Whatever happened to flying cars?

By Bill Colvard - [email protected]

The promised Modern World from my childhood remains elusive.

George Jetson had a flying car in 1962 and to this day, my car refuses to leave the ground in a controllable fashion nor do I live in a glass house in the sky.

But our soon-to-be new president does live in a glass house in the sky so maybe he’ll help get the rest of us glass-enclosed and skyward bound. That will be really helpful with parking if we ever do get the flying cars Hanna-Barbera promised us 55 years ago.

That cartoon-to-reality time lag seems a bit excessive. Cars should be flying already. A little follow through would be welcomed.

I know cars are going to be driving themselves pretty soon but shouldn’t the car manufacturers, excuse me, “transportation facilitators,” get the bloody things off the ground before they get distracted by details like perfecting auto-pilot?

Innovation has ground to a halt or at least a molasses-in-January crawl and frankly, I’m getting bored. Personal computers have been around for 30 years, the internet for 20 and even the iphone has been around for 10. But what has technology done for me lately?

And it’s not just technology. Fashion has ground to a halt as well. It used to be that men’s clothing became obsolete about once a decade and women’s clothing twice a year. But I’ve got shirts in my regular rotation that are older than my 27-year old daughter as she often points out to me, and just a few days ago, some women in the office were saying they were still wearing clothing of similar vintage. At no time in the previous century could a respectable person walk around in 30-year-old clothes and not look like Miss Havisham or The Dude on a bender.

A century ago people not only desired to move forward, they prepared for it. Some goofball invented the stop sign in 1890, a full 11 years before Henry Ford figured out the assembly line. So more than a decade before there were any cars to speak of, our ancestors wanted them so badly they were preparing for the inevitable traffic jams. Compare that to today when there are more than 90,000 Teslas on the road and hardly any charging stations out there.

But there could be hope on the horizon, or rather across the pond. A report from the European Parliament says that robots and artificial intelligence are about to “unleash a new industrial revolution, which is likely to leave no stratum of society untouched.”

Well, that certainly sounds promising. I wonder if this new industrial revolution will come with new shirts. I hope so. The old ones are getting a little snug.

If there’s anything that will get me to ease up on my frustration about the lack of flying cars in my life, Rosie the robot maid could very well be that thing. If it turns out I have to live the rest of my days without a flying car, I can handle that, if in exchange, I get someone who will clean the toilet regularly without a lot of drama or attitude. Children grow up and move out and housekeepers get green cards but the toilet still needs to be attended to.

But the European Parliament members are not convinced robots will be any more malleable than the unruly humans they replace. Next-generation robots don’t even exist yet, and the Europeans are already worried they might get uppity. That sounds like putting the stop sign before the car which could mean this thing is going to actually happen. Finally, somebody is showing some good, old-fashioned 1890s gumption and clearing the way for some progress at last.

In the event the robots do get out of hand, measures are being considered to handle the situation. Mandating a kill switch for any robots that get out of line is under consideration.

On the other hand, the civil rights of robots are not being ignored. Remember, we are talking about the EU, not the US. There is talk of giving robots the legal status of electronic persons. There’s also the inevitable and probably interminable talk of liability and whether it belongs to the owner of the robot or its designer or perhaps to the robot itself.

In a case of life imitating art or perhaps science imitating science fiction, the writers of the European Parliament report are looking to Isaac Asimov’s rules for robot safety because they believe robots “pose a challenge to humanity’s capacity to control its own creation and, consequently, perhaps also to its capacity to be in charge of its own destiny and to ensure the survival of the species.”

They are taking this thing seriously. As they should be, considering how opinionated Rosie the maid could get from time to time. But I am willing to deal with that if she’ll just clean the toilet with minimal unpleasantness.

I understand that caution in the face of the unknown is not a totally bad thing. but I would suggest it was Hal that went rogue, not C3PO. The horse may already be out of the barn.


By Bill Colvard

[email protected]

Reach Bill at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill at 336-415-4699.

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