It has just dawned on me that I never finished the sequel to my award-winning post “Why We Can’t have Nice Things Pt.1”.Well here I am, back once again to crush your hopes and dreams. So let’s get down to it.
So it’s 2015 and if Back to the Future taught us anything, it’s that we’d all be flying around on hover boards and given that freaking everything from that movie has apparently come true (every. goddamn. thing.) we should totally be ridding around on hover boards right now…right? Well I mean sure, I mean I suppose you could argue we should be doing a lot of things, but we’re not, and here’s why.
Gravity is a bitch. Despite living on a relatively small floating rock, gravity here on Earth is pretty strong. So if you want to float slightly above the ground, you have to create enough force to counter gravity, which again, is pulling on you pretty hard. So ignorer to get that magic floating feeling, you have to create a significant amount of thrust…forever, or at the very least, long enough for you to get to a charging station.
Generating large amounts of force efficiently is something that we pump humans still haven’t really figured out yet. Most of our propulsion systems rely on throwing something behind you really fast and relying on newtonian physics to do the rest. That’s how planes, rockets, helicopters, and in a more figurative sense, cars work. It works well, but efficient isn’t really a word I’d use to describe it. What ends up happening is you have to throw a lot of stuff in order to get the kind of hovering. You could probably build a rocket powered hoverboard, but it’d be the size of an SUV, it would last about 10 minutes, and it would probably melt your feet off.
There are other ways to generate thrust, however, and this is what we haven’t yet mastered. So there are four fundamental forces (ones that passively exist): Strong Nuclear Force, Weak Nuclear Forces, Electromagnetic Force, aaaaand gravity. The great thing about these forces is they’re passive, you don’t have to put any extra effort in to generate them, they exist merely because of the presence of multiple atoms in close proximity. Ideally we’d use one of these forces to propel our hoverboard, except that we don’t know how to do that. No one knows what the strong and weak nuclear forces are, so they’re basically magic as far as I’m concerned. Gravity is an attractive force, but more importantly, it’s really weak. You can create antimatter which has a repellant force, except you’d need a lot of antimatter, which is really hard to make, oh an there’s also the problem that when matter and antimatter touch, they explode. Because that has never ended badly before.
Now the electromagnetic force is the one that people try to use the most, and for good reason. It’s really strong, its passive, and its easy to make magnetic or charged materials. The issue is that whatever you’re hovering over has to be oppositely charged for it to work, and as a rule most things aren’t magnetic. So yes you can absolutely strap some magnets to your feet and hover around, so long as you’re willing to cover the entire world in magnets.
People have been talking about nuclear fusion for a long time, and for good reason. Using a giant ball of nuclear fire to power an entire civilization is seriously freaking metal. Plus, it generates about a billion times more energy than those stinky fossil fuels (i’m actually under exaggerating, it’s way more than a billion times), it’s powered by the most abundant element in the universe (hydrogen), and it doesn’t produce any pollution. For all intents and purposes it’s unlimited energy. That’s why it’s so disappointing that it’s taken so long. Although it’s understandable, in order to create nuclear fusion you have to replicate the conditions of the sun’s core. In order to replicate such badass conditions you need a device equally as badass.
Like a ton of lasers. The amount of energy you have to put in to get a fusion reaction going is absurd, but luckily, as I understand it, the thing kind of just runs itself after that.
Then there’s the issue of how do you hold a giant ball of nuclear fire? Clocking in at a few million degrees centigrade you certainly can’t put it down on a table, it’ll melt through the table, and then the floor, and then the basement, and then the ground until it eventually makes it’s way to the planet’s core and destroys the whole planet (I may have made that last part up). The best answer we’ve come up with so far is to make a big donut lined with magnets, then you charge the flaming ball of plasma so that it is repelled by the walls of the donut.
In all honesty, I’m kind of at a loss for this one. We totally should have nuclear fusion reactors by now, supposedly Lockheed Martin has built one, but I’m not convinced. I feel like if they really did they would have built an Iron Man suit by now.
Not even kidding, once we manage to sufficiently miniaturize fusion reactors we will have iron man suits, helicarriers, hover boards, and all that jazz. Get on it world.
Living on the Moon
Once we realized that those points of light in the sky were stars and planets and not giant geodesic domes rotating in weird directions, we immediately wanted to leave. Imagine living on another world, on another floating rock in the sky. Imagine looking up and seeing the Earth in the sky flying in tandem with the stars. How cool is that?
There’s a couple problems with that. You see Humans are highly evolved to survive on Earth…and only Earth. Frankly, we’re just not designed for interplanetary travel. In order to live we need: food, water, oxygen, and shelter. Guess how many of those things are on any other body in the solar system, none. So if you want to live somewhere that doesn’t have any of those things you have to bring it with you. Hanging out on the moon for a few days, that’s easy, you can reasonably bring enough food, water and air to last that long, but if you want to live there you’re either going to have to continually send supplies from Earth, or grow your own food, which you also can’t do in absence of food, water, air, and shelter.
That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t try and build a lunar colony, in fact I’m very much pro-colonization (solar system colonization, not Earth colonization, that didn’t go so well). There’s just some technology and things we need to develop before we can get there. For one we need better spaceships that can carry more junk. At first we’re going to have to send supplies there, habitats, food, water, etc. But eventually we need to develop the technology to use regolith (moon dirt) to build the things we need. There’s actually a lot of useful elements in regolith (oxygen, iron, aluminum, silicon), you could build a ton of cool stuff with regolith, we just don’t know how, yet.
Ah holograms, the classic scifi technology. No longer will images be bound to the confines of 2-dimensional screens. Except, that’s not how light works. When you look at a chair, you’re not actually seeing the chair, you’re seeing the light from the sun or whatever hitting the chair and bouncing into your eye sockets. So in order to see something it either needs to project light into your eyes like a computer screen, or else light has to bounce off of it and into your eyes.
The idea of a hologram is having a 3-dimensional projection of some image, kind of just floating in mid air. Projecting an image into the air isn’t hard, it’s getting that light to reflect into your eyes that’s hard. Most people get around this by putting some sort of screen, or even just a plate of glass in the way to redirect the light, but the whole point of a hologram is that that stuff isn’t there, it’s just open space, you don’t need a screen. The only “reasonable” way to recreate the classic scifi hologram would be to reflect there image off of individual air particles which would require stupid levels of precision.