This Space for Rent

Rapture, meet bobble. Bobble, Rapture. I’m sure you’ve met before.

Kevin Drum has been given a copy of a book that states that the "singularity" (== the rapture for technogeeks) is going to be here Real! Soon! Now! and that, presumably, we (or at least those of us who will be alive in 2045) should get ready for it now. This rapture book thinks that we will be delivered into the sight of G-d by fairly trivial increases in computing power (approximately a billionfold increase when the book was written, probably only a 500 millionfold increase today.) Well, yes, that would be nice, but there are possibly a few little fleas in the ointment that haven't been considered, and one of them would be "So, where are you going to put that additional heat those processors will generate?"

Hurricane Rita takes advantage of global warming
How about here?

Chip designers are very good at squeezing efficiencies when they roll new chips out, but the general rule is still that as the chips get faster, they get hotter and hungrier. So you get heat both ways; you need heat to generate the electricity to run the chips, and those chips crank out heat when they're running.

Are processors a significant part of global warming today? Probably not. But in a full-fledged Vingean pre-rapture, there will be a lot more highpowered chips running around -- and people aren't going to easily give up the other amenities of life to build and power those chips -- and even assuming we can continue to dodge hurricanes (the US treasury is going to be looted to the tune of US$200 billion post-Katrina, and then the people who live down there are going to have to foot the bill to rebuild on top of that, and the third most intense Atlantic hurricane ever measured is still cheerfully grinding towards the Texas coast, seeing if it can add another US$200 billion to the Evil Party lootathon) there will no doubt be many more Rapture-delaying activities going on while people decide that they'd rather eat than purchase the next round of shiny things that use additional processing power.

I would be sad to see no singularity, just as I would be sad to see no fundamentalist Rapture; getting rid of the libertoonian extropians and kookoo fundamentalists would make earth a much more pleasant place. But to be realistic? They aren't going to happen, because they both pretend that we can just wish away the effects of our activities.

(And, no, I'm not just picking apart this Rapture book because it says that computers are the way to the Promised Land; it's just the whole "we need to keep doing what we've been doing, but more of it" is stupid from top to bottom.)