AOH :: PROBWRLD.TXT|
On Solving the Great Problems of the World by Llewellyn King
Mr. Llewellen King
Publisher of The Energy Daily, Defense Week, and Environmental Week
Intersociety Energy Conversion Engineering Conference
Invited Luncheon Speaker
American Nuclear Society, Host Organization
Boston Marriott Copley Place Hotel
August 7, 1991
Selected Excerpts Made by Videotape Transcription
On Solving the Great Problems of the World
I have been observing many meetings on 'Solving the Great Problems of the
World' for many years now.
One of the things we are constantly looking for in our meetings, and have been
for many decades, is an elusive thing called 'Energy policy.' This is like
looking for the 'Holy Grail.' ... Since the early 1970's, there has been much
searching for this Holy Grail.
(regarding public, political, and governmental policy)
Now the problem with all of this, and it is not only our problem, it is a
problem that I see throughout the world, is that we do not hold cohesively
against certain national problems. Or, it takes a very long time to get
together a consensus to make a decision.
In energy, we have made decisions in the United States that have lead us in
one direction. ... They hold decisions in 'Public Policy' as separate from
Now, sometimes a government can act decisively. This is a great quality, and
sometimes it is a great error: sometimes it goes the Wrong Way!
Now in science and technology, (I think that we say) that in a rather
Ecumenical way, that all science and all engineering and all discovery is
good, and it should be financed. And then we break apart into our separate
disciplines, and we believe that what we (individually) are doing is good and
it should be financed; and that it might be the entrepreneur solution to all
our problems. The problem of the commitment with scientists and engineers, is
that it tends to be looked at in a one factor analysis and extrapolated out
into the future.
(in relating a story told by a senior member on the Science and Technology
"I don't know what to do about these scientist fellows. They come in here and
want a million dollars from my Appropriations Committee to discover something.
And, well you give the million dollars, and they probably discover something,
and then they're back the next year - and they want three three million to
find out what is that they discovered."
This is another problem in science, and that is that we tend to spend all of
our efforts to replicate something that we have, instead of taking that
'Quantum Leap Forward' to the next thing! It is understandable in this
situation that that is quite comparable to building a wind machine to make the
sail ship more efficient. Instead of taking the power and driving the
propeller. We do it all the time!
When Howard Hughes built the 'Spruce Goose', he had a problem: he didn't have
enough power for it. He had eight reciprocating engines. He needed a 'Giant
Step Forward.' He understood this. There was no point in adding more engines
and propellers. He needed the Jet Engine!
Sometimes I think that we are trying to replicate something that we have had,
instead of taking a 'Quantum Leap Forward.' And, it is not always clear what
that 'Forward Step' is.
(while relating a story regarding a slow train trip during after his first
seeing a demonstration of fiber optics:)
... And I was just stunned. It was amazing, this technology.
And I began thinking about electricity, about energy in general, and where is
the 'Quantum Leap Forward?' Where is the jump from a copper wire to a fiber
or to cable? Where was the 'Leap Forward!' Where was the 'Equivalent' of
fiber optics (for electricity)?
Whatever we have done to improve the production of electricity, we have done
one tremendous thing: and that is nuclear. We are still boiling water! And
we are still using 19th century plumbing. We are still using 21st century
technology on top of 19th century plumbing!
We have failed with energy to come up with the 'Great Big Breakthrough!' 'The
Major Change.' 'The Radically Different Thing.'
The new technologies (discussed at this conference), such as
magnetohydrodynamics, (are coming forth)... and yet these things have not
fostered - and we are still left boiling water!
It is theoretically possible that we could at some point take this 'Quantum
Leap.' However, (from where I sit and what I see) the evidence is not
promising. There us nothing in sight that looks as though it can substitute
for the way we do it now.
(about the US love affair with and inside of gasoline automobiles,
and about how to advance any forthcoming technology)
We are not going to do it until we deploy some new cars, get running
experience, and incremental improvements. You cannot get from Kitty Hawk to
the Concord without building some airplanes along the way, and yes, crashing
them to boot. You could not have designed from Kitty Hawk to the 747 on a
We are restricted, in these days upon this world, in deploying new
technologies and think projects. Because we have developed a dismal habit of
trying to predict the future - and the risks of the future. We are no good at
it, and we know that. There is no projection of the future that works!
However, we live in very strange times. And again I find there is an
international commonality, that is not particularly American, but that is that
our 'Public Policy' is driven by 'Hypothetical Horrors' that we are known (to
be fostering). ... 'Hypothetical Horrors' abound: they are on our front pages
every day! ... We are driven by these events, not by what is here now, not
by what is real, but by what might be! And it is having a deleterious impact
on the development of large projects and changes in the way we have done
As so often, the United States becomes the first in this sort of grid-lock
fear of the future. And that is not confined to us. It is a world-wide
Things are changing very quickly. And it seems to me, that the great success
of Japan to which they should be promoted and welcomed, and admired, and the
last above all these, is that the Japanese have collectively taken on the
'Adventure of Science!' That they have a sense of adventure about science,
about commerce, and about engineering - that the British had in the 18th and
19th centuries, and that we had in the latter part of the one and in the early
part of this century; and we know that!
We have become rather slow in society, where everybody is looking for some
sort of mystical plateau, on which they can serve out their time on Earth.
Corporations are looking for this plateau, individuals are looking for it, and
therefore anything that suggests change, competition, or different ways of
doing things, is very difficult to deal with.
One of the Great Problems that you have as engineers and scientists, and there
may be people in this very room who can make enormous contributions to the
energy equation, is the slowness, is the slowness, that we have of adopting
new technology: 'Technology Transfer.'
Most of the technologies that we now speak about on the Globe have been around
for a good while, and were not developed in the manner in which they were
invented. Whether it was the jet engine in Britain or Ampex (magnetic) tape
in the United States: We are reluctant to transfer technology! Because of
disturbing the 'Political Tide!'
We have not solved the technology transfer problem whatsoever. We have set up
various crucibles of experimentation, bases, privately funded like the
Electric Power Research Institute, publicly funded like the national
laboratories in this country, or Harwell in Britain, and on and on and on, but
the rate of transfer has is very very poor and very slow.
More productive societies are still looking for their plateau. They have not
reached that point of self-satisfaction that is causing us such difficulty as
we move ahead.
In energy, we have adopted in this country one of the most destructive public
policy options that you could have: We have declared that gasoline could be
the next cheapest substance available in large quantities than water. It's
much cheaper than Coca Cola, it is much cheaper than Gatorade water, it is
much cheaper than all the other silly things - and in that, we are serving a
staple to our consumers that is much larger than all of our rhetoric. And we
are prepared, apparently, to fight wars, in order to maintain this.
Therefore, there is very little hope for some (new) form of energy policy,
while the people are prepared to pay for their largest extravagance in energy,
which is gasoline. It is not electricity; it is not crude oil; it is
gasoline - petrol. We are sending a signal that this is the way to go!!!
If any of you have gone to purchase a new automobile these days, you will find
the salesman as often as not will forget to tell you in the United States, the
gas mileage. I doubt that in Italy he doesn't forget to tell you the gas
That has become our 'policy.' Therefore, we cannot look to 'energy policy'
for 'energy policy guidance.' The 'policy' being one of: 'Let It Stay As It
But we can look to 'environmental policy,' which is more active in the United
States than in any other nation.
(on the US electric utility industry)
And it is my belief that a gas turbine is to energy policy that a hotel is to
homelessness: a very expensive and temporary alternative.
(back to the US energy policy)
And this mess is going to go on until a point in time. And then something is
going to happen that is going to change it - permanently, and differently.
And, this involves a theory that I have. And that is that we like to say
that: "You can't just have simple solutions to complex problems. You must
have complex solutions to complex problems." So you get: 'Very Complex
Solutions' to 'Very Complex Problems.' Until the point is reached where the
weight of this thing causes its own collapse - and a 'Big Bold Simple
Solution' to the 'complex problem' is required. And when that emergency is
perceived, 'Big Bold Simple Solutions' are introduced, and they Do Work! They
can be swept thru Parliaments, swept thru Congress, or implemented by Fear, as
as often happens. And at some point, as we roll toward the next century, it
is my belief that we will again visit (vastly increased) oil prices, oil
shorts (shortages), and environmental impact problems. Do not forget that the
Green Movement may be driving the (energy) policy, and the environmental
impact is quite substantial in that it extends from the extraction, to the
transportation, to the combustion (empires). At which time we will look at
some of the things that are (waiting) in the wings, and some of the things
that may be in the wings!
And if you would go out and invent a new electric generator today, the 'Black
Box,' the equivalent of the fiber optic cable, you would find that the most
severe opponent would not be from the environmental movement, but it would be
the extant of the industry (to not be destroyed or lost), because that is how
And likewise, if we would come up with an electric vehicle that is of the
form, or equal to, or was in close relationship with the internal combustion
engine, your opponents would be worldwide: the automobile manufactures would
not be ready to adopt this new technology.
(on the development and introduction of new technologies)
And in order to do that, I believe that you will need new institutions to
deploy new technology. That they won't be deployed by the extant of the old
The Challenge in Technology is to find it, and then sell it, and finally to
employ it. After R&D is another D, which is 'Deployment.' The technology
that is developed and put onto the self is sueable.
In the situation that we are in, in the nation, it takes a Professional
Society to be their own advocates in their own technology. The corporations
are not credible, and even governments are not credible. An individual and
individual societies are.
You are in a very exciting situation, because as being scientists and being
engineers, you have inherited the mantle of the poets: You can dream the
dreams that only once poets could dream. We too become obsolete.
Thank you very much.
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