Megabots, Colliders, Rockets, Tunnels Underground, and Other Big Dumb Ideas Will Save Us

Humanity is a planetwide force. We have the power to change our weather. We have the power to change the shape of the land. We have the power to selectively wipe a species from this earth if we choose.  We’ve had this power for a while and we’re still coming to terms with it. Many of us even deny it.

With such power, what do we do? We have very few projects which are in line with our ability. Somewhere in the past few years, I feel like most of us have lost our audacity. We’ve culturally come to appreciate the safe bet too much. We pull the dreamers and doers down. We want to solve the small problems first, and see if we have time for the big problems later. We don’t dream big enough, and there is zero reason for this hesitation. We could leverage our planetwide power for planetwide improvements. Nothing is truly stopping us. No law, no government, nothing.

To put it simply, as far as technology goes, everything is still low-hanging fruit. We’ve barely done anything. Even some of our greatest accomplishments can happen randomly in nature. We’ve not left our planet in any numbers or for any length of time. Our cities are disorganized messes. In every single field today, the unexplored territory is orders larger than the explored. Yet despite this vast territory, there are very few explorers. People want to optimize the minutia of life. A slightly faster processor for a slightly smaller phone. It’s okay.

Yet that same small optimization applied to a larger effort could have vast positive impact. Those same microprocessors could catalog our planet or drive probes into space. The very same efforts we spend on micro upgrades could be leveraged if we just look at the bigger picture then get out of our own way. All that is lacking is ambition. Money, time, skill, industry, and people are all there, waiting. We have the need for and have the resources to support ten thousand Elon Musks, not just the one.

Big projects make us bigger than our cellphones and Facebook. When you see a rocket launch into the sky, suddenly, “the world” becomes, simply, “a world.” Order of magnitude improvements reduce the order of our perception of previously complex problems. They should be our highest goal. Whatever field you’re in, you should be trying to be ten times better than the top competitor.

However, there are some societal changes that have to occur before we can.

Nitpicking and Naysaying:

The first thing that happens when an enterprising individual proposes something big is that some “expert” will come out of the woodwork to write a self-congratulatory article on how smart they are for disproving the feasibility of the idea. Historically these people have been shown to be fantastically wrong.

This invention will destroy society!
This invention will destroy society!

There were articles about flight, electricity, and even the umbrella. People fly, the world is electric, and only my feet get wet in the rain. We’ve been to space. The moon isn’t ten-feet-deep with abrasive dust. The moon lander did just fine on its surface.

Yet despite this, we glorify the negative people. It’s easy to see why. Negative people get attention with no work. They seem smart without ever having to justify it. They put nothing forth, and the start up cost is low for anyone to jump on the bandwagon.

Every big idea is risky. Every risk has a thousand reasons why it will fail. Many ideas start out traveling in the wrong direction and end up solving something else along the way.

Here’s the truth. The world is getting better every day. We’ve never been richer, more peaceful, and with more power than we are now. It is time to be positive. Think critically, yes, but in a positive way. Every single negative thinker is nothing more than a whiner and a detriment to everyone.

For example. What about solar roadways? So what if they’ll likely never produce enough power to offset their cost? They’d still solve ultra-durable, easy to maintain glass roadways with active lighting, sensor networks, and underground utilities? Would that be so bad?

Sometimes it’s best to consider the value of what we could learn from a failure instead of just the success. Sometimes just the sheer effort of trying something big has a cascading effect on society, where another person sees their attempt and gets it right. Rarely do only negatives come out of an attempt.

Don’t Worry About the Money:

There is more money out there for investment in new tech and audacious problems than there has ever been. There is almost a trillion dollars floating around for start-up investment in tech alone. The amount of capital floating around to invest in big stuff is staggering.

If we waste a few billion it’s meaningless. A million dollars won’t even run the US government for a second.

Stop With the Concept Art. Start Doing:

Nice render bro.
Nice render bro.

We really have powerful visualization software at hand these days. We can tell the greatest stories ever told and do it singlehandedly on a modest computer. So it’s often tempting for someone to present their great idea to the world, plant a flag, get a lot of attention, and then drop it. However, only doers move us forward.

Rather than just concept art, try to do a concept. Start doing the math. Consult some experts. See if you can find a crack in reality where you can wedge your idea. The hyperloop is a good example of this, so is Elon Musk’s boring company.  He has enough name power alone that a great rendering would be enough for some, but he does. He had the math worked out to prove the preliminary feasibility. He went out and bought a drilling machine with his billionaire money to see for himself if it can be done.

Stop With the One Man Shows:

We know that you have a great idea. However, true technological innovation has always happened as a team effort. When you read about the geniuses that filtered through Edison’s lab (which included Tesla) his list of accomplishments makes more sense.  Being the lone war hero, spending night and day learning every skill needed aside from teamwork is just a waste of time. If you’re a good mechanical engineer, find someone who is good with electrons. If you’re not a good manager, find one. Woz needed Jobs.

Brag:

Humility is not the hacker way. When you do something great, brag. When you are doing something great, tell people. Get people excited. Learn to be persuasive. We’ve come to despise the good salesmen, and when we see them trying something large we hate them even more, but one-upmanship is a driving force in technology. Brag so someone can oust you from your throne.

Find a Way to Make Money Doing It. Humanitarian Efforts Should Be Profitable.

Money is leverage. It lets you buy human time and creative output. It buys machines, capital. It’s the only way to get rocket fuel. Doing it on the cheap won’t get you anywhere. So find a way to make money. Find a way to make lots of money. Very few things deserve to exist on merit alone.

The truth is that the best people in the world have one life to live. They aren’t going to work at your nonprofit for $30,000 a year. They’re going to work in a place where they can leverage millions and make millions. If that means they’re optimizing the marketing metrics for someone’s lame app instead of helping you revolutionize the world in some way, that’s your fault. Given a choice almost all the best people in the world would choose to work on something that’s a net positive for everyone. That is human nature. We want what’s best for each other. If we didn’t then the world would have already ended.

When it comes down to it, big things can’t be done on the cheap. Rockets and robot cars cost millions, just turning the lights on in a building leverages trillions of man hours and trillions of dollars in capital. Don’t make the mistake of artificially limiting yourself. The rest of the world hasn’t.

On top of that, if an idea can make money, then it can spread. Then it has real validity. If you can find a way to feed the world that doesn’t beg, then you have something.

The key idea here is that it must create wealth. There is a strange misconception floating around that there is only a fixed amount of wealth in the world and doing one thing means another won’t have enough, but this simply isn’t true. More wealth is created every day. Something being able to make money is literally that. It’s the ability to insert into the world’s reserve of good things more than there was before.

Plus, if you can prove that it makes money people will give you as much money as you need to do it.

Though, let’s not confuse this with people who only masquerade as wealth creators; these are easy to spot given enough time. While some people unfairly walk away with a prize they didn’t earn, it’s not unexpected or anomalous as any statistical distribution will tell you. There’s no need to obsess over it.

Some Examples:

What innovation could look like for everyone.
What innovation could look like for everyone.

I’ve already mentioned the solar roads, but another ambitious project I really like is Megabots. Right now, non-research robotics fits into two categories, something simple that can fit on a retail shelf, or something that is optimized for some sort of industry.

Megabots is building a 30 ft fighting robot like those from Japanese cartoons, and they’re trying to start a giant robot fighting league. Now, some might argue that Megabots is a stupid idea, that no one will ever happily spend two million dollars per robot just to watch it get destroyed, but it’s not that far off from the money spent on NASCAR.  Some might argue that we could be spending that money on some other, better, purpose. After all, what’s the possible benefit to humanity?

Yet, think about it, people have wanted giant robot exoskeletons for years and years. The problem is that there’s no market that can really afford the rapid experimentation and failure of developing such technology. Sure, construction, disaster relief, agriculture, and more would love such a thing, but it’s just not economically feasible to pursue. Yet, if we’re pitting them against each other, testing and rapid development is assured. New actuators, control methods, and more could all come out of an ambitious idea like this. Just like racing made our automobiles safer, unreasonably large robots that punch each other could change the way we do a lot of things.

They’re also a good example because they do all the things. They’re positive about their project, they don’t tear down others. They work in a team. They brag constantly and people are starting to respond. A Chinese team has weighed in with their own robot now. Best of all, they found a way to make money with it. You can have all the government funded research you want, but if Megabots succeeds, a sports league of impractical flashy robots will be the driving force in a new field of tech.

Elon bought himself his very own hole in the ground with his billionaire money.
Elon bought himself his very own hole in the ground with his billionaire money.

Another technology that’s grand in scale, naturally, has the master of grand-in-scale ceremonies, Elon Musk behind it. The Boring Company, his hobby project, promised a network of claustrophobic tunnels underneath cities that scoot cars around on electric sleds.  If we can solve this problem, despite how ridiculous it seems, it would have far-reaching positive impact. When you start to read on the actual impact of cars on our society, it’s truly a single-edged sword. Even if you ignore pollution, it’s just negative all around.  The increase in traffic means wider streets. The wider streets mean faster cars and less foot traffic. It decreases community, commerce, and pedestrian safety and it’s here to stay until we figure out a solution.

If we reduce the need for car ownership and can move most of the traffic out of sight yet still retain mobility, then we can return to how cities used to be: with more community, more green space, and better commerce. The amount of pollution will decrease and cars will become a shared, rented resource, rather than a necessary capital every household is forced to invest in. On top of that, becoming better tunnel builders will help us in all regards, from space colonies to mining.

Many of the benefits of huge projects aren’t so esoteric either. For example, the Large Hadron Collider is helping us understand our universe, and as a side-effect it has dramatically improved KiCAD. The experience from building super towers in Dubai has improved technology across the board. Just the advances in elevators alone will save lives for years to come, and make the world more accessible for those with mobility issues.

I really think that hackers should wake up tomorrow and think about what they’d really like to see in the world. They should keep in mind that SpaceX developed and built their first rocket for less than Gillette spent to develop that face scraper they’re so proud of. Don’t set your sights low. Get a team of friends and build something big because it’s the human thing to do. Pick something vastly ambitious. See if you can beat Amazon to Drone deliveries, see if you can 3D print a building or organs better than the labs have managed. Be the first supplier of space station modules to the public sector. There are no limits other than the artificial ones we dream up for ourselves.

Also, if we don’t we’re probably going to die holding our phones, when we could be zooming around the galaxy in snazzy red spandex onesies.

140 thoughts on “Megabots, Colliders, Rockets, Tunnels Underground, and Other Big Dumb Ideas Will Save Us

    1. I agree Matt, this is an inspiring article. Can someone put this as a response to Jeff Bezo’s @jeffBezos Twitter account? Yesterday he tweeted for ideas about what he should do for his Philanthropy Campaign. Jeff- How about doing/funding something grand like this?

        1. Good idea! An inspirational video like what Dean Kamen does for student future engineers in First Robotics comes to mind. Berkeley’s Skydeck also comes to mind, with massive financial resources behind it.

    2. Too bad that Elon Musk is the only gazillionaire who’s trying anything new. All the rest of the rich fucks are just hoarding their money like cat ladies hoarding cats. I have a big idea. Make a global income tax of 10 percent for income above one million dollars. Then the UN secretary general gets on global TV and, pointing straight up (into space) and tell these rich motherfuckers that if they don’t like it, there’s the door. You’d be AMAZED at how fast they’d leave the planet.

      When does the greed stop?

      1. Well, you know, there’s also Paul Allen who has a spaceship company. And there’s that guy who made the Flyboard Air. And it’s not quite as glamorous but Bill Gates has done a ton of stuff to fight malaria in the third world, which is probably the most effective approach in terms of reducing human suffering…

    3. Alas, this article leaves me dismayed. Please read further before jumping on me for being a grouch.

      Let’s look at the first example: solar roadways. This concept has been thoroughly demolished by various analysts including EEVBLOG and Thunderf00t – it fails on so many levels that no real engineer or physicist who investigated it could take it seriously – the math just doesn’t work out, and the hyped “promise” is nonsense. If you have any EE or physics education, check out the details for yourself.

      So, I’m guessing that the response to that is “that’s what the so called experts always say about ambitious ideas”. This becomes a universal dismissal of any and all reality feedback but the truth is that by far most outlandish ideas turn out to be worthless, and betting against the experts is a sucker’s game with rare exceptions. Yes, we all (including me) love the drama of the maverick who bucks the experts and founds a new industry – it’s entertaining, just like the down and out sports team who with the help of a spirited mascot wins the league championship. It’s interesting because it’s so rare, not because it’s so common.

      The mavericks who do succeed are not the credulous ones who “have a vision” (visions are a dime a dozen), or who just believe highly enough in themselves. They are the ones who develop the discernment to sift the wheat from the chaff especially well. That is, they need to be skeptics who understand that almost all outrageous ideas are going to be failure and can discard them quickly – in order to find the few that have a real world chance.

      We need risk taking but hard headed skeptics, not naive true believers. People who can look at the facts about solar roadways, and quickly realize how foolish the idea is, so they can move onto something more productive.

      For every Elon Musk there are many thousands of people with far more “vision” than he (vision is cheap), but who don’t have the discipline to “do the math” before believing. His genius is not “the vision thing”, but the engineering thing of grounding the visions he does have in reality – an expertise much less common than “vision”.

      I do want more innovation – but the key is reality grounding, not unfounded optimism. And this article seems to disdain reality feedback in favor or fervor.

      And we all have to start somewhere. I’ll be interested in what the author has to say in twenty years.

      1. “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

  1. Loved this. Inspiring. Makes me long for the next great idea that will actually advance humanity, not just advance a particular group or make us squabble over the little bits we already have.

    And for all the Democratic-Socialists out there, there’s a message for you: “There is a strange misconception floating around that there is only a fixed amount of wealth in the world and doing one thing means another won’t have enough, but this simply isn’t true. More wealth is created every day.”

    1. Are you a fan of Ayn Rand, perchance?

      Wealth is increasingly going to smaller and smaller portions of society. Income / wealth disparity is the highest it has ever been. We have kids going starving at school while people drive $100,000 luxury electric cars that received $2,000-$5,000+ tax breaks.

      Megabots and colliders are not going to save us. Throwing development money behind simple, proven concepts (solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, tidal) will. Energy conservation will (the US population uses more energy per capita than anywhere else in the world.) Switching away from unrecycleable materials and products, and chemicals that poison, will.

      Electric cars are not going to save us, because there’s little room for them to drive or park as population continues to rise, and they still require several orders of magnitude more energy to transport a person than any other method. Making towns and cities walkable, interlinking our transit modes (ie not putting the bus station on one side of town and the train station on the other), creating bicycle path networks, and making roads safe for bicycles will save us.

          1. Although for the 99 out of 100 inventions that actually do fail, the hype cycle ends in the through of disillusionment, after the first round investors have completely lost their money and the inventor has been tarred and feathered for promising the moon and delivering a wheel of cheese.

          2. This proves capitalism works. It’s GOOD when things fail! That means people didn’t want them. Leading the ways for whatever works. Only what works is left. That’s how Darwin rolls right??!

          3. >”It’s GOOD when things fail! ”

            Of course, but that’s a good in the sense of better late than never.

            It’s always better to eliminate the bad ideas before you’ve spent billions and decades to find out that yes, the naysayers were right, because by that point you have so much entrenched interest that you can’t stop throwing your money away.

      1. 1+
        Moving an individual in a car is the most stupid way to do it because the energy spent is for moving the car itself not the indidivual. The weight of an individual transport should be the same order of magnitude as the individual it transport to be efficient.

        1. The mass of the transporting device is irrelevant. Air drag is the key.

          >”The weight of an individual transport should be the same order of magnitude as the individual it transport to be efficient.”

          Untrue. Motorcycles and bicycles have the relative aerodynamic efficiency of a barn door. They’re efficient as they are small or slow.

          1. The mass is only irrelevant if you’re assuming steady state transport (as on a freeway). In stop-start traffic, the difference in energy usage between a 200kg vehicle and a 1200kg vehicle is huge. Even on a freeway, rolling resistance depends on mass (although yes, air drag does still account for a majority of the energy loss).

            Bikes / motorbikes have a terrible Cd but compared to a single-occupant car their efficiency in terms of kWh / person-kilometers is great because of their much lower frontal area.

        2. “Moving an individual in a car is the most stupid way to do it because the energy spent is for moving the car itself not the indidivual. The weight of an individual transport should be the same order of magnitude as the individual it transport to be efficient.”

          Efficient? Oh, yes, just herd the masses into mass transportation, taking them from their grey mass housing to the mass workplaces to perform regimented work en masse, and then when the steam whistle blows, carry the masses to the mass entertainment complexes to be entertained with bread and circuses en masse.

          Do you not even see the soulless totalitarian nature of this? The limitation on individual freedom?

          I’ll tell you this, my friend: millions of us will not comply if you try to take our automobiles away. You will have to force us, and we might just use force back.

          1. +1 this comment as there is no way I’d give up my personal car or even trade down to something lower performance.
            I’d never give up my camaro without a fight though I might trade it for a high performance EV without all the electronic chunnibyou and connected features on the Tesla S.
            Though it has to be voluntary as if it’s forced I’ll keep driving a 6.2l V8 and may even buy the largest SUV I can find just out of spite.

          2. No-one’s advocating a complete removal of individual rights to decide where to go and when to go there, or a gunpoint repossession of all privately owned vehicles!

            I don’t know if you’ve lived in a big city with poor public transport, but “driving” at an average speed of 15km/h (~10mph) is not much fun. Riding a train is much more pleasant, when there’s a good train network. They have multiple stations and run every few minutes, you still get a choice of where & when to go…

          3. So you’re saying trains are fascist? What is it about driving a car that makes houses colourful and fun, and a job fulfilling and endlessly varying? You’re saying that doesn’t work if you get a bus to work, then?

          4. That’s the problem with all this environmentalists: They want to keep humans like sheep, in a soviet-union like dystopia. A car is much more efficient: It’s efficient on MY TIME. It gives me the freedom to drive when I want, without having to book in advance and with my stuff in it.

          5. >”No-one’s advocating a complete removal of individual rights to decide where to go and when to go there”

            Yet they’re advocating for strictly planned cities with zoning designed to eliminate private vehicles and run solely on public transportation.

            Insert the meme of a superhero with two buttons to press.

      2. ” Income / wealth disparity is the highest it has ever been.”

        Really? Most of the world not that long ago was comprised of small “royal” families that ruled over peasant populations. There was no middle class until about 100 years ago. Today’s so-called “poor” are richer than the vast majority of people in the past. They have comfortable homes, plentiful food, TVs, multiple sets of clothing, etc. The whole population in most countries is better off.

        “Megabots and colliders are not going to save us.”

        Read the article again. He was saying that these things lead to other benefits. it’s just like the moon landings resulted in a lot of technology that improved everybody’s lives.

        “the US population uses more energy per capita than anywhere else in the world”

        Actually, Iceland is #1. The US is #9 (http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/The-Worlds-10-Biggest-Energy-Gluttons.html).

        I actually agree with your last paragraph. I like the idea of mass transit. But the last time I considered taking a train or bus, the cost was more than the gas it would take me to drive (and took longer to get there) – and that was for ONE person. I can cary five in my car. Mass transit is a failure because of how it is managed.

        1. As was pointed out, these things lead to other benefits. I used to say that just the invention of Polyimide was worth the entire NASA budget… It is debatable for sure but many technologies start as scientific “toys” and end up being cost reduced as children’s or hobbyists toys. Think about quadcopters. The first one I saw was a government project Paul Moller of Skycar built. (Not his car, but a working quadcopter. DARPA pushed just a little on this and we had lots of PhD’s working on it, then the toy / hobbyists picked it up and now its ubiquitous and moving into the more conservative corporate space like Amazon.

          1. The thing about NASA and space spinoff technology is, that it’s not actually NASA that makes it happen most of the time. NASA takes already existing technology and adapts it to space – they largely don’t work with uncertainties and unobtainiums, but go around private companies asking “can you do this?” and if they already have the means, then they’ll say yes. Some of the budget goes to new R&D but most of it is just “innovation”, aka. taking someone else’s idea, putting your logo on it, and selling it as your own. That’s what NASA does.

            The usual examples, velcro, tang, turbopumps, SpaceX’s motor they got from NASA (Yes, Elon Musk didn’t invent it) were already there when the Apollo went to the moon. That’s why they could do it relatively quickly.

            Take SpaceX’s rocket motor for a closer look: it’s history starts with Northrop-Grumman who stole the tech and interned engineers from the Germans after WW2, and developed a reliable and simple rocket motor for missiles. They didn’t have a customer for it, until NASA came along. From there it went on to be used in the lunar lander, and from there the technology was handed out to Elon Musk, who scaled it up to the Falcon rockets and now everyone hails him as the genius.

            So the next claim is that without NASA the SpaceX company wouldn’t have existed, so it’s still worth the money, but that’s a moot point. Maybe it would have gone the other way: if NASA hadn’t been the only one who were allowed to launch rockets for 40 years, Northrop would have developed the rocket themselves and we wouldn’t even need Elon Musk to get to LEO on the cheap.

          2. ..from there the technology was handed out to Elon Musk, who scaled it up to the Falcon rockets and now everyone hails him as the genius.

            Well, not everyone… ;)

        2. Many of the poor now are wealthier than their counterparts in prior centuries,
          but the wealthy are also vastly wealthier than their counterparts in prior centuries.

          Compare the wealth of a hoplite to an Athenian laborer (or even a slave).
          How does that ratio compare to the wealth of an Apple or a Gates relative to
          the wealth of a subsistence farmer.

          So the masses are richer, but the rich are many many many times richer.

          1. The masses aren’t richer. They’re just have more stuff. Trinkets and toys, or fancy clothes are not wealth.

            Rich = power. You don’t have it. The poor don’t have it. As long as you live from paycheck to paycheck, you aren’t rich no matter what your relative living standard is, measured in irrelevant stuff, because you’re powerless to change your situation in any meaningful way.

            It’s like the republican argument that the poor aren’t poor because 98% own a fridge and a TV, which wasn’t the case 60 years ago. Well guess what, those things aren’t so expensive anymore, so even the poor can afford them.

            And they’re still poor, and getting poorer than ever because relative poverty means that all the meaningful stuff, like education and health care, is getting more and more expensive as the prices rise to meet the inflation and the amount of money the rich can pay. It opens a gap between people where on one side, all you can afford to do is eat and sleep, while on the other side you can do all the fun stuff. Doesn’t matter if some guy in Africa gets by on a dollar a day, because this is not Africa – you can’t get by on a dollar a day.

          2. “because you’re powerless to change your situation in any meaningful way.”

            Dax. This is where I will disagree with you wholeheartedly. I grew up in the 2nd poorest county in Missouri, which bordered the poorest. I milked cows, raised hogs, and used a wheat grinder to get flour for bread.

            I went to public school and got academic scholarships for junior college. I then went into the Navy on active duty for 2 years to get the GI Bill. I finished college after the Navy. I now make 86K / year and am living just fine.

            I suggest you get off your duff and DO something rather than whine about how the world is stacked against you. I grew up in the Ozarks hearing that “cain’t get ahead” crap far too much.

          3. Response to Dax.

            Power of the sort you describe is one way of defining wealth, but not the only way.
            I only said they were richer than the poor in previous eras.
            More likely to have access to basic sanitation (clean water, etc.).
            They are likely to live longer (thanks largely to immunizations, sanitation, decreased
            infant mortality). Have more tools at their disposal (steel or iron tools, rather than wood
            or stone, inexpensive factory woven cloth, cell phones, …) Easy to say that doesn’t matter if you can take it for granted.

            These things give more power over your surroundings, so even in the power metric, they are richer. (Even if not more powerful over other people.)
            Access to advanced communications (cell phones, cameras, etc.) can even gives more power to influence others.

          4. >” I now make 86K / year and am living just fine.”

            And what exactly can you do with that money, other than buy some needlessly expensive luxury consumables and trinkets?

            You’re not rich. You’re barely middle class, and the middle class is powerless.

        3. Mass transit only works when there’s a sufficiently high enough population density to support it – and even then most such transport systems only maintain their existence through taxes or other public fund transfers.

          Chattanooga’s free electric shuttle buses are an exception. In the late 90’s it did get some federal startup funding but has since become self supporting. It’s funded from a share of parking lot fees and donation boxes on the shuttles ad at the two stations.

          If a public transit system cannot sustain itself from payments by the people who use it, then there’s either not enough demand for it or it’s not being effectively promoted to convince enough people to use it. Or it could simply be poor routing. That’s why buses make more sense in most cases than light rail. Bus routes can go where ever the roads are. Rail is expensive to install and even more expensive to move. Get things wrong and the customers move away from where the rails were installed, the system becomes a ‘white elephant’.

          Amtrack has many of these problems. Lack of promotion. My grandfather subscribed to a train magazine yeas ago and one article was about this issue. One part of it told about a woman in the southeast who every workday paid for a cab to pick her up at her home to take her to the bus station. She’d ride the bus to the city where the station was quite a ways from her work so she’d hire another cab – then reverse the process at the end of the day. Due to Amtrack’s nonexistent advertising she had no clue that just one street over from her home was an Amtrack commuter rail station, and there was another station only a couple of blocks from where she worked. Six blocks of walking each day and the train would get her to and from work faster and cheaper.

          Amtrack has also reduced routes, especially long distance ones. Cutting back service is no way to increase revenue. Amtrack, if it’s to survive, needs to expand routes and massively increase promotion. The best way to do that is to privatize it to put it in a situation where it has to make a profit or die. The freight rail companies would also have to be told they’ll have to get along with passenger rail – if they need more capacity to make room for non-freight trains then they’ll have to lay more rail in the rights of way they have but are under-using or aren’t using. In the past 30-ish years the railroads spent a bunch of time taking shots at their own feet by pulling out tracks from some routes where traffic had reduced so they wouldn’t have to buy new rail for what new routes they’d built. Then when they needed the capacity back they went crying the the government they needed help buying new rail to replace what they’d foolishly moved instead of leaving where they’d put it (at much less cost) decades ago.

          1. >”Mass transit only works when there’s a sufficiently high enough population density to support it ”

            Population density is not enough. Social infrastructure is the key, because public transportation is the most efficient (cheapest) when it can travel between fixed points A and B where everyone travels at the same times. It’s most perfect for planned economies where you have people living at A and working at B, and everyone goes to work at 7 and gets home at 5.

            In a free market economy, that priciple breaks down because property prices and rents rise with population/business density, so not everyone can afford to live in the same quarters and not all businesses can afford to locate in the same spot around the one public transportation hub. That means public transportation has to serve sources A, B, C… and sinks Z, Y, X … and the number of people going to/from each location and time is spread so that the vehicles end up running at partial capacity.

            A private car built for 5 has a 20% attendance even if you drive alone. Public transportation often averages below 10% because it has to serve too many stops, routes and times, and much of the time a bus built for 50 has less than 5 people in it, and even those people are forced to take longer routes because the bus has to wind through different neighborhoods and stops. So it easily turns out less efficient than private car ownership – but if you eliminate the inefficient routes and times, you end up with the bus running twice a day and everyone complains, and if you eliminate public transportation entirely then all the greenies will tar and feather you because you’re not pandering to their feelgood sentiments.

            That is why the bus is more expensive than what you pay for gasoline for the same distance.

          2. The addition to the fact that the bus tends to be more expensive, is the fact that most of the people who use the bus are subsidized: students, pensionares, the poor on welfare. That is why the bus service continues to exist.

            I live in a country where a recent document leak revealed that 73% of the national train service customers were on some kind of discount or subsidy. Your mileage may vary.

      3. What about thorium fueled molten salt reactors which could deliver carbon neutral energy at lower cost per KWh than coal fired power plants?
        In fact if their design is standardized and mass produced they could even become too cheap enough that power could be sold at a flat rate like internet service vs charging by the KWh.
        The 1950s promise of power too cheap to meter could finally come true.
        Though you’ll probably say something about the evils of nuclear power or something.

        1. To do that, every anti-nuclear power nut would suddenly have to accept factual information about how it really works. One only need look to the TV series “The 100” to see the level of misinformation out there.

          Despite the vast majority of the technical stuff in that show being completely incorrect BS, I still find it entertaining – because I know it’s BS. I can appreciate the effort that went into the costume, set and prop design, and the creation of several languages and dialects – while also snerking and giggling at all the absurdities.

          But for someone who doesn’t know the first thing about nuclear bombs and reactors except that they exist, and is too damn lazy to do even the most cursory research, it scares the poop out of them.

          1. There’s plenty of good arguments against nuclear power, the fact that it produces waste that’s deadly on a scale longer than human civilisation, is one.

            From what I hear of thorium reactors (admittedly a lot of it’s going to be hype), if we can do it this way, cheaper, safer, and cleaner, why aren’t we? Countries are still building new uranium reactors now. Why is nobody doing thorium? It can’t be environmental protests.

          2. Part of the reason more reactors aren’t being built is due to misguided fears. The environmentalists really shot themselves in the foot with this (especially in the UK). People complained about nuclear, often stating environmental reasons, and now we are building more coal; which is the worst in terms of environmental effects.

            Thorium reactors produce much less waste (less toxic than uranium ore after a few hundred years apparently), and can actually use conventional nuclear waste for fuel.

            The main reason it hasn’t been developed so far is there is no way to weaponize it. Relating back to the article, reactors were first built to produce nuclear weapons, the energy was a by-product. There was a choice of which to develop, you can guess which got government funding.

            Research is being done on thorium reactors, however this will take time. If uranium prices rise, I’m sure this research will be accelerated. However the main problem to overcome is peoples perceptions/misunderstandings of nuclear. No one is going to fund something that they may not be able to build because the public fear it (because of lack of understanding). So the safer option is to continue small advances to the old technology.

    1. I was recently looking to patent an invention involving a novel use of LEDs. It turns out that the Phillips company has literally patented putting LEDs on anything. For any purpose. In any configuration. Look up US7161313B2.

      1. I never look. Knowingly violating a patent sets you up for treble damages. But now that you’ve told me that everything LED is already patented, I guess I can’t really claim ignorance.

        1. Actually that’s a common misconception. Not knowing offers no legal protection and actually shows you didn’t do your due diligence in searching for patents. Saying you didn’t know about the patent is basically admitting you infringed on it.

          1. I’m not a lawyer; all I know I learned from the head of the legal department for the large company that bought a startup I was with. He advised us that all engineers unintentionally violate patents as part of their job; it was essentially unavoidable since so many over-broad patents were on the books. He further forbade us from looking at patent databases – the strategy was that the company held a large patent portfolio itself, and should a conflict arise, could defend itself by finding instances where the other company had violated any number of our silly patents.

            It’s the mutually-assured-destruction intellectual property model, and it works for large companies. Of course, the people who lose are the small company/individual without the deep IP portfolio to launch a counter-attack, and of course, the species as a whole.

      2. I think the main point of that patent is for future insect-control products.

        “…an insect control system of the present invention may be equipped with an insecticide, insect repellant, citronella candle, electric bug killer, carbon dioxide generating capture system or similar facility for killing, repelling, or disabling bugs. Thus, the insect control system can use illumination to direct insects to such a facility, increasing the effectiveness of such a facility without requiring, for example, widespread application of an insecticide which otherwise could have detrimental effects on non-insects including pets, children, birds and other small animals.

        In embodiments, illumination may be designed to attract favorable insects (or other creatures, such as bats) that control other insects. Thus, if a preferred wavelength is known to attract the preying mantis, it may be displayed to attract that species in order to control other species. This can be a function of the visual system of that particular insect family and designed expressly to make it respond to the illumination and chemical system.”

        And it goes on and on and on…
        sounds promising, actually.

        1. The hive mind collective collapses due to forced evolutionary cap plateau… Formids? Eww, that is seriously gross. YFW – SUPERMAN did nothing wrong genociding his entire species.

      3. I looked it up. Maybe you should? Or did you paste the wrong patent number?

        There are three independent claims, one for a method and two for apparatuses. Claim 2 is representative:
        2. An apparatus, comprising:
        * a first plurality of first white LEDs configured to generate first radiation having a first spectrum representing a first color temperature;
        * a second plurality of second LEDs configured to generate second radiation having a second spectrum different than the first spectrum;
        * an elongated optic arranged with respect to the first plurality of first white LEDs and the second plurality of second LEDs such that at least some of the first radiation and at least some of the second radiation, when generated, pass through the elongated optic to provide visible radiation to an observer; and
        * at least one controller coupled to the first plurality of first white LEDs and the second plurality of second LEDs, and configured to control a resulting color or a resulting color temperature of the visible radiation as perceived by the observer

        Claim 1 is essentially the same 4 elements, reworded to describe a method. Claim 20 is very similar to Claim 1; the main difference is that the fourth element specifies a “controller including at least one microprocessor”.

        So if you only use LEDs with one spectrum (whether white or colored), you’re fine. If you use multiple colors, but no white LEDs, you’re fine. And if you use only one white LED (not a plurality) or a plurality of white LEDs of one spectrum and a single LED of another spectrum, you’re fine.

        If you don’t use an elongated optic to mix the colors, you’re fine.

        If the LEDs don’t have a controller coupled to both pluralities of LEDs, or that controller is not configured to control a resulting color/color temperature, you’re fine. (What exactly qualifies as a controller? a couple current-limiting resistors? a trimpot? Ask your lawyer…)

        So it’s pretty far from your “putting LEDs on anything. … In any configuration.” misrepresentation.

        1. It’s still pretty much “colour mixing, using LEDs”. 5 minutes thinking, and a *need* to do it, and you’d come up with the same solution. So I suppose they’re just pre-inventing needs for things that nobody needs yet, so when they do, Philips got there 5 minutes earlier and claimed it.

          No wonder people complain about the patent system.

  2. Good thoughts.

    “See if you can beat Amazon to Drone deliveries” We are making a drone delivery system anyone can add to their drone, fun engineering project. But if the drone goes out of line of site then FAA gets upset. Only the amazon’s and Musk of the world can afford to knock the regulations down to deliver something helpful. It is not always an engineering or money challenge. Just venting.

    1. “Only the amazon’s and Musk of the world can afford to knock the regulations down to deliver something helpful.”

      So… just curious, but have you tried? I mean, you have a congressional rep. You can always write to the FAA. Yeah, you’re just one person, but if you don’t even try, you’re not even that. Wouldn’t even cost you anything to write letters.

  3. “If we reduce the need for car ownership and can move most of the traffic out of sight yet still retain mobility, then we can return to how cities used to be: with more community, more green space, and better commerce. ”

    How are those Arcologies coming along?

  4. You forgot an important bit: Listen to the nit pickers and naysayers.
    If someone tells you driving on glass is a bad idea, that current glass is too soft to stand up to your use model, or a giant metal tube through the desert is going to expand and buckle catastrophically, they might just have a point.

    If the math checks out, listen to what they are saying!
    Some knots in your plan may be untied by new technology & others may be cut with the sword of a novel path but these knots must be addressed to see your vision through.
    Also don’t tell the world you have a ready to roll out working system when you don’t. When you get big government grants make sure your installation looks the best it can, you never get a second chance at a first impression.

    1. “Every single negative thinker is nothing more than a whiner and a detriment to everyone.”

      So when a few actual rocket and material scientists said hey, you really should know that fluoroelastomers have issues sealing at low temperatures and if these particular seals fail then the entire rocket will explode and maybe we shouldn’t launch space shuttles beyond temperature specs, we shouldn’t listen to them because they are just whiners and a detriment to everyone?

      Or when the Titanic had coal that was simply in storage ON FIRE inside the ship and they launched it anyway, after not building in basic things like double walls or sealing compartments?

      Not every idea is great and not every naysayer is correct either. But it’s frankly unfair and unjust to attempt to make this out to be a pure binary thing by attempting to vilify anybody who questions anything about any possible idea being bad, even if they have legitimate reasons or experience for why they personally think the way they do.

  5. Sometimes naysayers may have important questions that need to be answered. For solar roadways, for example, they may ask not just, “How much is this going to cost, and how much power would it make back?” “What happens if an inept construction crew runs over it with a bulldozer or a semi truck turns over on one – do you have to repave it?” Others sometimes think of problems you might have missed, and if one of these looks like it might sink your idea, you’ll at least want to have answers that satisfy YOU to go forward, even if they may not satisfy the critics.

      1. When that’s things like neckwear made of dynamite and novel spaceship construction techniques, the easiest way is to actually do a bit of research first. Implementing an entire new road system, to see whether it’s useless or not, is exactly the wrong way. That’s why we currently do things the sensible way instead.

        1. Not implementing an entire road system, no, but if you actually knew what solar roadways did then you’d see that they set up an outdoor example patch that proved a lot of the concerns about it correct.

    1. Lay down a section of SFR large enough to park an average 4 door sedan on – then light the car on fire and let it burn for at least 30 minutes. That happens quite often on American roads.

      A concrete road will be barely damaged, if at all. Asphalt can be repaired by cutting out or grinding down the burn damage and quickly laying new asphalt to patch.

  6. Nitpickers and naysayers are normally right. How many nitpickers and naysayers were there for all the perpetual motion machines, the latest diet fad, or cold fusion? While statements like “We will never fly” feed into the folksy story of the lone inventor going after a corrupt establishment, the truth is far less fun. Amazing claims are normally wrong, and it is a good thing that people analyze them dispassionately and present their results.

    1. The article’s claim that naysayers are usually wrong is based on selective hindsight, because for a million other inventions the naysayers were right, but you don’t hear about them because the inventions never got anywhere.

      In other words: confirmation bias.

      Hype is not hope – it’s self-deception.

    2. I don’t see the problem, saying naysayers are usually right just means that they are sometimes wrong and it would be a shame to miss out on some of those breakthroughs because we didn’t try.

  7. If you spend time/money actually building something new, than there is an ecosystem of manipulative sociopaths ready to take advantage if its profitable.

    The game is almost always fixed – whether it is modern hackers (synonymous witch cracker these days), business/banking tactics, or wholesale espionage by your own government. Poor people will denigrate peers simply to watch another fall apart, lie for menial short term gains, and compete in social networking popularity contests.

    I am not suggesting I’d know better than the vanity rant article, but I have been very fortunate in several businesses – think x-ray vision for clowns.

    Eventually you will learn that all businesses must become a dictatorship to survive:

  8. Just to nitpick and nay-say, before you make megabots you need everything involved to be two orders of magnitude stronger and a lot lighter than anything there is today. Just calculate the acceleration and load on the joints of a 20 foot arm that accelerates like someone throwing a punch. As you said, do the math first before you spread the idea.

    And really? Cars have been a single edged sword? You need to start getting up at 4:30 to harness the horses. Or do you dream of living in a medieval “city” laid out by da Vinci?

    Big projects are great but hackers and scientists who want to do social engineering make my sphincters snap shut.

    However, the greatest shortcoming of your assertions is that there is no “we”. And especially no global “we”.

    (And why does Musk want to go to Mars so badly? The Chinese will land an AAA gun on the Moon and own it, and completely control the Earth. Which will also end “unauthorized” shipping to/from Mars.)

    1. >”And why does Musk want to go to Mars so badly?”

      He doesn’t. It’s just that people keep throwing money at him whenever he opens his mouth and proposes something ridiculous, so he does.

      1. It’s because he’s from a generation that was promised cities in space during the 1970s and the government decided to flush the money for those plans down the toilet instead.
        Nixon axed NASA’s budget and created the DEA and the war on drugs which was a two trillion dollar failure that did an order of power more harm to society than the social issue it set out to solve.
        Imagine what NASA could have done of they got that money instead?

        1. Not much, given that NASA’s point isn’t to get stuff done, but to pay the military industrial complex to create jobs.

          And you forget that Elon Musk isn’t from the US. He’s from South Africa, so he doensn’t belong to the generation that was promised everything. He’s just here to exploit their broken dreams.

          1. Well reusable rocket technology is a pretty useful technology esp pertaining to my dreams for the future so at least we’re getting something useful out of his exploits.
            Self driving cars on the other hand I do not really care about and I think they may even be a mistake as they would allow the government to have more control over people’s movements and make society more brittle in that it’s would become much more susceptible to disruption by natural and man made disasters.
            Presently the road transportation infrastructure could be the one thing that stops a Carrington class CME from causing another dark age.
            Petroleum powered cars and trucks would likely survive and refineries could be powered with local diesel or gas turbine generators.
            So transport will still work and new distribution transformers and network switches can be delivered to where they are needed.
            SDV’s generally need a working communication and navigational infrastructure which would be damaged so you have a catch 22.
            You need to fix that infrastructure first but the parts can’t get there without transport.

          2. We vote on infrastructure bond’s and levies locally all the time. Most of the money evaporates. The rest gets spent on the studies of the feasibility of choochoo trains that will confiscate right-of-way by eminent domain and cost $170K a foot. Funneling federal “infrastructure” money down that hole is a terrible idea.

          3. >”so at least we’re getting something useful out of his exploits.”

            The Tsiolkovsky rocket equation would like to disagree. The fuel required from traditional chemical rockets, ideally, to reach orbital velocity and then return back to the starting point uses up all of the payload fraction. To get all of the rocket back, you can launch exactly nothing.

            SpaceX returning just the first stage severily limits the mass of stuff they are able to launch, and the probability of failure – even if really low – means they’re unlikely to ever make it economical as it is. It’s a matter of opinion whether the whole endeavour is misguided and just wishful thinking, or a deliberate public money grab.

          4. @Nitori:
            I would like to have a self driving mode on my car. But of course still a steering wheel and brake/gas pedals. And anybody who thinks about prohibiting human drivers should immediately be prohibited from any political power.

  9. With every innovative change comes the variables that support it in reality. Often negative people are just attached to their way of thinking. But the same can be said of innovators. Those who have succeeded in changing the world, with some magnitude, have had detractors. Sometimes what was said in opposition was a correct prediction. The innovator may have looked upon that prediction as a positive, rather than a negative. History records favorably those whose changes match the perspective of the now. And that history is subject to change within each culture.

    We should not limit our aims by the view of our opposition. This article expresses well the need for willing and able visionaries. But a mindful view of what is lost with each change should be acknowledged. While the loss may seem appropriate, it may become irrevocable. Great inventions are meant to be used. But the invention is not limited to the inventors ideals of the its proper application. Even if initially applied wisely, once it has taken root it may not be easy to prevent its perversion.

    It could be that there is no reason to fear mans ignorance in the face of great power. Perhaps if his changes be detrimental to his kind for long spans of time, this is required. We could one day ourselves be the devices, with a superior man made intellect designing our role in an evolving nature. It could be said that with all mankind of one mind we would have peace. If that single awareness is intravenously fed to the whole race, as a means to develop a never before seen integration of mans efforts, the single dreamer wishing to innovate something drastically different might never happen. You could end up with the same self similarity that the article correctly suggests we now face.

    Perhaps what should be hacked is the tendency to curb every anomalous innovation into the machine of self similarity. Though the consumer application may have the largest following, the availability of that innovation in working and easy reach of access should not be funneled only through the drives that cement stagnation.

    With the inspiration suggested in this article, I add that there should with it a release of fear when investing in the obscure. So many excellent examples of what this article suggests never reach beyond a moments notice. As soon as the landscape is opened, a large corporation offers a centralized counterpart that reseeds the development in a direction that largely begs the question, “why use or develop anything other than this?”. Mountainous quantities of code provided for free from large investors that no one feels we can walk away from. Is that free?

    We have platforms like Tribler, that could have been the actual alternative to Youtube. Youtube worked good now. The freedom to express your views, through a powerful filter.

    The spirit of the article that I think is most important, is the willingness to walk away from our need to inspire only when it matches some heavily embraced criteria. Then when building that deviation keeping in view that it can easily contribute to the same thing that resisted its becoming. I am suggesting exhaustive brilliance in hacking. Hacking the actual problem.

  10. IoT? What about security – it might be used as a giant botnet, and you can’t even update it. Negative thinker! Naysayer! Why does Windows XP need a firewall anyway.

    They’d still solve ultra-durable, easy to maintain glass roadways with active lighting, sensor networks, and underground utilities? Would that be so bad?

    It would not be bad if you are the one paying for them. And we won’t even have those – by “solve” it must mean to provide the same

    http://interestingengineering.com/solar-roadways-engineering-failure/ – Epic fail, and I’m paying for the failure.

    Tesla is the ultimate crony capitalist. End tax subsidies and he’s bankrupt. A123 and Solyndra? Feel free to pay via something like Kickstarter or Indegogo for anything you want, but what you seem to want is for the magic government money fairy to subsidize your imagination.

    And the other side. It would be nice to be able to drive to my local train tracks, park in a garage car, and let the train take me to near my destination while I chill, use the dining car, etc. But there are too many regulations. Some talk about long-haul self-driving trucks, but they would operate all but alongside EXISTING railroad tracks that only need one driver now, it would require almost no sensors since they have right of way, closed crossings, and are on tracks, and can move the equivalent of 400 trucks for the same amount of fuel. So why aren’t the simpler and far more efficient railroads next to the interstate used instead of trying to do self-driving trucks? Short answer: the railroads are a government heavily regulated but protected monopoly. You can’t get anything done.

    We can eliminate whole species? Do tell. Lets get rid if invasive species like the Pythons in Florida, Fire Ants, Africanized Honeybees, Kudzu, Zebra Mussels, and a large number of others which aren’t native to the USA if we have that power.

    The moment you try to innovate, OSHA, the EPA, the IRS or a whole bunch of bureaucrats descend on you like a school of piranha. But the moment you try to suggest reducing regulation there is a chorus of screeches – often from the same people trying to say I should imagine and innovate – that I’m trying to destroy the earth and kill people.

    Get government out of the way, cut taxes to the minimum, and see what happens.

    1. Well, there’s an awful lot of stuff you could do, which would be a very terrible (net) thing to do. That is where you need OSHA, the EPA, the IRS etc. If you could trust people not to do the most profit generating, short term thing you wouldn’t need them. Would you dispute that requiring a chemical worker to be supplied with proper protection is a good thing? That’s expensive, so if I were a unscrupulous business person I wouldn’t bother. No dispute that government doesn’t always get it right, but to say that the world is worse because of OSHA or the EPA is somewhat blinkered. Personally I think the most egregious situations are where private and public meet, for example see your railroad example, and the worst traits of both are exposed (regulatory capture).

      And as to eliminating whole species, really? You’ve never heard of the passenger pigeon? Not to mention the many other species we have driven to extinction either deliberately or accidentally…

      1. The issue there is regulatory capture. Like the FDA, the very industries that these bureaucracies were created to regulate quickly turned them into a tool to crush competition and insulate the big players from meaningful oversight. The revolving door of bureaucrat to executive to bureaucrat ensures that Big Corp gets favorable regulations it has the deep pockets to comply with, while potential start ups that might upset the apple cart don’t. Organics are a really good current example of regulatory capture. When organic standards were largely a voluntary, membership affair overseen by private non profits, they were trustworthy. Since Congress handed that authority to an ‘official’ bureaucracy, genuine organic producers and concerned citizens have had to fight a brutal battle to keep Big Ag from rendering organic standards meaningless, a battle we are gradually losing.

        1. Absolutely, big anything tends to poison the well sadly. I wish people weren’t so venal and often just unashamedly immoral, but such is human nature. I presume you’re an organic farmer? Good work, and I can only offer my support.

        2. Questionable at best. When the standards for organics (talking in the US, certified organic) were initially set up, they were fundamentally flawed by idiology. They could have gone for minimizing adverse impact, or for using what is “natural.” The “natural” crowd won out.

          Thus many pesticides that are approved for organic use are more harmful than conventional alternatives. (Think copper compounds as fungicides. Less effective (so have to use more),
          less specific (so more damage to other parts of ecosystem – worms are especially sensitive to copper), long half life (build up in soils).) Other examples: nicotinic acid, rotnone.

          Organic suffered from lack of testing and review from the start. Certainly some good ideas, but if don’t test/verify/do science on them, don’t get good results. (And organic managed to sidestep the review processes that conventional must undergo. So we don’t know how much organic pesticide residue on it, etc.)

    2. What happens when you get rid of OSHA, FDA, EPA, ….?
      Lots of people die or suffer debilitating injuries.
      A few people get rich.

      Read your history. Read Dickens. Go to places without environmental protections.
      Go live in Flint, Michigan.

      People subject people to some horror in the pursuit of profit.
      The subjects are horrified and make a fuss.
      Protections are put in place (regulations, people say we shouldn’t do this.)
      Time passes.
      The people who lived the horror retire, new generations come along.
      They say “deregulation,” lets do away with these policies/agencies/oversite/etc.
      People again subject people to the horror.

      The cycle repeats – whether economic (cyclical economic crashes), health/medicine
      (we don’t remember how bad vaccine preventable diseases are, let’s stop using
      vaccines, so our children can experience what we never have.), …

      1. Bureucracy tends to create laws to justify itself, not to solve actual problems, so from time to time it is actually necessary to prune back the branches or else the whole society becomes paralyzed.

  11. so for an example of an ambitious project, you decided to pick solar freaking roadways?

    There is a time and place for tactical optimism, but solar roadways are stupid.

    we have all this roof space, hundreds of acres of it, that are not being used for solar cells yet. if we filled all of them, we wouldn’t even need the solar roadways, because we would already have filled our power consumption needs.

    there are plenty of ambitious projects that deserve attention, but just make sure you aren’t accidentally backing something dumb.

  12. HaD, There’s a LOT of POLITICAL IDEOLOGICAL BIAS in this article. Many of us have been WARNED against posting anything with a political slant here on HaD. Yet this article violates this edict. I’m sad :-( At-lease preface an article like this with a Disclaimer.

  13. “We want to solve the small problems first, and see if we have time for the big problems later. We don’t dream big enough, and there is zero reason for this hesitation. We could leverage our planetwide power for planetwide improvements. Nothing is truly stopping us. No law, no government, nothing.”

    That is a heck of an assertion. Where I live it takes 10 years and millions of dollars just to get the permits for putting up a new building. There is plenty to stop you that is law and government, and “nothing” must = special interest groups.

    1. He’s talking in the Robespierre “We”

      It’s not about what you can do, but what you ought to be able to do, if you just throw everything up and have a big ol’ revolution and guillotine people who haven’t got the good sense to agree with what you unilaterally define as the will of the people.

      1. Its Left Hegelianism. Marx was a Left Hegelian. And Lenin. That is where it always goes. “We” can have better cities if we just have better people or vice-versa –> a new generation of brutal youth, tyranny of democracy, eugeneics, re-eduction, camps, dictatorship, starvation, revolution from the outside.

  14. This article is only relevant to wealthy Bay area hackers. The rest of us have hard economic realities that limit what we can do. This is why we can only support one Elon Musk – the greater-than-ever amount of wealth that exists now is distributed more unequally than ever before in known history.

    You know what happens if you wake up one morning and decide to build a giant fighting robot when you’re not a wealthy Bay area (or other tech hotspot like Austin, Boston etc) hacker? Things might go OK for the first two days. On the third day or so you’ll lose your job for going AWOL from your 9-to-5. That’s a thing most people can’t afford to give up at all. Then you won’t get any investors because you’d be lucky to get any investment for even the most plain-jane low-risk tech startup outside of those tech hotspots, never mind your Big Dumb Idea. A few months in you’ll be evicted and you’ll be trying to sell the one or two giant fighting robot parts you could afford on your own dime so you can buy food. When you don’t get any buyers, you’ll be living inside a giant fighting robot part for shelter. After a year or so you’ll be lucky if someone doesn’t find your smelly hobo corpse in there.

    The advice in this article requires a post-scarcity Star Trek economy to pull off, or a functionally similar amount of wealth and opportunity, which is unavailable to almost the entire human population.

    1. “the greater-than-ever amount of wealth that exists now is distributed more unequally than ever before in known history.”

      Irrelevant when the individuals all have more than before, no matter how much one of them has. It means productivity in some areas has recently grown by a couple orders of magnitude.

      It is like saying the US consumes (say) 70% of the World’s oil. A misstatement of fact. The US consumes 70% of the oil produced for people who want to buy it. The amount pumped to meet demand has nothing to do with the World’s supply of oil.

      Totally agree with the unfeasible nature of the proposal.

      1. Relevant in relation to one’s environment. One could be in an environment where $5/hr is better than the person halfway across the world making pennies on the dollar, but if the bread one desires is $100 that inequality becomes important.

      2. “Productivity” in the US is measured in terms of GDP, not actual production of goods and resource.

        That means “productivity” increases even when you -waste- resources to do something pointless, like have people pay to watch you squirt paint out of your vagina. It’s simply a measure of how much money is going around in the economy.

          1. They don’t use iPhones and Samsung refridgerators in where they’re actually made. Mostly.

            China has export subsidies for companies that don’t sell their products locally, to protect their domestic industries.

  15. Wow! I feel inspired……… “to set up a kickstarter to build a perpetual motion machine”

    Don’t get me wrong, people trying to achieve things that somebody else thinks they can’t.. that’s awesome. Taking people’s money for something that basic physics known for decades or even centuries proves is unworkable… that’s a con.

    “To put it simply, as far as technology goes, everything is still low-hanging fruit.”
    Yeah.. all those people who put whole lifetimes into making some small part of our technology a reality… WTF took them so long? That was just low hanging fruit!

    “Negative people get attention with no work.”
    Yeah, painstakingly analyzing the physics behind an idea is no work at all.

    “They seem smart without ever having to justify it.”
    Claims require evidence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. When you listen to people making claims, positive or negative you should be critically evaluating what you are hearing just the same. If you aren’t.. that’s your fault.

    “They put nothing forth,”
    Except to educate people about valid scientific concepts behind why some things cannot work.
    And to help prevent con artists from scamming unsuspecting people.
    And to help well meaning people direct limited money, time and energy towards things that actually have a chance of benefiting the world.

    “and the start up cost is low for anyone to jump on the bandwagon.”
    But the startup cost for me to set up my perpetual motion machine kickstarter is just immense in comparison right!
    And high startup costs are the thing which makes something worthwhile!

    “Every big idea is risky.”
    Nice generalization. I will grant you though that most big ideas are risky.

    “Every risk has a thousand reasons why it will fail.”
    No.
    Nearly every risk has a thousand reasons why it MIGHT or maybe even PROBABLY will fail.
    But some have clear reasons why they definitely WILL fail and are thus a waste of time.

    “Many ideas start out traveling in the wrong direction and end up solving something else along the way.”
    Yes.
    But many ideas are not all that original and somebody else has already gone there and solved that problem.
    Why not learn from the people who came before you?

    “For example. What about solar roadways?”
    OH BOY! Here comes the snake oil!

    “So what if they’ll likely never produce enough power to offset their cost?”
    Yes, so what benefit will they ever bring to their investors?
    What new thing will be learned in the process?
    What is there in a “Solar Roadway” tile that is new to the world?

    “They’d still solve ultra-durable, easy to maintain glass roadways”
    No, that’s just a claim their proponents have made with NO JUSTIFICATION.
    That’s the difference between a visionary worth listening to and a common huckster. They just repeat a claim over and over until the non-critical listener forgets that they never explained why/how it can be true.
    Solar roadway tiles are far less durable than plain old asphalt.

    “with active lighting”
    That can’t be seen in daylight and runs out of power shortly into the night.

    “sensor networks”
    arguably cool although we certainly have that technology today

    “and underground utilities?”
    No, we have that. This is inter-tile utilities, A maintenance nightmare.

    “Would that be so bad?”
    Everything!

    Well.. gotta go, out of time. I wanted to keep going through the rest of this article but I have somewhere more important to be.

    Anyway… yes, stay open to new ideas. But.. NEVER EVER turn off your brain and accept what people are selling un-critically! That kind of thinking is the domain of religion, not science and technology. For thousands of years we saw the wonderful things that kind of thinking brings us. Let’s not go there any more!

    OH. P.S. Fighting robots.. cool! Why would that be in the same class as “Solar Freaking Roadways?” Making unfounded claims of structural durability as well as violating the laws of physics is not the same thing as taking a risk on a [mostly] untested entertainment medium. Can someone name any known physical laws that Megabots violate?

    And.. Money is not unlimited. Try telling the scientists who are working today to find a prevention and/or cure to cancer, Alzheimer’s, body odor or whatever ailment you are destined to one day die from that they have access to unlimited money. Enjoy getting laughed at!

    1. Ahahahaa, what classic smack-down, I couldn’t have put it better! He deserved it too for setting up that “us vs them” false dichotomy with the naysaying attack on rational and critical peer review.

      So I guess you are not expecting to get a refund for your failed membership application to the Cult of Musk then?

    2. If this inspires someone to do something that they weren’t already going to do, then great. However, when you start with

      “Humanity is a planetwide force. We have the power to change our weather. We have the power to change the shape of the land. We have the power to selectively wipe a species from this earth if we choose. We’ve had this power for a while and we’re still coming to terms with it. Many of us even deny it.”,

      your bullshit alarms should immediately go off. For this kind of thing, I like to refer people to one of the greatest modern philosophers I know of.

      1. Carlin speaks like a disillusioned hippy who got caught up in the Gaia hypothesis and then realized that it’s bull.

        The Gaia hypothesis was borne out of some bad science in the 60’s and 70’s that tried to prove that nature exists in balance, that wherever you look the predators and the prey etc. tend to form a stable equilibrium, which was then picked up by hippies to argue that the entire planet is one living organism.

        Too bad the science was cooked up, and there actually is not stable equilibrium in nature. Every predator-prey system eventually runs into a corner, which is why 99.999% of species have gone extinct, and nature isn’t a closed loop self-regulating system, but more of an open loop, like a person sitting in the middle of a seesaw – if it drifts too much to either side no amount of wiggling will return it to center.

        So the plane is not “fine”. It’s rather by coincidence and by circumstances that we’re not a ball of fire or a ball of ice, and there’s nothing the planet itself is doing to control that. Life has caused self-destructive catastrophes in the past that did turn the entire climate around, like the oxygen catastrophe that consumed all the methane from the atmosphere and triggered a 300 million year long ice-age from which life barely crawled out after having poisoned itself to begin with.

        People do have an impact on the planet – we are today’s cyanobacteria. Just because we’re not omnipotent doesn’t mean we don’t matter.

        1. I don’t think nature cares if there is a nuclear holocaust. Nature does balance out. Just not in the way people like to think it does. The problem with the gaian mindset, is thinking that things are somehow out of balance. Human thought is a product of nature. So is A.I. and weapons of mass destruction. Each and every invention of man is made up of and exists because of nature. Even with the destruction of Earth, as we know it, nature keeps hopping along happy as can be. Desolation and radiation are products of nature. The isolation of nature within a human defined balance of homeostasis, has nothing to do with the fact that it is all one organism. But you can’t even stop at Earth itself. Take a man, put his lone body in space, and the result is still a relation of reactions that can only be divided once you have a mind to make distinctions between components. The human body is made of many organisms. But if you remove all reality other than one of the organism, you have something that cannot exist.

          While the gaia theory can be applied in several different ways, executing expression of different agendas, science is no different. Both are often ignorant in the same way and practical for different intents. Science often puts it in a dark corner that man using the scientific method is an act of nature. Not intentionally, but it isn’t always relevant to the task of scientific research that this fact is remembered. Gaia is often used to express that scientific development that provides results not found in a isolated view of nature, is somehow not natural.

          Religion plays an interesting role here. It is equal with it friends in that often the mind of man cannot be a natural thing. It does so by ignoring that all is not righteous is also created by the same power that provides the discernment of what is righteous. Even Satan exists by the power of god. For a god to be almighty, it must be all powerful (the source of all power, the power source of everything). So if an Almighty god creates a angel that has no freewill, but still manages to fall from grace, and that angel becomes defiant; does that suddenly give the angel a source of power beyond that of the “all” mighty god?

          So it seems that no one is interested in investigating that the mind of man is generated by the very drive of everything else. Especially scientists that are hoping to hold themselves up as gods, by evolving themselves beyond the chains of nature. One of the most bizarre contradictions ever. But I do admit that, many times in history, what some men have called a god, was just another man that knew something the masses didn’t. The living descendants of some Japaneses god emperors, are very human.

          Even the most perfect scientifically devised paradise, will have loss because if its occurring. Those that live in it may find that loss acceptable. But it is equally in balance with a world dying from toxic overtake. Even cancer is nature trying to live.

          1. You talk so much you’re confused by words.

            >”Nature does balance out. Just not in the way people like to think it does.”

            “Balance” implies a center to return to – a right state of things. There is none. Nature is not in balance – nature just IS.

  16. Worth mentioning that a “hyperloop” was invented in ’70 by Henri Coanda. Roadpoints: in 1971 a 300 meters tube in Bucharest, In 1974 a 300 meteres tube for goods and a 1600 meters tube for pasengers on Prahova county (Romania). Finaly – two systems for ore transport on Baia Mare şi Caraorman. Link in romanian language (video+photo): http://stiri.tvr.ro/vizionarul-coanda-si-calatoria-mintii-din-romania-in-sua-sistemul-de-transport-prin-tub-vidat_34005.html#view By the way, “Who was the first?” is a never ending discussion on Hackaday and … I like it! Apologise for my english.

  17. Nice, except for a few details.

    “We have the need for and have the resources to support ten thousand Elon Musks, not just the one.”

    Just how do I get these resources? Last time I checked, I was broke. Unless you START with a billion dollars, there is very little likelihood of anyone ever giving you a million dollars, or even 1000. Unless you can lie like Trump, no one is going to give you money. At least in my experience, but hey, I haven’t been able to talk people into giving me money.

  18. So while I appreciate the inspiration from the article, here’s why it takes me ten years to do anything. First comes the idea phase – a rough amalgamation of concept that requires two things. A lot of money and a bunch of time. Paycheck to paycheck here. And no one that I can talk to who understands a lot of technical or mechanical details who wants to be involved with building or prototyping things around my work schedule. Anyone want to come to central Texas on the weekends to just build and break stuff and eventually come up with a business enterprise?

  19. “Don’t Worry About the Money”
    “Stop With the Concept Art. Start Doing”
    “Stop With the One Man Shows”

    These are contradictory. The “trillions” of investment capital that is floating around ONLY GOES to the people who make the concept art. I’ve seen time and again, people with real functional ideas, even proven prototypes, are MILLIONS of times less likely to get funding than the concept art guy.

    The reason? the funding out there is only available for pyramid schemes. The “investors” are interested only in turning a quick buck, not being productive. The more useful your idea, the more valuable it is to the general economy and everyone in it, the less likely it will be funded.

    One Man Shows are a bit of a red herring. The fact is, in order to make their pyramid schemes work, investors want startups to have “5 guys”. This is for a lot of reasons, but the more important thing to focus on is these 2 points: 1) Even in the “5 guys” layout, they are investing in the one leader guy, the ideas guy, the one who is like them and just dictates but doesn’t ever actually get their hands dirty. So you still kind of need a “one man show”, especially to convince them that out of the 5 guys, you are the one that they want in that position. 2) It is prejudicial against people who actually have a really good idea and haven’t found any allies yet, and bigoted towards people who have large social groups

    This article is clearly written by someone privileged who has never actually had to try to create something big and productive on their own.

    1. If the article wasn’t so obviously bullshit, we could have it inscribed in stone for when humanity goes extinct, under “THIS IS WHY THINGS WENT WRONG”. It might help the future cockroach-people slap down their bullshit artists, when the time comes.

  20. I disagree with a fair bit of this rhetoric in this post.

    Also, that is not a rendering, bro, that is one of the 3D prints painted and photographed. Note:go big or go home is a trite empty statement often made by someone who never had to struggle to even go small, because of whatever conditions they have always enjoyed, such as being born wealthy.

  21. Furthermore, there is reasons humaniytarianism isnt profitable, generally, and saying it ‘should be’ is just easy to say.

    Inequity in our system represents businessplans. The bigger the inequity, the more $ someone is making off it.

    Skarp is a example of ‘just go and do it!!!! logic be damned!’. They took a lot of money from presumably middle class people. They will never ship a product.

  22. So what good would megabots be in agriculture, or disaster relief, or construction? (Or what subsidiary technology would develop that would be useful in those areas?)

    Take agriculture – typically done in large, fairly level areas with a soft surface (soil) that wish to avoid compaction, covered with many small plants. Wheeled transport works fairly well.
    A hoverboard might be better (if it were economical).
    Small walking RPV or robot – maybe.
    Horses, etc. – readily available fueling, can handle some forms of rough terrain, somewhat self-repairing, easy to replicate the technology (mobile and self-replicating).

    What do megabots add? What jobs would they or their kin be especially suited for?

    Likewise in disaster relief?

    1. Of course megabots would be useful in construction and disaster relief. You have absolutely no imagination. A humanoid megabot could take the place of complicated crane maneuvers and make building skyskapers like playing with [your-favorite-brand-kids-building-toy]. Same goes for clearing rubble in a disaster. Combine heat cameras and chemical “nose” sensor and it can find and rescue people/dogs/one-of-a-kind-research-items or whatever you are looking for in the rubble.

        1. Yep. The strenght of a beam scales in its cross-section while the mass of it scales with the volume, so larger machines are actually proportionally weaker. A human scaled up to 30 meter size would break bones just trying to walk.

          The way around that is careful optimization of the structure, which leads to thin spindly things like construction cranes.

  23. I was with you until “Don’t think about the money” and I think I found my stopping point for the time being. Not withstanding how generally inspiring this article is, I can’t not worry about money. I have busted my ass in the workforce for less than two decades and I’ve never risen above just “hey I can eat and sleep in a nice bed, and I guess I’m mostly healthy.” My workload is also insane still because it’s just the nature of the work I found myself in, and I don’t have the budget for a career change.
    As awesome as your idea is, I think I’m still only ever going to be able to support anything along this train of thought from the sidelines. Until something changes or I find a better opportunity, I’ll probably stick with the small stuff.

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