Limits to technology

By Razib Khan | November 1, 2011 3:27 pm

A few stray thoughts, which might be worth having a discussion about. Unless one wants to go Soylent Green or Logan’s Run both the proponents of stable/declining world population and continued growth have to look to technology. More people means more economic productivity to keep everyone afloat ahead of the Malthusian trap. But even if the population stabilizes, there is still the major problem of the rising dependency fraction due to aging. The only way that we can keep up is by increasing the productivity of the work force. This is especially going to be an issue in a nation like China because of the one child policy (which practically turned out to be a 1.5 child policy). Either “working age” people have to work more productively, or health care has to reduce late in life morbidity so that people can work longer and get the ratio of retirees to workers reasonable.

Secondarily, I’m kind of getting sick of the fact that everyone’s battery is dying. My battery is dying, your battery is dying. “Hey, can I call you later? My battery is dying.” With the rising penetration of smartphones batteries are dying all over the place. I remember a time, back in 2006, when I must have been charging my phone once a week or something! The days. I know that smartphone technology is a step forward, but it goes to show how difficult it is to make a good battery, insofar as we’ve taken a massive step backward in terms of the battery life that we had come to expect. There’s a creeping element of zero sum in all of this; more features means less juice per feature.

MORE ABOUT: Technology
  • Chris T

    There’s a reason the Japanese have been intensively pursuing robotics.

    WRT batteries – It’s interesting to note that the preferred battery for consumer electronics, the lithium-ion battery, has been in widespread commercial use for less than a decade. Without them, modern electronics wouldn’t be nearly as small or as long lasting.

    Cell phone life seems lower not so much because extra features are drawing extra power (although for certain features such as 3G, this is certainly true), but because people are using their smart phones far more than they used to. Weekly charging was possible when people just used their phones for talking or the occasional text message, but when you’re using it for internet browsing and gaming in addition to the aforementioned uses, time between recharges becomes considerably less even with more advanced batteries and efficient hardware.

  • Razib Khan

    #1, try using 4G. that’s a killer. at least for my phone…. good point about usage. that modulates my complaint a lot.

  • Roger

    Check out the sizes of batteries in 2006, too. They were much larger then.

    There are few things that our technological society needs more than a good battery: One that recharges quickly, has no memory, very high capacity, will discharge slowly or quickly and is cheap.

  • Maciano

    One of my friends does a lot of work on micro-reactors, he says it’s an improvement on par with cars vs. bicycles. (Btw, real LTE/4G doesn’t exist yet, only 3,9G; you ain’t seen nothing yet!)

  • Justin Giancola

    “There’s a reason the Japanese have been intensively pursuing robotics.”

    cause they are coo-coo for cocoa-puffs? ;p

  • Darkseid

    i just read the 4GS is ridiculously bad – something like 15% gone per hour even without using it. count me out on that one

  • Dwight E. Howell

    How about if we stopped trying to make them as thin as playing cards? I can fit something much thicker than an Iphone in my shirt pocket.

  • S.J. Esposito

    “How about if we stopped trying to make them as thin as playing cards? I can fit something much thicker than an Iphone in my shirt pocket.”

    Yes, but why would you want to? Technology getting smaller and lighter is a natural progression in terms of machinery — stopping that miniaturization is not a good solution to the battery problem; it’s a cop out.

    Battery life does seem to be lagging behind the rest of the hardware on the technological front, though. I don’t have a proposed solution, but I know that, for now, I’ll deal with charging my phone every night in exchange for having the power of the internet at my fingertips 24/7.

  • pconroy

    I got a Driod Bionic 4G just when it came out, and yes the battery life sucks, for light usage it is 6 hours, for intense usage it is 4 hours or less.

    However the phone as a Dual Core processor that’s about as powerful as a laptop from 8 years ago?!

  • Mustapha Mond

    I like my Nokia 2128i so much that I bought another one just in case this one ever conks out. No flip, no external antenna, slips into my pocket like a used bar of soap, just reliable phone calls and it lasts at least a week without a charge. If I want to access the internet I just use a goddam computer!

  • Nick

    I’m optimistic that a significantly better battery will be built in the not-too-distant future–there are lots of smart people trying to figure out advanced electrical energy storage solutions right now (e.g. It’ll have to be capacitors or some other kind of solid-state technology–there’s only so much energy density you can cram into a chemical battery.

  • ohwilleke

    ITA on the battery thing. I’m about to dump my smart phone for a dumb phone specifically to address that problem, and a friend of mine is in the process of purging apps from her phone like a cloud sourced calendar in favor of a paper one for the same reason.

    My old Blackberry had much longer battery life than the new ones.

  • Sandgroper

    I use a Moffie Juice Pack, which is a protective frame that fits around the iPhone4 which also contains a back-up battery, so it about doubles the battery life. It makes the phone a little bigger and heavier, but it’s no big deal – most people get a protective bumper to put around the thing anyway, so you may as well get one that has extra battery built in.

    It works well. I never run out juice in a day, no matter how heavily I use the phone for all sorts of stuff.

    No, I don’t have shares in the company. Since I got the Moffie I have seen other similar products in the stores which look like they should do just as well.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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