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By about , animals are used for developing organs that can be donated to humans.

The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created

Superproductive animals and ultrahardy, high-yielding plants bring another veritable green revolution to countries sustaining large populations. By the end of the transitional era, around , real advances begin to be made in the field of biological computation, where billions of relatively slow computations, done at the level of DNA, can be run simultaneously and brought together in the aggregate to create the ultimate in parallel processing. So-called DNA computing looks as though it will bring about big advances in the speed of processing sometime after —certainly by the middle of the century.

Then comes the fourth technology wave—nanotechnology. Once the realm of science fiction, this microscopic method of construction becomes a reality in Scientists and engineers figure out reliable methods to construct objects one atom at a time. Among the first commercially viable products are tiny sensors that can enter a person's bloodstream and bring back information about its composition. By , these micromachines are able to do basic cell repair.

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However, nanotechnology promises to have a much more profound impact on traditional manufacturing as the century rolls on. Theoretically, most products could be produced much more efficiently through nanotech techniques.


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By , the theory is still far from proven, but small desktop factories for producing simple products arrive. By about , nanotech techniques begin to be applied to the development of computing at the atomic level. Quantum computing, rather than DNA computing, proves to be the heir to microprocessors in the short run. In working up to the billion-transistor microprocessor in , engineers seem to hit insurmountable technical barriers: the scale of integrated circuits has shrunk so small that optical-lithography techniques fail to function.

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Fortunately, just as the pace of microprocessing power begins to wane, quantum computing clicks in. Frequent increases in computing power once again promise to continue unabated for the foreseeable future. All four waves of technology coursing through this era—computers, telecom, biotech, and nanotech—contribute to a surge of economic activity. In the industrial era, a booming economy would have put a severe strain on the environment: basically everything we made, we cooked, and such high-temperature cooking creates a lot of waste by-products.

The logic of the era also tended toward larger and larger factories, which created pollution at even greater scales. Biotech, on the other hand, uses more moderate temperature realms and emulates the processes of nature, creating much less pollution. Infotech, which moves information electronically rather than physically, also makes much less impact on the natural world. Moving information across the United States through the relatively simple infotechnology of the fax, for example, proves to be seven times more energy efficient than sending it through Federal Express. Furthermore, these technologies are on an escalating track of constant refinement, with each new generation becoming more and more energy efficient, with lower and lower environmental impact.

Even so, these increasing efficiencies are not enough to counteract the juggernaut of a booming global economy. Fortunately, the fifth wave of new technology—alternative energy—arrives right around the turn of the century with the introduction of the hybrid electric car. Stage one begins in the late s when automobile companies such as Toyota roll out vehicles using small diesel- or gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engines to power an onboard generator that then drives small electric motors at each wheel.

The car runs on electric power at low RPMs but uses the internal-combustion engine at highway speeds, avoiding the problem of completely battery-powered electric vehicles that run out of juice after 60 miles.

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The early hybrids are also much more efficient than regular gas-powered cars, often getting 80 miles to a gallon. Stage two quickly follows, this time spurred by aerospace companies such as Allied Signal, which leverage their knowledge of jet engines to build hybrids powered by gas turbines.

By , technology previously confined to aircraft's onboard electric systems successfully migrates to automobiles. These cars use natural gas to power the onboard generators, which then drive the electric motors at the wheels. They also make use of superstrong, ultralight new materials that take the place of steel and allow big savings on mileage. Then comes the third and final stage: hybrids using hydrogen fuel cells. The simplest and most abundant atom in the universe, hydrogen becomes the source of power for electric generators—with the only waste product being water.

No exhaust. No carbon monoxide. Just water. The basic hydrogen-power technology had been developed as far back as the Apollo space program, though then it was still extremely expensive and had a nasty tendency to blow up. By the late s, research labs such as British Columbia-based Ballard Power Systems are steadily developing the technology with little public fanfare. Within 10 years, there are transitional hydrogen car models that extract fuel from ordinary gasoline, using the existing network of pumps. By , hydrogen is being processed in refinery-like plants and loaded onto cars that can go thousands of miles—and many months—before refueling.

The technology is vastly cheaper and safer than in the s and well on its way to widespread use. These technological developments drive nothing less than a wholesale transformation of the automobile industry through the first quarter of the new century. Initially prodded by government decrees such as California's zero-emission mandate—which called for 10 percent of new cars sold to have zero emissions by —the industrial behemoths begin to pick up speed when an actual market for hybrid cars opens up.

People buy them not because they are the environmentally correct option but because they're sporty, fast, and fun. And the auto companies build them because executives see green—as in money, not trees. This to year industrial retooling sends reverberations throughout the global economy. The petrochemical giants begin switching from maintaining vast networks that bring oil from remote Middle Eastern deserts to building similarly vast networks that supply the new elements of electrical power.

Fossil fuels will continue to be a primary source of power into the middle of the 21st century—but they will be clean fossil fuels. By , almost all new cars are hybrid vehicles, mostly using hydrogen power.

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That development alone defuses much of the pressure on the global environment. The world may be able to support quite a few additional automobile drivers—including nearly 2 billion Chinese. While the end of the Cold War initiates the waves of technology rippling through our year era, that's only half the story. The other half has to do with an equally powerful force: globalization.

While it is spurred by new technologies, the emergence of an interconnected planet is propelled more by the power of an idea—the idea of an open society.

From a historical vantage point, globalization also begins right around One of the souls who best articulates this idea of the open society is Mikhail Gorbachev. It's Gorbachev who helps bring about some of its most dramatic manifestations: the fall of the Wall, the collapse of the Soviet empire, the end of the Cold War. He helps inititate a vast wave of political change that includes the democratization of eastern Europe and Russia itself.

The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created

To kick it off, Gorbachev introduces two key concepts to his pals in the Politburo in , two ideas that will resonate not just in the Soviet Union but through all the world. One is glasnost. The other is perestroika. Openness and restructuring—the formula for the age, the key ingredients of the long boom.

An equally important character is China's Deng Xiaoping. His actions don't bring about the same dramatic political change, but right around the same time as Gorbachev, Deng initiates a similarly profound shift of policies, applying the concepts of openness and restructuring to the economy. This process of opening up—creating free trade and free markets—ultimately makes just as large a global impact.

No place is this more apparent than in Asia. Japan grasps the gist of this economic formula long before the buzz begins, pulling a group of Asian early adopter countries in its wake. By the s, Japan has nearly perfected the industrial-age manufacturing economy. But by , the rules of the global economy have changed to favor more nimble, innovative processes, rather than meticulous, methodical economies of scale. Many of the attributes that favored Japan in the previous era, such as a commitment to lifelong employment and protected domestic markets, work against the country this time around.

Japan enters the long slump of the s. By the end of the decade, Japan has watched the United States crack the formula for success in the networked economy and begins to adopt the model in earnest.