There are only three inventions that stand between Utopia and this world. Yes, three. I know I must sound mad (I mentioned I was a bit of a crackpot, no?). I realize that arguing the unattainable goal of tens of thousands of years is just a few inventions away is as close to raving on the street corner as you can get on the net, but I believe if you bear with me, you just might be willing to rave a little yourself when we're done.
The three inventions that stand in our path are not new ideas, you know them already. In fact, you, in your naive days, have thought of them yourself. They are, 1) Free Energy, 2) Matter Replication (or energy-to-matter transformation), and 3) personal flying transportation. Ah now you understand yes? You are saying to yourself, "Sure if he is going to be using make-believe inventions, of course they will bring about make-believe Utopia!" Might as well just say "Magic Fairy Dust" is all that stands in the way of our path to Nirvana, right? Well, let me show you just how close you are to the other side of the looking glass right now...
To start, let's examine the concept of Free Energy (Free as in Beer, forever). Free Energy, everybody and their dog knows by rote, is the be all and end all in scientific breakthroughs, however if you ask your average man on the street just why that is, you'll find most people don't know why. They think of energy as electricity, free lighting, free television, free electric cars. They miss, however, the real implications of what energy can do and why it is so incredibly important.
Free, unlimited energy means that there is nothing too expensive that can't be done. Once you have a limitless supply, the universe is your oyster. Want to build a mile-high building, but can't find a strong enough material to use? How about building it out of electromagnets? Want to launch a spaceship every hour, on the hour? Done and done, you don't even have to be exotic! Forget about giant thousand mile long rail guns, you can just split the water in the icecaps all day long and use conventional rockets. Want to feed the world? Plants like artificial light just as much as sunlight! Put your mile high buildings to work as giant 24 hour greenhouses. The possibilities are literally limitless, but all of the limitless numbers of tricks you can do, no matter how fantastic or neat, pale in comparison to one very simple trick that has been right in front of our faces for years, but is never really considered.
Overlooked, but never overstated, is the simple fact that matter and energy are one in the same. A limitless supply of energy means, you guessed it, a limitless supply of matter! Sure it takes a whole heck of a lot of energy to make a single proton (E=mc^2, remember? C^2 is BIG!), but if you have an infinite amount of E, then you don't have to worry how much you are using.
Once you have free matter, then you get to see every economists' Pandora's Box. Unlimited supply of everything; scarcity non-existent. The Matter Replicator follows swiftly on the heels of the Free Energy Machine, and whether built with nanomachines or by focusing energy into little balls of matter, it provides the real meat of a truly egalitarian society. Economics and scarcity has been governing everything from the Academy Awards to Marxism, and everything in between. When matter becomes as easily copied as information, money, barter, trade, and economics as we know it, ceases to exist. From that point on, there will no longer be an incentive to form power structures in the way that we do now. Certainly religion and sexual/cultural discrimination will still rear its ugly head in the formation of social structures for many years to come, but it will be impossible to control people as we do now. There will be simply nothing for a totalitarian dictator to do. What good is collecting taxes when you can replicate a million tons of gold? What good are slaves when nothing needs to be done with the free labor, except, of course, for the occasional grape feeding? A pauper with a Matter Replicator is a king. Money will become valueless, the economy will collapse to nothing, but somehow it won't matter, because no man will go hungry, nor will anyone find himself or herself with an unfulfilled material desire.
Fanciful as these two inventions are, they are actually much closer to reality than we dare think. Certainly, true "free" energy is a myth at best, and at worst a huckster trying to make a quick buck. There will never be an "infinite" amount of energy for us, but that doesn't mean all hope is lost. We live short lives; at least most of us do, compared to the lives of stars and galaxies. For us, a very very large supply of energy is indistinguishable from an infinite supply.
There are many sources, both theoretical and real, of very very large supplies of energy. I certainly don't expect that we will be tapping zero-point energy or detonating false vacuums anytime in the next few years, but there is a massive ball of pure fusion energy we are spinning around right now that is just asking to be tapped. It isn't unlimited energy, but for the next five billion years or so, it is busy venting more energy in a week than has ever existed on Earth in all the supplies of oil, gas, coal and nuclear fuel EVER. That's right, one short week of solar output is equal to MORE than every single energy source that this planet has ever produced, or is ever capable of producing, combined.
Solar panels on the roofs of cars and houses are not the answer, however; they are expensive, inefficient, and generally not very practical at best. That doesn't mean we can't tap the sun with modern day technology, though. We could build, right now, arrays of giant space based solar lasers or concentrating mirrors (or any kind of solid state, no maintenance device) orbiting just outside of Mercury (or wherever makes for the best spot) that could beam over a nearly limitless supply of energy. If we built them tough and simple, they could keep pumping energy to us for, literally, billions of years.
It would be expensive, very expensive; the hundreds of trillions of dollars kind of expensive, but the benefits of tapping all that power would outweigh the costs by orders and orders of magnitude. Nobody ever said Utopia was cheap.
So, why aren't we placing orders for mile-long solar pumps right now, and how does this have anything to do with internet crackpots? Read on! The simple, sad fact is that we as a world are not ready yet. The implications of living in such an egalitarian and fundamentally different world are staggering; too staggering. With the advent of the ubiquitous Internet, we have seen first hand how poorly our business models and social structures react to fundamental paradigm shifts in our collective reality. We have created, at least in part, a powerful simulation of what kind of world is to come.
Information (especially in the form of structured information found in books, music and movies) no longer finds itself chained to a particular medium. As such, it has become, to the chagrin of the "distribution industry", an entity that exists in a realm completely outside of the laws of scarcity. Where supply is almost exactly equal (except in places where net access is unavailable or restricted) to demand, the time to market/cost of shipping is zero and zero, and the cost of production is essentially zero (Of course, making the first one costs, but as an infinite number of copies can be made from that, and infinite copes from the copies, ad infinitum, anything divided by infinity equals essentially zero). The response to this new realm has been borderline madness, and we have only seen the very tip of the iceberg.
Take the reactionary and dangerous steps performed by the various distribution industries in the vain attempt to save their now obsolete business models and multiply that by a million, nay a hundred million, and you may be approaching the level of response the world will see when faced with free energy and subsequently matter replication. Every corporation, small business, and individual in the business of selling goods will be climbing over themselves to have laws passed in an attempt to hinder replication of their goods. Every bank, moneylender, mortgage broker and IRS representative will be scrambling to the steps of congress to outlaw the replication machines in a pathetic attempt to continue the legacy of monetary currency. Consumers all over the globe will be up in arms, suddenly realizing that many, if not all of the institutions in their lives they have grown to love and cherish will cease to be. No more Monday Night Football, no more Britney Spears, no more McDonalds, no more Nike shoes.
This is where Flying cars and their kooky advocates come into the picture. If you ask a hundred people at random when they will know, unequivocally, that "the Future" has finally arrived, they will tell you, unanimously, that it will be advent of the ubiquitous flying car. Moon bases, Mars exploration, undersea cities; all noble goals, to be sure, but not the harbingers of the future we have all seen in the movies or read about in sci-fi novels. No matter what the state of science and technology is at any given time, no matter how far we see into the universe, no matter how powerful our engines, no matter how life-altering our medicine, no matter how intelligent out robot man servants become, no single thing will ever captivate the collective mind of humanity like the Flying Car.
Whether we end up with glorified helicopters, jet engines strapped to Plexiglas bubbles, or see the advent of some new Spinning DiskTM technology, the effect will be the same: It will open the doorway we have all been eagerly paying at in the human subconscious and allow us the mental freedom to accept ideas that the day before would have been thought ludicrous.
The flying car crackpots may not be providing the answers, they ARE crackpots after all, but what they are doing is unwittingly carrying the torch of humanity's future. They are bearing the tiny flame that one-day will light someone's imagination who WILL provide and answer; Someone who will and change the world. It may not be today, but it won't be much longer before the next aspiring Visionary will run across someone's fantastical site while doing research for their fifth-grade science class. They will see not the wild theories or miscalculated formulas. They will not dwell on the ranting prose or the disjointed physics. They won't be turned away by the hastily thrown together web pages or the pixilated bitmaps. Instead, what they will see is that tiny flame, that one gleaming jewel of inspiration. What he or she will see is the dreams of the future, and it will quickly become the cornerstone oh his or her young life. And that person will change the world.