[extropy-chat] A Grim Vision ...?

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sun Apr 15 18:10:08 UTC 2007

At 10:52 AM 4/15/2007 -0400, Robert wrote:

>On 4/15/07, Keith Henson <<mailto:hkhenson at rogers.com>hkhenson at rogers.com> 
>>You *can't* grow food in a "relatively sealed greenhouse."  Think about it.
>Ok, yes, one has the problem of adding the CO2, releasing the O2 and 
>retaining the H2O, *but* they have different condensation temperatures and 
>it isn't as if we don't know how to do this type of separation.

Condensing gases is an energy expensive process.  Google finds 376,000 for 
CO2 separation amine.  This process is how they scrub CO2 out the air in 
nuclear subs (I ran into it working on space colony designs back in the mid 
70s).  It is widely used in purifying hydrogen made from methane or 
coal.  But besides gas exchange problems, consider how "greenhouse effect" 
got its name.  The *outside* temperature in Saudi Arabia might be 130 
degrees F.  Think about how hot it gets inside a parked car in the summer 
and you will get an idea of how hard it would be to seal up a 
greenhouse.  You could also look up the power bills for cooling Biosphere II.

>>Shortly after you have this much ability to design living things, I expect
>>you could just run humans (or simulations) directly on electricity.
>That design  capability is much closer than you think Keith.  We've 
>got  ~33 years of experience engineering microorganisms (since the 
>first  genetic engineering labs were built in the mid-70s).  The 
>blueprints have been in the databases for  nearly a decade (since the late 
>'90s).  You've got at least two companies now (Codon Devices & Synthetic 
>Genomics) working on providing robust technologies in these areas to "end 
>users" at an affordable cost.  The photosynthetic systems and starch 
>production systems are well understood biochemical systems.

Even granting you "well understood," I don't think we are close to being 
able to design a synthetic algae that would be an acceptable food for 
humans.  But even if we could, how are you going to prevent the tanks from 
being infected with wild type algae and bacteria?  People have *died* from 
eating even relatively non-toxic algae.  (I forget why, too much RNA or 

>We do *not* yet have the blueprints or electric eels (or even sharks which 
>are capable of sensing minute electric currents).  Running humans as sims 
>on electricity requires the development of mind uploading or the synthesis 
>of a full AI and I'd put those at least 20, more likely 30 years, post the 
>first concrete example of a completely synthetic bacteria (we are several 
>years into the era of completely synthetic viruses).
>Now whether the Saudis would get their future planning together to 
>engineer something like this isn't clear.  I'd place greater probability 
>on something like this being developed in the UAE, esp. Dubai since they 
>seem to be the most forward thinking.

It seems most unlikely to me that rich Arabs are going to even going 
consider growing algae paste for human consumption--at least not their own.


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