David Robert notes in an excellent explainer in Vox : the molten core of the earth is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly the same temperature as the Sun.

If we could tap 0.1 percent of the energy under the earth's surface we could supply humanity's total energy needs for two million years.

Engineers are figuring out how to mine the the heat in the nonporous rock beneath the surface, As Robert writes, ''If it's more enthusiastic backers are correct, geothermal may hold the key to making  100 percent clean electricity available to everyone in the world.''

This is not even to mention Fusion. In one of those stories that felt epochal when you read it, my Time colleague Henry Fountain reported last September on how M.I.T. researchers had designed a compact nuclear reactor that should work.

China currently has an experimental thermonuclear reactor that is reaching 270 million degrees Fahrenheit.

It feels like autonomous vehicles have been three years away for the last 10 years. But sooner or later they will arrive. Waymo has already started a driverless rides service in Phoenix like Uber and Lyft, but with nobody in the front seat.

Meanwhile in the electric car sector, Toyota is developing a vehicle that can go 310 miles on one charge and can charge from zero to full in 10 minutes

One could go on : artificial intelligence; space exploration seems to be heating up; a variety of antiaging technologies are being pursued.

Last week The Times reported on an obesity drug. There's even lab-grown meat. This is meat grown from animal cells that would enable us to enjoy steaks and Chicken McNuggets without actually slaughtering cows and chickens.

Obviously, all these wins are not going to pay off, but what if we gradually created the world with clean cheap energy, driverless cars and more energetic productive years in our lives?

On the plus side, global productivity would surge. What economists call total factor productivity has been grinding along with 0 to 2 percent increases for years. But a series of breakthroughs could keep productivity surging.

All economies, and the world, would feel very, very different.

On the negative side, the dislocations would be enormous, too. What happens to all those drivers?  What happens to all those people who work on ranches if labs take significant share of the market?

The political difficulties will be complicated by the fact that the people who will profit from these high tech industries tend to tend to live in the highly educated blue parts of the country, while the old industry workers who would be displaced tend to live in the less educated red parts.

We would be riding the tiger of rapid change. The economy would grow faster but millions of people would have trouble finding a place in it. Universal basic income would become a red-hot topic.

Government investment  has spurred a lot of this progress Governments would have come up with aggressive ways to mitigate the shocks. But it is better to face the challenges of dynamism than the challenges of stasis.

Life would be longer and healthier, energy would be cleaner and cheaper, there would be a greater sense of progress and wonder. 

In an era of political, economic and viruses gloom. I thought the world and the students at large ought to have some good news.

The World Students Society thanks author David Brooks.


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