Aug 1, 1976
Stine, The Third Industrial Revolution
“If we do break free of Earth and take our rightful places as inhabitants of the Solar System, G. Harry Stine will deserve a place in that achievement’s history.”
I have never seen a satisfactory study of the influence of wealth on human freedom. On the one hand, no republic has long remained both wealthy and a republic; on the other, whatever the political freedoms, without some measure of material wealth a people’s real choices are likely to be highly limited.
The First Industrial Revolution is conventionally dated from the Darby coke oven and the Newcomen and Watt steam engines, beginning somewhere in the eighteenth century and peaking in Europe and America in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By introducting new forms of energy to replace human and animal muscle-power, the First Industrial Revolution made it possible for large masses to have leisure—and therefore real freedom. Prior to that the effort merely to produce enough to eat absorbed too much effort. One might be “free” in the legal sense, but that translated, for most men, into command over very few hours of their lives.
The Second Industrial Revolution (SIR) began early in this century and is not yet complete. It is not as clearly definable as the first, but is generally characterized by “automation,” “robotic control,” and “feedback.” The vacuum tube and the mechanical analogue were tools of the SIR, but it can be argued that without the transistor and the integrated circuit the SIR’s effects would not have been so profound as they are.
“Out there it’s raining soup, and Stine is telling us to grab a bowl.”
No matter. Between them, the two industrial revolutions have thoroughly and completely transformed both individuals and societies. Prior to the two revolutions it would not have been possible even to contemplate a world in which large masses would be free to: communicate across continents; travel intercontinental distances in hours; dispose of energy equivalent to a dozen slaves and herds of horses; retain teeth past age 40; read at night in good light; keep tropical fish; publish fanzines and newsletters; get fat; go backpacking; eat fresh vegetables in midwinter; taste sweets until tired of them; get drunk and stay that way; avoid at least some of the medical consequences of free love; have a large enough money income to attract the attention of the Internal Revenue Service; read hundreds of books; regularly read dozens of magazines.
The two revolutions have not been without negative consequences. First, they have produced pollution, and have brought us closer to exhausting certain of Earth’s resources. Second, they have made it possible for governments to take a thoroughgoing interest in what each of us does. Without great wealth the State could not afford much in the way of agentrie. It could not maintain dossiers, pay informants, keep an army of accountants and investigators and social workers and alienists and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers.
Comes now the Third Industrial Revolution, which just may let us keep the benefits of the first two while providing us with a mechanism of escape from some of their more unpleasant side effects. This is the major premise of G. Harry Stine’s important book.
The Third Industrial Revolution (the term is original with Stine) will come about when manufacturing operations are routinely carried out in space. According to Stine, “It is going to change the face of Planet Earth. It will drastically alter our life-styles. It will affect nearly every person on Earth. It holds the promise of improving the quality of life and of increasing the standard of living of those who wish to participate.
“During this revolution we will begin to transform Planet Earth into a garden planet.”
This may seem a tall order. Stine sets out to demonstrate that it’s not only possible, but inevitable.
He succeeds when discussing physics and technology. In a series of highly readable essays—part of this book was previously published as a set of popular articles in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact—Stine shows what we may accomplish in space. He describes industrial processes impossible here on Earth. If you happen to know that Stine is not only an engineer, but also a “gadgeteer”—one of those chaps who just can’t help trying to turn research drawings into cone clutches, slip joints, turned brass fittings, transistors, and op-amps—you’ll have an even greater appreciation of the book.
Stine itches to get out there and start work.
And what a work it could be! O’Neill colonies on which upwards of 50,000 people could live, and which could be started before the end of this century; electronic launch systems to hurl products of lunar mines into orbit; solar furnaces, thin films, biological products; you name it, and out there we can do it.
A single asteroid contains more than enough metal to supply the world for a year and more. There are hundreds of thousands of asteroids; and, yes, we have the technology to move them about the Solar System. We have the technology to spin up mylar films, silver them over, and use the resulting mirror as a source of solar energy for our space refinery.
Moreover, Stine argues, the resulting wealth and increased living space will inevitably give more freedom to those who want it.
Finally, he argues, the Third Industrial Revolution is truly inevitable. “The first billionaire space moguls are now alive.” The only real question is who will become fabulously wealthy by sparking off the TIR, and who will merely benefit.
Harry Stine believes that when “it’s steam engine time, steam engines will be built.” I don’t. At the moment Earth certainly has both the technology and spare resources to begin space operations; and Stine shows convincingly that once started on any scale at all, space exploitation will be so profitable that it cannot be stopped. All very well: but the required investments are enormous, and there are counterpressures.
There’s the strong movement for zero-growth, which can strangle the Third Industrial Revolution in its cradle. There are political pressures for taxes to make it impossible for anything but a government to undertake space exploitation, and stronger ones for wasting those taxes on salaries for graduates of social science departments and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers…
These are quibbles. If we do break free of Earth and take our rightful places as inhabitants of the Solar System, G. Harry Stine will deserve a place in that achievement’s history. He shows us it can be done. Out there it’s raining soup, and Stine is telling us to grab a bowl.
Any reviewer can thin of ways a book ought to be “improved”: that is, made more conformable to the reviewer’s prejudices. So what? I recommend this book, and I’ll put my quibbles in a private letter to the author. For the sake of us all I hope The Third Industrial Revolution will have the influence it deserves.
Read it. You’ll be glad you did. Reviewed by Jerry Pournelle / Putnam’s, 1975 / $7.95