Research Associate at ALLFED - Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters

Opinions my own.

"The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical." - Albert Camus, The Plague

Altruism is the rational response to an irrational world.

Wiki Contributions


Comments for shorter Cold Takes pieces

In response to the following parts of your post:

  • "the only relevant-seeming academic field I found (Utopian Studies) is rooted in literary criticism rather than social science"
  • "most of the people there were literary scholars who had a paper or two on utopia but didn't heavily specialize in it"
  • "Rather than excitement about imagining designing utopias, the main vibe was critical examination of why one would do such a thing"

I know a scholar who heavily specializes in the study of Utopia from the social sciences perspective (history) rather than literaty criticism: Juan Pro Ruiz, coordinator of the HISTOPIA project (~30 researchers, link in English). In their latest project, they are:

"analyzing the locations and geographical spaces of utopianism - both of unrealized or merely imaginary utopian projects (literature, cinema, art...) and of utopian experiments tested with greater or lesser success (in the form of social movements or intentional communities) - throughout contemporary history (19th to 21st centuries), while making an exceptional foray into the Modern Age in search of precedents and long-term trends. [...] even testing the heuristic possibilities of the human body as a space for the realization of utopias and dystopias in the field of contemporary science fiction or the transhumanist movement."

I recently attended a symposium on Utopian thinking by Juan Pro in Madrid. He seemed extremely knowledgeable in the subject, and quite positive about the usefulness of serious Utopian exploration as a tool for navigating the present towards a better future. From the HISTOPIA web page:

"HISTOPIA seeks to go beyond the philological approach that predominates in Utopian Studies and to historicize the study of contemporary utopias and dystopias, showing how they respond to the contexts in which they arise, since they reflect the problems and frustrations of a society as well as the aspirations for change it contains, and the conditions of possibility that a particular cultural and emotional framework offers for developing them. [...] to recognize a new surge of the utopian impulse in the present times, asserting its need to provide a channel for the “hope principle” and stimulate the emergence of innovative ideas that constitute responses to the problems of the present. In short, the group explores the meaning of utopia (and its alternatives) for contemporary societies, as a mechanism for the construction of possibilities, a true laboratory of thought and action, in which we experiment with the forms of political, economic and social organization of the future."

I found this email online if you want to contact him: juan.pro@uam.es. If you prefer, I could make an introduction.

[Linkpost] Don't Look Up - a Netflix comedy about asteroid risk and realistic societal reactions (Dec. 24th)

I'll be looking forward to see if/how they deal with the aftermath of the impact, and specifically with the agricultural collapse that would ensue which is probably the most severe consequence of an asteroid/comet impact.

Cultured meat: A comparison of techno-economic analyses

I think I see what you're getting at, let me add a couple of things:

  1. Quorn's mycoprotein is produced from a different microorganism (Fusarium Venenatum), with different growth rates and processing steps than baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), so you are correct. It is more expensive than yeast, and also compared to the gas-based SCPs I mentioned.

Based on a conversation I had with an ex-Quorn scientist, the wholesale selling price of Quorn products is ~$3/kg wet (which makes sense given the intensive postprocessing and other additional steps). I'm uncertain as to how it would differ from yeast when comparing them in a similar state (e.g. drying as pretty much the sole post-processing step, which is the case of the values I gave for yeast and methane-based SCP), but I imagine that even then Quorn would be at least twice the production cost of yeast/methane SCP.

  1. A little clarification about my research: I did not run a TEA as such to calculate capital and operational expenditures of the gas-based SCP production systems. Rather, I used published values from TEAs run by SCP companies themselves as an input to my model. I used these for my goal of estimating the retail price in a catastrope and the ramp-up speed of fast construction of SCP factories in case of catastrophe.

I did not try to perform validation of the published values as I did not have access to the calculations run by those companies. Instead, I made sure that my results are robust to relatively large changes in the TEA results published by the SCP companies via sensitivity analysis. I'm happy to talk more about the methodology if you're interested.

Cultured meat: A comparison of techno-economic analyses

Pretty much the only thing currently standing between us and bacterial SCP-based food (such as from methane or CO2/H2) is the lack of approval for use as a human food. Most or all of these companies have shown interest in the human food market, and a few of them are publicly pursuing it, such as Solar Foods. I expect they will be available in the next few years.

As Humbird mentions in the TEA and other sources confirm, the production cost of baker's yeast is well known (~$1.80/kg dry), so no need to run any numbers for that. I'm fairly confident SCP from methane will be lower cost at scale as I mentioned above, but not SCP from CO2. Methane SCPs will almost certainly be quite a bit cheaper than yeast in terms of cost per unit of protein.

Fun fact: these protein-rich SCPs will be so much cheaper than cultured meats, that SCP companies have been promoting their use as a raw material for cultured meat production.

Cultured meat: A comparison of techno-economic analyses

Then again, I do believe that you can culture simple cells for a lower cost. I estimated the cost of producing protein-rich single cells from methane at $1-2/dry kg. https://osf.io/94mkg/

However, those numbers are for a bacteria that feeds on gas. The yeast analogy is much closer to mammalian cultures.

Cultured meat: A comparison of techno-economic analyses

I found this really interesting:

Humbird first models a Techno-Economic Analysis (TEA) where all parameters are similar to baker’s yeast [...] The analysis comes to $3.87/kg of wet (70% water) cell mass for the constrained yeast process. As yeast production at scale is already a highly optimized process over many decades, and the additional constraints mentioned so far are pretty close to the fundamental biological nature of animal cells, it seems unlikely that we can do better than a lower bound of $3.87/kg. Unfortunately, there are other constraints.

If you believe this analysis to be representative of reality, then it follows that cultured meat will never be able to reach parity with current chicken and pork meat prices. Together, these two make over 2/3 of global meat production.

See: https://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=pork&months=120 https://www.indexmundi.com/commodities/?commodity=chicken&months=120 https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/per-capita-meat-consumption-by-type-kilograms-per-year?country=~OWID_WRL

What is your favorite EA meme?

Good point, but I don't see how you can produce a version of this meme without specific assertions of effectiveness of each of the interventions (without killing the funny) . Alas, it did not pass peer review.

Report on Whether AI Could Drive Explosive Economic Growth

I suppose this was briefly touched upon as part of Objection number 1, but could you comment on the apparent coupling between economic growth and energy use? See for example: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/electric-power-and-natural-gas/our-insights/the-decoupling-of-gdp-and-energy-growth-a-ceo-guide#

Is there reason ro believe AI could produce a decoupling of the two?

EAGxVirtual 2020 lightning talks

Hello, Juan here. Here's the final version of the paper I mentioned we were working on during my talk for those who would like to know more: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.spc.2020.08.011

Thanks for taking the time to transcribe the talks

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