Cold Fusion and the Future
Part 2 - A Look at Economics and Society
(Originally Published March-June,
1997 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #13-#14)
by Jed Rothwell
cont'd from page 1.
The smallest of the top thirty-five is
YPF Sociedad Anonima. It earns $5 billion per year, it has 9,000
employees, and it is the largest company in Argentina. Total revenue
for the six listed here is $361 billion, compared to $463 billion
for six representative automotive and computer companies. Beyond
the top thirty-five there are hundreds of smaller oil companies,
and thousands of companies that sell drilling equipment, pipelines,
gasoline delivery trucks, gas station pumps and countless other
goods and services.
The collapse of oil, coal and electric power companies
over ten to twenty years could plunge whole nations into chaos.
Even the rumor that they are likely to collapse could cause a major
stock market crash. I believe these catastrophes can be avoided
by enlightened planning, and cooperation between business and government.
We must have social welfare. We must have retraining and rapid investment
in new industries spawned by cold fusion. Some of the moneys you
save not buying gas you will have to contribute help the unemployed,
until society has adjusted to the changes. The Federal government
will probably be forced to bail out defunct oil company pension
funds. It bailed out railroad pension funds in 1933 for similar
reasons. Automobiles reduced rail passenger traffic. The railroads
could no longer support the huge base of retired employees. Government
had a responsibility to help because it was building roads, which
promoted the use of automobiles. Cold fusion will call for massive
economic restructuring on the scale of the reunification of Germany,
with the same moral imperatives. The Germans had to proceed whatever
the cost--not reunifying would have been unthinkable. The nation
had a moral obligation to help the former East Germans, and everyone
understood that in the long run the benefits would outweigh the
problems. The same can be said of cold fusion: everyone knows that
people are dying for lack of energy and that pollution is a scourge.
Whatever the social cost may be, not adapting cold fusion would
Will the "Men in Black" Stop Cold Fusion?
Many people believe that the establishment and
powerful vested interests like OPEC and Exxon will prevent the introduction
of cold fusion. People say that if a cold fusion prototype engine
is ever demonstrated in public, powerful organizations will conspire
to send "Men in Black" to kill the inventor and suppress all knowledge
of the machine. Something like this may have happened to the Farnsworth
Fusor, the last invention of Philo T. Farnsworth, one of America's
greatest scientists.23 There has been unrelenting opposition
to cold fusion by bureaucrats at the DOE, MITI and EPRI. The Patent
Office refuses to grant patents for most cold fusion devices, citing
as evidence popular press reports from 1989. Academic scientists,
especially rivals in the hot fusion program, have attacked cold
fusion with dirty tricks, planted newspaper stories, fake data,
ridicule, and threats. They have fired scientists and barred senior
scientists from the lab, forcing them to work as stock clerks. Cold
fusion has been repeatedly ridiculed and attacked by leading science
journals like Nature and Scientific American, and
by major newspapers in the U.S., particularly the Washington
Post and the New York Times. Despite all this, I do not
think the establishment has held back cold fusion much, and I do
not think it can stop it. Establishments are overrated. In a democratic,
capitalistic society, an established corporation or government agency
has little permanent power. Cold fusion has been held back mainly
because of the stupidity and self-destructive behavior of the scientists
who are working on it. Years ago they could have demonstrated the
effect, sold prototype devices, and engaged in an effective public
relations campaign. Had they done so, we would have prototype cold
fusion automobiles by now, and the pioneering inventors would be
multimillionaires. They complain they have no funding, yet they
are sitting on a commodity worth billions of dollars. A typical
cold fusion inventor acts like a paranoid old miser who refuses
to leave his house. He huddles protectively over a chest of gold
while he starves to death. He has only himself to blame for his
The attacks on cold fusion should not be taken personally.
They have no special significance. The establishment usually rejects
innovation out of hand. It attacks correct ideas, incorrect ones,
big ones, little ones, and many that do not seem controversial in
retrospect. When someone suggested that the newly invented zipper
might be used to close the fly on men's trousers, the idea was met
with gales of laughter and derision. The establishment not only
rejects innovation, it usually belittles and underestimates it.
In 1979, I was working for a mainframe computer manufacturer. I
suggested that the newly invented microprocessor might eventually
hurt business. The management of the company thought the idea was
ridiculous. So did the management at IBM, DEC, Data General and
all of the other established computer companies. IBM was finally
goaded into making a personal computer in 1980. It expected to sell
200,000 machines during the life of the product. This is the Achilles
heel of the establishment: it will not take a threat seriously until
it is too late. By the time the DOE and OPEC realize they are doomed,
cold fusion will be unstoppable. Consumers will demand it. General
Motors, Ford and Toyota will invest hundreds of millions in crash
development projects to commercialize it. Cold fusion has powerful
enemies, but it will have powerful friends, too.
Vested interests and established companies begin by
attacking. When it becomes apparent that a new invention cannot
be stopped, they switch sides and praise it. They may jump on the
bandwagon and sell it, the way IBM sold personal computers. They
may attack or co-opt innovation, but they cannot bring themselves
to fear it. This is their second great weakness. Fear is the essential
motivation in business. Long after Compaq and others began seriously
hurting IBM's market share, IBM executives still belittled and ignored
these upstart companies. They treated Microsoft in a condescending
manner. They thought they had nothing to learn from the upstarts,
and nothing to fear from them.24
The third great weakness of an establishment is failure
of imagination. Powerful people cannot envisage a world in which
the rules have changed and they stand to lose everything. Even when
they are confronted with compelling evidence of grave danger, they
cannot bring themselves to believe it. Sometimes they cannot even
see it. They invent fantastic reasons to dismiss it. They acknowledge
a trend but they imagine it will never continue long enough to hurt
them. The keynote speaker in the 1908 annual meeting of the National
Association of Carriage Builders said:
Eighty-five percent of the horse-drawn
vehicle industry of the country is untouched by the automobile.
In proof of the foregoing permit me to say that in 1906 - 7, and
coincident with an enormous demand for automobiles, the demand
for buggies reached the highest tide of its history. The man who
predicts the downfall of the automobile is a fool; the man who
denies its great necessity and general adoption for many uses
is a bigger fool; and the man who predicts the general annihilation
of the horse and his vehicle is the greatest fool of all. 25
Imagine you have cornered this speaker after he steps
down from the dais. You ask: "Why do you say that? What will stop
automobiles from replacing horses? What are the trends? Is there
a fuel shortage? Are automobiles becoming more expensive?" He would
not be able to give satisfactory answers. He would have no logical
basis for his beliefs. History and technology were moving at a rapid
pace in 1908. Electric lights, telephones, record players, the X-ray
and many other inventions had recently been introduced. Belief in
the benefits of progress was universal. Inventors like Edison and
Bell were heroes, and that autumn the Wrights would become international
media stars. The speaker was ignoring history and popular culture.
He was kidding himself because he did not want to face the fact
that his industry was obsolete and he would soon be out of a job.
The buggy manufacturers were never a threat to automobiles. Neither
were the railroads, even though in the 19th century they were the
most powerful industry in the country. IBM never tried to stop microcomputers.
In any event, what could it have done?
A scientist once told me that even if cold fusion
is real we will still need oil because "it takes oil to run the
equipment to mine palladium." It did not occur to her that if automobiles
will run on cold fusion, so will the digging engines in the palladium
mines. Nor did she realize that it takes only a tiny amount of palladium
to sustain a cold fusion reaction. We are not substituting palladium
ore for coal; you do not need to mine tons of palladium every year
for each customer. Any scientist should know this. Top oil company
executives told Hal Puthoff they would not mind losing the energy
portion of their business to cold fusion because oil is worth more
as feedstock than fuel. It never occurred to them that with zero
cost, unlimited energy customers will synthesize petrochemicals
from air and water. This will be safer and cheaper than buying natural
oil. They should have realized that! These men are petroleum experts.
They understand pricing, markets, customer requirements, safety,
petroleum chemistry. I know little about these subjects, but the
moment I considered the problem I realized that synthetic oil would
have many advantages in a cold fusion economy. It is common knowledge
that the Germans synthesized oil from coal on a large scale during
the Second World War. I assumed that oil can be synthesized from
other sources of carbon. I asked some experts and they quickly confirmed
my assumption. The point is, I am nothing special. Any businessman
or Wall Street stock analyst would realize this. The oil company
executives have the most knowledge, they are the best placed to
understand synthesis, and it would affect them more than anyone
else, yet they do not see it. Perhaps they cannot bear to think
The people at IBM and Data General who pooh-poohed
the microcomputers were not fools. They were experts. In 1978 they
knew more about every aspect of computers than beginners like Bill
Gates or Steve Jobs did. The IBM people had vast experience in marketing
computers. They had prestige, and millions of satisfied customers.
They had billions of dollars at a time when Jobs financed his venture
by selling a used Volkswagen. If they had allocated one percent
of their research and marketing budgets to personal computers, they
could have crushed Gates and the others. Today they would own the
business. But they would have cannibalized their own mainframe and
microcomputer business. They could not bring themselves to do that
until it was too late. They forgot that it is better to cannibalize
your own market than to let the competition do it to you. If the
executives at Exxon or Penzoil would look at the overwhelming experimental
evidence for cold fusion, wake up, and act like rational businessmen,
they would realize this is life or death. They would launch crash
development projects. They would sell cold fusion motors and license
the technology. They would even sell self-contained oil synthesis
plants. With their expertise in petroleum refining they could shut
the other chemical companies out of that business. They would put
themselves out of business and stage a rebirth in a new line of
Established industries seldom reinvent themselves.
People never seem to learn from history. Perhaps the keynote speaker
at the Association of Carriage Builders was a jolly good fellow
who knew nothing about internal combustion engines or high technology.
But in 1925, ocean liner executives and ship captains were experts
in these subjects, yet they published statements like this:26
We have long known that mechanically,
the Atlantic flight is perfectly feasible. It is not any misgiving
as to the machine which causes people to hold their breath when
a man, or men, jumps off into the blue, with no possibility of
landing under at least a thousand leagues. It is doubts as to
their ability to counter those factors, any of which may entirely
neutralize the perfection of the machine. Chief amongst these
are the weather and the problem of human endurance. . . . [Even
if these should be overcome] the simple truth is that aerial transport
can never be made to pay. It can only be run on a scale of charges,
which, compared with stateroom fares, is simply preposterous.
There will, probably, always be a limited number of people prepared
to pay these charges, just as there will always be people prepared
to face the heavy irreducible risks of flying. The fundamental
fact to bear in mind, in regarding the airplane as a commercial
proposition is that four-fifths of her total power must always
be expended in keeping her in the air, leaving only one-fifth
to exert on her payable load. . . . Flying has come to stay. But
I cannot believe that the airway will ever replace the seaway.
We can step aboard a Cunarder at either Southampton or Liverpool,
with a feeling of assurance that we shall be in New York with
time-table punctuality, travelling in luxury and safety. The aircraft
can never hold such assurance.
Why shouldn't aircraft hold such assurance, eventually?
Engine reliability was improving year by year. Why did this expert
think that the ratio of payload to power was fixed forever, when
it was improving by leaps and bounds? The comment about "human endurance"
is particularly irrational. Anyone could see that airplanes would
soon be large enough to carry extra crew members as well as more
passengers, so pilots could work in shifts, just as sailors do.
Here is the familiar pattern. The expert acknowledges that the innovation
is (or soon will be) "perfectly feasible." He understands what will
be needed to make the innovation practical: better engines, a bigger
crew, better payload ratios. He understands the technical details.
He keeps up with the latest engineering developments. Yet he cannot
bring himself to draw the obvious conclusion: that he will soon
face serious competition. Regular transatlantic zeppelin service
began in 1928. The first Pan American Clipper flying boat transatlantic
flight was in 1937.
You cannot argue with such people. The computer experts
said, "Microcomputers are toys. They don't even have hard disks;
they'll never hurt us." When I asked, "How long will it take to
make a small, cheap hard disk?" they would evade the issue. Anyone
who read the trade magazines could see that small hard disks were
a few years away. Today the hot fusion physicists, oil company executives
and government bureaucrats who oppose cold fusion are just as obtuse.
Here is a classic example of their thinking, in a letter from a
high government official to Chris Tinsley:
|Department of Trade and Industry
1 Palace Street
London SW1E 5HE
14 May 1993
Dear Mr. Tinsley
Your letter of 24 March to the Prime Minister
about cold fusion has been passed to me for reply in view
of my responsibility for nuclear fusion matters. I am sorry
it has not been possible to reply sooner.
The DTI is aware that work continues around
the world on cold fusion research and that claims of energy
releases continue to be made. As indicated in your letter,
if such research and development should lead to a practical
operating system with useful energy releases this is likely
to only be beneficial for small energy devices such as heating
systems and small electricity generators.
The Government is more interested in the
capability of fusion to generate power of value on a national
scale and to this end it is spending considerable sums of
money on fusion research. Cold fusion is unlikely to be of
much value in this context. However, this Department continues
to watch developments in the field of cold fusion research
with interest and we welcome your input into this process.
dti - the department for enterprise
J C Munday
This letter contains a number of astounding errors:
There is no reason to think that cold fusion reactions
must be small. Nothing in the literature and no experience with
similar electrochemical catalysis or nuclear reactions would lead
one to think that the size of the reaction is limited, any more
than fire or fission is limited. Most cold fusion reactions are
small, but for that matter so was the first sustained fission chain
Even if the size of the reaction was limited, most
energy is already produced by small machines: automobile engines
and space heaters. Most of the energy produced by large generators
is consumed by devices small enough to hold in your hand: light
bulbs and small electric motors.
The physical size of a machine that produces or consumes
energy has nothing to do with its effect on the "national scale"
energy flow. Light bulbs, in the aggregate, consume far more energy
than blast furnaces or airplanes.
The distinction between small and large scale energy
production is artificial. Producing energy on a "national scale"
is like growing wheat on a national scale: it can only be done grain
by grain. Energy comes from one lump of coal, or one uranium fuel
rod. A certain amount of fuel is consumed nationwide. It can come
from a few large generators or it can be spread out in many small
machines. The best technique is defined by engineering, economics,
pollution control and other factors.
Munday writes that the government is "spending considerable
sums of money on fusion research." He means plasma fusion (hot fusion).
He says "cold fusion is unlikely to be of much value in this context."
He has no technical basis for this statement. By objective scientific
and engineering standards, in 1993 cold fusion was closer to becoming
a practical source of energy than hot fusion was or ever will be.
Cold fusion produces far more energy than the best hot fusion experiment
on record (although less power). It has a much better input to output
ratio. It does not produce dangerous radioactive waste. It is more
reliable, and it cost millions of times less to implement.
One wonders how Munday could have become so confused.
Tinsley never claimed that the energy releases from cold fusion
would only be beneficial for small energy devices. He might have
said that experimental cold fusion cells are small. He might have
said that cold fusion will allow small, cost effective, decentralized
generators. But that does not mean cold fusion is limited to such
devices. Why should it be? In 1992, Pons and Fleischmann showed
that a 0.5 gram palladium cathode can generate heat with the same
power density as the fissioning uranium in a power plant.27
If the reaction can be scaled up to make "heating systems and small
generators" then it stands to reason that it can be scaled up again
to make large generators. If it cannot be used for small generators
because of technical problems or economics, it would not be feasible
on a large scale either. It is an all-or-nothing situation. Either
cold fusion will work for any device, on nearly any scale, or it
will not work at all.
To be sure, many energy systems are only economical
on a small scale, for special applications. Duracell batteries are
a good choice for flashlights, but too expensive for a laptop computer
or an automobile. Windmills and small hydroelectric turbines are
cost effective in an isolated farm miles away from the power lines,
but they are not practical in urban areas. They cannot be made compact,
because power density is limited and the energy is intermittent
so it must be stored. Many energy systems only work well on large
scale, like uranium fission, which is limited by safety requirements.
Hot fusion Tokamak reactors can only function on a large scale.
Combustion is our most flexible energy source. It works for everything
from vehicles and space heating to large scale power generation.
Coal, oil and gas fired electric generators are more cost effective
and less polluting on a large scale, but small co-generators and
small generators for isolated communities are available. Every indication
is that cold fusion will be as flexible as combustion. Perhaps Munday
assumed that cold fusion is limited to a small scale for some technical
reason, the way hot fusion is limited to a large one. He must have
assumed so; nothing in the literature or Tinsley's letter would
give that impression. I expect that Munday sat down and dictated
a response containing whatever random thoughts popped into his head,
based on fragmented impressions of cold fusion. Perhaps he is an
expert on energy. In that case, he is flummoxed; he has temporarily
forgotten what he is doing; his conclusions do not follow from the
premises. This describes the state of mind of the ocean liner executives
and the computer experts. They knew better, but they could not admit
to themselves what they knew.
The Long Term: Arthur Clarke's Utopia
The demand for some products seems to expand
endlessly. We can always use more computer memory, and people seem
to enjoy ever-more-elaborate blockbuster movies. But what family
needs more than one automobile per driver? Who could use five dishwashing
machines? Who would want to travel on airplanes ten hours a day,
seven days a week?
Hal Fox says that cold fusion will create ever-expanding
material prosperity and employment. It will open up the planets
to colonization. That will take so much work, it will create enough
jobs to keep us busy for hundreds of years. This is the traditional,
gung-ho American attitude reflected in "Calling All Jobs" (quoted
at the introduction). It is hard to be pessimistic about the economy.
As of July 1997 the stock market has been rising for years and it
is at breathtaking highs. Unemployment is the lowest it has been
in a generation, even though automation is more widespread than
ever, computers have recently replaced millions of middle managers,
and large corporations have eliminated hundreds of thousands of
workers in downsizing. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution
people have dreaded the effects of automation, fearing it will cause
permanent widespread unemployment. It would have, if we had not
reduced the work week from eighty hours to forty. Most innovations
take a long time to develop, giving society time to adjust to them
by reducing the work week or inventing new industries. From time
to time a new invention that is easy to implement has spread swiftly,
causing a burst of unemployment. A famous example is the spinning
jenny, which led to the revolt of the Luddites and the speech by
Lord Byron quoted above.
In spite of the booming economy and low unemployment,
there remains an undercurrent of fear. Unemployment numbers mask
deep social problems: they do not count people who have given up
are no longer looking for a job. We have a large underclass of permanently
unemployed people. The gap between the rich and the poor is the
largest it has been since the Great Depression. Top management and
skilled experts earn far more than ordinary workers. Federal Reserve
chairman Alan Greenspan says this could become a "major threat"
to the economy.28 Perhaps these problems are caused by
greed or cruel social policies, but automation also plays a role.
We need experts to design robotic machines. We do not need factory
workers to operate them; they operate themselves. It is astounding
how few people it takes to run a modern factory. The supertanker
that ran aground in Tokyo Bay on July 2, 1997 had a crew of only
25. AT&T and MCI have replaced their long distance collect call
operators with voice response computers. Jobs have been "dumbed
down." It takes little skill to operate a supermarket checkout line
compared to a push-button cash register, so clerks cannot demand
higher wages. Customers do their own work, operating machines themselves.
One supermarket recently began letting customers scan their own
goods, with one clerk to keep an eye on four checkout lines. Gas
station attendants have been replaced with self service pumps. People
even do semiskilled work like computer typesetting on their own
machines. A front page article in the Wall Street Journal
is titled "A Slide in Factory Jobs: The Pain of Progress."29
It quotes Lester Thurow at MIT, ". . . for the bottom 60% of the
work force, real income is going down. Something bad is going on
in our lives." A New York Times 30 article, "Do Computers
Eat Our Paychecks?" says:
Computers have enriched a small
class of technological wizards and management consultants who
streamline production, merging and "downsizing" and "re-engineering"
the companies of America to the great benefit of managements and
stockholders. But those same computers have eliminated many jobs
and significantly reduced the skills needed in the jobs that survive,
thereby weakening the bargaining power and income of most wage
Cold fusion will cause dislocations far greater
Chris Tinsley believes that the coming unemployment
problem will be solved by the expansion of other jobs. We need people
to educate the children, take care of lonely old people, and clean
up the environment, and to do jobs which might seem frivolous until
we can afford to have people doing those jobs. Many of the growth
industries of today would be regarded as a joke by past generations;
people get paid to sell things on cable television that nobody really
wants. He points to the example of agriculture in Britain. Before
the industrial revolution nearly everyone worked in agriculture,
yet food production was barely enough to sustain the population.
The population exploded in the 19th century, and became dependent
on imports. By the 1930s the proportion of the population working
in agriculture was much lower, efficiency was up, but some food
was still imported. Today, the population is higher than ever, a
mere 1% of the population works in agriculture, but Britain is a
net exporter of food. This gradual transition has not caused permanent
massive unemployment. It has not concentrated power or great wealth
in the ranks of the few remaining farmers. Furthermore, in the 1970s
and O80s large British industrial corporations relentlessly automated
and shed workers, leading to an implosion of manufacturing jobs
even more severe than the rest of the industrialized world, yet
unemployment remains lower than most European nations. Today, hardly
anyone seems to work for the (formerly) large corporations. Self-employment,
home-offices and cyber-commuting are booming. People start their
own companies providing innovative (and often apparently pointless)
new services, from home design to frivolous travel and entertainment.
Tinsley feels that as long as money and prosperity surge through
society, people will find clever ways to snag it for themselves.
Fox and Tinsley may be right about the short term,
but I think that computers and cold fusion are the harbingers of
a new era in economics. Communism has fallen; capitalism may be
next. We are seeing the beginning of the end of work itself. For
two hundred years the economy has been growing as we consume more
and more goods and services. We assume that consumer demand has
no limits. People will always want more goods, more appliances,
more radios, automobiles, dishes. But this cannot be true. As my
mother used to say, "No trend lasts forever, or the world would
be knee deep in televisions." The famous 1949 exponential jump in
television sales had to slow down eventually. You cannot watch fifty
television sets. There is a limit to how much we want to consume,
and how much we are physically able to consume. Most people have
no place to park to a dozen automobiles in front their house, or
dig five Olympic swimming pools. You cannot eat thirty gourmet meals
a day. People in the third world are nowhere near the limits, but
in the developed world it is difficult to imagine that our per capita
consumption can increase by a factor of 10 or 100, or 1000. A prizefighter
in Atlanta recently built himself a giant mansion. It sits in isolated
splendor with a theater, a bowling alley, room for dozens of automobiles,
giant closets bulging with clothes, and on and on. I suppose some
people envy the fellow and would like to live that way, but I would
find it a nightmare. Cold fusion powered food factories may double
our available land by eliminating outdoor agriculture. Cold fusion
may ultimately allow us to move our factories to the moon, freeing
up even more land. We might build mansions, or shopping malls, or
sprawling private parking lots to store our collections of Rolls
Royces. I hope that most people have more sense and better taste.
I hope that most of the freed up land can be returned to nature.
There are limits to how much travel and entertainment
we can consume. Entertainment can automate itself into bankruptcy
as readily as any other business. Classical music recording fidelity
has grown so good that old recordings last forever. They sound as
good as the new ones, so catalogs offer forty versions of the Chopin
preludes, 100 recordings of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," and twenty-five
of Mahler's Sixth Symphony.31 Up-and-coming classical
musicians cannot find work, because they cannot compete with famous
dead musicians. Today, home renovation calls for a licensed architect
who makes a good living. Someday one architect will do the work
of many, using a computer program that generates detailed floor
plans certified to conform to the building codes. The architect
will sit down with the customer to design a new house or renovation.
He will bat out a finished floor plan an hour later, and twenty
other architects will be unemployed. I do not think the demand for
home renovation will increase by a factor of twenty. High technology
seems labor intensive and highly rewarding. Politicians love to
think so. But it has a nasty habit of imploding, or killing itself
off. It has always been this way. In an earlier article I mentioned
that the chronometer makers perfected their art so well between
1800 and 1920 that they put themselves out of business.32
With proper maintenance their instruments lasted for decades, being
passed from one ship to another. By the early 1900s there was only
one manufacturing firm left, which was enough to keep up with demand
for new clocks and replacements.
No trend lasts forever; the end of automation will
be reached when nearly every job is eliminated. Computers and robots
will do everything from paving roads to building houses and flying
airplanes, setting the table, setting broken bones, and operating
on your appendix. It may take hundreds of years for computers to
develop the intelligence to do these jobs. They may never be able
to perform critical tasks without guidance by human experts. But
airplanes already fly on autopilot. Computer controlled lasers already
perform delicate eye surgery. They will go much farther, even in
Suppose we were invaded by a hoard of super intelligent
robots anxious to do our bidding and fulfill every wish, and work
disappeared overnight. Most people would not know what to do with
themselves. People identify with their job, and define their self
worth by it. That is part of the work ethic, which has been essential
to human survival throughout history. Ask a man "what are you,"
and he replies that he is a carpenter or an accountant. Losing a
job is a traumatic experience for most people, even in European
countries with extensive long-term unemployment benefits. When people
are incapacitated by illness or accident, and find themselves unable
to work, they are often devastated by the loss of social status,
the loneliness, the lack of structure and purpose. This happens
to rich people who retire with no loss in income. It even happens
to people who win millions in the lottery and quit their jobs. So
what will it be like on that distant day when all labor is automated?
Money will lose most of its meaning. For many people life may lose
The Mobil Corporation advertisement is right on target.
The economic benefits from drilling, shipping, refining and selling
oil help everyone in our society. The pollution and the flow of
money into the Middle East hurt everyone, too. Careers and daily
labor give people dignity. The people at Mobil have a right to be
proud of their labor. It is difficult work. It is vital. We would
starve without these people. Their labor serves higher social purposes,
just as they say. It spreads wealth, pays for pension funds, provides
security. Mobil is not just selling oil, it is selling a vision
of society happy, prosperous, and hard at work. Unfortunately for
Mobil, with cold fusion we will have no use for any of that stuff.
The customer wants a tankful of gas. He does not give a hoot about
economic stability or pension funds. When cold fusion comes, he
will stop paying for gas and not think twice about pension funds.
Nobody will pay the people at Mobil to do useless labor with obsolete
tools. That would be like paying them to cut wood with a handsaw.
Even a demeaning, low-paying job collecting garbage or cleaning
toilets can give a person a sense of self respect. But the moment
any job is automated, it is no longer fit for human beings. It becomes
worse than slavery. There is no dignity in a man doing something
a machine can do faster and better at a fraction of the cost. There
is no meaning in it. It is like fighting a war after your side surrenders.
When all work is automated, we will have to learn
to find our purpose in life elsewhere. Work is already fading in
importance. Money is not as important as it once was. People no
longer starve when they are penniless. In developed countries, everyone
has access to clean water, primary education, and public libraries.
In every developed country except the United States, free health
care is considered the birthright of every citizen. This does not
demoralize people, or rob them of their sense of purpose. Someday,
unlimited food, housing, education, health care, travel, books,
television and Internet access will be the birthright of every person
on earth. Arthur C. Clarke described how we might live when this
comes about, if we are wise enough to build a society worthy of
our technology. He describes a replicator, the ultimate labor saving
It is certainly fortunate that the
replicator, if it can ever be built at all, lies far in the future,
at the end of many social revolutions. Confronted by it, our own
culture would collapse speedily into sybaritic hedonism, followed
immediately by the boredom of absolute satiety. Some cynics may
doubt if any society of human beings could adjust itself to unlimited
abundance and the lifting of the curse of Adam a curse which
may be a blessing in disguise.
Yet in every age, a few men have known
such freedom, and not all of them have been corrupted by it. Indeed,
I would define a civilized man as one who can be happily occupied
for a lifetime even if he has no need to work for a living. This
means that the greatest problem of the future is civilizing the
human race; but we know that already.
- C. Cerf, The Experts Speak, (Pantheon Books,
1994), p. 91.
- C. Cerf, ibid., p. 211.
- Microsoft Bookshelf CD, The People's Chronology, (Henry
Holt and Company, 1992).
- My only source for this is my mother's recollection of an undergraduate
course in economics course at Cornell University in 1939. The
professor's main thesis, which he frequently repeated during the
semester, was that the changeover from horses to automobiles had
caused massive unemployment. He thought this was the main cause
of the Great Depression.
- F. L. Allen, The Big Change 1900 - 1950, (Harper
and Row, 1952), Chapter 8, "The Automobile Revolution."
- W. Lord, The Good Years, (Harper and Bros., 1960), p.
4. Similar examples cited in many popular history books. See F.
L. Lewis, ibid., p. 7
- Sears, Roebuck & Co., 1908 Catalogue No. 117, 1180 pages,
reprinted by Follet Publishing Co., 1969, p. 88. Two marine gasoline
engines are shown on page 553, including a 10 hp unit for $318.
- D. Yergin, The Prize, (Simon and Schuster, 1991), p.
- Microsoft Bookshelf CD, The People's Chronology, (Henry
Holt and Company, 1992).
- We pay about 5 cents per kilogram for ice. The heat
of fusion of water is 80 calories per gram, so it takes 0.09 kilowatt
hours to freeze the water. I assume refrigerators are about 20%
efficient and electricity cost 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
- D. Cardwell, Norton History of Technology, (Norton, 1995),
- A. P. Fickette et al., "Efficient Use of Electricity," Scientific
American, September 1990, p. 67
- Data from Fickette, ibid., and also Philips Lighting Company,
Earthlight® package for a 25 watt bulb, equivalent in luminosity
to a 100 watt incandescent. Philips claims the bulbs last 10,000
hours, or 7 years with 3-4 hours average daily use. Energy consumption
per year, per bulb is 35.7 KWH versus 142.8 KWH. A business also
saves money on the labor required to change 13 burned out bulbs,
which leads Fickette to conclude that equipment and labor costs
alone justify the use of compact flourescent bulbs, before you
even factor in the money saved on energy.
- "Cold Fusion and the Future, Part I," Infinite Energy,
Issue #12, p. 12.
- Ontario Hydro uses the heavy water as a moderator
in their Candu fission reactors, an application that calls for
hundreds of thousands of tons a year. In a palladium cold fusion
economy the heavy water itself would react, and only ~24,000 tons
would be needed worldwide.
- In "Cold Fusion and the Future, Part I," p. 11, I estimated
that a kilogram of heavy water produces as much energy as 2.9
million kilograms of oil, or roughly a million gallons. Assuming
that the Carnot efficiency of a cold fusion heat engines will
be as bad as a gasoline powered engine, this would be enough to
drive 20 million miles in the city. Actually, Carnot efficiency
will probably be much better; see Part 1, p. 10.
- G. Davis, "Energy for Planet Earth," Scientific American,
- American Petroleum Institute, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.api.org/webfaq.htm
- Yergin, p. 746.
- American Petroleum Institute, 202-682-8000, www.api.org
- Statistics from the API Basic Petroleum Data Book, Section V,
Table 2, courtesy American Petroleum Institute. I did not include
the 29,600 people employed in the Paving and Roofing industry,
because I assume these jobs will continue even after the demise
of the oil industry. I assume that in 20 years roads will be paved
with synthetic oil produced with cold fusion energy. Approximately
20% of the people working in refining may also be employed, unless
the synthetic oil generating machines are fully automatic.
- G.Vassilatos, "The Farnsworth Fusor: the Most Notably Forgotten
Episode in 'Hot' Fusion History," unpublished manuscript.
- R. Cringely, , (HarperCollins, 1993)
- D. Sanders, Computers in Business, (McGraw-Hill,
1968), p. 64.
- J. Brinnin, The Sway of the Grand Saloon: A Social History
of the North Atlantic, (Delacorte Press, 1971), p. 460.
- M. Fleischmann (Univ. Southampton), S. Pons (IMRA Europe), "Calorimetry
of the Pd-D2O System: From Simplicity via Complications
to Simplicity," Physics Letters A, 176 (1993) 118-129.
- M. Frankel, "Do Computers Eat Our Paychecks?" New York Times
Magazine, March 10, 1996.
- J. M. Schlesinger, "A Slide in Factory Jobs: The Pain of Progress,"
Wall Street Journal, April 28, 1996.
- M. Frankel, ibid.
- T. Page, "A Sour Note. With a Few Exceptions, the Future for
Classical Recordings Looks Bleak," The Washington Post,
June 24, 1996
- Landes, p. 186, describing the argument of A. C. Davies, "The
Life and Death of a Scientific Instrument: The Marine Chronometer,
1770-1920," Annals of Science 35 (1978) pp. 509-525
A. C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future, (Bantam, 1972), chapter
13, "Aladdin's Lamp"
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