Flying Cars are a Terrible Idea
Futurists often lament the lack of flying cars, but if they gave it more than a moment’s thought, they’d realize what a terrible idea they are. I would go so far as to say a lot of “futuristic” ideas that haven’t happened yet haven’t happened not because humanity is not capable of creating them, but that if we ever did, it would end very badly, but let’s focus on the flying cars for now.
The trite response to the claim that there are no flying cars is: “Yes there are, they are called airplanes”. This answer doesn’t get at what flying car advocates want, but it does help to highlight some of the problems with flying cars.
1. Fuel efficiency – It takes a ton of fuel to lift several tons thousands of feet in the air. Furthermore, optimal fuel efficiency for airplanes is at high speeds and high altitudes. You’re not going to get up to 500 mph and a mile in the air to go to the grocery store, which means burning a ridiculous amount of fuel. For both environmental and economic reasons, flying cars would be a tremendous waste of resources.
2. Safety – Currently, airplanes are far safer than passenger cars, but they are flown by professional pilots, often with military experience, and they get serviced by teams of mechanics every time they land. I know several people who don’t even get their oil changed every year, let alone every 5,000 miles. Do you really think those same people are going to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have a mechanic check their flying car on a regular basis? Currently, if someone crashes a car, which happens all the time, you have less than a 0.35% chance of dying. Now replace those 10 million accidents a year with accidents which have a 5-25% chance of killing everyone involved as well as potentially dozens of bystanders on the ground. That’s perhaps a twenty fold in the risk of death of an activity which is already one of the riskiest things modern people do. Throw in some liability lawsuits, and flying cars are not just dangerous, but also obscenely expensive.
3. Terrorism – Think 9/11 was bad? Try living in a world were every terrorist can just hop on down to their local flying car dealership and buy a 10,000 lbs bomb capable of flying at 500 mph. Flying cars would be the weapon of choice for terrorists everywhere and attacks would be far too common.
4. Better Alternatives – Most traveling people do is either to work or to a store. Fortunately, humanity has developed better alternatives to strapping yourself to a jet engine and zooming around to do both of these tasks: telecommuting and online purchases. Light travels a lot faster than a jet, and with an internet connection, you can work from home. Even if you only telework half the time, that’s still a huge savings in travel time. With Amazon, you can have anything you want delivered to your house by the next day. Sure, you could get it a bit faster in terms of time if you go to the store yourself, but in terms of effort, there is no comparison at all. Five minutes at the computer substitutes for even a “lightning quick” 30 minute jet car trip to the store. Self driving cars promise to be faster and safer than normal cars, and since the driver wouldn’t have to focus on the road, the time spent commuting wouldn’t be wasted time.
How does one evaluate the value of a technological development? I would say that a technology is valuable if it improves the lives of normal people. It’s hard to see how enormous buildings or vast public works achieve that end, let alone the more frivolous technologies predicted in ages past. I think stagnationists should be clearer about what aspects of human existence they want or expect to improve. I’m pretty happy with my Roomba (less time spent on chores), internet (higher quality and cheaper entertainment), and steadily advancing life expectancy.