We once relied on our own sinews, muscles and brute strength. Then we created tools. Spears, clubs, digging and banging tools, cutting tools, but still muscle powered. Over time, we developed levers, screws, nails, bows and other complex devices to amplify our strength, but it was still just us. If we had a big project, we either had to have a lot of us, or go get other people and force them to do the work. Those early projects like the pyramids included a lot of unhappy laborers using ropes and logs to pull big blocks.
Then, we domesticated some big animals. History now shows we domesticated dogs over 10,000 years ago. (see my earlier post). However, dogs were good at guarding and fun to pet and hang out with, but not much help with building and farming.
Horses, water buffaloes, cattle and such were a huge improvement. We learned to harness their strength to pull plows, pull logs, to carry us over long distances, to do all sorts of useful things. In fact, we still measure things in “horse power.” This period of time lasted for a long, long time. Sure there were basic machines, such as the trebuchet or catapult that worked on torsion, friction and other physics, but there was simply not much in the way of power.
Some used gravity, such as the ingenious aquaducts built by the Romans to haul water which relied on slight changes in elevation. But for the most part, it was human labor, some horses and some cattle. The first real power source advance was gunpowder. At first a plaything and more fireworks and flash than power, we soon learned how to propel bullets and shells to kill each other and knock down fortresses. Most of our really good advances came from wanting to kill each other more efficiently.
This again lasted for about 800 years before coal and steam power really came into its own during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
This time, in less than 100 years, petroleum and oil products replaced steam, while electricity came on to the scene as well.
Electrification and petroleum became dominant power sources quite quickly, with coal tagging along for the ride still. The next big advance was nuclear power, which happened just 50 years later. Concerns with nuclear power have resulted in no new plants in America in a very long time, but many places in the world, such as France, use it extensively.
So what will the next major change be and when will it occur? We went for thousands of years with brute force. Then around 2,000 years with brute force and domesticated animals. Then 800 years with gunpowder added. Then we went 80 years with steam. Then 50 with oil and electricity, then added nuclear. Of course, we have solar, geothermal, methane trash gas collectors, wind turbines, hydroelectric, etc, but those represent a very small portion of the world’s energy, and despite people’s green fantasies, they will not likely ever be enough to replace gasoline, electricity and nuclear.
Could it be clean fusion? Hyper magnetics? Hydrogen? According to history and the accleration of technology, we should be on the cusp of something new right now. Also, according to history, we likely have no idea what it will be, until about five to ten years after it has taken over the world.
What do you think?