Friday, November 19, 2010

Potash More Significant Than Computers - Manitoba Prof Makes the Case

What was the most significant technological advance of the 20th Century for humanity? A debate held recently by The Economist moved that "the development of computing was the single most important technological advance of the 20th Century."

University of Manitoba Distinguished Professor and noted author, Vaclav Smil, argued against the motion, saying that the development of artificial fertilizers easily trumps computers. Considering that there were only about 1 billion people on the planet in 1900, with hundreds of millions undernourished, and that now there are 6 billion people, it would seem that Smil had an excellent case. However the Economist readers did not agree, handing the debate to Smil's opponent by a pretty substantial 74 - 26 % margin.

The rest of the story...

Bill Gates is a big fan of Smil, even featuring him on his The Gates Notes bloggy type thing. Smyl is a prolific author of what Gates calls important books. Among them, two landmark energy analyses and the recent, Why America is Not a New Rome, which Gates also likes.

In case anyone is wondering, Smyl is squarely on board with the rest of legitimate science on the global warming question, urging that we fast track efforts to achieve maximum energy with the least possible environmental impact.


doconnor said...

I haven't read the debate, but we are reaching the limits of the benefits to be gained from artificial fertilizer, but we've only seen a fraction of the benefits of computing will bring.

Offroad Artist said...

I agree that computers will ultimately be more important in the future. But I'm not so sure that the effect of fertilizer has any near maxed. I've seen theories where the world supports untold billions of people with hydroponic growing systems and vertical cities.

doconnor said...

I don't disagree, but I wouldn't credit the potential of vertical farming to fertilizer, but to (computer controlled) hydroponics of which fertilizer is only a small part.