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What happened to the world of tomorrow?

Andrew Potter writes:

“vetocracy” to describe the system of entrenched political interests that have made it very hard to get anything built or done in America.

So forget flying cars. Why is there no nanotech industry to speak of? Why was the nuclear power industry effectively smothered in the 1970s? Why did the market for general aviation aircraft fall off a cliff in the early 1980s? Why has “cost disease” afflicted so many industries, from education to health care to construction? Why does a kilometre of subway in New York or London or Toronto cost more than double (in constant dollars) what it cost in the sixties and seventies?

Is that really where you wanna go with this? “Vetocracy”, regulation is to blame? Naw. We want more awareness of externalities, not less.

The Faustian explosion of industry from mid 18th c to mid 20th c was made without care to the porcelain shop they were dancing in.

That’s the half full view of the sitch. For the empty half… not only did the oil crisis happen in the seventies. So did the CMOS family of integrated circuits. (Well, 1968.) Cash Rules Every Thing Around Me and since there’s cash to be made in the world of information and digital (as bullshit as that world is) that’s where resources are spent. We’re not stuck in a retro-SF, raygun gothic vision of what the future could’ve been.

This isn’t in defense of the world as it is. Oil and climate crises hasn’t shaken us awake yet. We’re not nearly externalities-aware enough. It’s still a lot of the same sad story. Bleeding-edge, single-use, prototype, dog-and-pony.

Tech stagnates when it’s enough. When it does the job. Now, in the buggy spaghetti mess of a “system” that is market capitalism, that “job” is defined without awareness of sustainability, externalities, and whole-Earth thinking, and that’s what we need to fix first. If we are going to chase “efficiency”, then efficient needs to be defined sustainably, externalities-aware.

“Flying cars, nanotech”… This overly teleological view of evolution is what leads people into believing in creationism. Yes, directed effort is possible but not guaranteed to be fruitful. That’s the distinction between sufficiently advanced science from magic: just because you can dream it doesn’t mean you will live it.


Seachaint has a take on the same text:

They were invented ages ago, they’re called helicopters and they cost a fortune to build, run, and maintain, and you need a skilled aviator to use them safely, and obviously air traffic clearance in many places so you don’t fuck up a flight path for a commercial airliner. They’re lethally dangerous to park so they need special open spaces and they don’t generally taxi away from those, so it’s one at a time. Basically you’re talking shite is what I’m saying.

Great point. Tech stagnates when we have something that does “enough”. You wanna do a VTOL vehicle that sits a handful? Helicopters.