The Operating Room of the Future

In my lectures on the future of media technology, I stress the moral imperative to reject invasive entertainment hardware (yes, it’s coming). Ethical entertainment technology is physically non-invasive technology. Here’s a company working on non-invasive medical technology that is almost ready for prime-time.  

The Holodeck On Your Head: A Virtual Media Studio

I was asked to give the Closing Keynote for the 2013 Audio Engineering Conference this week at Javits in NYC. The convention drew over 18,000 attendees. For my topic I selected “The Future of Audio Production 2020-2050”. Added:  CNET reported here. I spoke about the demise of “physical” post-production. The lecture was accompanied by around forty proprietary research graphs, not included here. By 2050, perhaps even as early as 2030, I showed (with extensive data) that most media post-production will be performed in virtuality, where every functional piece of equipment — every knob, fader, switch, and patch point — will be visible and controllable entirely in virtual space. This paradigm will encompass film editing, sound and music editing, game production, mixing, mastering, and just about any type of aural-visual post-production and delivery. By 2040, we’ll have mostly abandoned the mouse. Physical touchscreens will be largely obsolete. There will be far fewer physical media objects — such as external audio monitors, keyboards, trackballs, personal desktop video monitors, and so forth. Save for a quiet room, a comfortable chair, and innocuous motion trackers, the physical “production studio” will largely be a thing of the past. Certainly, a number of “legacy hardware rooms” will still exist, but they will be dying curiosities. Bottom line: we have moved from a desktop-culture to a hand-held culture, and now we are moving from a hand-held culture to a head-worn culture. Physicality will be replaced with increasingly sophisticated head worn immersion devices. Most of these basic changes will be well in place by 2035. And by 2050, head-worn audio and visual fully-spherical realism will be nearly indistinguishable from real-space. Audio will be mixed for a true three-dimensional sound space (in fact, we are doing this now). Visual production will require three axes of reality (also happening today). During this transition, perhaps the only remaining piece of CEH (clunky external hardware) will be sub-woofers, which cannot be emulated with a headworn device. By 2025, today’s emerging object-oriented 3D audio environments (Atmos, Neo, Auro, etc.) will be commodity delivery formats. By 2025-2030, head motion tracking and hand gestural tracking will also be inexpensive, matured commodities. A single desktop computer in 2050 will be equivalent to roughly 10 billion human brains working in parallel, so media processing power is no longer a bottleneck. The 2050 Internet will be hosting roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bits of data, per second (10 sextillion bits/s). Production and post-production studios of 2030-2040 will give us our familiar working tools:  mixing consoles, outboard equipment, patch bays, audio and visual monitors … or their real space DAW equivalents. The difference is that all of this “equipment” will live in virtual space. When we don our VR headgear, anything we require for media production is there “in front of us” with lifelike realism. It’s a Holodeck on your head. Headworn reality. Matured gestural control (2030-2035) allows us to reach out and control anything in the production chain. Efficiency will be improved with scalable depth-of-field. Haptic touch (emulated physical feedback) will add an extra layer of realism (2030-2040), but it’s probably not necessary for media production emulation. Anything in the virtual room can be changed with one voice or gestural command. Don’t like the sound of that Neve 8086 console? Install the Beatles EMI Abbey Road console. A ten second operation. But why stop there? Let’s dream bigger. Call up a complete AI symphony orchestra that fills your immersive vision stage. Call up a great concert hall (let’s try the Concertgebouw. Hmm, that’s a little too swimmy. Let’s try Boston Symphony Hall). Add a 200 voice choir. Add Yo Yo Ma soloing with his carbon fiber cello. You’re there in front, conducting and refining the orchestra with gestural and voice commands, making refinements to the score and performance, until it becomes exactly as you want it. We achieve a complete Virtual Audio Workstation, or more precisely a Virtual Media Workstation which can be tailored to fit any creative production goal. The future of audio, music, film making, game design, TV, industrial apps  —  any creative media construction, from inception to post-production — becomes truly boundless and limited only to our imagination. Personally, I dream about being able to think of music directly into a recording system:  a non-invasive brain-machine interface. It turns out that this dream is moving from science fiction to reality (link, link, link). And if we assume a two-year doubling period for cortex sensing resolution, by the early 22nd century our non-invasive brain interfaces will be about 20 orders of magnitude more powerful than today. But will that give us the ability to think music and visual art directly into our computers? Or does it simply blur the line between our brains and our computers, so that the entire paradigm of augmented thinking and collective knowledge is radically shifted? At that point … when we have billions of devices globally networked, and each device is trillions of times smarter than the combined intelligence of all humanity … what will our species become? What will our collective thought processes look like? Personally, I think these kinds of paradigm-shifting social questions are coming sooner than we may realize. And I think there’s both great promise and great risk with the technologies that are emerging. Or as my wife reminds me before my lectures, teach them that the heart is always more important than our technology. Or as Bryan Stevenson said, “we will not be judged by our technology, intellect, or reason. Ultimately, the character of a society will be judged not by how they treat the powerful, but by how they treat the poor.” Nevertheless, somewhere in the future, we will create human-to-machine interfaces that respond and adapt directly to our personal imagery and creative ideas; so that one day just about anything we can imagine will become our art. Millennia Media,  

Updated: Thirty-Year Solar PV Forecast

Since writing my original long-term PV forecast, I’ve been doing additional research into PV futures and technology trends, along with reviewing analysis from both large mfrs-utilities and smaller advocacy groups. Allow me to update my forecast: By 2042, small photovoltaic (PV) electricity systems will cost less than $0.90/watt, installed and commissioned, which is equivalent to $0.02/kwh to $0.05/kwh, depending on geographic location. All costs expressed in 2012 dollars. All per-watt prices expressed as DC nameplate rating of panel or inverter. All “kwh” expressed as AC at the meter, after 0.73 derating from DC nameplate rating, shown as an annual average from a fixed-mount pointing south. Assuming 25-year warranted system life with 20% end-of-life PV panel derating. There is evidence that end-of-life performance will improve with newer generation panels, but this is not factored into my forecast. Moreover, most “25 year” systems will remain in operation much longer, making PV less expensive than this forecast. … Over the last 30 years, solar cell technology has halved its price-per-watt roughly every 7-8 years. Today, more capital than ever is being poured into PV research on all levels – academia, industry, government. Because of this and other strong market forces and indicators, it seems a reasonable assumption that PV technology will more or less follow its historical 30 year price trajectory into the next 30 years. If anything, affordability should accelerate. To keep a conservative forecast, I am assuming that PV panel price will halve every 12 years (not the historical 7 years) for the next 30 years, until reaching  a minimum cost-to-produce+profit of silicon, aluminum, glass. This gives us commodity solar panels at roughly $0.20/watt by 2042. Today, DC-AC central inversion is roughly 50 cents-per-watt. The preferred DC-AC micro inversion technology is around 80 cents-per-watt with 25 year warranty. Texas Instruments (et al) are moving towards total integration of micro-inversion components, leaving just a few externals. And those externals (filters, flybacks, caps, switching transistors, etc.) are being life-optimized and scaled. As more major players move into the micro-inv business (China, Korea, India, etc.), look for a continuous drop in price per watt. Being very familiar with power supply design and high efficiency manufacturing, I have a high confidence that integration and scaling will push installed micro inversion to under $0.20/watt by 2042 (if not far sooner, perhaps 2025-2030). Energy Secretary Steven Chu is forecasting central inversion at $0.10/watt. Commodity crystalline PV efficiency is around 15-16% today. PV research labs (Sharp, First Solar, etc.) have proven manufacturable efficiencies beyond 40%, but lab results have historically migrated slowly into real-world manufacturing. Historical 30-year PV efficiency has improved roughly 3% per year (1.03x per yr). To remain conservative, let’s assume that PV efficiencies will improve at just 2% per year over the next 30 years (keep in mind that, when looking at total PV system costs, “efficiency” is not nearly as important as cost-per-watt). A 2% per-year PV efficiency improvement gives us 30% efficient panels by 2042, effectively halving the number of physical panels and mounting structures required per site — lowering freight, installation, and job management costs to roughly $0.50/watt. For new construction and re-roof jobs, new generations of “integrated thin-film solar roofing” will bring combined costs down even further, while solar permit processes become more streamlined (my solar permit app was about 12 pages plus formally drawn plan set – Germany’s solar permit app is 2 pages + simple written description). Innovative PV leasing and financing will continue to grow, allowing solar power installation with zero customer investment. And if a business or homeowner self-contracts (far simpler in 2030-2040), installation cost drops even more. By 2042, this conservative forecast gives us: Panels: $0.20/watt Micro-Inversion: $0.20/watt Install, Mgmt, Profit: $0.50/watt Installed grid-tied PV systems at $0.90/watt puts us around $0.02/kwh in high sun areas (Las Vegas-Phoenix) and $0.05/kwh in weak solar areas (Seattle-Fairbanks) — all without rebates or other incentives. By 2042, the median U.S. cost to generate PV electricity becomes $0.035/kwh, which is roughly 1/3 the median U.S. rate of utility-delivered power. My research shows that U.S. coal-gas electric generation plants must sell electricity to the grid at roughly $0.06/kwh to remain profitable. The slope of this forecast suggests that median U.S. PV electricity may become cheaper to generate than median fossil electricity starting around 2030. Our remaining “night time and cloudy day” electricity will be increasingly on-grid from other renewable sources, such as hydro, wind, geothermal, marine, biomass, compressed air batteries, “common dirt” batteries, nano-batteries, vanadium redox batteries, vortex engines, infrared nano-thermal, atmospheric differential, 24-hour PV hybrids, hydrogen, solar funnels, efficient catalyzers, and so forth. And I’m confident that surprisingly new and disruptive energy generation and storage technologies will enter the picture over the next 30 years – technologies we cannot yet imagine! This historic and dramatic disconnect of electrical energy from fossils will change significantly the “power-utility company” model we know today. By 2042, on-site PV will no longer be receiving incentives, but will be paying a grid-use tax (grid maintenance tariff). The “grid dynamics” of renewable energy will require significant structural changes to the grid itself — no small challenge as power generation becomes increasingly distributed. By 2050-2060, the widespread economic shift to PV (et al) will likely leave fossil-nuke plants producing less than 40% of U.S. electricity (down from 85% today). And by 2070-2080, most of the industrialized world will be generating well over 80% of its electricity from renewable sources. Germany is now predicting 100% renewable by 2050, and California is mandating 33% renewable electricity by 2020 (realistically, I think California will achieve around 25% by 2020). In 2012, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) accounted for 46% of new electrical generating capacity installed in the USA. Very good news! Simplified graphs of my forecast: … Now the bad news. Cheap, clean, renewable electricity does NOT mean we will solve our energy problem by 2040-2060 (For reasons too lengthy for this post, I’m calling 2040-2060 “the hump”). The majority of world transportation is expected to run on fossil oil through 2040-2050. Fully 1/3 of U.S. energy demand is sourced from oil. One forecast puts 2032 as the year when hybrids+EVs outsell pure internal combustion automobiles, but globally there will still be over one-billion petrol-based vehicles and apps (cars, trucks, engines, aircraft, mfg stock, military, agriculture, derivative, etc.). Fossil oil demand has more or less peaked in the Western world. Exxon predicts that U.S. oil demand will drop 15% (20M b/d to 17M b/d) by 2040. On the other hand, the non-OECD industrializing world (India, China, etc.) is predicted to nearly double its oil demand over the next three decades, requiring an increase of worldwide oil production from 90M b/d to nearly 120M b/d by 2040. (It’s been noted that increased U.S. immigration could also spark a new population boom, re-kindling U.S. oil demand into 2040.) Many energy researchers (myself included) are not convinced that world oil production can (affordably) supply 120M b/d. As world oil demand ramps up, it’s not clear that emerging economies can support healthy economic growth while paying $150-200/bbl for oil (in 2012 dollars). Global industrialization occurred thanks to cheap, abundant oil ($20/bbl throughout most of the 20th century). Increasingly expensive oil will likely lead to growing economic stagnation and increasingly crippling global boom-bust cycles. A wild-card in our energy future is natural gas. Gas provides 1/4 of total U.S. energy demand. Fracking (etc.) is opening up vast new U.S. gas resources. How much is there? Estimates vary, but it could be significant enough to provide relatively cheap local NG for decades, especially as PV and other renewables displace NG-generated electricity. Any long-term energy forecast should allow for lower cost gas to assume some of oil’s historical roles (vehicle fuel, feed stock, etc.). On the other hand, large U.S. LNG export ports now being built will force U.S. NG to compete on a global market, pushing prices up to global parity. My gut sense is that, in the long term, cheaper North American NG will help offset U.S. oil demand, but will have little impact on a global scale. Energy giant Sasol is building a massive $20B NG-to-oil conversion plant (100,000 b/d) in Louisiana, betting that gas prices will stay low, and oil prices will keep rising. This project is the “…largest foreign manufacturing investment in the history of the United States.” I personally see North America becoming free from most OPEC oil by 2040, but domestic independence does not solve oil demand and depletion on a global level. Our domestic economy is inexorably linked to the global economy, and I suggest that oil will remain the #1 impediment to global growth for the next half century. … Looking past this conservative forecast, it’s my hope that PV achieves “median global grid parity” far sooner – say 2025 – and that the accelerating move to PV electricity will be a strong market signal towards rapidly prioritized electric mobility and storage research. Given the power of economics to change historical momenta, I would not be surprised to see pure electric vehicles by 2042 that outperform IC vehicles in every metric, including life-cost and range, with short charge times. For those requiring “fast fill” I would not be surprised to see the average 2042 “plug-in hybrid sedan” approaching 100 MPG, nor would I be surprised to see pure EVs with a small “emergency” fossil engine. … (Often overlooked in these discussions is the true social and environmental costs of carbon-based power. The complete cost of fossil energy is higher than its raw extraction and generation costs, even before considering any nightmarish greenhouse gas scenario. Depending on who you read, the social cost of atmospheric carbon is anywhere from $2 to $250 per ton. Let’s use the current U.S. Government estimate of $21/ton. We know that coal creates 2.1 pounds of CO2 per kwh. At $21/ton, coal’s social cost becomes $0.02/kwh. A growing number researchers say this cost should be closer to  

Solvay 1927

More or less the foundation of all contemporary physics (click to enlarge): Einstein, Schrodinger, Pauli, Heisenberg, Debye, Dirac, de Broglie, Bohr, Planck, Mme Curie, Lorentz, Wilson. Is it just me, or do Pauli and Heisenberg look like they’re ready to go pubbing for some Belgian Ale? The only female in this group, Mme Curie was the first woman to win the Nobel prize, the only woman ever to win a Nobel in two categories (Physics & Chemistry), and the only person ever to win in multiple sciences. She was the first female professor at Sorbonne and the only woman to be entombed on her own merits at the Pantheon. She coined a number of common scientific terms (“radiation” etc.), established the first military field radiological centers, and somehow found time to raise a family, teaching her daughters their native Polish and making frequent trips to Poland. Among the elements she discovered, the first she called “polonium” after her native Poland. From Wikipedia: She was known for her honesty and moderate life style. Having received a small scholarship in 1893, she returned it in 1897 as soon as she begun earning her keep. She gave much of her first Nobel Prize money to friends, family, students and research associates. In an unusual decision, Marie intentionally refrained from patenting the radium-isolation process, so that the scientific community could do research unhindered. She insisted that monetary gifts and awards were given to the scientific institutions she was affiliated with, rather than herself. She and her husband often refused awards and medals. Albert Einstein remarked that she was probably the only person who was not corrupted by the fame that she had  

CES 2012 Innovation Award

The Consumer Electronics Show is the largest convention in the USA (140,000 visitors, 3,100 exhibitors, 1.4 million square feet). This week, we learned that our latest generation SafePlug invention won the top award of the show:  “Best Innovation of 2012” in the Home Systems category. Want to know more? View my TED Talk which describes the technology. The TED Talk has been translated into 25 languages, has over 300,000 views, and has been featured in Scientific American, Fast Company, and dozens of other  

A National Strategic Narrative

I attended a conference last year called PopTech in Camden Maine. Couldn’t go this year, but did have a chance to watch some of the live feed. One of the presentations featured Naval Captain Wayne Porter and Marine Col. Mark Mykleby — military strategists working at the highest level of government. Together, they present highlights from their paper, “A National Strategic Narrative.” Their ideas ” less military force, more social capital and more sustainable energy practices ” have caused a stir in policy communities. Their proposal is one of transition away from some old policy ideas that no longer apply in the Google age.They want to move the nation towards an open system that seeks equilibrium in an interdependent global ecology; to move the idea of national security from containment to sustainability: from theories of control to theories of credible influence; from power to narrative: a national strategic story that doesn’t “hold the jello” quite so tight; towards a citizenry that demands purposeful participation. They rightly point out that government can only reflect the values that its citizens embody and that competition cannot be a zero-sum game in a deeply interdependent world. They focus on three issues they believe to be the highest social priorities to maintain a healthy nation moving forward. 1.) Education 2.) Security 3.) Energy I would personally put energy at the top, for without cheap, concentrated energy, access to education will erode as our economy weakens. Their brilliant talk concludes that we, as a nation, are moving towards polarizing ideologies that offer little more than divisive ultimata. Porter and Mykleby insist that we need a collective narrative that takes us beyond today’s ideologies; that will inform our skill, knowledge, and ultimately our technologies. Please invest 21 minutes in this important  

This Present Future

My friend Richard Thieme gives the closing keynote address at the 2011 ECOMM conference in San Francisco. In this talk, he artfully summarizes and integrates the “meta-themes” presented during the prior three days of the show. ECOMM, a 400-person invite-only conference, explores the dissolving boundaries of Telecom, IT and media industries. The balance of power between producers and consumers is shifting and the economics of “value creation” is being transformed. These shifts are being enabled by the “communications industry” itself, accelerating myriad new forms of dynamic interaction and defining a new epoch. The result is that new uncontested spaces for innovation are emerging. How we relate to the world around us, and the connectedness of humanity are all at stake. Richard, a former Episcopal priest, global security authority, and one of the deepest multi-disciplinary thinkers I know, masterfully summarizes a larger picture of emerging interactivity, modularity, and fluidity. His juxtaposition of techno-fascism vs. human empathy is stunning (29:15 – 33:00). “People often describe me as a futurist. But I’m not a futurist. The future is an artificial construct local to individual cultures. What I try to do is describe the present. But so many people live in the past that, to them, I sound like a futurist.” – Richard  

Consent of the Networked

Excellent TEDTalk by Rebecca MacKinnon on keeping the Internet free from corporate and political sub-interests. MacKinnon argues that the Magna Carta was a breakthrough in limiting the power of kings, followed by a radical experiment called “consent of the governed” in America’s founding. She argues convincingly that it’s time for a third paradigm shift she calls Consent of the Networked. She shows how no country is immune from using its policing powers to stifle speech it considers inappropriate to its “national interests.” She extends her arguments to U.S. corporations which effectively gate-keep today’s Internet (Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.). Without certain essential unalienable virtual freedoms, the Internet becomes a tool of control rather than a tool of liberation from control. MacKinnon has given a powerful, prophetic TEDTalk. Humanity moving forward will be shaped largely by our degree of freedom in  

Ann vs. Darren

I’ve been watching lectures and Q&A from the 2006 Beyond Belief conference. Highly recommended. One short exchange between Darren Schriber and Ann Druyan really caught my attention. You might remember Ann as Carl Sagan’s biographer. Darren employs a personal religious experience as a platform to make some larger points in the religion-science conversation. Ann’s reply is nothing short of brilliant. This video has just 3,000 hits in four years on YouTube? Maybe we could add a cat playing the piano, or a baby biting Ann’s finger? More people should view this, as it speaks to heart of fundamentalism, reductionism, and