The Foundation for Revolution – From Roman Concrete to Quantum Technology

May 31, 2023

Smart technology surrounds us. Each day, we carry smart phones in our pockets, monitor our fitness with smart watches, and sleep in smart homes. We may all soon commute in smart cars driving on top of smart concrete. Yes, smart concrete!

The current scientific and technological renaissance is coming into popular focus. Recent product launches make sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) accessible to the public and have already begun to demonstrate its transformative power. This effect will be compounded by advancements made in other fields—including smart concrete.

Self-healing concrete, a special type of concrete formulated to heal its own cracks, will soon be available on the market. Although it sounds very futuristic, scientists at MIT recently discovered that—either through centuries of experimentation or by dumb luck—the ancient Roman civilization pioneered the concept of “smart” concrete more than 2,000 years ago.

A Foundation for Civilization

Although seemingly mundane as a material, concrete changed the world. Roman concrete was a groundbreaking material used in ancient Roman construction. The mix, remarkably different from modern concrete, was made from volcanic rock, lime, seawater, and peculiar lumps of unsightly white minerals called “lime clasts”.

For centuries, archaeologists were perplexed by this “lumpy” Roman concrete, asking how a civilization with such advanced engineering and design capabilities could stomach such poorly mixed concrete? However, recent discoveries illustrate a design that was very intentional. The compound used those lumpy minerals to form a hydraulic-setting cement that has proven superior in many respects to modern concrete. When cracks formed in the concrete, the minerals called Al-tobermorite reacted with the seawater and filled the gaps, reinforcing the structure and allowing it to effectively heal itself.

Thanks to this smart concrete we may witness the marvels of Roman structures that have withstood the test of time, from the magnificent Pantheon and the Colosseum in Rome to the vast network of aqueducts and roadways that spanned the empire.

Roman concrete laid the foundation for unprecedented social, political, and economic transformation. The network of concrete-built roads and bridges allowed faster movement of armies, goods, and information, consolidating Rome’s power over its vast territories. The aqueducts ensured a continuous water supply, improving sanitation and enabling urbanization. The grandeur of concrete architecture embodied Rome’s might and inspired awe within society. These structures, and the infrastructure they formed, produced conditions for a flourishing Roman civilization. They offered stability, facilitated growth, and above all, were built to last. Similarly, today’s technological advancements are forming the foundation for a monumental shift within our own modern civilization.

A Foundation for the Future

Technological advancements are not just innovations in their respective fields. They also form new infrastructure for a modern, interconnected world. The social, political, and economic implications are profound.

Let’s consider Google’s sister company, Deep Mind. In 2022, Deep Mind announced that it used artificial intelligence to predict the 3D structures of nearly every protein known to science, representing more than 200 million proteins found in plants, bacteria, animals, and humans. Not only is this a monumental scientific achievement, the time and cost savings are astronomical.

Previously, the discovery of a single protein structure may have been the subject of one student’s entire Ph.D. program and may have cost as much as $100,000 in research. By releasing the catalogue of all 200 million protein structures to researchers for free, Deep Mind’s AI delivered roughly $20 trillion in value to humanity and essentially eliminated the cost of protein knowledge.

And if that were not impressive enough, the discovery has accelerated research and development in other valuable fields such as the production of highly effective malaria vaccines and engineering enzymes that fight against single-use plastic pollution. Some researchers estimate that Deep Mind’s protein data instantly accelerated their research by 1-2 years or more.

This is one of many examples of how modern technology is facilitating an increase in our civilization’s rate of discovery. Below are some examples of strides being made or pursued in a variety of fields:

Computing, Semiconductors, and Quantum Technologies – Advances in supercomputing, cloud and edge computing, coupled with AI, will boost computational capacities, to provide benefits such as helping predict potential health risks before they happen. Advanced semiconductors will foster faster, energy-efficient devices. Quantum computing is set to solve complex problems, leading to breakthroughs in medicine, climate modeling, and financial forecasting, while post-quantum cryptography may ensure online security.

Engineering, Manufacturing, and Robotics – Materials science advances could result in buildings with energy-generating windows and thermal-regulating fabrics. 3D printing could enable personalized home manufacturing of clothing or furniture, transforming consumer behavior. Smart manufacturing might automate production to demand changes. Next-generation AI, coupled with these technologies, could establish smart cities with efficient waste management and autonomous public transportation.

Artificial intelligence, Human-Machine Interfaces, and Biotechnologies – AI technology is set to reshape virtually every aspect of life. For example, personalized education, tailoring curriculum to each student’s learning style and pace. Augmented reality, virtual reality, and brain-computer interfaces will transform our interaction with technology. Imagine virtual meetings with 3D holograms of colleagues from around the world or thought-based control of devices improving the quality of life for individuals with mobility issues. Biotechnologies could redefine healthcare. For example, receiving personalized medical treatments based on your unique genetic profile.

Sensing and Energy Technologies – Advanced sensing technologies will reshape transportation and environmental protection, with sensor fusion enabling self-driving cars and nanosensors tracking real-time pollution data. Meanwhile, breakthroughs in nuclear fusion and renewable energy technologies will redefine our energy system. A future where households generate and store their own solar energy, cities run solely on renewables, and cars powered by carbon-neutral fuels is within reach.

Hypersonics and Space Technologies – Innovations in hypersonics promise to revolutionize global travel, reducing worldwide flight times to mere hours. In space technologies, advancements in on-orbit servicing, assembly, and manufacturing might make possible the creation of spacecrafts and space stations in orbit, while resilient positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) could support interstellar travel and planet colonization. The future may well see humans become a multiplanetary species.

Communications and Financial Technologies – Communication could be transformed by 6G networks providing ultra-high-speed, low-latency communication and satellite-based internet ensuring high-speed connectivity globally, bridging the digital divide and facilitating worldwide collaboration. As financial technologies evolve, blockchain-based digital identities may enhance online security and privacy, while digital assets might streamline international trade and remittances.

We believe the future of science and technology is very exciting! Not only are we seeing an increase in the value of discovery, but we are also witnessing the acceleration of the rate of discovery as well. The social, political, and economic implications are remarkable.

The Future and You

We want these to be exciting topics for our clients rather than sources of anxiety. These advancements are all very exciting, but we cannot neglect the human side of innovation and the potential fear or concerns that may arise. Humans are naturally wary of the unknown, at times making the acceptance and adoption of revolutionary technology challenging. It’s natural to feel apprehension towards the unfamiliar and unease at the pace of change.

Yet, let’s remember Rome’s constant, unwavering, need for physicians, teachers, farmers, and public servants. Roman concrete, as ordinary as it may seem now, made everyone more productive and improved their quality of life. Roman concrete was formed from within the mason’s own domain, yet its social, political, and economic benefits met Roman citizens where they were and simply made it easier for them to do what they were doing and to do it better. Growing economies will always be complemented by those who develop and deploy novel technologies and those whose unique talents and interests are empowered by them.

We are fortunate that in our modern society, innovation is easily fueled either through direct participation or through investment. At American Trust Wealth, we believe rapid innovation brings a surge of unprecedented opportunities. As stewards of capital, we work to identify long-term trends and understand their implications for investment portfolios so that clients may reap the rewards of progress. We are always exploring the best and most prudent ways of capitalizing on these trends for the benefit of our clients and are committed to this pursuit in accordance with our strong fiduciary culture and focus on putting the interests of clients first.

Together we stand on the cusp of a technological revolution that promises to reshape society. We at American Trust Wealth are honored to help our clients contribute to, and benefit from, this wave of innovation from the comfort of their own place in our society, leading the charge towards a promising and secure future. 

Products and services offered by American Trust Company are not insured by the FDIC, are not a deposit or other obligation of, or guaranteed by, American Trust Company, and are subject to investment risks, including possible loss of the principal amount invested.

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