Home

WhoControlsVehicles

Technical design decisions relating to the control of SkyTran vehicles may have a big impact on the way communities develop. One I think may be crucial: if the vehicles (many of them eventually privately owned and operated) physically control where they exit, then the system will be much like today's automobile roads: I enter and exit the track where I like. Special measures like today's gates and guards will be required to control access. An elementary school's indoor portal would need monitoring to ensure that unidentified adults didn't enter the school; companies will need guards at portals to prevent theft or vandalism, etc.

Alternately, if the exits have the active magnetic switches (perhaps backed by mechanical blocks for especially sensitive areas to prevent a criminal's or terrorist's rogue vehicle from overwhelming the magnetic switching), then the power to control access to a portal or a section of the system will shift to those who design the network and its control mechanisms. Then the SkyTranEqualsElevator ideas of managed SkyTran portals as an integral part of a virtual building (and company facility) spanning many miles, or the SafeTran secure transport of handicapped people, will work well.

However, this approach also will have a cloud (albeit with its own silver lining). The social cohesion, justice and prosperity of today's America (Britain, even France) are weakened by suburban housing patterns that (absolutely by design) separate rich and poor far, far away. Separating jobs far away from potential workers; removing successful people and their influence from young people starving for positive role models; making the problems of poor people seem distant and irrelevant to many of those most capable of helping to solve them -- is a moral blot and a practical inefficiency in our societies. Unfortunately, a track-controlled SkyTran will make the gated-community housing model far cheaper and more convenient to apply, perhaps leading to its being much more widespread. No need to hire guards and be inconvenienced -- a bit of software and some electronic credentials will let residents choose exactly who may visit their neighborhood, where they may go and when. The maid may only exit at the stop next to the Jefferson's house between 9 and 12 on Monday's and Fridays, and at the Anderson's from 1 to 4 on Wednesdays; I allow the washing machine repairman to come this Thursday -- but they can't go anywhere else in town or come at any other time.

Such snootiness could be outlawed, of course, but history suggests it's unlikely to be. The token black guy in my science club in high school talked about visiting a friend in the tony community nearby; then having a police car roll slowly behind him all the way out of their hallowed streets.

However, even allowing such petty snobbery may have a silver lining. Secure in the knowledge that drug pushers and muggers and panhandlers and undesirable company for their daughters and sons can't enter their little enclaves, rich folks may be more willing to live in relatively close proximity to the poor -- including in energy-efficient dense cities. With 100 MPH transport direct to their destinations instead of miserably inadequate public transportation options, every adult who is willing to work will be able to travel to any available job throughout a large metropolitan area, suburbs and all.

Even menial work can be a ladder out of poverty. For example, my wife and I were both impressed by Yale professor Hugh Comer's book, _Maggie's American Dream_. His hard-working mother and father fought through myriad obstacles facing a poor black family trying to get ahead in 1930's and 1940's Illinois, launching their children on highly successful professional careers from the incomes of a maid and a mill worker -- and magnificent personal and community values, including Maggie's observations and advice from her successful white employers. I know that my mother paid part of her black maid's college tuition from her own savings in segregated 1950's Virginia. Wanting to help others and learning and profiting from their different examples and values are natural when you get to know people, even in asymmetric situations.

A counter-example is the chapter in the book _Freakonomics_, "Why do Dope Dealers Still Live With Their Mothers?" Answer: although rank-and-file crack dealers made less than minimum wage and had 4 times the risk of being killed as the average Death Row inmate, they were following their dream of success -- despite their tiny chance of reaching that level, crack barons were the most visible image of success they could see.

However, convenient universal public transportation will bring poor people to all kinds of jobs and educational opportunities, not just menial ones. The articles on ExtremeCustomization, ExtremeJustInTime, etc. point out that a large amount of manufacturing activity is likely to return to dense cities, together with many small but highly efficient entrepreneurial businesses (ExtremeOutsourcing, LittleShopOfWonders) and mobile tradespeople (SuperConsultants) and many associated jobs (e.g. SuperSevenEleven). An explosion of new and changed jobs, all of which they can easily reach, will dramatically increase poor people's opportunities.

The other side of this equation is that employers everywhere will be able to draw on a far larger and literally more mobile pool of workers. Combining the specificity and instant access of today's electronic job resources with the physical ability of millions of people throughout a metropolitan area to show up for any job on offer is likely to speed the pace of business activity dramatically. Want to open 200 new stores this quarter? Recruit live bands for every restaurant in your chain on weekends? Give every public school in New York an energy efficiency overhaul over the Summer? Not only recruiting but temporary and contract employers, unions and professional associations will ramp up their abilities to locate and match up people with openings.

-- 07:27, 8 March 2009 (UTC)