Hyperloops and Sassy Robots: The Technology of Futurama
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Good news, everybody! Elon Musk, the philanthropist/buisnessman/mad scientist who founded PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors has announced plans for a new form of transportation: the Hyperloop. The proposed Hyperloop would be a huge tube that magnetically transports capsules within it at speeds approaching 700 miles per hour.
Musk claims that it will become a fifth mode of transportation, joining planes, trains, cars, and boats as a primary means of transporting people to their destinations.
Unfortunately, while the hyperloop sounds great in theory, it might not work out so well in practice. In the opening episode Matt Groening's influential documentary on the technology of the 30th century, Futurama, we see a Hyperloop that is disorienting, painful, and prone to failure. This is typical of the world of Futurama, which walks the line between utopian and dystopian. It shows us a vision of great technological wonders that never seem to improve the lives of anyone using them. To commemorate the end of the show's run next month, here is a review of what Futurama has taught us about several other future technologies.
The flying car is one of the most common requests when people are talking about future technology. "We were promised a flying car; where is our flying car?" Although there do seem to be commercially available flying cars in the 30th century, that doesn't make them a good idea. To illustrate the impracticality of the flying car, imagine a typical rush hour at an intersection near you. Now, extend that snarl to a third dimension. Add hyperloop tubes, all manner of starships, and various flying aliens to the mix, and the flying car begins to seem more like a mobile coffin than a means of transportation.
Interstellar parcel delivery
The cast of Futurama all work for Planet Express, a delivery business that specializes in transporting parcels throughout the known universe. From a physics standpoint, this entire business model is a scam. According to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, as an object approaches the speed of light, it also approaches infinite mass. In order to deliver anything over galactic distances in a reasonable length of time, a transport ship would have to exceed the speed of light, thereby increasing the mass of its cargo to infinity and beyond. If charging their client by weight, every package delivered would require infinite resources to ship. On the plus side, that infinite price tag is a flat rate that does not change with the volume of the merchandise.
Heads in jars
One of the unique aspects of Matt Groening's vision of the future is the ubiquity of heads in jars. From important cultural symbols like Pauly Shore to popular political icons like Richard Nixon, it seems like every celebrity from history is still around, chatting with anyone that enters their field of vision. These heads never seem to have anything of value to add, and just crave attention. While it is nice to see that the heads of Adam West and Burt Ward are still getting work, is it a good trade-off for having to live beneath the tyranny of Richard Nixon's head?