When the pandemic first hit, many people joked that we had become the Jetsons. After all, many of us work over monitors. We’ve got wristwatch computers and flat-screen TVs. We even have electronic assistants and housecleaners, even if they’re named Alexa and Roomba rather than Rosie.
But there was always one big exception. One that rose to the level of a meme.
“Where’s my flying car?”
Well, the favorite sci-fi staple may finally be waiting in the wings (er, so to speak). The Associated Press recently reported that the Alef Aeronautics Model A has received its airworthiness certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. Ironically enough, it’s still waiting for its highway certification, but if that goes ahead, the Model A could hit the market in 2025.
Er … yay?
I’m a sci-fi geek. (I know, you’re shocked.) So part of me does find it cool. But I’m also a long time Front Range resident. And so, I have to ask the obvious question.
“Flying cars? Have you seen the way people drive when they’re on the ground?”
OK, curmudgeon moment over for now. But it brings up a couple of useful reminders.
The first is that, even with the most amazing technologies, there are always tradeoffs. The automobile came as a godsend to many large cities, where horse manure had become a serious public health hazard. (New York City alone had to deal with 100,000 tons per year at one point in the 1880s.) Nobody had yet anticipated that we’d also have to deal with carbon emissions, drive-throughs on every corner, and people who head for the grocery store at 70 mph with no turn signals.
But in a way, that’s the easy one. We make changes constantly in our world and we’ll make more. And while we regularly create problems, we also create possibilities. If we can see what needs doing, and we’re willing to seek a solution, we’ve got a chance.
But that brings up the bigger challenge: us.
To put it simply: technology can change rapidly. Human nature doesn’t change much at all.
Go back to ancient Rome and you’ll find parents complaining about how their kids have lost all respect for authority. (And probably kids complaining about how their parents are out of touch.) Step back even a century or two, and you’ll see people saying how morality is doomed because of the movies … or the waltz … or novels. And of course, we’ve all heard how customer complaints for bad service go back to the Bronze Age.
We still hope, worry, fear and wonder. We’re still capable of the most amazing bursts of creativity and the most idiotic bursts of stupidity imaginable. The tools can enhance that, but they don’t replace it. Even recent developments in AI are still set against a context of our wants, our anxieties, our priorities and our deep-seated need to see what Bart Simpson would have looked like in Shakespearean times.
That means we have choices to make. We always have. If we ignore everything except our own wants, needs and impulses, no tool ever invented will make things better. But if we reach to our neighbors with open hearts, if we let ourselves actually see the world instead of just the parts we like … well. That’s when we and our tools can work from the best of us.
It just takes a willingness to look to the horizon.
And while you’re looking, watch out for that Model A in the wrong lane.