The Really, Really Big Dig

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The Really, Really Big Dig
"One near-Earth metallic asteroid, known affectionately to astronomers as NEO 3554 Amun, is a mere two kilometers in diameter, but is worth more than all of the platinum metal resources on Earth by several trillion dollars. At today’s prices, the iron and nickel alone would be worth about eight trillion dollars, cobalt another six trillion dollars, and the platinum-group metals about the same."
I’m a SciFan myself, but this kind of pie in the sky (eheh) reporting doesn’t really help the space cause. The price of a commodity is obviously related to its rarity and the balance between supply and demand. Would there be a demand to match a massive new supply of platinum, or wouldn’t its price more likely collapse? What is the point then to throw in our faces these "trillions of dollars" calculated at "today’s prices"? Let’s remember that not so long ago (through an admittedly biased European perspective of what is old), salt was used as a currency.
This kind of sloppy reasoning is similar to hinting that the increase in life expectancy we enjoyed during the last two centuries is somehow similar to Moore’s Law. As a species, humans don’t have a longer lifespan than they did thousands of years ago. On average, people live longer, but medicine didn’t produce any meaningful life extension as of yet (that is, human life still tops at about 120 years.)
It’s a shame widespread fuzzy thinking is undermining projects that are otherwise interesting. Many people overestimate the short term consequences of new technologies and understimate their long term impact, and it’s true that linear projections are often irrelevant to figure what is going to happen. But we don’t need invalid logic to come in the way of promoting promising ideas such as life extension or space colonization.
11/28/00 update: always ready to help me grasp American culture and "expand [my] cultural horizons", my friend Mike Gold points me to the original, wildly over budget Big Dig.

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