Technology : from fuel-tech to human-tech, and to Bionology…?

Policies, (financial-) economy , technology, religion, and even science to some level, are all human thought up constructs, that are not grounded in physical reality, but in human perception of life and how to live it. There is no natural law that has to be followed, they all can be changed if humans wish so. And nature does not mind either, it just reacts and adapts, and changes course. With or without humans with their perceptions. As such, as I wrote before [1] , the these constructs are in fact part of the Profit part next to planet and people, in The ‘PPP syndrome’, the so called triple bottom line. For which the Profit part is not a fundamental element like planet and population: the profit part acts as a set of artificial tools to manage the balance between size and demand of population and carrying capacity of the planet with its limited resources. ( R/P see: [2]) . Its not a triple bottom line, but a balancing act between 2 P’s, of which one, the people P, introduced a third P to stretch that balance between the fundamental 2 as far as possible.

In fact we keep persisting in these concepts, which were thought up in a time we did not know better. But now we know better, and keeping using these, is not smart.

Now then in this case, the question is , what is Technology’s part in that , and what in fact does it create, or what effect has it on the R/P balance, the resource use per capita, as one of these constructs?

Old fashioned as we are, we start with the dictionary:

Technics: 1. the handwork, to make something, 2. processing and operations with respect to applied exact science

Handmade versus machine made, so to say. And:

Technology: the knowledge from the actions by which man processes the products of nature into substances to the satisfaction of his needs, or : systematic application of natural science or other organized knowledge for practical purposes ( after galbraith)

In fact: without technology man could not survive, to grow food requires actions that create products to fulfill his needs. Which can also be the weeding, with a spud.

But that connotation has long been lost, in 2017. If we speak of technology , in general it is assumed to be at least mechanical actions, and most of the time automated processes. ( and in short robotized actions) . Which confuses, since sometimes its really meant very basic handling. Which can be seen as the distinction made between so called low-tech and high-tech .

So in 2017 we speak in general of high tech : like we have High Tech Campuses all over the country, and even the governmental innovation agenda with subsidized “ top sectors” is high tech driven. Even something as the biobased economy, a official policy in the Netherlands and the EU, is mainly aiming at high tech: Hight tech plastics, high tech bio energy . While the biobased economy is also about the low tech applications, which result from simple actions that can fulfill mankind’s needs. Like timber construction , loam building and strawbale building. But these are hardly addressed, and usually regarded as somehow inferior, especially in the professional world, in anyway not regarded as valuable knowledge from which to make a profit (.).

Which we also can read back in the Dictionary. The description above came from my old book version from 1976 . What does the (dutch) on-line version of 2017 say?

Technology: the doctrine of the operations that the raw materials undergo for a particular branch of industry; learn from processing and mechanical tools.

The implicit handwork has disappeared, the low tech is even gone!. ‘Practical purposes’ has become ‘on behalf of industry’ (.).

In any case, ( the choice and application of ) technology is one of those elements that steer society in to that (un-) balance between availability of resources, and humans ( in demand) .

Technology however is always there; between mankind and surviving, between mankind and substances in the required practical form . There has always energy to be invested to shape the substances. Which has taken a huge flight, for which technology first was seen as an aid to ease the use and processing of resources, to end in the 21 st century , mainly as a resort : we will innovate ourselves out of trouble, with high tech of course. Technology not to improve but to prevent worse. See the previous article, of what to think of geotechnology: To bring mirrors in space to reflect solar radiation to prevent further global warming… We will make the earth a disco ball: The rest of the universe can have at least some fun from our trouble…

The start of it all can be roughly placed around the time we went settling. We began organizing things since they didn’t come by by accident anymore. With settlements technology became important: Interesting to read is ( I forgot the book’s name) , that the most important thing at that time was “ containers” to store things: food , water Storing things was essential to be able settle and survive. Look at birds: they cant store things, and have to travel far each spring/ autumn, like nomads.

Those first containers are still not ‘high tech’, but things start to change over time, and the quality of the environment decreases: entropy grows. Which can still be overcome, nature has power enough , and solar radiation restores stocks. And entropy decreases. But knowledge of technology grows and is applied, with the invention of the wheel, later the engine, and now the robot. Somewhere on the road we went from low tech to high tech, and things change faster and faster, and so does the degradation of quality , which goes faster as well. As illustrated by formerly doing 1 meeting a day going by foot, later 2 per day per train, or now 4 per day by car. Or like a meeting in Paris, which took two days from London in the past, but can now be done in 1 day and be back to go to swimming lessons with the daughter in the evening. (Or even 8 meetings via skype, if necessary) . With accompanying effect in workload, and established changes ( production processing, consumption) , again enlarging entropy, but now very fast. Meanwhile the amount of people is growing as well, so effects are multiplied. Changes happen exponential, and reach the carrying capacity of the system or are already beyond that. More technology speeds thing up. Regarding fossil fuels we already past the regeneration level in 1888, according to Dukes [2] We have past that point for many resources already. And what we are doing now, is repeating the same old trick, coming up with new technology , now to prevent more damage.

Another observation surfaces here: That technology as such is not the problem, but the way technology is driven: Literally: As long as the driver is human power, it seems to fit within the carrying capacity of the earth system, The low tech so to say. ( see the excellent online magazine [3]). As soon as external sources are put to work, they soon go beyond regeneration capacity of the system. In three ways: the multiplications of the use of the technology (think of the cars, energy and materials ); the changes created by the result of the technology application (think of roads to be built for cars, energy and materials) , but also for the driving source itself, fossil energy for now. Which is depleted as well. So low tech and high tech, can be better characterized by the fact that the difference is in human driven or external energy driven, Or : ‘human-tech’ versus ‘fuel-tech’.

More human-tech would disable the exponential multiplying factor, and relate directly to the amount of people available. And human power is the most sustainable source of energy there is , as I argued before [4] ( people are there and have to eat, and better to do something useful with all that energy) Or in other words: operational energy is mankind itself, which is mainly solar energy and we have closed the cycle…

But then what about renewable energy, and I mean streaming energy flows here? That should be a possibility? But then again, this requires vast amounts of (new) technology , for conversion systems, and the whole cycle starts again: Solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, networks, etc. Which require huge amounts of materials, which most likely we will not have or wont have the power to process that globally. , as already some studies show. ( And don’t forget the ‘container problem’ again: how to store things…) . While the system earth already has created the ideal way to convert solar energy: mankind itself, we are the conversion technology, the source of power.

It seems that nearly all technology we are developing or which will be developed, can’t be the solution, that it merely is improving existing technology or repairing flaws in it. Lets say extrapolation of the laundry machine, from A+ to A+++ , with a wind turbine for the energy supply. In stead of changing to local laundry shops and employment. ( also for a pick up and delivery service)

New technology, if at all developed, to be seen as useful, would require to leave the current road and explore major system changes, paradigm changes, by skipping some of the extrapolation steps. As for instance a house that directly grows by nature in the right spot. Without fuel tech or high tech. And on the basis of solar energy. Biomimicry makes attempts to copy nature, but does so in a synthetically and chemical way. Which is interesting exercise, but still an example of fuel tech, and not sufficient, and not sustainable. We should be able to directly used grown products, just like our food: that has been grown and you just eat ( forget the fact that nowadays there is a whole industrialized and energy intensive route added by multinationals) . Take for instance this project I recently discovered: A artist from England grew his own chair , and now has a business made of it: you can order on-line!* ( its not always directly our taste, but our sense of beauty will have to change as well…) [5] And not to forget: the past years showed interesting development in fungi growth: directly in forms and networks applicable in daily products. I am not sure of course, but this could be a way out, there is a whole world to discover here. These developments even skip the mechanical step, and the human driven tech, and we just have to apply our knowledge: the Knowledge society 2.0 that is. To restore the balance between R and P, and to maintain it for long. But then, is should be named differently. not technology but then what? Biotech? Natural biobased? I would propose to call it: Bionology, as the opposite from technology. And already for the dictionary: the doctrine of operations by which nature grows products to satisfy human needs. And therefor not: the doctrine of the operations that the raw materials undergo, but the doctrine of application of natural sciences to prevent mechanical , electronical or robotised processing.

Bionology… Who knows…?


* You can actually order chairs. And in the website it reads: This product takes approximately 7 years to make. Probable delivery if ordered this year is 2024, but could be as early as 2023, or as late as 2026.”! It shows that technology ie bionology has a inevitable relation with landuse and time, which determines the carrying capacity of the earth to form products, in a sustainable way. See or more background the website www.maxergy,org








Author: ronald rovers