Hey, wait a minute!

In November 1931 Churchill also published an article entitled ‘Fifty Years Hence’ in Maclean’s Magazine, in which he made some absurd predictions — that we would grow only those parts of chickens we wanted to eat, for example — but also some astonishingly accurate ones.  ‘Wireless telephones and television…

That is from the new and excellent Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny.  It is true of course that the fifty years prediction was off.  Here is the Churchill essay.


The wireless telephone and television prediction was followed by this: "The congregation of men in cities would become superfluous. It would rarely be necessary to call in person on any but the most intimate friends, but if so, excessively rapid means of communication would be at hand. There would be no more object in living in the same city with one’s neighbour than there is today in living with him in the same house."

From optimistic predictions about science and technological progress, Churchill's predictions turn dark: that science and technology may overwhelm our ability to control our worst instincts and impulses in their use. "Explosive forces, energy, materials, machinery will be available upon a scale which can annihilate whole nations. Despotisms and tyrannies will be able to prescribe the lives and even the wishes of their subjects in a manner never known since time began. If to these tremendous and awful powers is added the pitiless sub-human wickedness which we now see embodied in one of the most powerful reigning governments, who shall say that the world itself will not be wrecked, or indeed that it ought not to be wrecked? There are nightmares of the future from which a fortunate collision with some wandering star, reducing the earth to incandescent gas, might be a merciful deliverance."

"the pitiless sub-human wickedness which we now see embodied in one of the most powerful reigning governments". In 1931, in the mouth of Churchill, this has to be Soviet Union. I knew he didn't like it, but I never saw him saying it so vehemently.

Huh? You'll have to explain to me why this could not be Nazi Germany.

There was no such thing in 1931.

He is referring to the Soviet Union. In the essay he refers to the Soviet Union specifically in very negative terms.

Once again proving that Churchill was a extraordinary statesman.

Additionally, Churchill was a world-class polo player; maybe the last leader of a western country to exhibit both exceptional physical and mental prowess.

Hey, I was an All-American football player at Michigan!

I am both a very stable genius and the most healthy specimen my doctors have ever examined.

The Soviet Union was terribly evil throughout its existence. Few regimes equal it in the toll of state-induced misery per capita year. In 1931 it was arguably even more evil than in its later senescence.

Churchill was brilliant, perceptive and fearless. Especially as the intellectuals of his age were still busy debasing themselves before the Soviet throne.

Yep, you can't trust those well-known teetotalers. Like, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, and Jimmy Carter, etc.


I won't go as far as Churchill, but I prefer my leaders to drink, if not to Jean-Claude Juncker levels.

Something about the ability to understand vice and control it. But mostly perhaps because teetotallers are often virtue signalling to some degree....

What's absurd about ultimately cultivating chicken breasts in a vat using biotech/dark magic? As soon as we can grow organs (or any large structure) in vitro, this is obviously the next thing.

Raising a whole animal to eat bits of it is clearly inefficient at about feed 10% calories in to food calories out. And those feed calories are in turn about 7 calories of chemical energy (oil and fertiliser) for every 1 calorie of food energy. Not to mention the welfare argument.

From an engineering perspective, its not a stretch to believe it will ultimately be cheaper to make meat it in a vat than "naturally" at an efficiency of about 1/70.

Yes, there's actually a big movement underway to scale up "lab meat", with prominent backers like Bill Gates.

It might have taken 100 years to get there instead of 50, but the idea is right. From the standpoint of efficiency and ethics it makes almost inevitable sense, and the technology is quickly getting there.

Chicken these days takes 3 calories in for 1 calorie out, which is similar to calories-in-calories-out for tofu. So agronomy has taken us pretty far down that road as it is.

Then there are the startups working along a continuum of fake meat techniques. If you are a typical 9 year old American child, perhaps the only part of the chicken you want to eat is the nugget: https://techcrunch.com/2018/07/25/seattle-food-tech-looks-to-replace-the-chicken-nugget-with-a-plant-based-copycat/

For my part, the best part of the chicken is the "oyster." If they could just grow that bit.

It's like Ken Dorsey and Mike Doss up in here.

My numbers may be wrong; based on cattle and a while back. Will update to 3 to 1 feed/calorie ratio for modern chicken.

The "3:1" ratio is for weight, not calories. The ratio of calories for chickens is about 9:1. See: https://awfw.org/feed-ratios/ http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/10/105002/pdf

10% not that far out then. Many thanks. I thought 3:1 was too efficient for a trophic pathway.

Most people don't realize that the demand for chicken wings has created a situation where there's more demand for wings than there are available. Chicken wings are being removed from birds that remain alive, still producing eggs. It's possible that you could be eating wings at the bar while watching the Cowboys lose to the Giants and the very next morning eat a couple of eggs from the same chicken.

That is impossible because of the known laws of physics. Literally NOT possible. (The Giants beating the Cowboys.)

It's not clear that efficiencies measured in terms of calories in and out are particularly important, not least because they may run counter to other measures such as calorie per hour of human labor or per acre. Cows generate a lot of calories per hour of human labor and can eat stuff people can't eat grown on land that doesn't work well for raising turnips, or whatever alternative is proposed.

I recall an essay in a book on the Second World War I read some time ago. It made the point that butchering a cow and a goat were similarly complicated processes, but that the cow yielded vastly more meat for the labor. This mattered a lot when your constraint was labor. It had a lovely table that included all sorts of things like, IIRC, horses and dogs.

Lab meat may not come out a winner if it's a finicky highly-engineered process. The details of the implementation will matter a lot.

If you really, really care about agricultural productivity, it's probably best to argue for greenhousing. You've got maybe an order of magnitude increase in productivity there with present day technology, plus you get much more efficient water usage.

Not vertical farming and artificial light - just regular greenhouses.

Agreed. Vertical farming is urban fetishization of agriculture. Grow in regular greenhouses and transport to the city.

All good points, Acton; agreed.

But the energetic efficiency of a process is a pretty good proxy for relative cost for most goods. Yes, it gives you the wrong steer sometimes if it draws heavily on human labour / less capital intensive process, but overall I would expect the cost of meat to be broadly related to the energy inputs per calorie, in the technological long run.

From an engineering perspective, current agriculture still looks really inefficient in terms of trophic/energy pathways, and hence cost. I think we'll do better in the future, and lab meat seems an obvious super-pathway.

The cost of a calorie to grow a chicken is literally chicken feed compared to the cost of a calorie to grow mammalian cell cultures in the lab. Now maybe you can reduce the cost a little because you can allow more variation in the nutrients per batch, but it still has to be a sterile liquid which is going to require a significant cost.

And in the lab we deal with the cell waste products by removing the media with most of the calories unused and adding fresh media which is going to further reduce the calorie efficiency of the lab meat.

Growing a million cells for $10 for some experiments is easy. Growing a trillion cells for $3 for meat is going to be quite challenging.

These are all excellent points about current engineering limits of the process. My concerns are for the technological long run, with a sufficiently advanced biological engineering capability.

Fundamentally, meat grows on animals, and there's no theoretical objection to just replacing the non-meat bit of the animal system with some bio-mechanical process (which presumably recycles waste calories and cleans the media!). Even if the nurturing sub-system isn't quite as energetically efficient as an animal alternative (why can't it be?), it runs on much cheaper hydrocarbon calories and not food calories.

Reasonable people should question whether that's 20 years in our future or 200 years in our future. Particularly because the pressure to do so is low.

Agreed. I respectfully decline to bound the long run.

Thank you for being pleasant about it. Maybe there's hope for this place yet.

The chicken thing is not that far off.

See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/03/12/our-insatiable-appetite-for-cheap-white-meat-is-making-chickens-unrecognizable/?utm_term=.927461f50789

Second this comment. The same thing has been happening with turkeys. The broad-breasted white is practically a living, breathing, walking (not flying. Can't fly) thanksgiving dinner. They even bred them to make it easier to remove their feathers.

Definitely not far off - it's here:

"A number of companies are working on bringing a product to market, with many saying 2020 is the goal. Last year Tetrick said he was aiming for 2018, and he is still sticking with that date."


As Alistar says above, raising chicken parts is not energy efficient. A Cornish CX meat chicken, which I used to raise in the Philippines, is genetically very efficient (unlike traditional chickens) at converting grain to meat. It's a 2:1 ratio of feed to flesh, incredible, and they grow to market size in about 1 month, if you feed them 24/7 with the lights on (chickens need to see their food to eat) and limited mobility so they gain weight quickly. Adding antibiotics to their water also makes them gain weight quickly.

Bonus trivia: I always confuse Andrew Roberts (historian) with the excellent JM Roberts (no relation, a pioneer historian, now deceased). A. Roberts had a difficult childhood and self-describes himself as "extremely right-wing" (Wikipedia) which reminds me of UK historian and holocaust denier David Irwing (in my mind, not saying there's a nexus).

"... converting grain to meat."

Well there's your problem! Chickens are omnivores. Feeding them grain isn't biologically appropriate. Grandpa always encouraged us kids to toss in any windfall apples with beetles on them (an invasive species) in to the chickens, who would eat the bugs and apples.

Though at the point where you're reducing mobility to the minimum and all but force-feeding them, what's the difference between chickens and lab-grown meat?

It's not so much substitution of food from human consumption which is costly; it is more that you still have to feed them biomass. And that's expensive. Even non-comestible biomass has considerable $ per calorie. Compared to, say, oil or coal...

The real thought experiment for lab meat is this: Imagine a chicken that eats coal. . That's the basic technological promise; turning hydrocarbon feedstock into meat.

[Indeed, you can feed them waste (this is why peasants keep chickens in the yard from antiquity, because their household waste was "free"!). But on agro-industrial scale, biomass waste is limited, costly to handle, and has alternative uses.]

Eh, give him a break. At least he didn't say "We have only five years to address catastrophic global warming" .... thirty years in a row.

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil has made 150 predictions based on accelerating computer power with many hits but with some misses including when cancer would be beat (now) and the driverless car being sold in 2009.

In 2005, he said on NPR's "Here and now" that anyone alive in 10 to 15 years could live as long as they wanted to.

I got his point but thought he was at least 10 years off.

In 2015 Kurzweil told audiences that if they were alive 10 to 15 years from now, they could live as long as they wanted.

And in 2025, if Kurzweil is still around, he will tell audiences that if they are alive 10-15 years from then, they can live as long as they want.

There's a good living to be made telling people what they want to hear/gives them a scary thrill. (Choose either or both.)

Kurzweil knows how to be a good futurist - make lots and lots of predictions. That way, some are bound to come true and you can build a nice list of predictions that came true - especially if you can make them slightly vague so that they can be applied to many things.

This also works for fortune tellers.

And economists!

Everyone predicted wireless telephones. It wasn't hard because people had the new technologies of telephone and radio emerging at the same time.

I had to admit that Churchill had a very broad intellect and possessed fabulous literary skills that enable him.to influence a wide variety of readers.

Yes, his conclusion might seem bleak but it is timely for today with all the hype about robots and AI. Scientific and technological change cuts many ways; many way that are not particularly good for the long term existence of the human race. As humans, we are so bad at seeing through to the consequences of our actions. However smart scientists claim to be, they are often very dumb.

The great challenge then and now is to understand we cannot stop change, but society can come together to intermediate it's effect on our society.

You must not understand. Readers at this blog aren't supposed to read Cowen's links. They are to express their bias. It's rather easy. Pointless but easy.

Point for you, rayward.

"You must not understand. Readers at this blog aren't supposed to read Cowen's links. They are to express their bias. It's rather easy. Pointless but easy."

If that's your attitude why are you posting here? Of course it's not true, and you know it's not true. Because if you really thought it was true, you wouldn't bother with reading the site. Let alone posting scores of messages per week.

Good read! Reminds me of the preface to Churchill's 'The Second World War', e.g., you don't need to read further.

"Up till recent times the production of food has been the prime struggle of man. That war is won."

Read the whining News pages of Democrats everyday and you'd never know it.


Obesity is problem in the modern world and democrats complain ...

There was only one woman in all of Africa who weighed 300 lbs, the queen of Africa, 100 years ago.

Compare that to today, whiners, ...

And how did they get there? Enjoying themselves and natural proclivities

whine, whine, whine ...

scarcity is the natural condition

easier to be a slave than a master, let us revel in kindness

Churchill's big general miss was this one:

"We know enough to be sure that the scientific achievements of the next fifty years will be far greater, more rapid and more surprising, than those we have already experienced."

Nope. The fifty years preceding saw much greater changes than the 50 following. It's even more true if you compare the ~80 years before to the ~80 since. All his specific errors lie in over-estimating, rather than under-estimating the changes that would occur.

Compared to what? Where?

a cell phone, toilet paper, and penicillin?

During the 50-80 years before 1931, railroad became common as did photography. The age of sail gave way to steam. Cities and factories were electrified. New inventions included: telegraph, telephone, electric lights, audio recording, movies, automobiles, airplanes, submarines, radio, television (Churchill wasn't predicting it in 1931 -- it had already been invented). Also during that period -- air conditioning, plastics, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, clothes washers. The mind-blowing discoveries in Physics, from the Michelson-Morley experiment to Einstein's theories of relativity to the Bohr atom, the Big Bang, and quantum mechanics were nearly complete by 1931. In medicine, there was the germ theory of disease and vaccines for cholera, rabies, anthrax, tetanus, diphtheria, etc. Also x-rays. And insulin to treat diabetes. And Penicillin? Discovered in 1928.

keep them replies coming, Slocum

that's a celebration of living instead of a whine docket

Well....about the chicken thing....There was some question about mammoths a while back, so scientists cloned one. More specifically, they cloned the parts of the DNA that related to specific aspects of the blood of mammoths, and even more specifically those aspects which related to a natural antifreeze found in the blood of mammoths (but not, as far as I know, modern elephants).

Lab-grown meat is also common enough that when New Mexico (possibly Arizona? I'd appreciate correction on this point!) passed a law defining "meat" the lab-grown meat companies had enough clout to argue against the definition.

So he wasn't exactly wrong on that point!

James, you're babbling, get the eff outahere . . .

we got a party going on here folks . . .

some puff and drink, aye

You got a .38?

around some smart people, no?

take a break from you worries, talk your shit, dream about having classmates like susan schneider.

you lil. f o shts, you are lucky i talk to you

to communicate what wonderland is ... to you mutants in the futuah

or susan black, or susan sherry, or all the susan' that have ever lived


we got it going on here folks ...

we are keeping it going on, thru the late nite, each and every day. each and every, declining, miserable day ...

we've got a party, going on, here

and you wish you could of been there to see susie black and susie sherry

so i m here sharing with you, late night, what being around goddesses is like, late night ...

like being in a dream is like that what that is ...

and you wish ...

2b, taking a jump off the trestle, when i was young


a big buck speaks up, late at night, what is was like, B4 the decline, and the fall, of the roman empire. doing a gibbon. you wish

waS THERE, AND the gals were, yup, every business and good looking ...

beyond the imagination and delectable

i hate to say it but you little f o's, that come forth in ant0ther era, here we is and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZFvlum63Tk



to be around susan black, susan sherry, susan schneider, was to be in rarefied air

you can wish, and all that shit, but i was there ...

u lil ck skr, nobody, f heads -- you're lucky that i share


you f n wish! you little p says of s!

pushedher aheadwithten forward gears, you shouldof seen thatmadam morrowpin ball, ding, ding, pin ball

every now and then, when the moon is holding water, ...

i kind of got to be makin' a turn up the road a piece

so, so happy to have known all these movie stars, and still here, and still cheering

but any one of you mtfr's ever get to thinking, you've been around better girls? you are dreaming

I'd prefer it if your numerous posts were blank

In case anybody is wondering, the novel Churchill refers to is Last and First Men by Stapledon. A great bit of cosmic futurology.

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