Our Underground Future

Where I live in Oklahoma we’re regularly hit with winter ice storms that cause massive power outages. Tree limbs, weighted with ice, fall and bring down power lines. In the wake of these storms, there’s invariably a call for burying electric power lines underground. It never happens because of the cost of construction and the difficulty of accessing and maintaining buried cables.

This will change. In the future all utility lines will move underground. The problem of cost will solve itself. Everything involving technology becomes less expensive over time. The problem of access for maintenance was solved a long time ago. Roman aqueducts were capacious enough to allow entrance for periodic removal of sinter deposits.

The electric grid will move underground. Not by burying cables, but by constructing networks of tunnels several meters in diameter at depths of tens of meters. As Generation IV fission and/or fusion power reactors come online in the next few decades, nuclear power will begin to replace fossil fuels. Renewables will fade to irrelevance. The electric grid will evolve to a multiplex of small to medium-sized underground generating stations that communicate with each other and are supervised by human technicians aided by artificial intelligence. Generation capacity will have sufficient reserve and redundancy to meet any conceivable emergency. Electricity will be inexpensive and abundant. Power outages will become so rare as to be virtually non-existent.

Individual homes will also move partly underground. Houses will have a surface unit with daily living quarters flooded by natural light and fresh air. These will be connected with underground chambers that link directly with a regional tunnel system. In the future, if you desire to travel, you will descend to a dock underneath your house that connects directly with a tunnel. You will enter an automated electric-powered vehicular pod that will take you effortlessly to your destination at the highest possible speed. The position of your pod will be constantly relayed to a central control system that can effortlessly coordinate the movement of millions of vehicles. Traffic jams, delays due to inclement weather, and accidents will cease to exist as artificial intelligence algorithms manage transportation to achieve maximum possible efficiency. The movement of industrial and commercial supplies will also be vastly improved. When you purchase an item on the internet, it will be delivered to your house within a matter of hours by automated systems moving through the universal tunnel system. You will wake up in the morning to unpack a box of fresh groceries delivered overnight and placed in a refrigerated unit on your property by robots.

Underground infrastructure is robust. An underground electric grid can be shielded and hardened against the threat posed by both geomagnetic storms and EMPs. Underground transportation and utility systems are also less vulnerable to terrorist attacks and natural disasters. With the exception of features such as elevated roadways, surface space available for infrastructure is inherently limited to two dimensions. Underground is three-dimensional. There’s always room to add an additional tunnel by digging deeper. There’s a reason the world’s foremost technological visionary, Elon Musk, has invested in tunnel-boring technology.

We have reason to be optimistic about the future. With the emergence of the demographic transition, humanity has solved its greatest environmental problem:  overpopulation. It is anticipated that human population will peak near 10 billion in the second half of this century and then begin to decline. Moving human infrastructure underground will free up more land area for preservation of the natural environment. Nuclear power will make any concerns over global warming moot. Agriculture will evolve radically. Due to dramatic increases in the efficiency of production, global land area under cultivation has already begun to decline. We have robots guided by artificial intelligence that use lasers to kill weeds. Pesticides will be phased out as this technology is extended to eradicate insects. Robotic labor guided by artificial intelligence will be harnessed to clean up waste dumps. If we embrace advanced technology, the promise of a pristine and restored environment lies within our grasp.

Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution a little more than two hundred years ago, the human race has made unprecedented progress in material and social welfare. There is no reason to think this progress has stalled or even slowed down. Nothing will restrain the engine of human creativity and ingenuity. Not everything will appear in the future as we envisage it today. But the synergistic confluence of nuclear power, artificial intelligence, and robotics heralds the imminence of a Golden Age.

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