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Old 11-13-2014, 09:54 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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Where's my flying car?

Why were Midcentury Futurists Predictions Like Flying Cars So Wrong.

One of the reasons why midcentury futurists were so wrong is that they were focusing on the big changes. Since the industrial revolution, big was modern. Everything got bigger each and every year. So, we'll have REALLY big buildings -- mile high sky scrapers! And REALLY BIG transportation systems -- Pneumatic people tubes whooshing people from one building to another, and 100 lane highways!

What we miss is that innovation is almost always about lowering costs. The cotton gin became successful not because it was mechanical, but it lowered the price of processing fiber. The spinning Jennys got bigger and bigger because the bigger they were, the cheaper the thread. Big giant trains are more efficient at moving stuff that small trains. Big factories could produce more goods than smaller factories. Highways allowed the cheaper transportation of goods. Skyscrapers allowed for more people in a smaller area which saved land costs. Things got bigger because that made things cheaper.

What the midcentury futurists couldn't predict was the drop of the price of computing to over 1/1,000,000 the cost. This is where most of our innovation went because that's where the greatest cost savings where. We now all carry around in our pocket a computer that's more powerful as one produced just a mere decade ago and at only 40% of the cost. No wonder why we skipped over the flying cars and personal robots and concentrated on information technology.
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Old 11-13-2014, 10:14 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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One more thing: You can't talk about midcentury futurism without talking about Bruce McCall.

My favorite book of his is Zany Afternoons. The illustration on the front cover is Wing Dining.
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Old 11-13-2014, 10:21 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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I don't know who those midcentury futurists were, particularly, but in my reading they were saying the same things in 1950 that they had in 1900, with only slight variations in technology.

Some talked about the big changes, certainly, but many, many others considered what they were saying to be straight line extrapolations. Flying cars were confidently predicted in 1917, because people looked at the advances in cars and in planes and assumed that combining them would produce exactly the savings in costs because of efficiencies that the OP is talking about. Robots were being talked about everywhere long before Capek coined the name, and the predictions that robots would make human labor obsolete were standard turn-of-the-century fare. People then knew all about bigness - that was the era of the trust, and the first billion-dollar corporations.

They were wrong only because we cherrypick a few things out of all the million things they talked about and define them for those wrong predictions. They were right on all the BIG things. Everything got faster, cheaper, larger, smaller, more efficient, more numerous, available to more people, any superlative you choose. And they did so quickly. We talk about today's fast pace, but someone born in 1876 would have seen extraordinary changes in a long lifetime, and had the obvious expectations that they would continue. They have, just along somewhat different particulars. We live in a world of seven billion people with greater prosperity, better food and health, easier communications, and faster travel than most minds believed were possible in a thousand years.

This is the Golden Age. Life has gotten better every year since at least WWII, net sum over all humanity. They were completely right in expecting that. Why don't we? Mostly because nobody knows a thing about history, little about the present, and nothing about how they link. We're the problem. Not them.
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Old 11-13-2014, 10:40 PM
yawuntz yawuntz is offline
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No flying cars. Screwed again!!!
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Old 11-13-2014, 10:48 PM
jezzaOZ jezzaOZ is offline
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How about looking at the past and seeing how freakishly clever those guys were - and without the benefit of computers and the Internet. They have already invented most of what needs to be invented.

Simple examples.

By 1915 the automobile was essentially in its final form. Forget about minor trims and fancies and quality improvement, the automobile had everything we have today and had already gone through several major evolutions. They had already tried and discarded electric vehicles and steam vehicles. They had tried every possible valve type and were about to discard some such as sleeve valves. They invented disk-brakes (1901), turbochargers (1905), any engine geometry you care to name. Differential - 2,000 to 3,000 years ago - automotive 1827. The list is endless.

FYI I know much of this because in my formative years (1970s) I used a copy of the 1915 Automobile Association handbook to maintain my motor bike. This handbook included how to maintain many of the automobile technology variants - though I did draw the line at casting my own white-metal bearings.

A-bombs! (Not invented by Szilard and Einstein but by a whole host of very clever chaps). By the early 50's most if not all designs had been worked out. Ditto nuclear reactors. They even put a reactor into an aircraft!

Transistors - certainly in the late 1940s, but quite possibly in the 1920s.

Computers - actually useful ones started in the late 1940s. The Von-Neuman archictecture hasn't changed as the dominant architecture ever since.

About the only clever 'recent' inventions I can think of that are of any practical use are the Scanning Tunneling Electron Microscope and DNA sequencing. Possibly also higher temperature superconductivity.

In actual fact most inventions we talk about today collectively dumb down the world - Facebook, Twitter etc.
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Old 11-13-2014, 11:13 PM
Aquadementia Aquadementia is offline
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Given that reasoning they should have expected flying cars to get bigger and bigger. Flying monsters of the air.
Like 747 big.
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Old 11-14-2014, 10:12 AM
sbunny8 sbunny8 is offline
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And don't forget the video phone. Back in 1970 they said everyone would have a video phone by 1980. What they didn't think through was the idea that, most of the time, you really don't want someone to see what you look like and where you are and what you're doing. You want the freedom to wake up in the morning, stand naked in the kitchen, and make a phone call, while picking your nose, without first having to shave and/or put on makeup. Video phones didn't really become a thing until it got so damn cheap that you basically get it for free, and even then it's only used a tiny fraction of the time, like when you chat with relatives or long-distance significant others.

Last edited by sbunny8; 11-14-2014 at 10:13 AM.
  #8  
Old 11-14-2014, 10:46 AM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is offline
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I still think that flying cars will be a thing within 30 years. Hear me out...

The self-driving car is already a reality, and within a decade the vast majority of the cars on the road will be self-driving. With the exponential improvements in computing power being made daily, I see no reason why the same processing system that drives cars can't fly aircraft, so really the lack of attention of other drivers shouldn't be an issue.

The big problem is the energy costs, but as natural resources are being depleted, new energy markets are being developed. Eventually (say, two or three decades from now, if not sooner), someone may figure out how to get enough energy into a car that vertical takeoff is possible. And if they ever get Cold Fusion figured out...
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Old 11-14-2014, 11:05 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aquadementia View Post
Given that reasoning they should have expected flying cars to get bigger and bigger. Flying monsters of the air.
Like 747 big.
No, because they thought of cars as we think of cars: transportation for one person or a small family.

They did expect flying vehicles to get huge and you can find any number of them in a zillion different styles.

Those configurations were aerodynamical nonsense, mostly, but it's hard to say they were wronger than the people who said, with grim finality, that just because you can lift two people into the air doesn't mean you could ever lift a dozen. That was flatly impossible.
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Old 11-14-2014, 02:03 PM
sbunny8 sbunny8 is offline
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Self-piloting flying robots are more economical than self-piloting flying cars. Instead of jumping in your flying car to go the the drive-in and get a burger with fries, you use the restaurant's online app to place your order and they deliver it to your door with a drone.
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Old 11-14-2014, 02:18 PM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbunny8 View Post
Self-piloting flying robots are more economical than self-piloting flying cars. Instead of jumping in your flying car to go the the drive-in and get a burger with fries, you use the restaurant's online app to place your order and they deliver it to your door with a drone.
Sure, but that doesn't address the issue of, say, getting four squalling kids to Grandma's house 500 miles away with the speed of a modern jetliner and the convenience of a modern SUV.
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Old 11-14-2014, 02:43 PM
RiverRunner RiverRunner is offline
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To my way of thinking, the major challenges with flying cars involve safety and liability. If my car engine craps out on the road, I can just coast over to the side or, if necessary, get out and push. If my flying car's engine quits on me at 3,000 feet -- or even 100 feet -- I'm in a world of hurt, and so is whoever happens to be below me. Similarly, I am fairly likely to come through a terrestrial automobile collision alive; I am not so sanguine about my chances in a flying car.
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Old 11-14-2014, 09:34 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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What's always bothered me about flying cars is that even if you get the flying part right, they're lousy cars. Some models had to have the wings towed behind them (try to parallel park THAT), all of them had SmartCar size passenger spaces. To get some of them off the ground, you needed access to a runway, and even the VTOL models required something of a "blast zone" area around them.

What I want to do, dammit, is take off directly from my driveway with a full load of wife, kids, dog and luggage, land in a parking space at my favorite resort, and have the robot bellhop escort me to check-in.
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Old 11-15-2014, 07:22 AM
Fuzzy_wuzzy Fuzzy_wuzzy is offline
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Just how serious were these predictions in general? I mean some of these artists/futurologists could have simply been fantasizing rather than predicting. We are being trolled by early 20th century nerds.

As for "flying cars" I predict(or maybe im fantasizing) that we will use drones as cheap family transport instead.
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Old 11-15-2014, 09:48 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Why does everyone make such a big deal about flying cars? We've had those for over a century, ever since a couple of bicycle repairmen in Dayton invented them.
  #16  
Old 11-15-2014, 10:20 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fuzzy_wuzzy View Post
Just how serious were these predictions in general? I mean some of these artists/futurologists could have simply been fantasizing rather than predicting. We are being trolled by early 20th century nerds.
Many of them were the equivalent to today's clickbait. Back when magazines were major media, newsstand sales were crucial. Lots of fantastical machinery got displayed on covers with hyperbolic claims. That started in the teens or 20s, and has never disappeared, because it sold then and it sells now.

We fixate on flying cars, but they were a subset of unconventional personal transportation. Helicopters were foretold to be the "real" future, with rooftop and backyard landing sites everywhere. The military spent money - pocket change by today's standards, but still - on flying transport platforms to get soldiers into otherwise inaccessible areas. Ground traffic has been messy since before the automobile: bad roads, no roads, overcrowded roads. The air seemed like a logical solution to lots of different problems. Both inventors and editors knew the difficulties; a good deal of the time they thought the difficulties would be overcome just as many others had.

But this was purely and simply an attention-getting way to sell a magazine.
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Old 11-15-2014, 03:20 PM
dropzone dropzone is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Why does everyone make such a big deal about flying cars? We've had those for over a century, ever since a couple of bicycle repairmen in Dayton invented them.
They were bicycle manufacturers, back when bikes were the primary high tech means of personal transportation.
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Old 11-15-2014, 06:00 PM
Mijin Mijin is online now
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I think cheap energy is the central bad prediction that helped underpin all the others.

If we had had fusion power decades ago, then lots of big engineering projects, and energetically wasteful devices like flying cars, become much more viable.
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Old 11-15-2014, 06:27 PM
Fuzzy_wuzzy Fuzzy_wuzzy is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Many of them were the equivalent to today's clickbait. Back when magazines were major media, newsstand sales were crucial. Lots of fantastical machinery got displayed on covers with hyperbolic claims. That started in the teens or 20s, and has never disappeared, because it sold then and it sells now.

We fixate on flying cars, but they were a subset of unconventional personal transportation. Helicopters were foretold to be the "real" future, with rooftop and backyard landing sites everywhere. The military spent money - pocket change by today's standards, but still - on flying transport platforms to get soldiers into otherwise inaccessible areas. Ground traffic has been messy since before the automobile: bad roads, no roads, overcrowded roads. The air seemed like a logical solution to lots of different problems. Both inventors and editors knew the difficulties; a good deal of the time they thought the difficulties would be overcome just as many others had.

But this was purely and simply an attention-getting way to sell a magazine.
Thanks, an informative post.
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Old 11-15-2014, 07:43 PM
Jim B. Jim B. is offline
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I would just add, it depends on who you ask(ed) too. When I was in grade school, in the late 70s and early 80s, I read an interesting essay in my text book. It said some day we will have books in electronic "boxes". And, it added, they will show many different books at once. What a perfect description of a Kindle, no? Also, in the 80s and early 90s, some of the descriptions of the internet were pretty on target. Although that was close to the time when it came out anyways, of course.
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Old 11-15-2014, 08:03 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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Flying cars? They're just around the corner according to Moller International. Yep, just get a few bugs worked out, and in a few years, we'll be seeing them all over the place.

Heck, here's a demo. It's impressive. I like the comment: "It's a two seater: One to ride around in the car, and one to operate the crane."
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Old 11-15-2014, 08:21 PM
adaher adaher is offline
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I think futurists sometimes concentrate on the cool factor and not enough on practicality. Take video phones for example. Most depictions of the future featured people always talking to someone on a screen in lieu of speaking over the phone. Almost everyone has access to this technology today, but the vast majority of the time people are content to just do audio only. Heck, people rarely even bother with that anymore, they text each other now.

Even if flying cars come out soon, who will drive them? The current batch of idiot drivers? These people can't drive in two dimensions, you want to add a third? It's bad enough that I have to constantly be looking left, right, and back. If I had to look up to I'd just give up. I guess it would be fine if only auto-pilot was allowed unless someone proved they had skills and sense enough to use one of them responsibly. What we do now, where licenses are nearly universal, won't be acceptable in a future with flying cars.

What RiverRunner said is important too. Flying is so safe because the maintenance checks are so thorough and so regular. If everyone has their own little aerial vehicle, they WILL skimp on the checklists and cars falling out of the sky will be a daily occurrence.

To me, the coolest science fiction prediction that came true was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's basically a Kindle with a wikipedia app. Let's hope Adams was wrong about aliens being as screwed up as we are only with more destructive technologies.

Last edited by adaher; 11-15-2014 at 08:23 PM.
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Old 11-15-2014, 09:31 PM
qazwart qazwart is offline
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Anyone remember Walter Cronkite's The 21st Century on CBS?
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Old 11-15-2014, 11:13 PM
Gunslinger Gunslinger is offline
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Cecil went with the wrong meaning of "flying car." The one he writes about, and others like it, are cars that can fly (or airplanes that can drive on roads, depending on your perspective, probably the latter according to the FAA); the "flying car" of the '50s is more Jetsons/Fifth Element/Moller, i.e., a personal VTOL runabout, it's only metaphorically a car, it only travels in the air.

If Moller's not currently in jail, he'll probably take your deposit for one, when he gets all the bugs worked out.
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Old 07-12-2018, 06:21 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Debut today:

Opener's Blackfly.
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Old 07-12-2018, 07:19 PM
CCitizen CCitizen is offline
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Such is life:

Quote:
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By the year 2000 we will colonize Solar System and have unlimited electricity from fusion power.
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