Re: alex's local maxima
Sat, 11 Sep 1999 08:28:59 -0700

Spike Jones, <>, writes:
> When you think of it, history is full of examples of exactly that,
> societies that stagnated. But *in some areas* of our lives, our
> own society seems to be stuck at a local maximum now. One
> example is the air car thing: we are STUCK right now, have
> been for 30 or more years, in personal transportation. We
> spend more and more money, like desperate and hopeless
> addicts, on more highways and more roads and more more more,
> yet no matter what, every day, its ten lanes across and all those
> cars are crawling. We are at a local maximum in that area.

Cars haven't been quite as stagnant as they look. A few years ago the Wall Street Journal compared cares today with cars from the 1960s. There were tremendous differences in terms of materials, in terms of safety, in terms of pollution, and in terms of efficiency.

Much of the effort has been determined by the increasingly regulated environment. Fuel efficiency, pollution controls, safety features, all have been mandated by government. This has meant that most of the changes have not been very visible. But if we were all still driving cars from the 1960s things would be a lot worse.

I think many of the examples we see of "stagnation" also fall into the category of legal barriers and constraints rather than technical ones. The space program of course has been completely government run until recently. The transportation industry in general is heavily regulated. Light planes are virtually the same today as in the 1950s, although some of the instrumentation is improved. You need to go beyond the government-regulated plane builders to the experimental and home-built craft to find real innovation in aerodynamics and engines.