Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Bucky Fuller - Doing More with Less

Buckminster Fuller is my all time favorite technologist. He was a college drop out. A naval aviator. And an outstanding theorist of the future. He could actually predict the future. The best thing is that his method for predicting the future is easily taught.

This method came out of his naval logistics experiences. The Navy has to be able to supply its fleet with all its ships and sailors any where in the world at any time. Just think of what it takes to get the mail transferred to ships at sea from a post office in California. And to keep the delay down to a few days in most cases. Awesome. Add to this all the repair parts, food, and oil and you understand how much planning goes into keeping the ships at sea. It is not easy having a Navy. And it is doubly difficult to have the best Navy in the world. Fuller was trained in this world.

When he left the Navy he sought to put his naval knowledge to use. Fuller saw the key to military power as doing more with less. He saw that the only way to do more with less was to have more advanced tools. He claimed there were two kinds of tools in the universe the physical and the metaphysical. Since matter can not be destroyed and knowledge always increases, he reasoned that it was man's destiny to be a success in the world. Having come to that conclusion he dedicated his life to doing more with less and inspiring others to do the same. He wanted to shift the emphasis in technology from killingry (war) to livingry (peace). Swords into plough shares.

We have come a long way. In 1900 less than 1% of humanity was successful. To be in this category required a steady income, enough food to eat, and some servants to enable leisure. Today approximately 70% of humanity is in this category. And the servants are now machines. We have servants to wash the clothes. Servants to dry them. Servants to keep the temperature constant in our homes. Servants to wash our dishes. Mr. Fuller predicted all this sixty-five years ago when the prospects didn't seem good at all.

What is this prediction method Fuller used? The trendline. He ploted steel strength vs time. Or the strength to weight ratio of the best materials over time. And many other trends. He would then synthesize the type of civilization and structures that could be possible in any time frame. The most famous trend line of the past thirty years is Moore's law. This trend line says that the number of transistors that can profitably be put on a chip doubles every eighteen months.

The most amazing trendline of recent history was the doubling of internet traffic every three months from about 1997 to the year 2001. It was an amazing feat of our communications companies to keep up with that trend. Once the doubling rate slowed to a doubling of traffic every year or so the logistical base was not prepared for so drastic a shift. So they overbuilt for six months. Leaving us with about four times the capacity required. Which is one of the reasons for the current recession. Not so much need for fiber optic installers and systems designers. With a doubling every year of demand it will take us eighteen months to two years to work off the excess capacity.

And there are improvements in technology like this happening all over our country. Take software. The essence of ephemeralization. We can send bit patterns that can improve our productivity. The patterns once invented are practically free to reproduce.

Bucky was especially concerned about housing. His geodesic dome invention was one of his efforts to do more with less in this field. He had this idea for an autonomous dwelling unit. No piped in services. The house would recycle its own water, communications would be wireless, and it would gather and process food and energy from the local environment. You can see that the wireless part is on track and affordable and the energy part is coming into focus. Not cheap yet but at least do able. I'm sure a miniaturized water purification plant is around the corner because we are already doing this sort of thing in space.

Bucky envisioned covering cities with transparent domes to reduce their heat loss in winter by a factor of ten to one hundred. Such an idea won't be practical until we have hydrogen fuel cell powered cars with zero chemical emissions. It is coming.

Bucky was always a bit of a socialist because he knew first hand the corruptions of a capitalist system. What he didn't know as well were the infinitely worse corruptions of a socialist system. Just think about Enron. If it was a government department by now they would have asked for double the budget to make up for the waste fraud and abuse in so vital an economic sector. The advantage of capitalism is that failure is possible.

You can find out more about Buckminster Fuller at:

World Game

Bucky Books has a number of his books available for free on line.

Another side of Bucky can be found at: Bucky an intellectual thief?

and pretty pictures at: Tensegrity tables

M.L. Simon is an industrial controls designer and independent political activist

(c) M. Simon - All rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

only thing Fuller didn't predict was how stupid the people in the "70% successful" group would turn out, and how they'd immediately proceed with ruining the world for the other 30% (not to mention themselves).

M. Simon said...

The thing that is screwing the 30% is their governments.

Read my article on Property to see what is wrong and what should be done.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that Buckminster Fuller was quite an amazing person but he did not support socialism. He believed that without proper synergy it was a mutual agreement to end a nation slowly. From the books of his I have read, he is critical of Mathusian capitalism but also does not support any alternative political system.

M. Simon said...


I think you are in part correct. Bucky's idea was to raise the poor not lower the rich. He often said that.

However, in numerous magazine articles he favored the Soviet system as superior for design scientists. Also that the Soviets would win the Cold War. Both of which have proved incorrect.