Last year, National Geographic Channel released a new six-part documentary-drama series about what it will be like for humans in Year Million. The show describes that the term “Year Million” speaks to a non-specific part of the future where technology and the human species converge with unknown consequences. I believe that when it comes to transportation, we are already grappling with this convergence. Autonomous vehicles (AV) and Hyperloop are just two of the latest transportation technologies that fuel the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum notes that “[n]ow a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”
Both AV and Hyperloop technologies have components that speak to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Human actions and decision-making processes are programmed into the “brains” of AVs and humans must learn how to not only work with the technology, but to also trust the programming, navigation, and safety features. This will be difficult to navigate, especially for the generations of the digital divide, but our interactions with these vehicles will contribute to the continuous learning and improvement of software and system programming via artificial intelligence. They need us as much as we need them!
The Hyperloop, interestingly, is not as much of a mind meld with technology as it is a new, dramatically different approach to both human and cargo transportation. The Hyperloop One, backed by Virgin, is making strides with its test track in the Nevada desert, while state, national, and international governments are proposing feasibility studies for “tubes” between major cities. By connecting cities and even countries with the Hyperloop, entire systems of commerce, healthcare, employment, travel/tourism, and security will change as will our interactions with these systems.
Once these technologies are in place, what will the world look like in another 20, 100, or 500 years? Or better yet, what will the world look like in Year Million? At MassRIDES, we try to build upon transit systems that already exist in order to improve the commute trips of today and tomorrow. At the same time, transportation planners are striving to shape our collective technological future by making the best choices for transportation infrastructure spending both today and into the future. While none of us can make ironclad predictions of what is to come, eliminating traffic and reducing greenhouse gases remain the current goals of our industry and- regardless of the mode of sustainable travel- the aforementioned technologies will lead the way toward healthier, less stressful, and faster commutes.
Check out some interesting articles I’ve read this week: