Transportation & Technology

A reader emailed this picture to me recently (click to enlarge), it's really an incredible question to think about.

Scan this blog's archives and you'll see that I used to believe that technology would solve all of the world's transportation problems. Fuel prices getting too high? We'll run vehicles on alternatives. Carbon emissions causing climate change? We'll build cars that don't emit. Traffic congestion ruining everybody's day? We'll invent a car that drives itself.

What's amazing (and frustrating) is that motor vehicles, more or less, are the same as they were when they were first invented. Many of the "improvements" that have been made are superficial and based on advancements in consumer electronic, not automotive, technology. GPS navigation, satellite radio, heated seats, remote start, and windshield wipers that automatically adjust based on the strength of rain... these are all "cool" features but are mostly unnecessary to get us from point A to point B.

True, there are some new braking technologies that recycle energy, and hybrid engines are more efficient than purely internal combustion engines, on-balance. But the rate of technology progress, relative to computer processing, is virtually nothing. That's something concerning.


    I think the big difference between the incredible changes in computer/information technology and transportation technology is that with IT, all you have to move around or change is information, that is, bits. Bits are small. Infinitesimal. As technology progresses, we can make circuits and gates smaller and smaller, but they still represent bits.

    For the analogy with a flight to Paris to hold, you'd also have to note that your 1-second flight for a penny would only be a few inches in length and would require your weight to be measured in a few dozen milligrams. The "flight" got cheaper, but so did the distances traveled and the amount carried, because for a computer it didn't matter whether your 160-lb body moved thousands of miles to Paris, all that matters is that something called "You" moved from a point that's called "Cleveland" to a point called "Paris".