[ISEA2012] Panel: Scott M. Tyson – The Societal Implications of Energy Abundance

Panel Statement

We live in a time when we need to consider that many things previously thought impossible might indeed be possible, and that these changes profoundly affect what we can do technologically, and how we live as individuals in human society. Humanity is achieving at a quickening pace its deepest glimpses and understandings yet into the innermost workings of the universe, and with it the potential by which to tap into new energy sources to produce a benign, cheap and inexhaustible power production paradigm. This panel will investigate the implications of this possibility. Major technological change affects the way we live and the way we interact in society. Few inhabitants of this planet in 1890, who traveled to town by horse and buggy, could have imagined that in 60 years time, people would travel the World in jet planes in the span of a few hours. Likewise, in that same time period, the World developed a dense grid of instantaneous telecommunications, first over wires, and then even without the wires to provide greater mobility. In this same timeframe, mankind has sent machines into outer space, studied far away galaxies, gained an entirely new understanding of the Universe, and cured many diseases thought incurable. Today, we live in a time when we need to consider that many things previously thought impossible might indeed be possible, and that these changes profoundly affect what we can do technologically, and how we live as individuals and in society. This panel will investigate the implications of these possibilities.

Panel Description
The prospect of abundant or unlimited energy is a real and growing possibility. Unlimited energy was nearly achieved through a nuclear production scheme during the 20th century but the high costs and risks tempered the effort. During the mid-20th Century, research and development into nuclear energy offered society its first plausible opportunity of abundant energy. A sufficient set of reactor designs combined with radioactive raw materials offered to the world for the first time the plausibility of unlimited or abundant energy that could be produced at special facilities and then shipped to consumers nationwide through a complex distribution grid. Yet, there were serious practical limitations that tempered and ultimately curtailed these nuclear energy plans. True enough, nuclear power approaches appeared poised and capable of providing virtually unlimited amounts of energy to fuel all facets of society, but the approach carried risks and costs that were ultimately deemed too high. In short, the potentially devastating side effects included two serious problems: the generation of copious amounts of highly dangerous radioactive waste that would require storage and/or “disposal” and the increasing and ever-present threat that these dangerous radioactive waste materials could or would be weaponized. Ultimately, the appeal and practicality of a 20th Century nuclear energy panacea was greatly reduced with improved appreciation of the extraordinary drawbacks. Unfortunately, recent events around the world continue to remind us of the terrible costs and risks to society posed by nuclear energy, especially when combined with the powerful and unforeseen forces of nature in a world experiencing global climate and atmospheric changes.

  • Scott M. Tyson, US, Author of The Unobservable Universe. Scott M. Tyson has devoted much of his 31-year career to developing new technological approaches at IBM’s VLSI Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. Long recognized as a pioneering problem-solver and “big picture” futurist, he served as an advisor to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on space computing technology development and planning. Tyson’s landmark innovations have accelerated the advancement of space electronic solutions while distinguishing him as a change agent in his field. He has fifteen patents in space technology and multiple awards—including a 2011 “Who’s Who in Technology” award recognizing him as a key leader of scientific innovations in New Mexico’s technology sphere. His work continues to have a profound impact on the way scientists and laymen alike view themselves and the world around them.
  • Col. Steven C. Suddarth is the Chief Research Officer of the Configurable Space Microsystems Innovation and Applications Center (COSMIAC) at the University of New Mexico and a private consultant through Transparent Sky, LLC. A retired Air Force Colonel, Dr. Suddarth has overseen several substantial computer engineering/embedded systems projects. These include the development of a first-ever three-dimensional mixed analog/digital image processor which advanced the State-of-the-Art by three orders of magnitude, several airborne optical sensing systems, unmanned aerial robotics, and software systems for large military space programs, as well as the development of miniature spacecraft systems and components.
  • Russell Brito is the Manager of the Urban Design and Development Division of the City of Albuquerque Planning Department. Over his eighteen-year tenure with the City, he has worked with development review of current projects, metropolitan redevelopment in distressed areas of the city, and long range planning for specific sectors, areas, and the larger metropolitan area. This type of Planning involves the coordination of land use, transportation, and infrastructure across multiple jurisdictions, in concert with elected and appointed officials, business owners, neighborhood associations, and other interested parties. Consensus is not always the result, but collaboration has resulted in successful projects and partnerships that benefit individual communities and the city as a whole, such as the redevelopment of Old Albuquerque High School, the Downtown 2010 Sector Development Plan, and the Nob Hill/Highland Sector Development Plan.
  • Lt. Gen. Tom Goslin (ret.) is Director for Business Development of Strategic Systems for Raytheon Company. Gen. Goslin served as the Deputy Commander of U.S. Strategic Command where he was a key command link for the U.S. nuclear resources involving both power plants and weapons. He brings great experience in terms of the sociological and strategic challenges imposed by systems that involve large amounts of energy applied to a variety of applications.
  • Michael D. Shaw is executive vice president and director of marketing for Interscan Corporation, a Los Angeles based manufacturer of toxic gas detection instrumentation and related software. Michael has developed an international reputation as a straight-talking, scientifically-grounded commentator, and writes a weekly column for Health News Digest, a leading supplier of content to the life sciences industry. Michael performed undergraduate biochemical research at UCLA under Professor Roberts A. Smith and Nobel Laureate Willard Libby and performed graduate studies at MIT. Michael is keenly interested in all aspects of wellness, health care, and life sciences, including rational approaches to so-called environmental hazards, as well as complementary medicine (combining the best of alternative, allopathic, and natural hygiene).

Full text (PDF) p. 163-167