Where are the Flying Cars?

Well, right here actually.  Unfortunately, in case you hadn’t noticed, they’re not zipping through some highway in the sky.  This despite the hopes fanned by science fiction, cartoons, and science magazines from an earlier generation.  The flying car has become the emblem of a future that never was, one that actually seems quite silly now.

As a kid the future fascinated me,  I just had no idea it was an already dated image of the future that took me in.  My favorite ride at Disney World was The Carousel of Progress (say that with a straight face) and later its sequel at Epcot, Horizons.  Both gave us a sense of steady, inexorable movement towards … underwater cities and farms in the desert, and sitting around watching … television.

It wasn’t just Disney either.  I am just old enough to have had libraries rather than media centers in school as I was growing up.  In these libraries with actual books and magazines, I would pull out back issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics scouring them for even more images of a future that would never quite materialize.  Of course, its not just a matter of not having the know-how, looking back one wonders why some of this stuff was attractive to begin with.   Again, underwater cities?

All of this to say that it is hard work imagining the future (although Star Trek had better luck than Disney). William Halal should know,

Forecasting anything is an enormous challenge, much less “predicting” the state of the world decades from now. My TechCast project is in the business of forecasting, but we make a point of avoiding the word “prediction” for that very reason.

According to Halal,

For more than a decade, TechCast has scanned the literature and surveyed 100 experts worldwide to forecast technology breakthroughs and their social impact. We identify trends driving a forecast and obstacles opposing it, summarize other forecasts made by other sources, and have our experts review all this background data to reach their best estimates. Although I think this approach provides the best possible answers to tough questions, we miss the mark by about plus or minus three years for forecasts a decade out, and sometimes a lot more.  For anything beyond two decades out, the sources of error mount dramatically, especially because the world is changing so quickly that present assumptions will soon prove invalid.

So what is Halal betting on these days,

Our forecasts suggest that most of the big breakthroughs now anticipated—green technologies, alternative energy, artificial intelligence, biogenetic medical care—are likely to arrive well before 2050. In fact, exploding information technology and knowledge are likely to unify the globe into some type of coherent world system between 2020 and 2030 out of sheer necessity. The mounting threats of climate change, energy shortages, environmental collapse, WMDs, terrorism, and other elements of the “Global Megacrisis” are forcing this historic transition, and global gross domestic product will double about 2020, making the present global order unsustainable and demanding a form of “global consciousness.” Our surveys of the megacrisis show that the next decade or two will either see a crucial turning point to a “mature” global society or we are likely to witness the collapse of civilization in major parts of the world.

So basically we are heading toward a “mature” global society (exciting!) or the end of the world as we know it.

Funny, I feel fine.

56 thoughts on “Where are the Flying Cars?

  1. I would like food in pill form that would actually fill me up. Take a roast beef pill, 3 veggie pills and then have a diet coke and a slice of pie.

  2. It’s kinda crazy if you think about it… we have technology today that almost would have seemed like magic even as recently as a few decades ago. We don’t think twice about smartphones and iPads nowadays, but if you had showed me one of those when I was growing up in the early 90s, I would have crapped my pants. On the other hand, some of the things that we thought would be so cool 20 years ago just never happened. Makes me wonder how ridiculous some of our modern technological predictions will sound when we look back at them 20 years from now. Great post, really got me thinking.

    http://joesplace36.wordpress.com

  3. I was talking to my boyfriend about this just the other day. When I was younger I remember reading articles that said by the time I was 16 I would have a flying car. That was 12 years ago. Someone messed up there. However could you imagine what the world would be like with them? Most people can’t drive on the ground.

    1. It may have helped you to click on the very first link in the very first sentence. For that matter, simply reading the first sentence would’ve been enough. A bit much to ask I suppose.

  4. Hi: Nice post, very cute, but totally unrealistic. I read a lot of sci-fi as a kid, and it was fun reading the fantasy about the future. It isn’t going to happen. We are using up earths resources way too fast, and we will be spending the future trying to figure out how to feed ourselves and get enough clean water to drink. Sorry for the downer, but that is the way it will be.
    The Hamster

    1. You sound very convinced …. fortunately not everyone agrees … and regardless the future .. as in the past … will have a few surprises.
      As to figuring out how to feed ourselves, world wide we create enough food to feed everyone (though it is not universally available) the more food we generate, the more people breed world wide …. nature knows how to keep a balance, only we keep messing with it …
      I enjoyed this thought provoking read … bring on the surprises …. and may we keep getting it wrong, especially the doomsayers!!

  5. On the dot! This is exactly what it feels like, to me, to be a millennial. The 90’s were so exuberant, you know? Then the technological revolution didn’t happen, and now we’re in the middle of a global, “Okay, now what?”

  6. I found a flying car at this link:

    http://www.terrafugia.com/index.html

    Part of the problem is that our societies are evolving in a grotesque metamorphosis, like Mr Hyde in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Things are pretty ugly all around the world. But if we can positively enhance the transition then we are likely to achieve the best future that has been envisioned.

  7. Even more interesting to me is how much we BELIEVED what the so-called “experts” predicted.

    They “said” certain things would happen, and we assumed they would. They got a few things right; TV on demand, interconnected homes (which turned out to be WIFI and the internet, etc.)

    But the goofy wardrobes (so far) and the flying cars; well, maybe we’re better off without them, now that we stop to think about ’em.

    I too remember the GE Carousel of Progress, at the NY World’s Fair – in 1965/66?

  8. Pingback: Joe's Place
  9. How interesting. I had never heard the term forecasting used in place of prediction, but I suppose it makes perfect sense. Forecasting is a lot less ‘binding’ than the word prediction.

    While even though it is a ‘forecast’ that the world will be further unified in 2020 (or 2030 by conservative estimates), there’s still a chance that this might not happen.

    Regardless, it’s exciting to imagine what the world could look like in 20 years. :-)

    With Love and Gratitude,

    The Intentional Sage

  10. William Gibson pretty much predicted every thing right, except the fact that the fax machine isn’t really that attractive… at all.

    The traffic system for flying cars in a big metropolitan area would be… hmm complex.. perhaps just confusing. I mean sure you could have lanes going over and under, but it would only work fine until everyone started their engines.

  11. The flying car does exist. Don’t believe me? Google this: Moller skycar. Of course, we can’t drive on two dimensions, let along three, without killing each other so I just don’t think we are ready yet. But yes, it does exist!

  12. Give or take, it takes the same amount of time to travel across London by car as it did 200 years ago during the ‘rush hour’. They can put a man on the moon, yet they can’t make a machine for buttering bread, and they can design a GPS that can put me within one metre of the North Pole, yet they can never find my luggage at the airport.

    (I know – don’t tell me. My luggage is at the NP)

  13. I donno, have you seen people driving in two dimensions? I don’t think that there will be any improvement with a third dimension in the list.

  14. I don’t see anything wrong with the vision of the future that was captured in the Jetsons or Tomorrow Land. What a wonderful world it would be if we could complain about a work week that is only 3 days long, and have flying cars, jet packs, vacuum tubes that could whisk you away to Hawaii. Instead according to this PHD, Hallal we get to look forward to a mega crisis and making friends with France. Screw that! If thats the case then we humans have settled. I’ll take the imagination of cartoonists like Disney and Bill Hannah over the pessimism of boring egg head professors. Dreams are there to motivate us to better tomorrow. Simply to dismiss dreams and not learn from history is to leave society to ruin.

    http://thompsonstshirts.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/on-future-expectations/

  15. Folks have been predicting “some type of coherent world system” arising “out of sheer necessity” for at least a century.

    Depending on how you define “coherent” and “world system” we either already have such a system, or never will.

    The threats might be global, but the organizational mechanisms to manage them simply don’t exist much further beyond the national level. There are limits to, and weaknesses in, international cooperation. I point to the recent weakness of the EU. The plateau of NATO. And the nearly utter dysfunction at the UN.

    Flying cars, however, I think are doable.

  16. Screw flying cars! I want my own personal teleportation system as seen on Star Trek! Though I’d like it to not mix up my molecules and turn me into a hideously deformed mutant, please.

    Mature global society? Here’s to hoping.

  17. ‘Oh wait? It’s a flying car!!!?.. Oh wait, that doesn’t seem so cool as it was when I imagined one as a kid!’

    To be quite honest, I do miss the good visions of the future; but instead we are left with many inventions which just isn’t what we wanted!

    – I want a ‘green’ fuel efficient flying car to match 21st century standards :p

  18. I’d say Ray Bradbury did an eerily good job predicting the future in Farenheit 451. Science Fiction like that might be more accurate than, say, flying cars, but the fantasy projections are just so much more fun! Bravo to Bradbury for his early 50’s projections of technology and intellect. For shame we are living down to much of it…….

  19. I’m still optimistic about the future. It never “looks” the way we want it to but many of the inventions we dream about do actually show up in different forms.

    As you noted, flying cars are coming, albeit not in the way we expected. Tablet computers and smart phones are finally living up to their potential and I’m guessing it’s about 10 more years before consumer robotics hits mainstream.

    Many of the medical advances hitting the air waves these days are truly mind boggling. It’s a wonderful time to be alive

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