only two or three, at present pace. But if we end up with the kind of positive feedback circle I was positing, then possibly much, much sooner than we anticipate.

    John>

    “How would a computer system prevent that except by having ever car the full stoppimg distance from the car in front and wht happens when someone switches lane in front of you?”

    A while since you did your test, or have you been living somewhere with insane drivers so long you’ve got used to it? 🙂

    You’re always supposed to be your full stopping distance behind someone. Otherwise, by definition, you won’t have time to stop if someone in front of you slams on the brakes to, say, avoid a pedestrian. (Of course, you can shave that distance slightly and accept the risk of a low-speed rear-ender, but that seems pointless to me – bear in mind that the time lost isn’t from slower speed, just from the metre or two of missing stopping distance, and it doesn’t take long to travel a metre.)

    And if someone switches lanes into your stopping distance, you act to correct the situation as rapidly as possible without buggering things up even more – usually, by checking your mirrors for someone behind, then easing up on the accelerator until you’re a safe distance back again.

  53. We’re lousy at judging relative velocities & vectors.

    Actually, we’re exceptionally good at it: watch any game of sport.

    Airliners are automated mainly to prevent fatigue, and also because it is much, much simpler to do when the environment is so much more predictable and largely uniform. It’s not to eradicate pilot error: the term “use the instruments” means “use what they’re telling you” not “leave it up to the computer”.

  54. you’d be left with the odd systems error crash. And a few “System suspects something that isn’t actually wrong. ” And defaults to STOP.

    This is where you’re wrong: there would be so many spurious trips you’d barely move all day. I’ve banged on about this before, from my offshore experience: designing a system which will intervene when you want it to but minimizes spurious trips is extremely difficult, even when the number of variables you are measuring are low. It’s so difficult only 3 industries do it, at considerable cost.

  55. Probably. Maybe only two or three, at present pace. But if we end up with the kind of positive feedback circle I was positing, then possibly much, much sooner than we anticipate.

    200 hundred years for your blender to become autonomous. Okay.

  56. @Jos smith

    “i challenge you to live on $4 worth of food a day. Hopefully you would starve to death quickly and spare us your opinions. Rot in hell.”

    Classic virtue signalling idiocy, Joe.

    1. Most of us have.
    2. All of us still could, in the industrial west, never mind the third world.
    3. It’s even easier in the third world – Google cost of living.
    4. What we are trying to do is make it easier for poor people to live like wealthy people, whereas you and your ilk are fixated for some reason on having wealthy people live more like poor people. I’ve got news for you – that doesn’t win you the high ground and it isn’t a vote winner either.

    You should come back more often, you soft cunt.

  57. John77:

    “educating people on use of energy (such as getting women to wear clothes in the office)”

    Good luck with that. I’m backing Fusion.

  58. I fully expect to see self driving cars on major British and US roads in my lifetime.

    It seems to me that it is largely a matter of having vehicles talk to each other and having sensors or some form of positional broadcast equipment at regular intervals on major roads.

    I would imagine the basic technology already exists. I don’t suppose retrofitting is practical, but having it as standard on new vehicles from say ten years hence… Why not?

    Fully automated vehicles, which can leave the M1, travel down A roads and onto B roads and get to my house down a singletrack Cotswold lane are probably some further distance away. So it will be some kind of hybrid system.

  59. It seems to me that it is largely a matter of having vehicles talk to each other and having sensors or some form of positional broadcast equipment at regular intervals on major roads.

    As I’ve said before, it would be so restrictive you might as well put it on rails and call it a train.

  60. I would imagine the basic technology already exists

    Not even close. We don’t even have driverless trains in widespread use, and those we do have are in predictable environments such as metro systems and airports. Computers simply cannot differentiate between a tree and a toddler in the way humans can: they’re just not good at interpreting entire scenes.

  61. I take your point Tim but it only works as an analogy (I think?) if you can create trains which ferry the wage spaces in my village to the car parks outside their offices in Bristol and Oxford and Cheltenham and back to their own front doors.

    I am talking about hybrid cars that get Mr Smithers Jones out of the village and as far as the A46 (say) when he can let it take over and do some paperwork/read a book/have a wank.

  62. Computers simply cannot differentiate between a tree and a toddler in the way humans can:

    You don’t see many of either on the M4 though.

  63. I am talking about hybrid cars that get Mr Smithers Jones out of the village and as far as the A46 (say) when he can let it take over and do some paperwork/read a book/have a wank.

    That might be possible, where cars enter some kind of highly controlled track, and leave further on and become human-controlled again.

  64. That might be possible, where cars enter some kind of highly controlled track, and leave further on and become human-controlled again.

    Yes that’s all I’m predicting. I’m sure you could manage a car via satellite inputs to get from your house to mine but I agree entirely that the car cannot ‘see’ straw chewing Gloucs locals and so it would probably arrive with a few dings. I imagine that’s a long way off. I’m on about hybrids.

  65. Re the toddlers and trees thing though.

    If the car is programmed to drive past anything not coming within X feet of the centre of the carriageway then that takes care of trees.

    If it is programmed to stop when anything enters the carriageway then that is in your scenario only going to be a toddler.

    The question then is: is the computer going to be quicker at reacting to a sudden ingression than a human? I suspect the answer is yes?

  66. Most of Moore’s law wasn’t down to going smaller, but to manufacturing efficiencies.

    Not so. Moore’s observation was strictly about feature density – what he actually wrote in a 1965 editorial (titled Cramming more components onto integrated circuits – which should be a bit of a clue) was:

    The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years.

    The increased density was enabled by process improvements (not necessarily the same as ‘manufacturing efficiencies’), but the benefits came from increasing component density.


  67. If it is programmed to stop when anything enters the carriageway then that is in your scenario only going to be a toddler.

    Splat! The human might have seen the toddler about to step out and slowed right down. The computer only cares when it’s 3ft from the bumper. In other words, the environment would have to be so tightly controlled it would cease to be real life any more. It might work for the main carriageways, but even then you run the danger of 1 car out of the 10,000 in a line tripping and the whole thing jams up. Getting these systems reliable will be prohibitively expensive. I’ve specced and procured them in person, they are eye-wateringly expensive.

  68. @ Dave
    If everyone drove at their full stopping distance I could walk across any road (including motorways) at any time but we should need treble the current amount of carriageways. What we need is that each driver be able to stop without hitting anything – it takes time for the vehicle in front to stop and drivers know that.

  69. Bloke in North Dorset

    Tim N

    FYP

    “Not even close. We don’t even have driverless trains in widespread use, and those we do have are in predictable environments such as metro systems and airports. Computers simply cannot differentiate between a tree and a toddler in the way humans can: they’re just not good at interpreting entire scenes, yet

    I don’t expect it to happen in my lifetime (58) but I expect m son (29) to enjoy the experience of fully driverless cars by his old age.

    The key to all the questions above is networking and standards and those are all being worked on.

  70. My worry about driver-less cars is: what happens to the reliability of all of the fancy sensor systems once the car is being maintained by Joe Public rather than a team of dedicated engineers.

    I’m guessing complete failure after about 2 weeks.

  71. TN>

    “This is where you’re wrong: there would be so many spurious trips you’d barely move all day. I’ve banged on about this before, from my offshore experience: designing a system which will intervene when you want it to but minimizes spurious trips is extremely difficult”

    Again I disagree, and I suspect this is one of the places we’re diverging near the start. It’s rarely hard: sometimes it just takes good programmers and proper planning, sometimes it’s impossible, but the in between is not really something I’ve encountered.

    The trick is partly in restricting the range of problems which can occur, and partly in understanding that while computers don’t make judgement calls, humans do when they program them.

    I get the impression that you’ve worked at what we might call the wholesale end of this problem, where I’ve worked at the retail end. If so, I assume I’ve seen how easy it is to incrementally automate more and more, whereas you’ve watched how painfully slowly the whole process is automated.

    “200 hundred years for your blender to become autonomous. Okay.”

    I doubt it’ll take anything like that long. Right now, the microwave in my kitchen (which is hardly high-end) will weigh the piece of meat I put in, first microwave it, then grill the outside, all to the appropriate time to have it perfectly cooked – and all I have to do is put the meat in and press a single button. Of course I don’t, because I expect it does a horrible job, but that’s not quite the point here.

    I’d expect to see blend-to-size blenders on the market within a decade, let alone a century. Unless you believe it’s beyond the wit of man to create a sensor to determine particle size in a blender?

    Add some decent speech recognition – we’re getting pretty good at that now – and an internet connection and I can’t see why that’s not a proper robot blender. You’d tell it ‘chop these carrots for mirepoix’ or some such, and it would. Add a carrot peeler-and-feeder, we’re talking properly autonomous – just instruct it.

  72. One of the big problems with the wet left is that they think Star Trek is a documentary. Another is that they have no imagination, and can’t understand why people in the real world would rather have their own starship than be Redshirts. Obviously, it just makes sense that people in a world where replicators can make anything at no charge would volunteer for a job where they’ll die any time they land on a new planet with a camera crew following them around… rather than demand their own starship to travel wherever they feel like it.

    (The hard left, of course, know it’s all nonsense, and just use it as propaganda to get the useful idiots to put them in positions of power).

    My worry about driver-less cars is: what happens to the reliability of all of the fancy sensor systems once the car is being maintained by Joe Public rather than a team of dedicated engineers.

    Last year, we were test-driving new SUVs. One of them had a fancy system with cameras to track the lines in the road, and warn you if you were getting out of your lane while texting.

    Only problem: for about four months a year you can’t see the lines in the road, because they’re covered with snow. For about two months a year, you can’t see the lines in the road here, because they’ve been scraped off by the snowploughs and need repainting. For most of the winter, drivers follow the lines where the snow has been worn down to the tarmac by other traffic, which rarely bear any resemblance to the ‘real’ traffic lanes.

    I’d love to have a car that can drive me to work in the winter, so I don’t have to. But it ain’t coming any time soon.

  73. TN>

    “Not even close. We don’t even have driverless trains in widespread use, and those we do have are in predictable environments such as metro systems and airports.”

    Bollocks. The sole reason we didn’t switch to driverless trains years ago is that networks aren’t standardised sufficiently: you have to retrofit half the equipment to make it work, and that’s a separate project for each network.

    John77>

    “If everyone drove at their full stopping distance I could walk across any road (including motorways) at any time”

    You’re forgetting about sightlines. If you’re on a motorway, you can see the idiot trying to cross from far enough back that everyone can/should slow down. (Can/should depends on your views on autodarwinism, I expect.) If you’re on a single-carriageway road with blind corners, you shouldn’t be driving as fast.

    TN>

    “Splat! The human might have seen the toddler about to step out and slowed right down. The computer only cares when it’s 3ft from the bumper.”

    More bollocks. The computer doesn’t ‘care’ about anything. But computers can spot a child on the pavement and adjust the speed accordingly, then react far quicker than a human when the child runs into the road. I would have thought it’s pretty obvious that the distance ahead they look is dependent on speed, and that they don’t just run around looking three feet in front.

    I’m just thinking that maybe you haven’t kept up with current developments. Right now you can buy a Mercedes S-Class which will drive itself in city traffic, following lanes, stopping as needed, and so-on.

    Inty>

    There are going to be lots of network benefits when the majority of vehicles on the road are under computer control, but that’s not how it’s going to start out.

  74. Ed>

    “Obviously, it just makes sense that people in a world where replicators can make anything at no charge would volunteer for a job where they’ll die any time they land on a new planet with a camera crew following them around… rather than demand their own starship to travel wherever they feel like it.”

    I think it makes sense that people might want to work under Kirk – or some other hero.

    “Only problem: for about four months a year you can’t see the lines in the road, because they’re covered with snow.”

    So bury bits of metal under the lines. Computers can ‘see’ things we can’t.

    JeremyT>

    Yes, cheaper ingots mean larger, cheaper chips. You’re looking at count, not density.

  75. But computers can spot a child on the pavement and adjust the speed accordingly

    And you accuse me of speaking bollocks. Please, show me the computer than can do this, and not slow down for a bin. You appear to have no idea what computers can and can’t do.

  76. Bollocks.

    So we do have driverless trains? Oh, wait.

    The sole reason we didn’t switch to driverless trains years ago is that networks aren’t standardised sufficiently: you have to retrofit half the equipment to make it work, and that’s a separate project for each network.

    Thank heavens we have standardized roads then, eh?

    Not an engineer, are you?

  77. Tim Newman, you’re wasting your time you know (ethicists? Fuck me!) Have a couple of beers and forget the cunt. You know it makes sense.

  78. I think it makes sense that people might want to work under Kirk – or some other hero.

    For the five minutes before they get shot by Klingons?

    What about the Enterprise’s toilet cleaners? Would that be preferable to having your own starship?

    So bury bits of metal under the lines

    Yeah, let’s dig up every road in the country. Won’t be expensive, at all.

    And let’s hope no bad guy decides to bury bits of metal that columns of cars follow off a cliff.

  79. It’s rarely hard: sometimes it just takes good programmers and proper planning, sometimes it’s impossible, but the in between is not really something I’ve encountered

    What experience do you have with automated, safety-critical control systems? Because I have a fair bit, and my experience was nothing like what you describe.

  80. TN>

    “So we do have driverless trains? Oh, wait.”

    Yes, all over the place. The DLR, for example. (And the Jubilee, absent unions.) Are we retro-fitting existing lines? No. Why? Because there’s only one driver per train, so the savings aren’t huge. Since no rail system is standard – train control integration etc has to be custom – it doesn’t make economic sense.

    “Please, show me the computer than can do this, and not slow down for a bin. You appear to have no idea what computers can and can’t do.”

    Have you looked at any of the stuff about the current state of development of autonomous cars, let alone driver aids? Of course they can. I mean, that’s tech in cars on the road today – in the hands of consumers, not testers.

    Really, read this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_S-Class_(W222)#Safety_innovations.5B9.5D

    Sure, it’s a Merc S Class, not a Mondeo – but what’s on the S Class today is on the Mondeo in five or ten years, normally.

    Everyone’s seen the famous one of the Volvo failing the demo in front of the assembled press:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNi17YLnZpg

    But they’ve got it working fine by now, and, again, it’s in cars they’ve sold to the public for a few years.

    Auto-braking by itself has been at least an option on ordinary cars for a few years.

    “Not an engineer, are you?”

    Oh, are we back to taking potshots? You’re obviously an arts grad, in that case.

    (Sorry, below the belt?)

    Ed>

    TBH, I was thinking more IMB’s Culture society than Star Trek. Doubt they’d need toilet cleaners, might need people to put their lives on the line for the cause. Redshirts just a convenience for lazy writers.

    “Yeah, let’s dig up every road in the country. Won’t be expensive, at all.”

    No, it’ll be free, because we do it anyway every five or ten years on average – at least in places with lots of snow. Just lay the metal before the road surface the next time it’s dug up – and then you can send an automatic road-marking machine down afterwards, I guess.

    TN, again>

    “What experience do you have with automated, safety-critical control systems? Because I have a fair bit, and my experience was nothing like what you describe.”

    Little that was safety-critical, a lot that was large-amounts-of-money-critical. I’m not sure there’s all that much difference, really: either way failure wasn’t an option.

    I might wonder in turn how much experience you have working with a competent team of architects, programmers, PMs, and so-on. I’ll grant that it’s ‘hard’ in the sense that you have to know what you’re doing to get that team together in the first place, but if you have it, you can work out what you need to build and build it, it where it’s not impossible.

    Really, I’m more interested in the difference between what you and I have taken from the work we’ve done than in scoring points here. As I said before, it sounds like you have real experience at the coalface on the big end of things. I’ve done a lot of stuff to do with the little things, like making sure your online bank payment isn’t lost because the server ran out of disk space. (In layman’s terms.)

    Presumably I’ve been better able to control the environment than you, but on consideration I reckon that’s closer to what matters here, given that road laws are mutable.

  81. “More bollocks. The computer doesn’t ‘care’ about anything. But computers can spot a child on the pavement and adjust the speed accordingly, then react far quicker than a human when the child runs into the road.”

    Unless the sensor it sees with is obscured by rain. Or mud. What if it’s dark?

    I just don’t believe computers or robots will be able to cope with all of the enormous variety of challenges involved in just navigating around the real world and interacting with it to a level of success necessary to replace human action, not for a long, long time.

    And, of course, the computer is only as good as the people who programmed it…

  82. “I’ve done a lot of stuff to do with the little things, like making sure your online bank payment isn’t lost because the server ran out of disk space.”

    Honestly, that is orders of magnitude simpler than designing a machine which can drive itself and its occupants safely in a real environment with other cars, people and objects moving independently of it.

  83. Dave –

    Right now, the microwave in my kitchen (which is hardly high-end) will weigh the piece of meat I put in… (blah blah blah)… Of course I don’t, because I expect it does a horrible job…

    Then “right now” is bullshit, then, isn’t it? Maybe try “someday, my microwave might…” although the first question is “when?” If you aren’t willing to risk the quality of your dinner, what makes you so willing to risk the safety of the 3-billion or so of us who live in an industrial society?

    …but that’s not quite the point here.

    No – that is precisely the point – and you recognize it, but just can’t help yourself. You have spouted bollocks on virtually every point you have tried to make. For God’s sake man: you’re in a hole – stop digging!

  84. “Unless the sensor it sees with is obscured by rain. Or mud. What if it’s dark?”

    Yes, I wonder. How do those cars driving around on the road right fucking now cope? IR, apparently.

    “Honestly, that is orders of magnitude simpler”

    As I said, layman’s terms. You wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about if I told you what I actually did, any more than I’d know what TN was talking about if he was telling us about what he actually does all day in detail.

    DCardno>

    The only reason it can’t do a good job is because you can’t microwave meat and expect a decent result. Which is why it wasn’t the point.

    If that was the only thing you think I got wrong, do you now concede that I’m right? No? Pot, kettle, advice, blah blah blah.

    (Candidly…)

  85. Article says
    A European super-grid and coordinated renewables programme

    Yes, that’ll likely happen, with deep GCGT backup, and smart metering.

    That’s probably the electricity we’re gonna get.

    In fact Big Wind with BIG GCGT might even mean we never have to bother with smart metering, but we’re certainly gonna see more of a european “supergrid”* and I guess lots more windmills.

    The engineers have got this covered, its all very do-able.

    Some of us thought of big nuke, it might come later.

  86. Dave,

    “Yes, I wonder. How do those cars driving around on the road right fucking now cope? IR, apparently.”

    You are aware that currently, the sensors on self-driving cars fail in the rain? They also can’t do things like detect potholes, so will drive right into them.

    Self-driving cars are just vapourware at the moment. I suspect the whole thing is driven by companies that are trying to convince stockholders that they have a lot more up their sleeve.

  87. The problem with TimN’s toddler crushing scenario is the presumption, no toddlers get crushed currently. Which we know to be not true. So what we should be looking for is a reduction in toddler crushing.
    Now, the problem we’re told the computer can’t cope with is the rugrat on the pavement headed for the road. The observant driver spots the incipient danger & acts accordingly.
    For a start, we’re to take for granted the driver will see & anticipate the toddler. Actually, the majority of toddler crushing follows the tot’s running out between parked cars. When the driver can’t spot & anticipate the developing danger, because it’s happening in the blind spot, below the hood-line of the vehicle. In truth, a lot of tragic small child incidents are the result of vehicles driven by the child’s parents etc, when the kids get into blind spots whilst reversing or driving off.
    Low level sensors coupled with the much faster reaction times of an automated system would likely reduce these casualties.
    So maybe we should accept; no system can ever be 100% safe. And look at what is safer, on balance.
    And there’s the presumption, driverless cars are introduced but there’s no change in other behaviour. As a Londoner who’s been dancing in the traffic since I could toddle & relying on drivers avoiding running me over, maybe it’d be time for me to exercise a bit more caution. Accept the highway is actually dangerous & stop pissing about in the middle of it. Not expect to thread 4 lanes of traffic because i can’t be arsed to walk a dozen yards to a crossing. And actually wait for the little green guy to do the walking thing.

  88. “They (sensors) also can’t do things like detect potholes, so will drive right into them.”
    How many potholes do you reckon there are on roads in the London area, would pose a danger if driven into? 3? 4? Even in London’s appallingly ill maintained streets, they’re pretty rare. And the presumption that drivers are better at spotting them. At night. In poor visibility.

  89. if fatalities are lower with an automated system then the speeds are lower…..I am happy to cruise at 30 mph when I would be fuming if my right foot counted for anything. Cruise control is the way ahead. And punting and e-cigs

  90. [Back in the UK, Mr Diogenes. But please don’t mention the W word. Not saying I’m here for a holiday. Who in their right mind would?]
    There’s another presumption TimN’s making. That self driving cars would be individual, autonomous actors.
    It seems much more likely they’d be linked into a common control system. So each would be able to draw, not only on the data from its own sensors, but the total data pool. The control would be with the system, not the individual car.
    If each car is aware of not only all other cars’ positions, velocities & vectors but their future p,v & v’s that’s the cause of 95% of road accidents just disappeared

  91. The control would be with the system, not the individual car.
    If each car is aware of not only all other cars’ positions, velocities & vectors but their future p,v & v’s that’s the cause of 95% of road accidents just disappeared

    As I’ve pointed out many times previously, making such a system reliable enough would likely be prohibitively expensive.

    And the toddler thing: sure, drivers currently run over people. If a computer controlled car can improve on the rate at which toddlers get squashed, then good. But if they can’t, and visual recognition software turns out to be a lot harder to implement than we think? Then it’s a no-go. And that’s before we work out how to make it reliable.

  92. @Dave

    I’m project managing a factory build at the moment. One of my other sidelines is factory automation. Robots are already used for construction materials eg welding steel repeatedly and accurately under steady-state conditions. Same as they do in car factories. Apart from this, like Tim said, there is a reason we are basically using the same building techniques, albeit with a bit of mechanical assistance to replace pure grunt, as we have for centuries. All buildings and the operations to build them are unique: Every weld, pour, saw-cut, fastening, lift, positioning or finishing job, just to name a few of the operations. Very little is repeatable in the way that works best with robotics. Most of it is semi-skilled or minimally-skilled so labour costs are low. It is one of the least likely candidates for automation in any of the industries I have worked in.

    Humans will build the solar panel factories, and when that technology becomes obsolete, it will be because humans have devised a better way of doing things, and will build even better factories to make the technology in. Robots can’t innovate, yet, and the debate about the ethics of driverless cars will be a spat compared to what we will need to consider if we ever understand enough to be able to create robots that can.

  93. “So we do have driverless trains? Oh, wait.”

    Yes, all over the place. The DLR, for example.

    Driverless, or remote controlled? My bet is someone is watching them from a remote location, quite carefully.

  94. Every weld, pour, saw-cut, fastening, lift, positioning or finishing job, just to name a few of the operations. Very little is repeatable in the way that works best with robotics. Most of it is semi-skilled or minimally-skilled so labour costs are low. It is one of the least likely candidates for automation in any of the industries I have worked in.

    This.

  95. bis,

    “How many potholes do you reckon there are on roads in the London area, would pose a danger if driven into? 3? 4?”

    You’re missing the point that that is one of many things that these cars can’t do. If they can’t even detect a pothole (and forget that sometimes drivers can’t, this is a 0%) what else can’t they do? Tell the difference between a horse and a moped and overtake at the appropriate speed? Sense an ambulance approaching and judge when to pull over? Detect when a driver is giving them the nod or a flash to pull out into traffic?

    And you can’t have them networked because then you’re relying on the network. What happens if a car in an area fails to transmit? Do you stop all cars in the area until it does? What about if you’re driving in Exmoor without a signal? What about the vehicles on the road that aren’t automated, horses and cycles?

    I seriously doubt I’ll see a car in my lifetime that I can get in drunk and be driven home legally.

  96. Dave

    “As I said, layman’s terms. You wouldn’t have a clue what I was talking about if I told you what I actually did, any more than I’d know what TN was talking about if he was telling us about what he actually does all day in detail.”

    Well, I have 20+ years in software development in the City. I reckon I’d have a fair understanding, but then you would have to explain it and that would show how Noddy the stuff you do is. What you were talking about is “Hello World” in comparison to fucking robots building entire factories by themselves or fully automated cars everywhere.

  97. >>>>But computers can spot a child on the pavement and adjust the speed accordingly, then react far quicker than a human when the child runs into the road

    >>I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid they can’t do that

    >>>>What’s the problem?

    >>I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do

    >>>>What are you talking about?

    >>

    >>All your robots are belong to us

  98. @ Dave
    On single-carriageway roads with blind corners and/or blind summits I *do* drive slower so that I can stop safely – what on earth makes you think that I don’t? But your computer-driven car would need to see round the corner – a problem that doesn’t arise in the DLR where there is never a train approaching on your side of the track and automatic signals make sure you never catch up to the train in front.

  99. John>

    How is it any different if you’re driving or the computer? You can’t go faster than is safe given the distance you can see.

    Anyway, as I’ve already said repeatedly, our discussion about possible problems doesn’t over-ride the fact that these vehicles exist, they’re out there on the roads right now driving around.

    http://gizmodo.com/5-cities-with-driverless-public-buses-on-the-streets-ri-1736146699

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27485-autonomous-truck-cleared-to-drive-on-us-roads-for-the-first-time/

    https://www.ted.com/talks/chris_urmson_how_a_driverless_car_sees_the_road

    Rob>

    Since you’ve already demonstrated an inability to understand plain English, seems pointless.

    Rob W>

    Standardisation is necessary for mass production, same as the cars robots are making now. Might as well be asking how a robot could select the right pieces of wood to make a car chassis.

  100. Dave>

    The bigger point I was trying to make is that it’s one thing when your solar setup costs maybe five figures (including batteries) for a decent output, and quite another when you can buy a bunch of panels and associated gubbins for a few hundred quid.

    But there are limits to how much electricity you can get from a square metre of panels no matter how cheap they are… Who wants their entire garden covered in PV…?

  101. Dave>

    If you’re going off grid, you’re probably far enough away from everyone else to have a big garden.

    I have a big garden but Mrs. BiC would go mental if I suggested covering it in PV….

  102. Well, you wouldn’t really have to cover it – but I was thinking more being far enough off grid that at the very least you have a few acres.

  103. Tim N>

    It’s not hard to standardise a site. Getting any given bit of land to comply with the standards may or may not be.

  104. It’s not hard to standardise a site.

    That depends on what you mean by “site”. It you mean “generic term meaning…erm…something vaguely flat and concrete for an unspecified purpose” then I suppose not. If you mean “place where you intend to build a factory or structure of any kind” then it is very, very hard. To the point that only a lunatic would even think of it.

  105. but I was thinking more being far enough off grid that at the very least you have a few acres.

    You have no idea what is involved in covering a “few acres” with anything. It’s like listening to Ritchie talk about tax.

    Even if the solar panels came free, how would you mount them? Lie them on the grass? No, you’d need to support them, securely, so they’d not blow away in the wind. That would require a steel structure, which would in turn need concrete foundations. How deep should these foundations go? Depends on the soil. Is the land flat? If not, you’ll need to make it so. How will you clean the panels? You’ll need to build a path to access them. How will you stop this path flooding? You’ll need drainage. Where does the water go?

    All for free, apparently.

  106. TimN>

    Are you deliberately misunderstanding, or just distracted by whatever meeting you’re in?

    “If you mean “place where you intend to build a factory or structure of any kind” then it is very, very hard. To the point that only a lunatic would even think of it.”

    Now that’s just batshit insane. So you’re saying that no building anywhere has the site prepped before it’s constructed? Don’t be ridiculous.

    It’s not in the least bit hard to specify something like: concrete raft, this big, capable of supporting that load, attachment points yay and yon, utility tunnel here, and so-on.

    What you don’t do is specify how to build it, just the end product, because obviously sites may vary. That’s no different to how you specify site prep today, as I’m sure you know. A civil/geological/geotechnical engineering contractor will be told ‘here’s the site, here’s the requirements, get on with it’.

    “You have no idea what is involved in covering a “few acres” with anything.”

    No-one suggested doing so. Could you try sticking to what I actually write, rather than the things your invisible shoulder alien is whispering in your ear?

    The rest of your post is, consequentially, irrelevant babble, but it’s amusingly wrong anyway. Instead of talking bullshit, why not look things up and learn something new? I mean, seriously, concrete foundations and steel structures? It’s like you’ve not noticed that solar panels have already been put all over the place without doing that.

    If you have to utterly reject reality in order to make your argument, isn’t that a sign that you might have backed a losing horse?

  107. Now that’s just batshit insane. So you’re saying that no building anywhere has the site prepped before it’s constructed?

    No, I’m not.

    It’s not in the least bit hard to specify something like: concrete raft, this big, capable of supporting that load, attachment points yay and yon, utility tunnel here, and so-on.

    Yes. And to get to this standard would require very different works depending on where each site was located, and in most cases the standard you are applying would not be optimal for that particular site.

    What you don’t do is specify how to build it, just the end product, because obviously sites may vary.

    So you’ve already decided how much drainage is required? How big the culverts should be? And these will be the same for all locations. Yeah, that’ll work.

    That’s no different to how you specify site prep today, as I’m sure you know.

    Really?! And how many sites have you seen prepped in this way?

    A civil/geological/geotechnical engineering contractor will be told ‘here’s the site, here’s the requirements, get on with it’.

    Oh will he, now? You mean a civil engineering contractor will submit a price and agree a contract without so much as a topographical and geotechnical survey? Let’s hope the site which they assume is flat doesn’t turn out to be granite at 45 degrees, eh?

    Instead of talking bullshit, why not look things up and learn something new? I mean, seriously, concrete foundations and steel structures? It’s like you’ve not noticed that solar panels have already been put all over the place without doing that.

    They float in the air? Where are these solar panels which are not supported? Are these not supported by steel and concrete footings?

    If you have to utterly reject reality in order to make your argument, isn’t that a sign that you might have backed a losing horse?

    Says the chap who thinks factories can be standardised, robots can build them, and solar panel arrays don’t need supporting!

  108. Dave>

    I mean, seriously, concrete foundations and steel structures? It’s like you’ve not noticed that solar panels have already been put all over the place without doing that.

    All of the PV installed here (in Cyprus) have a concrete base and steel structure to support the panels. Otherwise they would surely wash/blow away…?

    Indeed, the ‘clever’ arrays that track the sun all day have mahoosive concrete bases to support the panels and all the movery bits….

    I suppose you could bolt a couple of PV panels to your roof structure but that isn’t going to cover a few acres is it…?

  109. Dave, you’re still talking bollocks.
    Since the 1960s chip transistor count has increased by a factor of one million, proportionally boosting computers’ speed and memory capacity. That’s the great engineering wonder of our time.
    But it has zero effect on solar panels, because they don’t benefit from enhanced transistor count.

  110. TN>

    Sorry, you’re doing that shoulder-alien thing again. No point discussing things if you can’t stick to what I’ve said rather than making stuff up.

    BiC>

    It was Tim Newman who said you’d need to cover a few acres. A couple of panels on the roof, or on top of a convenient nearby rock, or some such, is going to be a whole different kettle of fish.

    We’re not talking a solar farm here, after all, despite TN’s shoulder-alien telling him we are.

    More like this:

    http://i.ytimg.com/vi/0aQSrIrqZRg/maxresdefault.jpg

    (If the link doesn’t work, it’s a wooden a-frame with solar panels mounted on it. Maybe an hour’s work at most, and twenty quid’s worth of materials. Make it two hours if you dig some post holes.)

    JeremyT>

    Nope, you’ve got Moore’s law wrong. This stuff is so basic it’s even on the Wikipedia page.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law#History

    At the 1975 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting, Moore revised the forecast rate.

    Semiconductor complexity would continue to double annually until about 1980 after which it would decrease to a rate of doubling approximately every two years. He outlined several contributing factors for this exponential behavior:

    die sizes were increasing at an exponential rate and as defective densities decreased, chip manufacturers could work with larger areas without losing reduction yields
    – simultaneous evolution to finer minimum dimensions
    – and what Moore called “circuit and device cleverness”

    [,,,]

    Despite a popular misconception, Moore is adamant that he did not predict a doubling “every 18 months.” Rather, David House, an Intel colleague, had factored in the increasing performance of transistors to conclude that integrated circuits would double in performance every 18 months.

    (Emphasis added by me, if it hasn’t just completely screwed up the formatting.)

  111. Dave,

    “Anyway, as I’ve already said repeatedly, our discussion about possible problems doesn’t over-ride the fact that these vehicles exist, they’re out there on the roads right now driving around.”

    Two buses travelling 1.5 miles in a straight line. A bus in China that has a man behind a wheel, so not driverless, A vehicle in the Netherlands with remote control, so not driverless, something for Milton Keynes that is vapourware and an autonomous truck that seems to include a driver, so clearly not autonomous but semi-autonomous.

    Self-driving cars are at about the stage of being fragileware. It’s software that works as long as you ask the creators to devise the tests. It’s like when I’ve written proof-of-concept code. It works, but if you put things in wrong, it blows up. You then have to “bullet proof” it to work when people do all manner of stupid shit with it. I’d like to see a Google car on the Cat and Fiddle, or the roads up into the Sierra Nevada, rather than urban roads in Mountain View.

  112. Sorry, you’re doing that shoulder-alien thing again. No point discussing things if you can’t stick to what I’ve said rather than making stuff up.

    See those bits in italics? They’re your own words. 😉

  113. TN>

    Are you hard of reading, Tim? We’re specifically discussing an off-grid installation, remember?

    And I’m aware that you quoted various things I wrote that apparently triggered your shoulder-alien’s whisperings, but your replies bear no relation to what I actually said.

    Stig>

    You’re a bit too dismissive, given that each of the projects demonstrates at least part of the solution. But they’re clearly still pilot (sorry) projects.

    Things like the Mercedes S-Class and new Volvos, on the other hand, are out there on the roads in the hands of private buyers, and they are a decent part of the way towards being fully autonomous.

    There’s loads and loads of this stuff going on, lots of cars running around being tested and so-on. Really, this stuff’s going to be on the market within a few years, there’s no doubt about it.

  114. “As I’ve pointed out many times previously, making such a system reliable enough would likely be prohibitively expensive.”

    But we already have a system, human driver control, that ruinously expensive. At least 95% of accidents are due to driver error. We even manage to have accidents when all of the vehicles are going in the same direction.
    Last trip over there were two major incidents on the M25 within 5 miles of each other. One in each direction. Majors with multiple ambulances, fire engines, the lot. It’s four lane road. How do they manage it?
    I don’t think driverless will arrive all in one go. It’ll be a series of augmentations to human driven. A vehicle speed limiter has got to be coming. Not before time. Simply linking the GPS with the engine management system & a good database could do it. So now you can’t exceed the 30 limit. Or the 70.

    If a road management system knew the position & destination of vehicles it was managing, it could optimise road usage. That’s currently doable. if drivers stayed on the suggested GPS track.

  115. But we already have a system, human driver control, that ruinously expensive.

    Given most households can afford at least one car, I find this hard to believe. One control loop (detectors, PLC, and ESD valve) on an FPSO would buy you Porsche for the same price.

  116. but your replies bear no relation to what I actually said.

    Which is not true, as anyone reading the thread could attest. You simply don’t like me calling out your BS.

  117. It amuses me that my neighbouring farmers spent so much money (or rather the solar developers did) on firmly attaching their solar panels to the ground using steel piles driven several feet into the ground, or by building concrete pads to bolt them to, when in fact they could have saved a lot of time and money by getting a load of wooden pallets for free and attaching them to those.

    Least ways I think thats all Dave thinks a solar installation needs to be.

  118. Dave, it’s not theory, it’s fact, just look at the fucking graph I linked you to.
    All your other thoughts are equally misinformed.
    On the bright side, everybody here now knows that.

  119. “Standardisation is necessary for mass production, same as the cars robots are making now. Might as well be asking how a robot could select the right pieces of wood to make a car chassis.”

    All factories are unique because they are built in non-standard locations, using non-standard materials. Materials are the biggest cost, we use loosely-specified and non-standard materials because they are by far the cheapest. Low-cost human skills and experience get them to a close approximation of what the engineers designed. Cars are exactly the opposite, highly expensive materials, formerly put together by high-cost labour, doing highly-repetitive tasks, badly. Ideal candidate for automation.

    You have pretty much destroyed your own argument, but don’t seem to realise it. The lowest cost way to build a factory does involve, literally, selecting the right pieces of wood. I have a small army of carpenters doing form-work at the moment, because it is much, much lower cost than steel forms.

  120. Dave>

    It was Tim Newman who said you’d need to cover a few acres. A couple of panels on the roof, or on top of a convenient nearby rock, or some such, is going to be a whole different kettle of fish.

    We’re not talking a solar farm here, after all, despite TN’s shoulder-alien telling him we are.

    It was you that said they would become soooo cheap that you would be able to have them everywhere after I pointed out that even here (in sunny Cyprus) you can’t run a house on them without using fossil fuels for heating and cooking.

    You said they would be sooo cheap that you could use the energy to synthesise oil. A couple of panels on an old wooden frame aren’t going to produce much oil are they…?

  121. All factories are unique because they are built in non-standard locations, using non-standard materials. Materials are the biggest cost, we use loosely-specified and non-standard materials because they are by far the cheapest.

    What Dave is inadvertently arguing for is modular construction of everything, which is plain stupid. We in the oil business do a lot of modular construction, but only where we have to in places like the Arctic or in the middle of a desert where you cannot easily set up a labour camp, fabrication yards, etc. But it is very expensive and not good in terms of optimisation, operation, and maintenance. Wherever we can we stick-build, the reasons you state.

  122. (If the link doesn’t work, it’s a wooden a-frame with solar panels mounted on it. Maybe an hour’s work at most, and twenty quid’s worth of materials. Make it two hours if you dig some post holes.)

    Let’s hope the wind doesn’t blow, eh? Or are the solar panels supposed to be so cheap it doesn’t matter if they blow away across your neighbour’s fields?

    And if we’re going to knock up a wooden frame like this in an hour, I take it you’re not going to bother treating the wood? Just raw timber, knocked together with nails, placed on the grass. Now I think about it, I think I’d prefer the robots to be doing the construction over you. Even a Roombas.

  123. @Tim N

    I have never built in the arctic, or the desert, but I can see why modular construction there does make sense.

    In my world, contractors can go from design concept to a complete building with installed M&E ready for production equipment in 9-12 months. On the other hand, I have spent similar amounts of time getting robots to do one relatively simple task (e.g. case-packing) repeatedly and reliably, primarily because there is a surprisingly long list of variables they don’t deal with very well yet.

  124. BiC>

    “A couple of panels on an old wooden frame aren’t going to produce much oil are they…?”

    Er, run the numbers. When I did, assuming fairly conservative starting points, a few square metresis round and about enough to replace the petrol purchased by the average car driver. Roughly the size of a parking space, I’m sure you can make the leap here.

    According to the World Bank, average per cap energy usage in Cyprus is ~2000 koe (kg of oil equivalent), which works out to roughly 25kwh per year – for all purposes, including things like street lighting and so-on, not just domestically.

    A decent (conservative) estimate for the average output from a sq m of solar panel during daylight hours is 100w/sqm/hr. Call it ten hours of daylight a day on average, that’s 1kwh per day per sq m, or 3500kwh/sq m/year. So an 8-10 sq m installation to meet demand.

    Of course, that doesn’t factor in conversion losses – but then I’m not sure the starting figure isn’t input rather than consumption. Guesstimate 50% efficiency for synthesising oil/gas where necessary, and you’re still only looking at 20sq m to provide a person’s entire energy usage. Most houses have that kind of roof area.

    Rob W>

    Yes, you’re reinforcing my point that to automate production of something you have to standardise it, with concomitant costs. It’s a function of the labour price and the materials price.

    TN>

    It’s hardly inadvertent given that was the starting point here. I still can’t grasp why you think all human development has come to an end.

    “We in the oil business do a lot of modular construction”

    I don’t think studying for an NVQ in digger-driving at the local poly actually makes you ‘in the oil business’.

  125. Dave>

    That is bollocks mate!

    Current electricity consumption in Cyprus (right this minute) is 564MW. We get 22MW from wind as part of that so call it 542MW that you would have to generate from PV.

    Using 100W per sq/m – which you certainly DON’T get for 10 hours a day! – you’d need over 5,000sq/Km of panels just to meet the daytime demand… That is without air conditioning (as it is November and fairly cool today).

    And that excludes all transport and most heating…

  126. I still can’t grasp why you think all human development has come to an end.

    What were you saying about making up stuff, again?

    I don’t think studying for an NVQ in digger-driving at the local poly actually makes you ‘in the oil business’.

    Indeed it doesn’t. This CV does, though.

  127. When I did, assuming fairly conservative starting points, a few square metresis round and about enough to replace the petrol purchased by the average car driver.

    Fuck me. Petrol is renowned for having incredibly high energy density, and you think that this can be replaced by a few sqm of sunlight? Really, you think a tankful of petrol coming up in flames releases similar energy to the sunlight that falls on a patio?

  128. What’s the maximum power we can generate on the planet without the inherent thermal waste heating us above 40C?

    Limitless energy is necessarily impossible.

  129. I can’t be arsed replying anymore. You automate to take out expensive labour and improve productivity: To increase reliability and repeatability where this is important. Where labour is not important to the total cost, you don’t automate. You cost optimise the most important factors: In buildings, that’s the materials.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *