Civilization and Transport Liberty
Without the right moral orientation, the automated car will be as much a tool of tyranny as the mass media have become a tool for propaganda
I foresaw the digital revolution as a powerful force in reversing some of the trends caused by the industrial revolution, specifically the alterations to home and work patterns. Two aspects in particular intrigued me. One was education, the other was transportation. The real technical future of transportation is more like the private car than the bus or train. But without the right moral orientation, the automated car will be as much a tool of tyranny as the mass media have become a tool for propaganda.
My failed college major concerned the ways computers were involved in the future. I saw the digital revolution as a powerful force in reversing some of the trends caused by the industrial revolution, specifically the alterations to home and work patterns. The industrial revolution inherently removed work from home, fathers from families, and families from the land. Two aspects in particular intrigued me.
One was education, which I saw becoming decentralized and more home-oriented, and neighborhood-oriented. You don't have to pack kids off to a huge school many miles away if they can have the best teachers in the world "online" as we now call it. I had envisioned a return to the little red schoolhouse, in a sense, if you had schools at all, a neighborhood resource similar to a library, with world-wide knowledge and educational experts available equally to all. In a sense, this is increasingly possible, even coming to be in some ways, although I admit the intrusion of the Internet so thoroughly into our homes and even our pockets was beyond my vision.
The other was transportation. Much of the reason why people commute to work has to do with "paper-shuffling," and I foresaw the same kind of decentralization of the workplace — and consequently the urban center — that I foresaw in education. The movement to "tele-commuting" and even the "home office" has not been as dramatic as it could be, and will be. Partly this has to do with the technical lag of real-time ability to tele-conference and have different people in different places working on the same documents, "on the same page." Virtual presence will accelerate these trends, I deem, but the inertia of the Industrial Age will take a long time to overcome. The Peter Pans of the workplace actually like it that they get away from family and go to work where they have their self-esteem contests, and that psychology will take time to change. It's coming. It's coming.
I saw that the connected world would mean that human beings could spend less time just going from place A to place B to shuffle paper and make decisions (which also gets into means of direct self-government by involved citizens, which has been developing rapidly), reducing the enormous waste of long commutes with all the attendant problems of traffic, pollution, and parking. But I also saw that the automobile as we know it would be replaced. This has not even begun.
I've lived in the future all my life. At Disneyland I rode the monorail and talked on a (crude but working) videophone, and at the NY World's Fair I had my hands on a computer terminal in 1964. But I'm from the wide-open prairie, and from the mid-20th Century where people "loved" their cars. I didn't see mass transportation as a serious option. People like their rides, for good reason. What I foresaw, and foresee, is the automated automobile. What they are working on these days, high-speed mag-lev trains, and self-driving, self-parking cars are all wrong-headed, but are developing the technology that will be used in the real thing when it arrives. The real technical future of transportation is more like the private car than the bus or train. There are myriad problems to be worked through to arrive at a truly automated transportation system, and as with any human system there will be serious problems, but the advantages will transform society and change everything about how we think of travel.
Imagine getting into your "car" the way you walk into your home office. You "dial up" (isn't anachronistic language fun!) your destination the way you currently link to a webpage. Then, you are a passenger, free to sleep, read, write, or do what teenagers will inevitably do (oh my!). The incalculable lost hours spent steering a car will be returned to us. The threat every person faces driving down the road will be, not gone, but infinitely less. The traffic cop, the stoplight, the gosh-awful traffic circle they're putting in at Price Road and Silver Lake Road, all such nonsense will disappear. The boon is incalculable.
As in all things, though, the spiritual is what matters. Without the right moral orientation, the automated car will be as much a tool of tyranny as the mass media have become a tool for propaganda, and make it easier to put a "car-bomb" in strategic places. The potential for tyrannical use of the system was excellently illustrated in Robert Heinlein's masterwork, Stranger in a Strange Land. In the future Heinlein envisions, one of the central characters is a reporter who has dirt on a political bigwig. (I think this is how it goes — been a long time since I read it.) At one point, the fellow hops in a "taxi" — an automated single-passenger vehicle. Some weeks later, he comes back, having had his taxi hijacked by the politician's goons. Nobody had to jump the car, hold a gun to him, or do anything but re-route the taxi's destination electronically! This will have to be anticipated just as we now have virus-protection software and otherwise fight the battles for cyber-turf.
I still look forward to all the benefits of our digital and automated future. My coffee pot starts on-schedule. I control the house lights and some appliances (for some thirty years now) by remote control. I am delighted daily by the availability of the world's knowledge and news and all the mighty power of the home computer for work and play. The threat to liberty is increased with technology. with better weapons and better eavesdropping and all the rest. Just as the Constitution is worthless when 70% of the electorate doesn't even know what it is or what it says, all the advances in the world won't make any difference if people aren't prepared to defend — and respect — true liberty.
I'd like to think that the good I see on-line represents that future. Mass media are on the decline while voices of liberty increasingly have access to the "press." Tyrants try to regulate and limit our communication but freedom-fighters find ways around their barriers. The old guard tries to keep control over the dollar while a whole new economy grows outside their ability to manipulate. The domination of the educational system by a clot of elitist tyrants is opposed by an entirely superior approach to access to — and evaluation of — knowledge. At root, though, it is a matter of spirituality. Without that respect for one another that derives from the Almighty, the devil wins. With God, of course, all things are possible, so that's where I'm placing my bet. I only bet on sure things.