by Daniel D. Dijk
‘More with Less’ by Alle Bruggink and Diederik van der Hoeven reads as an exciting adventure novel. Quite a rare event in literature on technology. The authors take as their subject a broad spectrum of technologies that will have a major influence on our daily life.
‘Precision’ appears to be the secret, in the fields of energy, agriculture, chemistry, transport, and the medical sciences. Precision technology, a cocktail of ICT, nanotechnology and biochemistry, allows us to process energy and materials much more efficiently. The authors show that precision technologies make headway in many areas and produce better results, at lower prices and causing much less environmental damage. Precision agriculture will enable us easily to feed 10 billion people in 2050 even with a reduction in agricultural acreage, because with it, we administer exactly the required amount of water, light and nutrients at exactly the right time and place. Likewise, in the field of energy, precision appears to be the motor behind drastic reductions in energy use across the board. Intelligent infrastructure with storage capacity will allow us to make an optimal use of our planet’s bountiful energy resources. The authors expect that the share of ever cheaper sustainable sources will equal that of fossil energy as early as 2040.
The chapters on new precision materials, conceived to perform exactly their designated tasks, constitute the most important section of the book. In this area, plants and animals prove to be great sources of inspiration – they often find surprising solutions for problems that we tend to look upon as unsolvable, like walking on water or on the ceiling. And the authors hold that chemical and biological catalysis will enable us to develop precision medicines that do their job without any overkill at exactly the right time and place. Or to develop superior bioplastics from agricultural waste streams. Often, these new materials have better properties than the existing ones.
Finally, the authors discuss precision in society, and propose that also in this area, it will gain in importance. Take the sharing economy as an example: sharing instead of owning goods. The authors might be somewhat over-enthusiastic here. For the sharing economy does not have just positive consequences, see the ongoing discussion on Uber and Airbnb. A more interesting question dealt with by the authors, is whether GDP will still be a good yardstick for the economy, as we will use less and less feedstock pursuing on the path of precision technology. Invariably, technology requires reflection on its social consequences and on possible dilemmas. Much is still hidden from us, but one thing seems to be sure: precision technology is here to stay, and will make a major contribution to the realisation of an old dream of mankind: endless energy and feedstock in ample supply, on a habitable planet.
Daniel D. Dijk