I consider myself a futurist – a techie, a geek, a singularitarian. A futurist is someone with a distinctive optimism for anything tech related – basically, a deranged daydreamer with his or her head in the clouds (the network variety, not the cumulus). My association with this movement is likely a byproduct of excessive video game playing, a history of reading exclusively science fiction, and an opportune run in with Singularity University’s finest.
There are a select number of key individuals who serve as figureheads of the futurist movement, and they originate from diverse backgrounds. There are futurists who operate as conjecturers of trends; these include the likes of Ray Kurzweil, Michio Kaku, and Carl Sagan. Additionally, a group of highly influential individuals manage the front lines of futurism primarily as entrepreneurs determined to introduce the latest disruptive technology to the fold. Notably, Steve Jobs, Craig Venter, and Larry Page are respectable illustrations of these roles.
There is a new member of the assembly that has been promoting an interesting glimpse of the future – The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk. He is well known for Tesla’s recent success in the electronic vehicle domain and has a new grand plan for the future of mass transit. For a young CEO he seems to have generated a decent amount of street cred amongst the tech elite and journalists. He boasts a magnetic and energetic quality; he has a new vision that will be unveiled in one week.
His concept, the Hyperloop, will be revealed in prototype stage on August 12th. A group of tech savvy engineer-types have taken to Musk’s hints and mocked up their own version of what the Hyperloop will entail, and Musk has been confirming some of their hunches via Twitter. The most accurate designers have the Hyoperloop pegged as a combination maglev train and pneumatic tube – networks of cylindrical containers that were once used regularly throughout hospitals and other businesses to deliver small packages. Interestingly, the concept offers a wide variety of improvements over current standards of high speed mass transit. Musk has stated confidently that :
“This system I have in mind, how would you like something that can never crash, is immune to weather, it goes three or four times faster than the bullet train… it goes an average speed of twice what an aircraft would do,”
“You would go from downtown LA to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes.”
“There’s a way to store the power so it would run 24/7 without using batteries,” he added. “Yes, this is possible, absolutely.”
This is a futurist’s wet dream. Musk is publicizing a technology that is energy sufficient, faster, safer, and more pleasant than anything currently available. The Hyperloop has profound implications for city structures of the future, for life as a commuter, for energy conservation in general and for the economy as a whole. He is a modern day da Vinci with a network of crowdsourced fanatics, a team of engineers and designers at his disposal, and the ear of the tech press.
His proposal signifies a thrilling era when outrageous ventures can gain traction among the tech populous and be enthusiastically propagated by tech journalism. I find it especially unique in that the blueprint leverages existing technologies with a long defunct system (pneumatic tubes). It makes one wonder what other bizarre solutions are lurking under our noses.
Musk is stirring up conversation throughout the techie community. He is igniting interest, promoting exploration, and he is listening to what they have to say. The Hyperloop as a concept may fail but it has already succeeded in fostering cooperation and accelerating ideas. Ideas stimulate additional inquisitors and new cogs begin turning.
On the night of August 12th techies everywhere will rest their heads; they will be tinkering with the future.