> So we redefine the desirable targets. For the past forty years, the
> developed world hasn't been obsessed with what people need (food, shelter,
> antibiotics, transport) but with what they want (holidays in Thailand,
> cheap restaurant meals, home computers).
You need the holidays in Thailand to recover from our fast information driven society. Since the information flow is only going to go up (along with the pressure to process it), there would seem to be an increasing requirement for information processing "agents" and bandwidth "augmentation" strategies (As I recall, Alexander and Anders commented on these at the Extro3 conference which seems like it occured in the "slow time" era, even though it was only 2 years ago.
> It's quite possible that in a few decades the west's
> raw materials and energy consumption will resemble that of the third
> world in the 1960's ... except that those figures will be deceptive,
> concealing smart materials and high-efficiency propulsion technology
> that let us do an order of magnitude more with an order of magnitude
This seems to be true, the steel manfacturers haven't built a big blast furnace to turn iron ore into steel in many years because they can produce enough with the existing furnaces and by recycling the old steel. As my individual steel use decreases (because there is less of it in each car), the reuse of past production combined with a low level of new production are able to provide the raw materials for growing third world economies. So my decreased use of steel ends up allowing the biggest buildings to be built in S.E. Asia.
As with steel, we will eventually build up the per capita pool of refined aluminum so raw production capacity does not need to increase. This may even be true now. Eventually we will get to the carbon (diamond/fullerene age) and I'll be able to grow my own raw materials.
Most people are unaware that the cost of solar power is coming down and is starting to be cost effective for many people. If the government wasn't de-monopolizing the power distribution industry (allowing the cheapest producers to sell to you), then this trend would be clearer. Even with the competition, personal solar power will become an affordable reality probably sometime between 2010-2020. That will gut the power-production industry.
If the biotech and/or nanotech industries get organized enough, it seems feasible to develop personal solar powered food "synthesizers" [convert sunlight --> glucose] (perhaps by 2015). That would allow us to get our net power conversion efficiency (from the sun to our brain), up from something like < 1% to perhaps 10-20%. This will take a big chunk out of the agricultural industry. [Because the surface are of most homes collects enough power to run your body -- solar power is several hundred watts per meter^2 (after all the losses) while humans are only ~100 watt machines.] If the anti-gene-engineered crop outcry is loud now, wait until people figure out that you really don't need the crops at all!