Jim Hopkins explains why we live in exhilarating but scary times, thanks to automation, and his future of “auto trains” that will let us drive as we now fly and why the new world will train itself, as our children train us now.
You don’t mess with the Editor of this here magazine. He’s as grizzled as Richie McCaw, sulphurous as Etna and pricklier than a pillow full of tacks. So when he says; “Just stick to training and automation,” the only sensible response is, “How tight?”
Well, very tight indeed, in fact, because “automation” and “training” are actually linked in mysterious ways, even if the connection’s not immediately apparent. But it’s there. Believe me. All will be revealed. You see, “training” starts with “train.” And “automation” starts with “auto” and never the twain shall meet – which is why they have bells and barriers at level crossings.
And why there’s been much debate in the City of Snails (i.e. everyone travelling at peak times) about which is the better mode of transportation.
The ‘trainers’ want rails, the ‘auto-mates’ want roads. The trainers hate cars, the auto-mates hate trains and both have no truck with the other. Ever anxious to foster a blood-fest, the mainstream media has happily poured petrol onto this conflict, regularly demonising cars as the root (and rotten) cause of flood, famine, pestilence, boils, melting glaciers, dying dolphins, the never-ending cooking shows on television and every other dire consequence of global warming. At the same time, and often in the same edition, the Inner City Rail Loop has become the $2.4 billion dollar elephant in the ratepaying room, derided by frantic hacks as profligate proof of the Council’s fiscal promiscuity and clear evidence the Mayor can go off the rails in more ways than one.
Angry ratepayers are refusing to be “trained” as their Council desires. And everyone’s at loggerheads. Great for circulation – if you’re a paper. Not so good for circulation – if you’re a city. But there’s an obvious answer. And it could be a case of Plus ca change, plus c’est même chose (The more things change, the more they stay the same). Here’s why.
We know cars are in a tranformational phase today, thanks to new energy sources, propulsion systems and spectacular increases in computing power. Equally, as the article on page 24 of this issue reveals, the electrification of Auckland rail has involved enormous innovation and many exportable initiatives.
So both modes are future-savvy and would work. But here’s a radical thought. Perhaps a hybrid will emerge. Perhaps the train of the future will run on … the road. Bumper to bumper, driverless – or, more precisely, driven by computers – running like trains but with the benefits of a car. There’s no reason why this can’t happen. And every reason why it should.
Automation is the final phase of the Industrial Revolution. Initially, it made machines we could operate. Now it’s making machines that operate themselves. We have automata everywhere. Factories full of robots, needing neither lunch breaks nor unions, skies full of drones, sensibly obliterating obnoxious zealots who’ve chosen to declare war on the rest of us.
Yes, it’s true drones don’t always hit the right target. It’s also true that precision is the only protection war can offer the innocent and drones are infinitely more precise than a 1000 bomber raids. They’re the future of flight.
As 3D printers are the future of manufacturing. These astonishing devices will soon be churning out human hearts and other body parts, not to mention hub caps, hammers, helmets and anything else we want to produce in our very own in-shed factory.
We live in exhilarating times. Scary too, but exhilarating above all else. 20 years from now, the world will be a very different place, filled with splendours still undreamt. Like “auto trains” letting us drive as we fly now; eating breakfast, watching telly or reading a book while our self-drive car zooms from A2B of its own accord. In fact, Honda’s already tested such “auto trains,” running cars with magnetised bumpers linked like railway carriages. And Google’s selfdrive car is up and running and legal in several US States. And good will come of this. Automation will rule the rails or the roads – whichever it prefers. Motivation + innovation will decide. Let the new world train itself. As our children train us now. It’s not Moses who reveals the secrets of the tablets. It’s them! And they’ll be running the world in 20 years’ time. The moral’s clear.
Fear not. These are topsy-turvy times. Sit back and enjoy them.
Let tomorrow find the solution to its own problems. Which it will.
Because it always has.