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Eight ideas concerning nature and technology

Download the PDF translation of Lev Shulyak

G.S.Altshuller, M.S.Rubin, 1987.


What will happen after the final victory

Eight ideas concerning nature and technology


Let us not be carried away by satisfaction

Concerning our victories over nature.

It will take its revenge for each of such victories.

Frederick Engels. Dialectic of nature.


There are three main types of destructive influence of modern technical civilization on nature:


1. Criminal destruction of nature. The most explicit form of destroying natural environment. For example, setting woods on fire: hundreds of thousands hectares of wood perish in fires. Drainage of wastes from the tankers - in an open sea, secretly.  Drainage of wastes of chemical and oil processing industry into rivers and lakes. Exhaust of  noxious gases into the atmosphere despite all sanitary norms.

Inadmissibility of criminal destruction of nature is to some extent understood by society. The laws protecting nature from barbaric annihilation are constantly getting more and more strict.

There are reserves for protection of nature here: in general, still more stringent laws could be passed any time and a more stringent control over the adherence to these laws could be arranged.

2. “Legal” destruction of nature. The laws enable to destroy nature within the scope of certain limits, which purport to be safe for nature. After a lapse of every 10—15 years it becomes clear that these limits should be made more stringent: the norms are revised, made stricter, however in most cases it is already too late... It seems that very stringent norms had to be introduced at once. However, it would destroy the foundations of engineering civilization. Thus, in order to do away with photo-chemical smog in Los Angeles, it is necessary to forbid car traffic. Who would venture to do this? Legal destruction of nature is dictated by economic feasibility. It is difficult to change the notion of "feasibility": our idea of human values has to be modified. Now in the discussion "a car in the center of the city or a forest in the outskirts of the city" the car unconditionally wins...

Of course, there can be such "legal" destruction, which is not dictated by a strict economic necessity. This is a situation around the cellulose resources in Baikal district. The area of drying woods in Baikal district currently constitutes half million hectares, fishes die, the chemical composition of water changes... Obtainment of a certain additional amount of cellulose outweighs - as a factor of "feasibility" - the value of unique natural region.

Sometimes "legal" destruction of nature develops not directly, but by chain. In the law there is no prohibition to construct tankers of higher water displacement. However, a big tanker means a lot of oil concentrated on one and the same ship. And a sea will remain a sea - with all its dangers, and while the wreck of a small tanker is a dangerous accident, the wreck of a supertanker, which carries half a million or a million tons of oil is a catastrophe of planetary scale.

Aviation develops intensely: the number of airplanes grows, power of motors gets enhanced and the height of air flights increases.  Greater and greater amount of harmful gases is thrown into the atmosphere - again on a legal base. The law does not see the growing danger of destruction of ozone layer in the atmosphere. At the same time ozone protects all creatures living on Earth from vicious ultraviolet rays.

Power of laser devices grows – the law never thought about possible consequences of action of powerful laser rays upon the atmosphere...

The laws try not to infringe the interests of economy. The laws don’t look into the future. It explains "legal" destruction of nature, which is becoming more and more powerful.

There are certain reserves here. The legislation could be more severe and more far-looking. However, these reserves are not so great: it is impossible to significantly break economic development and scientific-and-engineering progress.

3. Necessary elimination of nature. The number of population of our planet dramatically grows. New cities are needed as well as new plants and factories, new roads... New place is needed for engineering world. This place is nowhere to be borrowed from, it has to be taken from nature.

Let us suppose that the criminal destruction of nature is put an end to, wise and thoughtful laws, predicting distant future are issued, thus putting an end to wasteful development of economy, no obviously criminal destruction of nature takes place and no “legally refuted squandering of natural resources” is observed. Nevertheless, engineering will quickly elbow out nature: the place is needed for increasing population, place is also needed for engineering devices that would provide for high level of well-being of the rapidly growing population of the planet.

Let us imagine something impossible: already now efficient measures are being taken to decrease the rates of growth of the Earth population. In the most ideal case the results of these measures will become tangible in three or four generations. And this period of time is more than enough for practically complete substitution of nature by engineering.

Idea 1. The modern age is still characterized by shaky equilibrium of nature and engineering, however potentially nature is doomed, it will inevitably be elbowed out by rapidly developing engineering – even if barbarous extermination of nature  (illegal and “legal”) is stopped.

The thought that even in the ideal case nature will be inevitably elbowed out by engineering meets with a strong psychological resistance. “It cannot happen, because it can never happen...”

The most widely spread argument is: there is still a lot of free space on our planet. In fact, the cities, manufacturing plants, as well as roads occupy only 3.2 per cent of land of our planet; ploughed fields and gardens – 10.6; pastures – 23.2; water reservoirs, rivers and lakes – 2.4 per cent. Totally – 39.4 per cent of available land. It could seem that it is not so much – less than one half. However, what do the remaining lands look like? Glaciers, sands and lands spoiled by the humans - 15 per cent; the woods - 30; deserts – 6.9; swamps - 3; tundra – 5.5 per cent.

The territory has been already completely divided!  The growth of territories, which are intended for ploughing earth has already stopped. The area of woods annually decreases by 1.7 per cent (i.e. by 0.5 per cent of the entire fund). These rates are catastrophic: if there are no woods and oceans, there will be no oxygen in the atmosphere. Suppose, we start to develop deserts? It is a very expensive and slowly progressing business! Let us take Kara-Kum channel. Concrete bed was very expensive to construct – the channel has an earth bed, which leads to the loss of 17 per cent of water passing through it. 170 thousand liters of water per second! The level of ground waters is raised and salt lakes are formed… The consequences are predictable only in one respect: no good is to be expected. Drying the swamps? The ecological equilibrium is violated, many kinds of plants disappear, some species of animals die... Everything is necessary – deserts, swamps and forests. What could have been taken from nature, has been mainly taken already...

Another argument: engineering, in the course of evolution, has a tendency to miniaturization, modern computers are thousands times smaller than the computers of the first generation. Yes, the operation elements of modern machines become more compact, their productivity per unit of weight and volume increase. However, this particular circumstance creates conditions for a dramatic growth in the number of machines produced: the volume is thousand times smaller, however the number of operation elements is thousand times greater and this or that kind of machines occupies thousand times more space on Earth, and the area required for production and servicing of micro-engineering grows accordingly. .

One more argument: technology could be transferred to space... However, this hope remains in vain! The conquest of space requires especially intensive growth of productive areas on Earth: new mining, processing, engineering enterprises. New cities, roads and spaceports are needed...

Nature is doomed. Even if it treated with the highest degree of carefulness, it will still be elbowed out by engineering. Even if we try to brake the evolution of engineering, the braking distance will be too long.

After three or four generations humanity will live in the world, in which nature will find itself in the backyard. The woods will pass through a stage of sanctuaries, then parks, gardens and then will be converted into non-attractive small public gardens. The ploughed fields will be semi-greenhouses. The atmosphere will get dirty up to such norms, which are inadmissible for the human... Maybe, it will happen not in three-four generations, but in five or six ones – what’s the difference?! Another thing is important: it will inevitably happen, it will happen irrevocably, at the most careful attitude to nature, because it has been programmed already. We won’t have any time for changing our life style, we won’t be able to understand that the natural values are immeasurably higher than the “automobile-related values”. No time is left for us to change our mentality and to save nature.

But still there is – there is! – time to face the truth and to get ready for living in a new world – the world of engineering.

Until now engineering dealt with so-called nature-less ”micro-worlds”. Artificial technical worlds were created in a restricted space: in submarines, in the cabins of the aircrafts, inside spaceships, to some extent – in workshops and in living rooms. However, civilization was mainly both of natural and technical nature. Nature was not eliminated, it operated jointly with engineering (and vice versa – engineering was functioning jointly with nature). Nevertheless, of great importance for the evolution of engineering are the tasks, set forth for the purpose of creation and improvement of .
nature-less “micro-worlds”. They were one of the main actuators of engineering progress. Creation and functioning of great nature-less technical world will demand the solving of a number of engineering problems. For long time the needs of the new world will become the main factor preconditioning the future engineering progress.

Idea 2. Design of nature-less technical world (NTW) will enable to early identify the problems, which are of vital importance for existence and evolution of civilization and to get ready for solving these problems in time. Therefore, design of NTW will yield a guideline not only for social, but also for engineering forecasting.

Now we richly pay for the realization of our wishes with the “hard currency” of natural values. When we wanted to have millions of cars, nothing prevented us from it!  Thousands of square kilometers of natural space were occupied by highways, nature was ruined by oil rigging and oil processing... Development of publishing activities led to the cutting of millions of trees, while wood is a source of oxygen...

It is impossible to transfer such world to nature-less conditions is impossible: there is nothing to effect the payment with. NTW should be based on other principles.

The very thought of inevitability of a world without living nature frightens our imagination. However, let us try to switch off our emotions for some time and to sensibly evaluate the possibilities of creating NTW.

Essential implementability of NTW depends first of all, upon the possibility or impossibility to use engineering methods for doing things, which nature does “automatically” and “free of charge”: to provide humanity with oxygen, drinking water, food, energy and materials… A list of nature’s gifts could be endless... Nature “automatically” and “free of charge” supplies humanity with optimum factors of existence: force of gravity, atmospheric pressure, lighting, temperature and air humidity.

Nature tirelessly destroys wastes. It provides for necessary rhythms: change of the seasons, daily cycle, biological rhythms, etc. It offers a reliable protective complex: protection from radiation, from poisonous rays, overheating and overcooling...

Within the frames of this article we shall touch upon only the issue of technogene support of three important functions of nature – supplying humanity with oxygen, fresh water and food.

«Design of NTW», «life support in NTW» - when the problems are stated in such form, an impression is created that NTW is something the erection of which could be begun and ended, however, we are already living in NTW.

Practically we stay indoors all the time: our home, tube, bus, workshop or other room intended for work, shops, theatres and gym halls. We don’t drink water from water wells and biologically clean products are a rarity in our food ratio...

This is the first, initial phase of NTW, implying that the milieu of habitation is to a large extent nature-less, however the support of life is still based on natural systems.

The next phase is an intermediate one: part of life-supporting functions will be performed artificially, while a part of them will imply the use of natural processes. And the “artificial” part will constantly grow.

Finally, the concluding phase: ideal NTW – the world in which the degree of independence from nature (to be exact, from everything, which remain from nature by that time) is rather high (about 90 percent) and continuous to grow.

Creation of NTW is a long process, including fundamentally different phases. Full (ideal) NTW is separated from us – people living in the epoch of “early” NTW, by long centuries. However, it would be reasonable to refer initial estimations concerning life support of humanity life to full NTW – ther process of its formation could appear to be a rapidly accelerating process. Another “preliminary” thought, which precedes the process of estimation is as follows. According to forecasts of United Nations by 2080 the population of Earth will stabilize and will constitute no less than 8 ,billion people. By this time the output of all power units will constitute approximately 7•10*10 kW. Based on this data we shall perform our calculations.

Supply of  oxygen.

In order to be able to breathe, one human being needs 550-600 liters (0.83 kilogram) of oxygen daily.

In 2080 the entire humanity will need 1.6 • 10*15 liters, while the needs of technology (based on the modern structure of oxygen consumption) will amount to 6-9•10*17 liters. If oxygen is obtained from the contaminated air through deep cooling 0.0004-0.0016 kW-hours are consumed per liter of oxygen. For the entire humanity this value will amount to 1.9•10*9 kW annually or 0.27 per cent of entire energy produced in the whole world.

In order to provide for a closed cycle, it is necessary to obtain oxygen from carbon dioxide, which is produced in breathing. In the decomposition of carbon dioxide through electrolysis using solid electrolytes every liter of oxygen obtained during an hour, requires a unit, the power of which is 6-8 W. Every person needs a unit, the power of which is 150 W, the entire humanity needs 1.2•10*9 kW or  1.7 per cent of energy, generated in 2080.

Provision of humanity with oxygen in NTW is a relatively non-complicated task, if only breathing is meant. Another thing is the artificial provision of oxygen for technological needs: the amount of required energy is two times greater than the would-be entire energy generation of the world

Engineering should become oxygen-free.  First of all it means the rejection of coal combustion, as well as of combusting oil products and gas. The flow of new inventions is necessary, which are aimed at the transition to oxygen-less processes. Such inventions are non-profitable today. However, they have to be made and developed right now. To-morrow it will be late.

Supply of water. The norm of water consumption per one human daily constitutes 2.5 litres, under the conditions of desert – up to 10 liters.

In big cities the norm of water consumption for household needs is approximately 500 liters. With regard to consumption of water for industrial needs every human consumes up to 6500 liters of water daily. Long-term space flights on spaceships and orbital stations presuppose the daily norm of water consumption of 2.2-2.5 liters of water per one human, besides, from 6 to 25 liters of water is consumed daily on sanitary and hygienic needs. Many physical, chemical, electrochemical and biological methods for obtainment of water through desalination of sea water or regenerating it from the wastes of human life, from used sanitary and hygienic or technological waters. Consumption of energy in this csasdse could constitute 8-10 kW-hours per cubic meter of water.


Daily norm per human (litre) 

Annual consum-ption by entire humanity, (liter)

Power of units at energy consumption 0.01 kW-hour per 1 liter

Amount of energy in % from entire energy generated in 2080.

For physiological needs


8.76• 10*12

1• 10*7


For household needs

from 150 до 500

from 4.38*1014
to 1.46*1015

from 5* 108
to 1.7*109

from 0.7 to 2.4

For industry and agriculture


1.9• 10*16



The table includes the data on energy consumption at different options of water consumption. The spacemen are satisfied with 28 liters of water daily and less, therefore, it is possible to anticipate the decrease of daily water consumption for household purposes at least to 150 liters per one human None of the variants for meeting the demands for water causes any special trouble – of course, except for the needs of industry and agriculture: intensive readjustment for non-water technology is necessary here.

General expenditures on energy supply will probably be no higher than 10—12 percent of generated energy, out of which only 0.014 percent of generated energy account for life supply. Water supply currently takes 0.7 percent of total generated energy.

Food supply.  Energy value of nutrition of one person should constitute 3000 kilocalories daily. The annual demand of humanity is 1.16*109 kw of “food” energy. In order to calculate the entire energy demand it is necessary to know the efficiency of system, which produces food goods. When natural systems are used (gathering, hunting) several times less muscular energy is wasted than is contained in the obtained food, however, this method requires the areas, which are но этот способ требует в 20 000 times greater and 33 times larger number of man-hours than is required by the modern technology of producing food. Saving of areas as well as time and technology decrease the efficiency of food obtainment. For example, in England 1 kilocalorie of wasted technological energy corresponds to 0.4 kilocalories of produced goods.

There are two mutually opposite tendencies in the manufacturing of food products. On the one hand, the resources of nature are constantly decreasing, which leads to the reduction of efficiency. On the other hand, technology is improved and simplified, which intensifies the effect from the energy wasted during the process of food production. For example, among the food production technologies, which are extensively spread nowadays, there is one technology, which completely excludes the stage of cattle breeding – vegetable protein is artificially converted into a protein, which is of the same value as animal protein.

No technology is known so far, which would enable to provide for a closed cycle of reproducing food products without any elements of natural systems. In the nearest future the tendencies of evolution will consist in the use of simpler natural systems with their symbiosis and their technological processes. Instead of ecosystems their fragments are used, plants are used instead of animals, cellular tissue and bacteria are used instead of plants. At the same time technology of artificial food synthesis is developing. In all cases the efficiency of foods production will be no lower (should not be lower!) than 3-4 percent. In this case 2.9*1010 kW or about 40 percent of entire amount of generated energy will be required in order to provide humanity with food. Agriculture currently consumes 10 percent of energy.

Fundamentally, provision of NTW with basic products necessary for supporting life is almost completely dependent upon “energy payment”. Even the current level of technology guarantees such power industry, which is necessary and is sufficient for erecting an NTW, which embraces 8 billion people. The population of NTW civilization will have to reject automobile transport and aviation transport (in their modern embodiment, which is associated with huge consumption of oxygen, water and precious products), however, it will be possible to live in NTW - to breathe, to drink, to eat.

Idea 3. Technologically (from the viewpoint of power resources) creation of NTW is already implementable at the modern level of technology development. This conclusion is partly sorrowful.  Because the most powerful factor, which would hinder the dying of natural world. Sorrowful as it might seem, it is possible to survive without nature by creating NTW. And the nature will be quickly done away with...

Our formulae are preliminary estimations of minimum minimorum. At the same time the natural world is constructed with a colossal excessiveness. This excessiveness, from the viewpoint of the natural world itself will procure high reliability to it.  And from the point of view of the human or, (if it is possible to say that) from the viewpoint of science and technology, excessiveness yields a possibility of cognition and development.  Exploration and restructuring of the world are associated with mistakes. In the world, which is devoid of excessiveness, such mistakes would mean a catastrophe. The world – weather natural or nature-less needs excessiveness.

One example: the fate of Kara-Bogaz-Gol. In 1982 a 200-meter straight between Kara-Bogaz-Gol and the Caspian Sea was occluded by the dam. Such decision was taken because  Caspian became shallower, which was explained by huge water extraction from Volga. Later on, when the salts of Kara-Bogaz, which had once been a precious raw material were converted into a poison carried throughout huge territories, it appeared that the losses from the drying of Kara-Bogaz-Gol are higher than the losses from Caspian becoming shallower. Concurrently it became clear that the level of Caspian Sea does not decrease, but, on the contrary – increases: the main factor preconditioning its level were tectonic processes of its bottom, but not  the evaporation of Kara-Bogaz-Gol and not the water extraction from Volga... In NTW, which is not characterized by excessiveness, such a “mistake” would mean the global world catastrophe or, at any rate, an extraordinary disaster. Even significantly greater mistakes could be easily endured in the world with high excessiveness...

The design of NTW with a sufficiently high degree of excessiveness at a first approximation is reduced to the creation of energy stores and of restricted number of most important substances. Such a task is beyond the frames of reality. And the word “store” does not mean unused “store”.

In winter the mountain village Kurush in Daghestan is completely separated from civilization. Simnce Ancient times the fences near the houses are made of manure. If it appears by the end of winter that the amount of fuel is insufficient, the fences are gradually disassembled and their parts are used for heating. In summer these stores are renewed. In 1962 an analogous solution was put forth by the American company “Grumman Aircraft”: to manufacture part of internal partitions of the spaceships “Appollo-C” of compressed food mixture.  Another option for creating stores: furniture, which includes Berthollet’s salt. When such furniture is being combusted, salt is produced.

Idea 4. It is fundamentally possible to create an NTW of high excessiveness (NTW-HE). A number of new inventions will have to be made and implemented. A higher degree of caution in exploration and restructuring of the world will also be necessary. Taking the accelerating tempos of evolution of science and technology, it should be supposed that the possibility of creating  NTW- HE will manifest itself in 80—100 years. The very idea that it is possible to create NTW or even NTW- HE for some time, does not already mean a world of joy, as they say. The human needs peace for very long times, practically forever. The human should have a feeling that peace will be forever. Only in the eternal world stimuli will appear for continuation of progressing succession of generations, to preservation and evolution of civilization.

No engineering means will provide for eternity of NTW. This is a mostly social problem, provided that the construction of the WORLD is being discussed, not the construction of a well-equipped and long-term cell.

Idea 5. Socially stable and evolving (SSE) NTW (SSE -NTW, SSE -NTW- HE) should be a world, the cognition of which is inexhaustible. The beauty of this world should also be inexhaustible. Only such world will be eternal.

It is easy to provide for inexhaustibility of cognition is rather easy, for example, through the studies of micro-world (the depths of the substance) and of macro world (the Universe). It is much more difficult to create a world, which is inexhaustible from the standpoint of beauty. “Stores of beauty” is an indicator, in terms of which technology is most inferior to nature. As a rule, engineering systems acquire inherent beauty at the very last stage of their existence (this is, for example, the beauty of tea clippers or of wood architecture). “Technical beauty” is usually understood in the narrow sence – as a functional beauty (aerodynamic shape of high-speed means of transport) or such beauty, which imitates nature.

In 1982, when the work on the topic «NTW» started, we once went round the shops of electric goods, which operate in Baku. Twenty types of electric chimneys were on sale. 18 of them naively and roughly imitated “the burning of wood”. Two electric chimneys (the least expensive ones) were purely functional – they had the form of primitive electric heaters. Even the patent literature did not include a single invention, in which the beauty of physical effects, which are typical of engineering and are not used by nature, would be a constituent part.  

The human being appeared and evolved in this world, which is exclusively beneficial in terms of cognitive ability and beauty. This is one of the main reasons for the humanization of the human. However the reverse process will be characterized by the same rate (it will flow even quicker!), if the mysterious character and the beauty of the world are exhausted.

Nature is characterized by a colossal “store of beauty”. In NTW it won’t be possible to create such a reserve. Inexhaustibility of beauty in NTW could be provided for only through a possibility of its constant generation and evolution.

Let us clarify this thought. Prior to creation of music there had been only natural noise: whistling of the wind, sounds, which are usually heard in the forest, the singing of the birds, the rhythm of the tide… Music started with the imitation of voices of nature. However, very soon sound imitation grew into MUSIC. This is the only indisputable case, when “technical beauty” (in the meaning of “beauty, which was generated artificially”) is stronger and more inexhaustible than the “natural beauty”.

Idea 6. Creation of SSE-NTW and of SSE-NTW-HE is unimaginable without many new social and engineering inventions of the type “from noise to music”. The solution of these very complicated super-tasks requires huge waste of effort and of time. Therefore it is necessary to begin today.  To-morrow it will be late. In a natural world it could be possible to think using trial-and-error method. Colossal excessiveness of nature covered the costs from the mistakes and “forgave” the slowness and ineffectiveness of problem-solving.

Idea 7. During the construction of SSE-NTW and SSE -NTW-HE and for the life within these worlds it is necessary to have a different thinking – efficient, excluding significant failures, taking into account the dialectic of quickly developing world. To a certain extent theory of inventive problem-solving (TRIZ) could be treated as a remote prototype of such mode of thinking. Or, to be more exact, the general principles of strong thinking which constitute the foundations of TRIZ.

We are living in the world, in which material consumption is the most important thing. During a century such world “ate up” and four fifths of its beauty (the figures are approximate – only the exact order of magnitude could be mentioned).

Idea 8. In constructing NTW it will be inevitable that the consumptive way of life should be rejected, material consumption will no longer be a primary life value. The main vector of NTW should be creative activity  aimed  at deepening and broadening of cognition , at the enrichment of the world’s beauty. The majority of NTW population will be involved in the creative activity. A developed system of training the creative ideology and teaching creative technology of thinking. A remote prototype of such system are modern TRIZ classes.

This problem article could be finished with a following traditional address to the reader: the authors are thankful to the readers for criticism and notes. However, honestly speaking, we already know what remarks and objections are in store for us. And our attitude to these remarks is rather sad than thankful. People got used (and this is logical) to natural world. The thought of inevitability of this world in NTW causes utterly negative emotions. A list of objections that we heard, while the work on this article was progressing, would occupy more than one dozen of pages. These objections are based on emotions (or predominantly on emotions) and are practically irrefutable. What sort of answer could be given to such an assertion: “All this is rubbish! I can’t imagine, how it is possible to live in the world, in which there will be no sky, sea, wood and animals...”. Neither is there an answer to such an assertion: “People cannot live without wars and conflicts. And in NTW any military conflict will mean the end of the world...”.

There were times, when we tried to oppose logics, ratio and calculations to emotions. We tried to prove that transition to NTW already takes place and there is no way back. We delicately hinted at the fact that neither could primeval men imagine a life without caves and mammoths. We drew analogies between NTW and a ship: there are no feuds on ships, otherwise sailing would be impossible... All this remained “an empty sound”. The opponents persistently asserted: It cannot happen, because it did not ever happen!

It is impossible to argue with emotions, to cut them off or to stop them. “Green light” should be  lighted for them, let them be freely expressed. Having come across the extraordinary (with something, which seems extraordinary) the human should exclaim a thousand times (or a ten thousand times): . «It can never happen!», so that he could finally think further about another thing: «What, if…?».

So, the authors are thankful to the readers for criticism and notes. And they promise to necessarily take all objections into account.

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