Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Future Domes

Like a lot of geeks I like to guess at the future and how it will look. So I thought I'd flesh out an idea of how part of society will live, I think: In domes.

As with any good prediction, we'll base this in a series of current trends, and extrapolate a necessary solution which combines them. The trends for today are: growing wealth inequality, deteriorating environment, the rise of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, growing concerns about UV damage and technological development in automation.

If you are rich, and you want to give your children the best possible upbringing, there are a few tradeoffs you cannot currently buy your way out of: proximity to a major city vs quality of environment, freedom to roam outside vs sun damage to skin, availability of services vs exposure risk to pathogens. The rich want to be near the city for its resources, for jobs, for services, but away from it for quality of environment and lifestyle.

One way to deal with that is to buy a big expensive apartment in the city, with staff to provide services. This gives you control over your environment, proximity to everything and so on. But you are a prisoner in a hermetically sealed box, and few such boxes are very big. There is no grass in an apartment, no running except on a nearby running track or a treadmill, no hills to climb or lake to sit beside.

But if you took the Mediterranean biome (bio-dome) from the Eden project, and built it within a 30 minute commute of the centre of London or New York, then you would have something. An enclosed environment like that is far easier to regulate than an open area, and less claustrophobic than an apartment. A leafy suburb where the temperature is always between 18 and 23 centigrade, where the sunlight is filtered for unwanted UV and crucially it never rains in the daytime except on a schedule.

In some ways it is an elitist's dream; to be able to exclude anyone outside this expensive set, to have as much control as you want over the miniature world you have built, down to the weather. And I'm not suggesting that it is something that we necessarily want to encourage.

But I think it looks inevitable.

The climate is changing, except in a dome. Sunlight is both enjoyable and dangerous, except in a dome. It simultaneously provides control and security; no drone can fly over your garden in a dome, no pigeon can shit on your doorstep. Your children can be kept much better protected from the pathogens in the air, or on people who frequently fly to remote countries.

Being in a controlled environment permits different styles of living; your dining table can be outside if it never rains or freezes. Your bedroom can have a glass roof for you to look at the stars. Your children can get up by themselves, leave the house without sunscreen to chase each other across the meadow to the breakfast hut. They didn't need shoes, or coats or hats, or even money. And the key benefit to this expensive, expensive paradise? Their city parents can be home for dinner.

In some ways it would be terribly sad for some of the wealthiest to cut themselves off from the rest of the world, for their children to be ignorant of what the rest of the world looks like, smells like. It will make it easier for them to deny the gap in quality of life between themselves and the poorer members of society, to ignore the people on whose services they depend. But this is what the richest have always done, because it is convenient to live like that, and I suspect it is hard not to end up doing that to some degree.

The bio-dome structure makes it possible to construct a space large enough for several families to live in, which is self-supporting and still transparent, where you don't feel like you're inside a building. As a physical barrier it permits control of the very air that circulates and the weather inside. I suspect with some tweaks it would be possible to build a dome that could be enlarged as investment comes in.

So I predict that there will be domes built near cities for the richest to raise their families, that will be disliked by people out of a mixture of resentment and envy. But I also think that unless climate change is reversed, it will be a mode that houses a growing proportion of the population.

I would like one of the penthouses attached to the surface of the bio-dome, where your glass ceiling is the only barrier to the outside world, but where the front door leads into the bottled paradise around you. And I would delight in walking in sandalled feet with my wife along a paved path with pretty, low lights, to the cosy restaurant-theatre among the trees.

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