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Peace, Love and Flying Cars

By gnovos in Op-Ed
Sun May 05, 2002 at 06:47:09 AM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

I have spent my fair share of time hunting around the net for things that amuse me. And being a bit of a crackpot myself, I tend to find other's crackpottery wonderfully amusing. I've surfed across everything from hard hitting political discussion (read: conspiracy flame-war) boards to the zany and witty spoof and satire sites, to those sad pathetic stragglers who still think Dean Kamen's REAL IT/Segway (the one that flies, of course) is being held in a top secret government lab, and I have enjoyed every one of them.

Recently, I have acquired the taste for half-baked armchair physicists and inventors who want to be the next Orville Wright, Einstein and Newton all rolled up into one. They are endearing to me especially because, of all the crackpots, nutballs and loonies out there hawking their ideas and peddling their brave new ideas, they are the only ones that have the potential, no matter how miniscule, to actually do some good. And of those irascible folk, my particularly fondest idealists are those dreamers who dream of flight; those men have the potential to change humanity forever, and I'll tell you why.

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.


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Peace, Love and Flying Cars | 111 comments (89 topical, 22 editorial, 0 hidden)
Brittany -> Britney [nt] (1.00 / 1) (#2)
by daedal on Sat May 04, 2002 at 04:58:21 PM EST

done [nt] (none / 0) (#3)
by gnovos on Sat May 04, 2002 at 05:02:34 PM EST

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
[ Parent ]
limitless energy (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by John Milton on Sat May 04, 2002 at 08:33:10 PM EST

If there was a way to change regular matter into anti-matter, we'd find our energy concerns disappearing. One gram of anti-matter meeting up with one gram of matter would produce roughly as much energy as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. That's power. Of course, we'd have to keep people from making bombs with it.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

There is... (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by rodoke3 on Sat May 04, 2002 at 11:52:09 PM EST

but the current cost to produce even a miniscule amount is prohibitively high(into the quadrillions of USD)!

I take umbrage with such statments and am induced to pull out archaic and over pompous words to refute such insipid vitriol. -- kerinsky

[ Parent ]
Actually... (5.00 / 2) (#42)
by gnovos on Sun May 05, 2002 at 04:00:05 AM EST

The cost isn't the big problem.  The big problem is that it takes so much energy to flip a proton from positive to negative that it ends up being more energy than you could get from annihilating the anti-proton.

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
[ Parent ]
But (5.00 / 1) (#63)
by kuran42 on Sun May 05, 2002 at 12:05:49 PM EST

Anti-Matter is at best a storage place for energy. It will never take less energy to turn matter into anti-matter than you will get from the resulting annihilation (unless the law of conservation of energy turns out to be false). This might be ok if it didn't take ungodly amounts of energy to store anti-matter too. Until we come up with "force fields" as well, anti-matter probably won't be much explored as a power source.

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]
I sort of believe in this (3.66 / 3) (#22)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sat May 04, 2002 at 09:00:31 PM EST

I guess you could call me a utopian.. I'm not opposed to the idea, it just shouldn't be done in a totalitarian way.

I believe, pretty sure, that there will be a time when no work is required of people - after all, economy boils down to allocation of resources - energy is the biggest one right now, but there's also food, land, capital, and I'm sure something I missed.  Anyway, through technological advances there will be a point where we will all have more resources than we need - no hoarding or exploitation will be required to get what YOU need.

What happens then is anyone's guess.  Hopefully we don't descend into an unfulfilling life of hedonism, where culture is destroyed in favor of pure pleasure.  Many people have said that suffering has a purpose - suffering is necessary in order to have happiness as well.  It will come down to ethics.  What is the morally right thing to do after we have limitless energy, robots under our command to do all the grunt work?

It comes down to however you define moral correctness.  Certainly it's not morally right for everyone to live a life of pure pleasure through drugs, electrical stimulation, or sexual depravity.  Whatever happens, the human condition will change dramatically - when it ceases to be a struggle to maximize resources, what will the new struggle be?  Will we work towards a new human enlightenment, through beautiful works of art?  When we reach our goal of unlimited happiness, what then?

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.

Morals (3.50 / 4) (#35)
by treat on Sun May 05, 2002 at 01:50:56 AM EST

Certainly it's not morally right for everyone to live a life of pure pleasure through drugs, electrical stimulation, or sexual depravity.

Why not? Because it violates your religion?

[ Parent ]

re: Morals (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by Bridge Troll on Sun May 05, 2002 at 07:54:01 AM EST

Why not is an interesting question. Many people seem to think that morals have no purpose outside of brutally "oppressing" members of a given faith.

Morals are not just about getting into Heaven or attaining Nirvana, they are about controlling yourself on Earth so that everyone's lives are better... usually, this includes, to some extent, the person practicing.

Even Marx didn't think that hedonism and unleashed sexual energy would be beneficial, and to him, religion was merely the Opiate of the Masses, the drug that made life tolerable to the proletariat.
(I don't see why, in a perfect society, it wouldn't still be beneficial. Hope is always a good thing.)

I'll address the topic of unlimited, freely given sexual pleasure now... Sex today, to some at least, is something special and meaningful. It loses a little bit of its charm when it's reduced to something you do every night with a stranger, no matter how much grunting or sweating goes on... you can ask some of the middle-aged men who practiced this in their youth. They'll tell you how lonely this life is/was.

As an athiestic geek, I can't really expect you to understand something like that, so I'll reply simply: Why? Because it violates someone's religion?

And besides, pounding your meat with a club is a very satisfying thing to do :) -- Sleepy
[ Parent ]

Act Utilitarianism (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun May 05, 2002 at 09:01:28 AM EST

Act Utilitarianism is a system for determining moral correctness which I am basically referring to.

Briefly, AU states that every act must be considered based on the amount of pleasure it results in, versus the amount of pain it causes.  The Act-Utilitarian must always choose their acts with this in mind.  But this permits situations that common sense would tell us are clearly immoral.  AU can be argued to absurdity, justifying actions such as murder, organ harvesting, bestiality.

Huxley's Brave New World goes into great detail of why a life of constant pleasure through drugs isn't a good thing.

On another note, I'm pretty much an atheist.  I'm not moralizing here, I'm refuting things logically.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

No I think (5.00 / 1) (#53)
by greenrd on Sun May 05, 2002 at 10:15:47 AM EST

You are attempting to refute AU by appeal to intuition. That's what most ethical arguments ultimately come down to - intuition and reflex responses.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Ethics and logic (none / 0) (#58)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun May 05, 2002 at 11:27:11 AM EST

Personally I don't think any 'boiled-down' ethical system such as AU will work in all circumstances.  I do think that AU is particularly easy to disprove, by following it to absurd conclusions.  Organ harvesting and eugenics come to mind.
  1. If AU is correct, then it is morally right to slaughter prisoners and harvest their organs for children (by definition).
  2. It is not morally right to slaughter prisoners and harvest their organs for children (common sense)
Therefore AU is not correct (MT)

AU isn't logically flawed, it just goes against what we call human nature.  An ethical system is useless if it dictates that we go against 'common sense.'  Isn't the goal of ethics to come up with a system for determining moral correctness, that fits in with how humans need to live their lives?

Anyway, I'm just parroting back arguments that my philosophy professor made to me.. if you got a problem, then bring it up with him!  :)

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

Utilitarianism (none / 0) (#64)
by greenrd on Sun May 05, 2002 at 12:16:40 PM EST

1. If AU is correct, then it is morally right to slaughter prisoners and harvest their organs for children (by definition).

IANAD, but I'm not sure they would be suitable - unless the children in question were close to fully-developed. Anyway, let's assume they were. I personally would have no problem with all child molestors being executed and their organs harvested for sick children. [and insert spammer joke here]

The death penalty can be justified under utilitarianism if and only if the positive social deterrent effect outweighs any suffering caused (e.g. suffering to the criminal being killed, suffering to the criminal's family, creating a climate of fear in society, "inevitable" miscarriages of justice etc.) In actual fact this is almost impossible to "calculate" in practice, so in practice we just have to make educated guesses.

For example, if we were to execute convicted cannabis smokers, that might deter a few people from smoking cannabis - but even if that is considered a benefit, it is a trivial benefit compared to the loss of life of essentially innocent people. So AU certainly does not condone executing non-dangerous criminals like that.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Logic vs. morality (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Sun May 05, 2002 at 01:01:22 PM EST

This all just shows what I believe - using logical argument to formulate ethical theory is like using a golf club to paint your house.  It just isn't the right tool for the job.  Those rationalists who like to logically argue a solution to everything are missing the point.  Harvesting organs from prisoners goes against my beliefs, as well as those of many civil libertarians and religions.

I cannot accept any ethical theory that validates some things, such as this kind of loss of life for the benefit of others.  I really do believe that despite utilitarianism, we are better off if there are things we simply don't do.  This includes the death penalty, and my objection isn't due to its racism or the possibility for mistakes.  My objection is that I believe no human is entitled to hold that sort of power over another.  We are just people, after all.  This isn't a logical belief, you could call it a religious one.  There is a time to kill, but state-sponsored murder is barbaric.

On a side note, they actually can execute people for marijuana in Singapore.. probably only on the 'trafficking' scale, but it's still interesting.

jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

interesting (none / 0) (#95)
by eurasian on Mon May 06, 2002 at 02:32:57 PM EST

in a scary-ass-pee-my-pants kinda way. =8oD

[ Parent ]
Deontological response... (none / 0) (#66)
by Elendale on Sun May 05, 2002 at 01:48:07 PM EST

It is not right to slaughter prisoners and harvest their various parts because it does not respect those prisoners as individuals.

(Note: i realize you were talking about AU, i'm just noting that your rejection of AU as universally correct is not "just" an intuitive one, but rather one that belongs to a different system of logic.)


When free speech is outlawed, only criminals will complain.

[ Parent ]
Depravity? (5.00 / 2) (#48)
by Happy Monkey on Sun May 05, 2002 at 09:03:12 AM EST

The only sexual depravity is rape and sexual assault.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Matter Replication (4.83 / 6) (#23)
by whojgalt on Sat May 04, 2002 at 09:07:20 PM EST

The big thing about matter replication is that somebody still needs to design the form that the matter would be transformed into. Assuming that we still have needs and wants (an assumption you seem to implicitly deny in your article), fulfilling those needs and wants still requires somebody to design the goods and technology that will be produced. Even if production is free, this design will not be; there must be some way to incentivize the people with the ability to do so to design the things we want.

In such a scenario, the design, i.e. information, becomes the only commodity. The industrialized world has moved in that direction already, as it is the natural outcome of the premise that all production and value is ultimately rooted in ideas, with the labor and capital needed to implement the idea being secondary. Matter replication would not make economies obsolete, it would merely shift them to an entirely information-based mode.

This is an excellent article, with a very inspirational conclusion. +1FP
"modern society is obsessed with keeping people vulnerable and dependent on the state for protection, so they chop off people's foreski

Total reversal (4.00 / 3) (#29)
by Nick Ives on Sat May 04, 2002 at 11:17:26 PM EST

I find the shift to the "information economy" to be quite bizarre. If you go back in time copyrights and the like were seen as a neccessary evil (as evidenced by that recent FP article, too tired to look, old dead UK MP dude). I mean, if you design a kickass car, sharing the plans for said car doesnt mean you have the car any less. As it stands if replicators were to appear tomorrow then it would be possible to supply all basic needs (food, clothing of some form, water, house, etc) of everyone. I really dont think that in such a situation there would be a significant information economy, I mean, once you've gotten the physical needs sorted out then im certain people would be much more willing to share.

The only significant "economy" I can think would result would be an economy of favours, sortof like "I'll design you a car if you architect my house" kinda deal. Even then I dont see why people would refrain from sharing plans of both car and house. Theres just nothing to be gained from not sharing, and by sharing you get a reputation for generosity. Like, yea...

[ Parent ]

Information economy (4.00 / 3) (#36)
by whojgalt on Sun May 05, 2002 at 01:51:37 AM EST

I mean, if you design a kickass car, sharing the plans for said car doesnt mean you have the car any less.

Irrelevant. People who design cars don't do it so that they can have a car. They do it so that they can have other things they want. Same goes for computers, houses, restaurant food, etc. If the production cost goes to zero, it will probably speed up the design process, but will not change the need for it, nor the need for designers to get something in exchange for their designs.

As it stands if replicators were to appear tomorrow then it would be possible to supply all basic needs (food, clothing of some form, water, house, etc) of everyone. I really dont think that in such a situation there would be a significant information economy, I mean, once you've gotten the physical needs sorted out then im certain people would be much more willing to share.

Why would they? First, the need for sharing in terms of physical goods would be eliminated along with the need for buying such things. Second, nobody is going to make a design unless its something they personally want so much it is worth the time or they get something else for it.

Legally, there would of course be some attempt to prevent unauthorized copying of proprietary designs. Whether this could succeed or not, and what form it would take, I don't know. I think the current debate on intellectual property is just what we would be seeing then, with one side demanding the "right" to copy at will and the other side pushing for more draconian extremes to prevent that.

But the upshot is, that we will still want more and more sophisticated designs for things like electronics, transportation, medical technology, housing, and luxury items. Somebody will have to design them, and if information ceases to be a commodity, then everyone will have only those designs they can produce themselves or are produced by others altruistically or through government fiat.

I doubt that that would be sufficient to satisfy the very drastic increase in demand for newer and better things that would result from the virtual elimination of production and distribution costs. The pressure to commoditize information would be irresistable, and some form of information economy, even an underground one, would inevitably result.
"modern society is obsessed with keeping people vulnerable and dependent on the state for protection, so they chop off people's foreski
[ Parent ]

Who will design? (4.00 / 1) (#104)
by janra on Tue May 07, 2002 at 02:42:05 AM EST

Second, nobody is going to make a design unless its something they personally want so much it is worth the time or they get something else for it.

I'd say that those two motivations are hardly the most relevant ones, especially in a society where all basic needs are taken care of. The people who would create are the people who want to create - and the people who do create today, as much as they can within the limits imposed by our society.

I mean, if I didn't have to work for my food and clothing, I know I would be bored stiff, and would want to find something to do - which would probably involve writing, or designing and building things. There are a lot of other people out there who create for the sheer joy of creating. Just look at a good chunk of the open source software out there. :-)

Discuss the art and craft of writing
That's the problem with world domination... Nobody is willing to wait for it anymore, work slowly towards it, drink more and enjoy the ride more.
[ Parent ]
One of my Faves (4.25 / 4) (#24)
by TON on Sat May 04, 2002 at 09:15:07 PM EST

I read the Millenial Project years ago. Couldn't remember the name, but googled to find this site, and then this one.

These guys took a total view of simple solar power, island building, escape from government, and finally escape from Earth. Written as a non-fiction proposal, it read more like one of those novels disguised as a future history book. Wacky stuff all together, but just plausible enough in its pieces to make you consider it.

Thanks for prompting me to look this up again. It was a fun read.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


Exactly (4.00 / 1) (#73)
by Erbo on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:26:26 PM EST

The Millennial Project is most definitely a good read, and workable in many of its aspects. And the Living Universe Foundation site (one of those you linked to) does a good job of updating the book. (For example, the "Bifrost" mass-driver and laser-propulsion launch system has been described as impractical, because it would subject its payload to levels and durations of acceleration that would kill most people. They're focused on looking at other techniques for easy acess to space, such as SSTO or maybe space elevators.)
Electric Minds - virtual community since 1996. http://www.electricminds.org
[ Parent ]
Flying cars (3.50 / 2) (#25)
by IHCOYC on Sat May 04, 2002 at 09:20:27 PM EST

Think of the folks you share the public streets and highways with. They have difficulty enough keeping their land-based cars from kissing the oak trees. The possibility of these folks tooling around the empyrean in their own personal flying cars would fill me with goggle-eyed fear.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
A common misconception... (4.66 / 3) (#33)
by StephenThompson on Sun May 05, 2002 at 01:00:55 AM EST

Since air traffic operates in 3-dimensions instead of just one as do automobiles, the density of traffic is substantially reduced. Thus, in a world designed for flying cars, the actual odds of collision would be substantially reduced compared to automobiles.

Think about it: driving down the freeway, if you take your hands off the steering wheel for 60 seconds, you will certainly die, in many cases it would take only few seconds of innattention to plunge off the road to your doom. In a plane flying at altitude, you can take your hands off the controls for long periods of time, and even if you put the plane into a nose-dive, you still have many minutes to recover the plane before crashing.

Really, the only thing especially dangerious about aircraft today is landing. This is because of the high speed approach that has to be done with piloting skills. A VTOL aircraft like a flying car mitigates this problem by using zero relative speed for landing. Pilot skill is replaced by computer control in most designs.

[ Parent ]
Dense people (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by Skwirl on Sun May 05, 2002 at 06:27:41 AM EST

I'd venture to guess that most car accidents are the result of people being negligent and/or purposefully reckless with their automobiles because they feel invincible. Thousands of hotdogging flying car owners will try their hand at barnstorming. Not to mention, there will always be pockets of high-density traffic at the destinations where people want to go.

"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
[ Parent ]
Sharp up! (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by nusuth on Sun May 05, 2002 at 09:50:10 AM EST

In a 3d world, you have more directions to avoid an accident. A computerized collision preventer can prevent all possible collisions unless the sphere cap to which car may manevour in a given time is completely covered by other vehicles. In 2d such a system is confined with an arc instead of a cap, and for a given velocity road boundaries usually cross that arc therefore making it unfeasible. Also in 2d road (ans offroad) conditions can change drastically after covering very small distances, which makes automatic control a very hard problem; that usually is not the case for aeronautical conditions.

[ Parent ]
Air Traffic Control (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by pexatus on Sun May 05, 2002 at 11:27:46 AM EST

It seems that the people responsible for the air traffic control system also suffer from this "common misconception."  Since it is so easy to avoid collisions in 3 dimensions, perhaps the air traffic control system should be disbanded to cut costs.

[ Parent ]
Without highways (none / 0) (#67)
by IHCOYC on Sun May 05, 2002 at 02:16:10 PM EST

Since air traffic operates in 3-dimensions instead of just one as do automobiles, the density of traffic is substantially reduced. Thus, in a world designed for flying cars, the actual odds of collision would be substantially reduced compared to automobiles.
It would seem to me that this reduced risk of collision would be offset by the fact that flying cars would also have no recogniseable roadways to stick to. Currently, the further you are from the public road, the less likely you are to be struck by a vagrant vehicle. Moving in three dimensions would allow these flying cars to veer at will over residential buildings and urban centres. Even if the number of wrecks will decrease, the number of uninvolved people in harm's way will increase.

This message has been placed here IN MEMORIAM by the Tijuana Bible Society.
[ Parent ]
But... (5.00 / 2) (#68)
by carbon on Sun May 05, 2002 at 03:39:16 PM EST

Haven't you ever watched the Jetsons? They have flying signposts and aircops that direct traffic. Or, you could just do it Pilotwings style and use floating markers along all pathways. Plus, just because you can move in three dimensions doesn't mean that you can't restrict certain kinds of travel (like skimming the tops of office buildings, fun as that might be).

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Back to the future II (none / 0) (#90)
by Arcturax on Mon May 06, 2002 at 12:57:40 PM EST

Remember in Back to the Future II how they had flying cars restricted to special sky lanes?  That is what they could do to alleviate this problem.  They could restrict certain airspace only to flying cars and the police would go after anyone who deviated from those courses too much.  The computer in the car would have a HUD or something to show you where you needed to be.

If you get congestion, then they only need to widen the air corridor a bit or something like that.  Currently it takes thousands of man hours and millions of dollars to widen a road.  Here, traffic control may need only to widen the lanes during rush hour by pushing a few buttons which would update everyone's HUD to show the new opened lanes.

Now granted crashes would be a lot more spectacular and dangerous, but then I would think that the standards for being able to fly one of these would be a lot harder too.  Oh and if anyone did a DUI, they would be banished to the ground for a good long while (or even forever).

I listen to the best music on Earth! http://www.digitalgunfire.com
[ Parent ]

The granddaddy of them all ... (none / 0) (#93)
by thebrix on Mon May 06, 2002 at 01:55:15 PM EST

... has to be Brave New World; Huxley came up with the concept of everyone in their own flying car in 1932. And, worse, everyone was on drugs - the omnipresent 'soma' which was freely, unlimitedly available and taken to banish bad thoughts.

I don't think he thought much about the air traffic control implications of FUI though ;)

[ Parent ]

personal freedom to go: A lesson from history (none / 0) (#76)
by RaveWar on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:49:40 PM EST

In the 1960s, in a report on accomodating road traffic, it was noted that with future flying cars - technology they thought was just around the corner even then - they may be a mixed blessing

"All [privacy] would be threatened if people could take off vertically at will, proceed in any direction, and hover about just as they pleased"

Incidentally this document, known as the Buchanan Report, then suggested the reshaping of towns around a hierarchy of large capacity roads, which would provide unimpeded movement while separating the pedestrian from the dangers of traffic. This was to lead to a lot of the ugliness that is seen in UK cities today
We don't need freedom. We don't need love.
We want Superpower, Ultraviolence.
[ Parent ]

Why on earth would you let people drive them... (none / 0) (#110)
by Shpongle Spore on Tue May 07, 2002 at 06:49:55 PM EST

...when you could just have them drive themselves? Personally I'll be glad when it becomes illegal to operate a car under manual control on a public road. It's just far too dangerous to make everyone responsible for everyone else's safety.
I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor bar,
drinking 'Mad Dog' margaritas and not caring where you are
[ Parent ]
Heat pollution (4.50 / 4) (#27)
by xriso on Sat May 04, 2002 at 11:12:21 PM EST

If we started adding energy to Earth in large amounts, we could easily start to fry ourselves. As it is, we do not add enough energy from all our production techniques. But if there are many many people on Earth drawing in large quantities of energy, then your end result is a warm planet. I would hope that perhaps the increase in ocean and desert surface area would help to reflect more sunlight or something.

Now, if you're looking for a way for the human species to survive, what you really want is faster-than-light travel, so nobody is stuck anywhere near Earth when a nearby supernova goes off. (Conventional travel will likely be limited to small speeds no larger than, say, 0.05c, because it would be very difficult to not be exploded by interstellar debris)
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)

Supernovas not much of a danger (4.66 / 3) (#37)
by khallow on Sun May 05, 2002 at 02:11:29 AM EST

First, there aren't a lot of big stars near Earth. For example, I looked at this page for some information. The only nearby star that might go supernova is Sirius A (the brightest star in the sky and part of a binary system). It's scheduled to "do something" in about half a billion years. BTW, at Voyager I speeds you are travelling a mere 17.4 kilometers a second (about 0.0006% of the speed of light). That is sufficiently fast to clear a lightyear in around 170,000 years. So even at these slow speeds you could get 40 light years away in about 7 million years. You should be able to survive a supernova at that distance. Given the long duration between really close supernovas, it would even be feasible to evolve the human race to withstand high radiation tolerances. To add a little troll, I might add that this evolution could probably be done with today's breeding techniques as used on farms everywhere.

For dodging supernovas, 0.05C is incredibly fast. Even if the undesireable radius is say a vastly conservative 1000 light years, that would only take 20,000 years to cross.

Finally Supernovas really aren't that much of a surprise. They pretty much only occur once in a location, can be monitored, and probably can be predicted sufficiently well (within a few thousand years at least). Think of volcanoes. You can predict that some sort of activity is going to happen. Maybe the size or other characteristic of the eruption can surprise you, but in general you can tell when a volcano is going to do something, and protect the neighboring people from that danger.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

not supernovas... (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by dennis on Sun May 05, 2002 at 12:05:21 PM EST

...but gamma ray bursters could easily wipe us out, and may have caused mass extinctions already. If this guy is correct, either our current understanding is wrong, or we're extremely lucky not to have been wiped out already.

[ Parent ]
Ok, now you're talking (5.00 / 2) (#69)
by khallow on Sun May 05, 2002 at 04:14:52 PM EST

A couple of comments here. First, I don't see why the timing argument is off that much (he guesses 200 million years between bursts on average). The author cites 4 billion years of evolution, but only about 500 million years (since the Cambrian "explosion") would be sensitive to gamma ray bursts. Further, the early lifeforms may have been very resistent to radiation. Certainly, the single cell organisms that existed for most of that time are much more resistent by their nature to radiation. So it could be that deep undersea "smokers" (volcano vents/hot springs) were repositories for life during nasty gamma ray burst events.

Further the author submits a reasonable solution. hundreds of meters of earth can stop a gamma ray burst at the center of the galaxy. Even closer gamma ray bursts could be survived. For example, take Ceres (what 450 miles in diameter?) and change it's axis of rotation (some reaction mass is needed) so that one axis is pointed at the gamma burst in question. Live buried a bit inside the other axis. Now you have a huge asteroid to chew through. Ceres can suffer significant ablation without serious harm to you. No need travel thousands of lightyears.

Finally, I wonder if asteroid evidence supports the frequency of gamma ray bursts. In particular, it would seem to me that small volitile rich comets would be extremely susceptible to heating effects from bursts. So more bursts means less ice...

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Re: Heat Pollution (2.50 / 2) (#38)
by khallow on Sun May 05, 2002 at 02:25:09 AM EST

If we started adding energy to Earth in large amounts, we could easily start to fry ourselves. As it is, we do not add enough energy from all our production techniques. But if there are many many people on Earth drawing in large quantities of energy, then your end result is a warm planet. I would hope that perhaps the increase in ocean and desert surface area would help to reflect more sunlight or something.

This is a potential problem. Currently, the heat produced by human beings just isn't a factor. But with the ability to redirect energy from solar panels in space coupled with huge fusion (or whatever) reactors on the planet you could cause trouble. A short-term fix is solving the green house gas problem (ie, keeping Carbon Dioxide, Methane, CFCs, and other such gases at very low levels).

A better long term solution is to move most of your energy consumption facilities to space. Over time, an informal Dyson sphere ("Dyson cloud" might be more accurate) of interplanetary solar power plants could result. Plus the heat drop (for Carnot engines) is much better.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Heat pollution is a non-issue with ~unlimited E (5.00 / 2) (#50)
by nusuth on Sun May 05, 2002 at 09:39:53 AM EST

Earth is not an isolated system. For 1 unit of work, you can remove about 4 units of heat from a system. Give me the nature of unlimited energy supply and I'll work out how exactly we will use it to cool the Earth.

[ Parent ]
why free unlimited energy/matter is a bad thing (5.00 / 4) (#28)
by calimehtar on Sat May 04, 2002 at 11:12:28 PM EST

Not to disparage the article, which I think is a good one, only to kickstart further discussion I Want to point out that even within the article itself are suggestions why free unlimited energy and matter might be a bad thing.

Among possible uses for free energy are listed building mile-high buildings flooded with artificial sunlight. This may not seem like a bad thing at first glance, but it implies mile-long shadows cast over people and plants and animals who may actually prefer natural light, or may simply be neglected by the designers who, as suggested, are more interested in putting 24-hr greenhouses in their mile-high buildings.

There is, of course, "you can just split the water in the icecaps all day long and use conventional rockets" which brings to mind images of all the water on earth being burned up, the global climate altered, and the ecosystem of antarctica destroyed forever. You might say, "well, with free matter and energy we can replace the water and aircondidtion antarctica." This is true, but why should I trust human nature to actually care about such things?

Inevitably the idea of free unlimited matter replication brings to mind images of landfills tens of thousands of square miles wide and city streets packed full of enormous SUVs, themselves filled with gigantic humans gorging themselves on replicated steaks produced by onboard feeding systems.

I have to admit though, flying cars sound like a pretty goood idea.


The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret.

Yes but... (5.00 / 1) (#40)
by Betcour on Sun May 05, 2002 at 03:21:34 AM EST

it implies mile-long shadows cast over people and plants and animals who may actually prefer natural light

In that case the building could be lined up with spots who would provide sun-like light over its shadow (effectivement making it almost invisible from people in the shadow). If energy is unlimited that's not an issue anymore. images of all the water on earth being burned up

I think the auhtor thought of using the hydrogen and oxygen as fuel for rockets. Once burned up it recombines as water and goes back into clouds... then snow and then ice again :)

[ Parent ]
Except (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by JanneM on Sun May 05, 2002 at 06:52:51 AM EST

Except that the spots themselves cost money to set up, they need to be maintained, and the people inside the building may dislike having powerful lights just outside their windows.

Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend.
[ Parent ]
Windows? (none / 0) (#83)
by Verminator on Mon May 06, 2002 at 12:10:31 AM EST

What need have they to look through windows when they have paperthin high resolution displays lining every wall and transportiong them to a tropical paradise or mountain peak with the touch of a button. Incidentally these displays will probably be running on Windows.

So long as one is alive, death doesn't exist, except for other people. And when one is dead, nothing exists, not even death. -- Aldous Huxley
[ Parent ]

human judgement (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by calimehtar on Sun May 05, 2002 at 10:23:40 AM EST

Part of what I was trying to say was that nothing in history indicates we can trust humans to make decisions in others' interest. Like putting sun lamps on the sides of tall buildings. Give a human the Power of God, which unlimited energy and matter sort of approximates, and most are likely to agree you'll end up with someting more closely resembling Satan. Maybe I'm taking the idea a bit too far...


The whole point of the Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret.

[ Parent ]
Huge underground buildings? (4.00 / 1) (#70)
by blackwizard on Sun May 05, 2002 at 04:37:14 PM EST

Why not build the mile-"high" building undergroud? Then there's no shadow, and those who want their artificial light can have it. Plus, terrorists can't smash planes into the building. Of course, your guess is as good as mine as far as what do do with everything you had to dig up to build a mile-high underground building...

[ Parent ]
Infinite Free Energy (none / 0) (#111)
by katie on Wed May 08, 2002 at 06:14:52 AM EST

Actually the big problem with infinite free energy, is that we have to do something with the /exhaust/ energy.

It's all very well not burning fossil fuels anymore because the solar satalites beam down all the power we'll ever need, but generating motion from an energy source produces waste heat - you can't just dump that into the atmosphere forever... the earth is not good at radiating heat away: it's not bright enough. It can't convect it away or conduct it away...

And it's very hard to turn that atmospheric heat back into something in order to move it anywhere else.

[ Parent ]

But We Already HAVE Free Energy. (3.16 / 6) (#31)
by snowlion on Sat May 04, 2002 at 11:59:55 PM EST

Solar cells. The sun won't burn out for some time.

What you want is more POWER. That is, you want a lot of energy in a short amount of time.

BTW, I myself like to meet weirdo crackpots. A lot of fun; I keep thinking about writing a K5 story on my experiences there.
Map Your Thoughts

Problem with solar cells (4.00 / 3) (#41)
by gnovos on Sun May 05, 2002 at 03:57:42 AM EST

They take up a lot of room, die out pretty quickly (or so I have heard) compared to the cost to make them, don't work at night, or in the rain, and they are filled with nasty things that mundge the environment.  At least that's what I've read about them.  I think the main problem is that they just don't have the oomph to really work well.  I think solar pumps, however, would pack such a nice healthy punch that nobody will be whining that they miss thier oil drilling.

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
[ Parent ]
"Oomp" = Power (5.00 / 2) (#57)
by snowlion on Sun May 05, 2002 at 10:57:09 AM EST

I think the main problem is that they just don't have the oomph to really work well.

That was exactly my point. The technical term for oomp is "Power".

Free Energy isn't hard to get at all. There are many sources, solar power being one of the most obvious ones. It's just that these "free" energy sources do not provide the power to do what we want them to do.
Map Your Thoughts
[ Parent ]

No more branding? No way! (3.75 / 4) (#39)
by khallow on Sun May 05, 2002 at 02:31:14 AM EST

No more Monday Night Football, no more Britney Spears, no more McDonalds, no more Nike shoes.

And how does free energy and zero cost production obselete these things? You still got to pay for the brand! Personally, I'm still trying to figure out how Monday Night Football is effected? It doesn't produce anything so there's no way to undercut it, right? Maybe the end of the work-week? Come on, lemme in on the secret!

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Inventions (3.50 / 2) (#45)
by hubick on Sun May 05, 2002 at 07:17:24 AM EST

1) Nanotechnology

You can create nanobots to build anything at an atomic level.  Nanobots to do things, nanobots to build more nanobots.  All that is required is their programming.

2) Artificial Intelligence

Humans write the first program for the nanobots, which tells them to build a computer to host the AI. Then we can sit back and let the AI do most the thinking and problem solving.  The first thing it can do is program the nanobots to build even better computers so that it can learn faster and solve harder problems, like how to learn even faster by building even better computers and nanobots.

With Nanotech and AI, everything else will soon fall, including Power, Matter Replication, and Flying Transportation.

AI isn't that easy (5.00 / 3) (#61)
by pexatus on Sun May 05, 2002 at 11:43:07 AM EST

How exactly does the premise that nanobots can build a computer capable of hosting an advanced AI program imply that they could also write the program?  There is a whole heap of "nanobots," each about 1.6 meters tall, built mostly out of water, who figured out how to build a computer 50 years ago, and they STILL haven't been able to successfully implement higher cognition on it yet.

Humans write the first program for the nanobots, which tells them to build a computer to host the AI.

It sounds like, "We can't figure out how to do task X, so we'll simply build robots that can do task X, and tell them to do it.  Problem solved."

Then we can sit back and let the AI do most the thinking and problem solving.

A similar argument challenges the idea that even is this were possible, it would lead directly to solutions to the Power, Matter Replication, and Flying Transportation problems.  Maybe the AI would get stumped just like us trying to solve these problems, or maybe it would discover some fundamental flaw in the idea of matter replication, proving it impossible.  Maybe the AI would turn on us in a bloody revolution, dooming humankind to slavery.  Complex systems are not as easy to predict as their simple descriptions would imply.

[ Parent ]

Wasn't implying it was... (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by hubick on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:49:25 PM EST

I wasn't implying nanobots could write their own software. I was saying we need both inventions, but that once we have them, they can help further each other recursively.

Half the problem with computers today is manufacturing. There are a vast array of techniques that would be impossible today, but which become possible with an army of nanobots. It fundamentally changes the way you build things. I would think quantum computing would come right along with the invention of real nanotech as well. At very least, the rate of progress would advance dramatically.

And I'm not saying AI would lead directly to solutions, or that we could predict it, of course it's not that simple. I am making two assumptions: The first is that you can increase an AI's intelligence by throwing better hardware at it. Once you reach that point, it becomes a manufacturing problem, all we need to do ourselves is get that hardware to the point where the AI is more intelligent than us. The second assumption is that the invention of nanotechnology will expedite solving this manufacturing problem.

[ Parent ]

Guilty (1.00 / 1) (#81)
by eightball on Sun May 05, 2002 at 08:40:16 PM EST

You are guilty of conspiracy to precipitate a Star Trek:Next Generation plot device!

Repeat after me, nanotech and autonomy to not mix.

[ Parent ]

Don't forget (3.75 / 4) (#49)
by donky on Sun May 05, 2002 at 09:30:03 AM EST

The infinite power machines and matter replication machines will have built in rights protection mechanisms. By the time these ideal inventions come around the US corporations will have bought the legislation and either the US government will have forced all the other governments to adopt the laws as well or will have ensured that the only equipment produced is produced with these mechanisms.

Utopia? (5.00 / 4) (#52)
by dagsverre on Sun May 05, 2002 at 09:57:26 AM EST

Fair enough, but exactly how would technological achievement lead to peace and love? It's not like todays wars and conflicts are over resources (well, mostly). It's about human nature, I don't think your flying cars will change the fact that most people like having other people beneath them in some way (just for the knowledge that one is better, not necesarrily for the material advantages it has).

All of these technologies would just be more cool things, more things that would be convenient to have but that we'll get used to pretty quickly. Perhaps our way of producing material goods have changed dramatically over the last couple of thousand years, but if you look to inter-personal relationships, society etc etc then things haven't changed all that much, human nature stays the same.

Of all the problems in the world today, material benefits in abundaness wouldn't change all that much. You see, we already have it, or close to it anyway, calculations show that we could in an optimal society with todays tools make enough food etc. with five hours of work per month per person (I've forgotten the source, sorry, I know this doesn't make me look very credible...). But, do we do it? No. As people already have pointed out, we have patents and trade regulations to make sure that things stay sparse (so that some people at the top can keep feeling they're better than the rest). Plus, we always manage to find more needs, no matter what needs we cover we'll make up new ones (we have plenty of work in non-production areas, entertainment, hair-dressers, whatnot).

My point is merely this: Don't count on technological advancement to bring forward Utopia.

Capitalism == Artificial Constraints (4.33 / 3) (#74)
by moxie on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:27:49 PM EST

There's already enough food in the world to feed everyone, but people starve every day. That's because capitalism demands a scarcity of resources. If a necessary resource isn't naturally scarse (like food), it is artifically constrained. The government will subsidise agriculture and buy up surplus crops to rot away in silos.

Distributing the food to everyone would only work under a soclialist or communist system, but capitalists would contend that people wouldn't produce enough food to begin with if there wasn't a clear competitive/do-or-die motive.

That's all very different than just having the food. If you can generate food with no work in a distributed fashion (like replicators in StarTrek), then the capitalist/socialist debate is moot.

I think you're underestimating the role of resources in human conflict. If everybody had everything they needed, there would be no reason to steal or fight wars or impose imperialist might. If everybody had everything they needed, there would be no reason to have government, so there would be nobody to start wars.

[ Parent ]
Not true! (4.00 / 2) (#94)
by daviddennis on Mon May 06, 2002 at 02:09:44 PM EST

You probably wouldn't want distribution of food to everyone, since that would imply everyone gets the same basket of goods.  If there's one thing we know about increased abundence, it's the need for increased variety that goes with it.

There was a story called "Business as Usual, During Alterations" by Ralph Williams that I only vaguely remembered about the idea of a matter duplicator, and how it would affect life at a busy department store.

In the end, what it did was speed things up ever faster, since people would still strive for the latest, greatest and best items.  Stores would just have one of each item and a duplicator; they would pay license fees for each copy made; and people would churn out goods more frenetically than ever.

Search for the story on Google; I was able to find a copy.  (I think it's long out of print).

amazing.com has amazing things.
[ Parent ]

human nature (4.00 / 2) (#100)
by jafac on Mon May 06, 2002 at 07:56:10 PM EST

you misunderstand the most basic drive within human nature - the drive to compete and dominate.  

You give every man a loaf of bread, and one will claim how he's better than the other because his is bigger.  Make every person equal, and they'll strive to achieve dominance.  It's biological - it's instinct.

This is why in Capitalism, there MUST be winners and losers.  Neoliberals will argue that the amount of money in an expanding economy does not remain finite, so that the rising tide lifts all boats.  Sure, that's true, but if one man has $1,000,001, and everyone else has $1,000,000, you still have haves and have-nots.  And people - human beings, will fight and kill and die over that $1 difference.  

And in Socialism - well, there's no such thing.  Not with humans anyway.  Pick a race that doesn't have this natural drive, and apply socialism to that one.  Maybe it'll work and you'll have utopia.

[ Parent ]

I agree (5.00 / 1) (#88)
by dakoda on Mon May 06, 2002 at 12:13:04 PM EST

I'd have to say i completely agree with your point.

If i am a violent person, having infinite resources does _not_ suddenly make we want to be non-violent. If i really want to kill someone, handing me a device capable of making anything will certainly not help the person i want to kill (and if they get one, i am constantly making a bigger weapon, they make a bigger defence, until nukes/whatever come into play).

an interesting book on this is "The Diamond Age," where people are able to make anything with 'matter compilers.' yet the world is still not 'free' and utopia-like.

The only way to obtain a utopia is to kill everyone else who has a different vision, because they are going to get in the way of your plans sooner or later.

[ Parent ]
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis (none / 0) (#91)
by mikecap on Mon May 06, 2002 at 12:58:59 PM EST

Read Transmet to see what will really happen when all of these technologies become available. Mike

[ Parent ]
Actually, possibly not a problem (1.00 / 1) (#103)
by CAIMLAS on Mon May 06, 2002 at 08:39:03 PM EST

It's postulated by some trains of thought (debate it if you will, I'm using it as a constant for my arguement) that prior to the worldwide flood (the one 'reported' in the Bible, Torah, et al), the entire world was a jungle environment. The overall temperature of the earth was significantly higher, as was the humidity (no polar ice caps, for instance). A natural greenhouse effect occured, keeping the earth at a fairly constant temperature. Various differences abounded (some of the most interesting, in my mind, are that the animals were much, much larger. Fossils have been found of 6' dogs, 9' men, and the like. Plants and animals all grew larger. Practical, modern-day evidence also abounds - such as the massive snakes that have been found in the past in tropical climates by explorers.)

Sure, this would certainly change the way that the world runs today, but it would probably also cause for much more of the world to be habitable. Granted, this is given the provision that people don't continue to cut DOWN all the trees.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.
[ Parent ]

A *slightly* less utopic idea (4.75 / 4) (#54)
by nusuth on Sun May 05, 2002 at 10:18:38 AM EST

Propellantless propulsion, something like a Woodward engine. If you have that in place, tapping solar system's great resources becomes energy efficient. One humble option is using lunar thorium fission reactors, utilizing local thorium, to produce and pump huge amounts of energy to Earth. Lack of atmosphere makes any nuclear accident a completely local problem and radioactive wastes may be hurled into sun with fraction of energy extracted from them. That extra energy will in turn enable bootstrapping super-engineering projects, like building solar mirrors with hundreds of kilometers dimensions, which will provide even more energy.

That amount (output of mirrors and fission reactors) is not sufficient to convert energy to mass and use mass as a raw material. Nevertheless it will be sufficient for many things we only dream about now. Eg, without assuming exotic technologies, it is possible to cleanup all chemical pollution (distill atmosphere, breakdown harmful chemicals, re-synthesize them to something harmless; ditto for water and soil), colonize solar system (propulsion tech just uses energy, and we have plenty of it. Earth is as far from Mars as a local grocery store to us) utilize asteroids (plenty of raw materials there, Earth's sources may be left alone), synthesize all expensive chemicals for price of dirt (it is not that we cannot synthesize anything we want now, it is just that current synthesis processes are too expensive to be economical. If we have enough energy, we can use very energy inefficient methods [like producing a soup of similar chemicals and distilling that soup wasting energy in the process] cheaply) etc. The options are endless. We just need to find a way to escape this fscking gravity well.

Propellantless propulsion (4.00 / 2) (#71)
by gnovos on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:20:17 PM EST

is actually feasible when you have infinite E.  You simply create a particle at the front of your ship, hurl it backwards and annihilate it at the other end.  Send the energy back to the front of the ship, rinse, repeat.  Since energy has no mass, you will be able to travel through space without launching mass out behind you AND still conserve momentum.

A Haiku: "fuck you fuck you fuck/you fuck you fuck you fuck you/fuck you fuck you snow" - JChen
[ Parent ]
Photons have momentum (4.00 / 2) (#79)
by nusuth on Sun May 05, 2002 at 07:52:47 PM EST

so you can't just transfer energy from back of the ship to the front without violating conservation of momentum. Other carriers of energy would suffer from the same problem. But one can use this principle for propellanless propulsion (perhaps a misnomer, considering there is a propellant in the strict sense of the word: light). Every photon emitted from the ship will push the ship in the opposite direction. Only BIG lightbulbs and good amount of energy is required.

<P> If E amount of energy is used and speeds are non-relativistic, delta velocity v is E/mc. Consider X units of antimatter fuels the ship: v=Xc*c/mc=(2X/m)c for 2X<<m. I believe this is the ultimate propellant efficiency!

[ Parent ]

ah, nutcases (3.00 / 1) (#60)
by lucid on Sun May 05, 2002 at 11:29:30 AM EST

A good resource for nutcases is crank.net. I'm not sure that I buy the contention that believers in the Magic Box will shepherd in a new age of peace and prosperity by science, especially when some still put up web pages declaring their hatred for science. Just remember when you get into that flying car, its flying by the work of the devil and his his salespeople.

Wait a minute... (4.50 / 4) (#72)
by platypus0 on Sun May 05, 2002 at 05:26:20 PM EST

Limitless energy doesn't mean no Marxism, capitalism or no one controlling us. Major social seismic activity, sure, I don't doubt that. But let's say someone builds your Mercury Solar Array; whoever builds it, owns it. The thing Marx always pointed out was "who controls the means of production?". Whoever would control the production, maintenance and distribution of said limitless energy sure as hell would have a lot of say about how I get some of that there energy. It may not make sense for them to charge me by the kilowatt/hour, but I bet there'll be an access fee. Once you add the matter replicator, then maybe, maybe, you get your anarchist utopia. But frankly, someone is always gonna find a way to tell you what to do. 'Cause they'll want to and there will always be a way. What if I replicate a couple of nuclear suitcase bombs?

The Culture, anyone? (3.00 / 3) (#77)
by RaveWar on Sun May 05, 2002 at 06:28:42 PM EST

I know it is slightly irrelevant but a good utopia is that of Sci Fi author Ian Banks; known simply as The Culture. This utopia is kept crime free by the timely and (usually) gentle intervention of the all-powerful minds, AIs who run the starships, planetary infrastructure, and everbody's PDA type thingies, and have an army of drones to do everything.

...hehe, in trying to find a suitable link for this post on the search engine I came upon a previous discussion thread so you probably all knew that. sorry.
We don't need freedom. We don't need love.
We want Superpower, Ultraviolence.
[ Parent ]

Ha (none / 0) (#106)
by rusty on Tue May 07, 2002 at 03:50:22 AM EST

I just happen to be reading Look to Windward right now. Interesting stuff, in a geeky space-opera kind of way. He's got what I take to be some pretty sharp critiques of American culture in there too. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
The Physics Teacher's Dream: The Fusion Torch (3.50 / 2) (#78)
by Blarney on Sun May 05, 2002 at 07:01:49 PM EST

My high school physics teacher could talk for days about how wonderful the "fusion torch" would be as soon as we got working fusion power. The "fusion torch" was basically a very large, fusion powered mass spectrometer. All trash would be tossed into there, and with the limitless energy of fusion it would be sorted into its component atoms. The hydrogen would be used as motor fuel. Metals and such would be recovered - there would be no need to continue mining anymore. There would be no pollution, as it would all go into the fusion torch. And thanks to the enormous amount of deuterium in the oceans, there would be enough fusion fuel to last practically forever and keep this device running.

There would be no need at all for matter replication. Your old car would go into this machine, and would be sorted into carbon, hydrogen, iron, aluminum, oxygen, silicon, platinum. All these materials would be ready for future use with no need for further supply.

I heard about this new-fangled flying car (2.50 / 2) (#80)
by BLU ICE on Sun May 05, 2002 at 07:59:35 PM EST

It's called a helicopter. :0)

"Is the quality of this cocaine satisfactory, Mr. Delorean?"
"As good as gold."

-- I am become Troll, destroyer of threads.
It's like an encyclopedia...sorta: Everything2

'A For Anything' (4.00 / 2) (#82)
by midknight on Sun May 05, 2002 at 10:12:45 PM EST

I still remember a story by (John Dalmas?) Called 'A For Anything'.

It took the argument that in a world where anything could be freely replicated, the only worthwhile curency was the ability to create original devices/things.

So of course, society went through a chaotic transformation, and in the end, those who ended up in power did so by basically enslaving all the artisans, controlling the means of creating new and unique things.

Don't really agree with the book, but it does give some food for thought on seemingly counterintuitive ideas, until you look at the RIAA trying to keep a stranglehold on the 'free replication' of music today.

Damon Knight wrote this (none / 0) (#96)
by Sir Rastus Bear on Mon May 06, 2002 at 03:55:34 PM EST

It's been awhile, but I remember that even with machines that would replicate anything (including the replicating machines themselves), the people in power went to great lengths to keep control of the devices in order to maintain control of society. The thing of value was no longer material goods themselves, but the machines with which to replicate those goods. And people too. IIRC, the replicated people were servants and such to the elites.

I don't recall how it dealt with controlling the creative elements of society.

There is an interesting parallel to the RIAA/MPAA and the Hollings bill ... if you can't control the music, then control the machines that copy the music.

"It's the dog's fault, but she irrationally yells at me that I shouldn't use the wood chipper when I'm drunk."
[ Parent ]

Flying cars? here's a link... (3.50 / 2) (#84)
by Rhinobird on Mon May 06, 2002 at 02:25:47 AM EST

You want flying cars? Moller International has been developing one for like the past 20 years.

From thier sky car site:

Can any automobile give you this scenario? From your garage to your destination, the M400 Skycar cruises comfortably at 350+ MPH at 15 miles per gallon. No traffic, no red lights, no speeding tickets. Just quiet direct transportation from point A to point B in a fraction of the time. Three dimensional mobility for the same price as two dimensional mobility.
A little digging and you find that the Skycar has a range of 900 miles and can go as high as 30,000 feet. If I remember correctly, they want these things to eventually be totally automated, controlled via sattelite and ground stations, so that ordinary people don't have to get insanely trained to fly them.

"If Mr. Edison had thought more about what he was doing, he wouldn't sweat as much." --Nikola Tesla
Yeeeriiiiight........ (4.00 / 1) (#89)
by weirdling on Mon May 06, 2002 at 12:29:30 PM EST

I used to be somewhat of a dsciple of Mollers until I did some simple numbers on a napkin.

I realise many people think some revolutionary idea will advance us to the point where we can deny physics, but this thing is just ridiculous.

For starters, he expects to make 350MPH at 15MPG.  Right now, one of the best aircraft available (actually flies), the Aerocomp compair 8, www.aerocompinc.com, does 225MPH, carries 2500 pounds, 6-8 people, and makes around 6MPG.

There's simply no way that aircar can make that speed because its frontal area is simply going to be too large due to the complexity it has.

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
[ Parent ]

I was waiting (none / 0) (#92)
by Yellowbeard on Mon May 06, 2002 at 01:47:37 PM EST

for someone to mention Moller

"Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt." - Deniro in Ronin

[ Parent ]
On the note of flying cars, (4.00 / 3) (#85)
by kangaitteoku on Mon May 06, 2002 at 02:52:12 AM EST

our friends at NASA have a program named SATS (small aircraft transportation systems) which is an honest effort to bring that vision of the future to fruition. "Keep America rolling... er, flying!"
They are using existing tecknologies (cheap computing, global positioning systems (GPS), lightweight materials, advances in heads-up displays, etc.) to bring down the costs of small airplanes to make them more accessible as a travel mode (an effort to bring you one step closer to the JetsonsTM) and to augment our substantial transportation network.
They still have a few kinks to work out, though:
  • afore mentioned clean, plentiful energy source for propulsion
  • equity issues, remaining high cost of entry to fly a plane (need a plane and a pilot at the least)
  • safety for riders AND peeps on the ground in re sept. ll, milan et. all
  • air traffic management (more like exponential geometry than algebra)
  • did I mention safety?

What I would like to ask is, what makes us think that we are entitled to unlimited mobility?
aren't we fantasticaly mobile as it is, given the automobile and airlines?(shameless plug for particular innexpensive airline deleted)

thanks, I'll walk
(alternative sig: "I've got a bike and I'm not afraid to use it!")

The flying car has already been invented... (2.00 / 1) (#86)
by Artus on Mon May 06, 2002 at 05:18:30 AM EST

... but the price is high.

Asimov is the man (3.00 / 2) (#87)
by cvou on Mon May 06, 2002 at 09:39:35 AM EST

This reminds me of a short story I read from Asimov. It involved a game of billiards :-)

Essentially a scientist - the inventor's rival - was to gently hit a billiard ball into a small anti-gravity field placed in the middle of a table. The idea was that the ball would enter the field and rid itself off mass, and float in midair, free of gravity.

That isn't quite what happened, and its a very good tale IMHO. Without spoiling it too much, an unknown sideeffect was unlimited energy creation.

I guess all we need to make is an anti-mass machine.

Dimmer view of human nature (5.00 / 5) (#97)
by mingofmongo on Mon May 06, 2002 at 04:54:23 PM EST

First, I've got to say that this is one of the most beautifully written articles I've seen in a long time.

Here's some thoughts I have about this 'empowering' technology.

People don't seem to want technology that gives them the power to do great things. They want the power to do common ordinary things. People today have computers that Alan Turing would have given a kidney for, and they use them to send letters and play tetris, and 'surf the web'. All useful and/or fun, but not even close to the potential of the tech.

People were more capable in 1900 of creating things they needed than they are now. A far greater portion of the population had woodworking and mechanical skills. Popular Mecanics and Popular Science magazines were aimed at a large section of the population that actually did stuff, rather than simply reporting on new developments as they do now. Today, Scientific American is dropping their amature scientist column for lack of public interest. People don't want to create their own stuff, or even know how... They really want it to be made for them by some unknown Black-Box type machine in a far off land. If you gave them the means of creating anything they desired, they would all end up creating the same crap they have now, except for more rapidly changing cosmetic styling. They would buy the plan/program/whatever from some kind of brand name designers, and nothing would look radically different.

While economics would get all wack for a while, money wouldn't. Nobody in any reasonably developed place uses gold as money anymore. All your money except for the few tokens in your wallet is in harddrives at your bank. Being able to make a ton of gold, doesn't change money at all. There will always be something that people can't or won't do for themselves, and they will always have some kind of money to keep track of trade.

I don't want anyone but me to have a flying car. Sure, its easy to avoid accidents when everyone is spread out over the whole sky, but when its time to go to work, the sky above a few big buildings will be thick with baddly piloted flying cars. And I don't think computer control is the answer. One good bluescreen, and thousands of little planes come down on my head. No thanks. (of course, people said similar things about the automobile, and they were right also :)

We have the technology today to feed everyone that needs feeding, and to eliminate the necessity for nearly all work. If we don't use current technology to make the world a Utopia, than why would we use new technology to that purpose. Electricity is now cheap enough to be practically free. People still complain about the price, but most don't spend 1/20th of their income for it. That doesn't stop me from having to work 8hrs a day to have a decent life. Free energy and replication tech won't eliminate rent, and will most likely create some other thing we 'MUST HAVE' to make our lives complete. The automobile brought us tremendous freedom, and total dependance on the automobile. Now, anyone without one is almost crippled in most cities.

The fact is, people want problems. If they don't have any, they create them. It's the only thing you can count on any person at random to have the ability to create. You can plan a system that fixes all current problems, and even if it didn't create unexpected new ones, the people who have to live in that system would make up new problems that would meet or exceed the current level of problems. Problems are how people define themselves. Your illnesses and legal hassles and money troubles, and relationship dificulties are what make you interesting when you can't think of anything constructive to make of yourself. All fiction is based on conflict. Write a story about happy people being happy, and see how it sells. Chances are you wouldn't want to read it either.

The only way to have a Utopia is to remove all the people.

"What they don't seem to get is that the key to living the good life is to avoid that brass ring like the fucking plague."
--The Onion

A very bad idea (4.00 / 2) (#98)
by CAIMLAS on Mon May 06, 2002 at 07:15:54 PM EST

Personal flight devices are probably the worst idea I can think of. It'd be horrible - drunk drivers, poor drivers, and auto crashes would be of a very, very high damage effect. Disgruntled worker wants to commit suicide? That's ok, he can essentially go kamakazi on your office. To say nothing of in-air collisions - instead of the current 2-planes that are in use by transportation today, we'd have 3-plane, vector travel. There'd be very little that could be done (asside from advanced GPS and the like) to prevent in-air collisions, etc. Personally, I see something like teleportation, IE., matter rematerialization, to be more of a Utopic idea. (similar to 'jaunting' in The Stars, My Destination or nearly identical to Star Trek's teleporter) There'd be very little concern of added polution (provided we had something like a polution free energy reactor), less machinery necessary to be made, and such.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

The implications of flying cars (4.00 / 1) (#105)
by rusty on Tue May 07, 2002 at 03:45:45 AM EST

I think that gets to the heart of what the author is trying to say. All of your objections are obvious ones. So, for the age of flying cars to arrive, we'd have to overcome them. GPS is a start, for avoiding collisions, but of course it would have to be multiply backed up and as near to foolproof as possible. Basically, you wouldn't "fly" these cars. You'd get in and say "Take me drunk, I'm home again!" and then lay back and watch the view. I think the only reasonably safe way to mass-market flying cars would be to make them fully automatic, and part of a global network of flying car control systems.

Hell, you might not even own your flying car. You could just pay the flying car tax every month, and use whatever one arrives first when you walk out of a door. They might be more like automated cabs than personal cars.

So, if the day ever arrives that the personal flying car is a practical and safe alternative to ground travel, I think we would be fairly justified in saying that a new day had dawned, and a new age was upon us.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Mind Control (4.50 / 2) (#99)
by jafac on Mon May 06, 2002 at 07:42:25 PM EST

Call me a misanthrope,

NONE of those three technologies you mention will bring about utopia.  Only ONE technology is needed.  Mind Control.
A magical orb that radiates psychic energy across the entire face of the globe - only a single device is needed, controlled by one person, or perhaps an AI.

Every person on the face of this planet will be controlled - and as such will no longer be driven by the desire to control others or win some archaic pissing contest of one kind or another.  All human conflict will be ended.  

What humanity does from that point on depends on the entity controlling the orb.  But what humanity will no longer do, is continue to compete and waste resources, or kill eachother, or destroy the environment, in an attempt to make themselves richer, gain or maintain power, or prove that one ideology or religion is better than another.

From that point on, anything can be achieved.

Then you might be interested in one outfit .... (none / 0) (#101)
by mcoletti on Mon May 06, 2002 at 08:08:32 PM EST

... that's allegedly trying to both come up with free power and "flying cars."
MAC -- Diagonally parked in a parallel universe.
Oh, contrary... (4.00 / 1) (#102)
by CAIMLAS on Mon May 06, 2002 at 08:20:32 PM EST

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.

These are all reasons why matter replicators and similar technologies will never exist. Let's play this through the current 'system of existence' - commericialism.

Step 1: Famous scientist creates a means to harvest the sun's infinite energy potential, GE and other electric companies unify and supply the funds to have such a device built. Production costs for electricity/energy drop to nearly 0, asside from the cost of the device, polution declines at an exponential rate, but the cost of energy remains roughly the same in order to pay for the massive investment the energy companies have made, as well as to help produce profit for them. No real economic changes are made, asside from near-total collapse of the economy in the Middle East, throwing the hordes of Arabs into some sort of crazed holy war to remain economically viable (read: one bigass World War where many, many people die!). (I just know someone's going to pick a bone with me on this, but really - what economical support system do Arab countries have, for the most part, asside from petrolium for fuel? Granted, this is only one possible course that could ensue following the invention... the inventor could be Arabic *g*)
Step 2: Now, provided that world war doesn't ensue, destroying society and culture as we know it, the next step would be a matter replicator of sorts. It would probably be invented by a large corporation or the government, given that such an invention would require immense funding to research, as well as a superior database of resources and great minds. Unless our society (meaning, the global market) is already using a digital monetary system, with all legacy monies being disbanded (except for exotic, remote locations, etc), there would be absolutely no incentive for a corporation to sell or release such a product - it would devistate the economy, and any potential income would be nullified by the collapse of society. Granted, that's if they even have the choice of selling it - the gov't of the country it's created in would probably confiscate it and use it for furthering the gov't of the given country, and citizenry wouldn't even be given knowledge of such a device - it'd be a pandora's box, after all. Normal people shouldn't be allowed such power, because, as everyone knows, then they can make bombs and kill people, etc. It's too great a power for any person, they'd figure. (Granted, it's probably too great a power for any government, too, but we won't go into that.)

...and that's where it stops.

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.

Sure, there'd be stuff for totalitarian dictators to do! Given the already-stated material above, they'd be busy subjugating their citizens, as have been done for ages! Keeping such replicators out of the hands of rebellion groups (eventually) and the like would also be key. Supplying weapontry for your armies to maintain your dictatorship, etc. - the possibilities are even more endless!

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.

Britney Spears will never die. The Powers That Be will be sure to see to that. They'd simply rematerialize a new 19-year-old Britney Spears every 5 years, using the matter in the old one for the new one. Haven't you heard of matter resenquencing?

I think that, were such a thing to become prevalant, existence and remaining alive would be much, much more of a concern than what Britney Spears is doing, etc. - such 'luxuries' are only afforded for people that aren't totally consumed with the quest of survival.

The possibility of a utopia by any means is pretty outlandish. Human nature pretty much denies it ever becoming a possibility - this we can't defeat. At least not yet, nor without much greater resources than we have, and ethics will probably stop the engineering of 'super humans'. Were any of these technical advancements to take place, nothing but chaos, grabs for power, and greed would occur, along with the occasional genocide and deadly war.

Socialism and communism better explained by a psychologist than a political theorist.

The Gods Themselves (none / 0) (#107)
by tuxedo-steve on Tue May 07, 2002 at 04:10:01 AM EST

The tagline of Asimov's book, "The Gods Themselves", is "Nothing's for nothing."  The book is set against a backdrop of a future Earth on which a seemingly perpetual source of energy has been discovered.  The system for obtaining this energy (the "electron pump"), took advantage of differences in the local laws of physics between two parallel dimensions.

As the book demonstrates, though, there's no such thing as a free lunch (avoiding spoilers).  Very good to read if interested in the topic of free energy.

- Steve

education in land of infinite (none / 0) (#108)
by speek on Tue May 07, 2002 at 10:47:10 AM EST

Educational systems would have to be a filtering process, something like this: lock the kid in a room with enough sweets and candy to kill them and see if they survive. Those that don't wouldn't have done so well in this brave new world. Those that do have what it takes to survive abundance.

Say, maybe TV plays that role now....

al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees

Personal Rotorcraft a Reality (none / 0) (#109)
by thesync on Tue May 07, 2002 at 01:00:00 PM EST

Check out Rotorcraft.com. Gyroplanes need only 100 ft of runway, 50-100 MPH, can operate up to 10,000 ft altitude, engine quits are no problem (often 4:1 glide slope), 100-200 mile range, 1000 fpm climb, prices range from $5,000-$20,000 with ultralight versions being on the lower end of all the ranges.

Or if you are a little more adventurous, you can get an ultralight helicopter, with similar performance to an ultralight gyroplane, except you can VTOL.

Peace, Love and Flying Cars | 111 comments (89 topical, 22 editorial, 0 hidden)
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