Re: JetPacks vs. AirCars

Spike Jones (
Sun, 22 Aug 1999 16:52:34 -0700

Philip Witham wrote:

> Massive mis-information on this thread, I'm afraid. I'm very surprised. Billy Brown and Spike got it right. Here's a few comments:

Thanks Philip, but Doug Jones was right too. He put the equations in his post, whereas I merely stated that the equations suggest this air car task is mach harder than it looks.

Which is how this thread started, more or less. The Jetsons [admittedly a comedy] and the latest installment of Star Wars [arguably a comedy] both have cars that hover noiselessly with no evident engine running, yet require some kind of action on the part of some propulsion unit to actually move forward (!). I think there is a futuristic Bruce Willis movie that has this too. They sidestep the fact that just hovering is one hellll of a difficult task. Basic forward propulsion is quite simple in comparison. I think Doug the Rocket Plumber would agree.

The basic idea here is that many people view the future with no real idea how difficult some tasks are with respect to others. Scientists for instance have managed to develop agriculture to such a degree that perhaps ten times the number of people per acre of cultivated land can be fed, yet we seem powerless against the much more difficult task of convincing the indigenous populace on that land to stop overbreeding. Consequently, hunger persists.

We have wonderful life extending technologies *right now* so that people live more or less healthfully into their 80s and 90s, yet we are damned if we can figure out how to keep the seniors from feeling so left out and depressed that death comes to some as a welcome release. We have developed wonderfully effective antidepressants but are stumped by the more difficult task of getting the patients to actually swallow their medications.

This lack of understanding of the difficulty of a task leads to the comments I have heard since childhood: "If those smart scientists can put a man on the moon, you would think they could...[fill in the blank]" This blank is often filled with some comment that makes no sense at all, such as "build a car that runs on water" or equivalent.

Consider the miracles all around us, that many of us take for granted, such as the machine you are sitting before right this minute. We run slothware that is so commically inefficient [by design perhaps] that we fail to realize how brutally powerful these devices can be, yet we pay for them only a couple days wages, a week's wages for a complete system. So we dont have flying cars. And probably wont, for the immediately foreseeable. Look at what we *do* have! I mean it, this ww web is *far better* than a flying car, it really is. And no one really saw it coming, before the early 90s [other than Eric Drexler and a few other gifted visionaries, who see everything coming].

Just one short anecdote on this. I had never heard of the web when one of my coworkers showed me a web browser [1992]. He said one merely typed in keywords that one is interested in, and the crawler finds a website that contains those keywords. So I typed in rockets and helicopters and jets. Immediately up came a news story that was then only an hour old: American fighter jets had fired rockets and downed two helicopters over the Iraqi no-fly zone carrying American diplomats.

So, that was extremely depressing, but we immediately realized that this web business changes everything. And it has, no? This was an incredibly powerful technology that *just showed up* one day. I dont recall any sci-fi stories that anticipated the web. Anyone? I suspect that many future technologies that will change everything will be more like the web than flying cars. spike