Do you read the news? Pretty depressing stuff, much of the time. As an historian, I remind myself that people are no worse today than they always have been. As a citizen of a doomed planet, I note that modern technology has vastly increased the amount of evil any one individual can perpetrate. Back in July, a single lunatic named Anders Breivik managed to wreck a fair chunk of downtown Oslo and kill 77 people with a fertilizer bomb and an assault rifle. In China on the other hand, where weapons of mass murder are more difficult to acquire, the violently unhinged are forced to rely primarily on bladed weapons, and also to focus on children. Within the past two years there have been at least eight attacks in or near elementary schools and child-care centers. Used in the assaults were knives, box cutters, a cleaver, an axe, and a short sword (two feet long, or about the equivalent of the old Roman gladius). Highest death toll in these attacks: nine.
Comparisons may be odious, and this one is unfair. Breivik was a meticulous planner, while the Chinese attackers were in every case basically running amok. Still, having technology in your hand is key. In ’91, George Hennard ran amok in a Luby’s restaurant. Using two semi-automatic handguns he killed 23 people (and wounded another 20),
Of course, technology doesn’t kill people. People kill people.
It’s an interesting time just now in the history of technology. (May you live in interesting times, goes the old curse.) Since the Industrial Revolution we’ve been capable of seriously degrading the earth’s ability to sustain life. Since the splitting of the atom we’ve been capable of going out with a bang.
How do you suppose the situation in Iran will play out? Will the people of Yahweh use their new American-built bunker-busters to put a crimp in the people of Allah’s nuclear program? Seems pretty likely. And if they do? And if they don’t?
So much destructive power in the hands of so many people driven by anger and, yes, madness.
So it was with great interest that I read today about a guy out in California who’s intent on using technology to solve some truly urgent problems. Paul Moller, a retired professor of mechanics and aircraft construction, is working on a flying car. Fifty years he’s been working on it now, while burning through cash at an average rate of two million dollars per year.
Who doesn’t want a flying car? When I was eight years old, that was the sort of thing that really got me excited. Actually, at eight I was sure we’d all be zooming around in personal helicopters by this 21st century. How disappointing, the plodding pace of progress.
Flying cars. Wow. The flight will be controlled, we read, by an on-board computer. Good thing computers never crash.
And when it lands, it’s a car! You can drive it around! One little fender-bender and your air-worthiness is kaput.
Seems like a lot of technology to put in the hands of an animal the average specimen of which can barely parallel-park.
Also, I’m curious about how much real estate you need for takeoffs and landings. Vertical takeoffs and landings, but that’s 880 horsepower of thrust we’re talking. You wouldn’t want to be standing next to one of these things.
Another practical consideration not taken up in the article was fuel economy. Eight hundred and eighty horsepower. Flying, which is hardly a fuel-efficient way to travel. I’m thinking two or three miles per gallon, tops.
Am I alone in thinking that when it comes to technology, people think like eight-year-olds? A hundred million dollars is what various investors have put into this thing so far. Seems like a silly thing to spend all that money on. Especially at this very interesting time in the history of technology. Criminally childish, coming up with new ways to burn up vast amounts of a dwindling resource.
Unless it went underwater, too. A flying submarine car? Gotta have one.