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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Net or the Jet

I spent the first half of my life in the jet age but not in the Internet age. I could fly anywhere in the world but the fastest way to get a research paper to another scientist was to bring the paper on the plane with me.

One could imagine technological innovation going the other way around where we had a functioning Internet but no air travel. Maybe we would have done a much better job creating virtual meetings and conferences.

Suppose you had to choose a world to live in:
  1. Jets but no 'net. We know what this world looked like.
  2. Net but no jets. We can only imagine.
Which one would you choose?

[This question came from a discussion with Paul Royal, a Georgia Tech research scientist in Information Security. We chose different answers.]

17 comments:

  1. Net, obviously. But you are getting serious selection bias by asking this question on a blog. To correct for this, you should ask ask the question in person at a remote, hard to reach location.

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  2. Again Net is an obvious choice for me...
    Living in Europe, I have to ask : does no plane mean no train either ? No other of transportation than my two feet ?
    Because if we have train I can go all the way from Paris to St. Petersburg in less than 24 hours

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  3. There are many alternatives to air travel.
    With the 'net there are alternatives to travel in general.

    Winner: the 'net

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  4. If the price of oil increases enough and/or governments eventually act to limit greenhouse gas emissions, we may be forced into choice 2.

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  5. I believe that it couldn't be net before jet, unless we were living in a physically smaller world (the jet is needed to spread the net). To the hypothetical question, of course I prefer the net, even that the jet is actually better for personal communication. My preference comes from the larger picture and especially the data (real-life and CS) accessibility angle.

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    Replies
    1. Why is the jet needed to spread the net? Who really needs to travel that far that fast? Some cargo (not much) would travel slower without the jet but for the most part even cargo doesn't need to travel that fast.

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  6. I'd give up jets, my wife would give up the net. Without jets, visiting our daughter becomes all but infeasible. Life isn't just academics.

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    Replies
    1. Which do you do more often? Visit her or e-mail her?

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  7. This doesn't seem a fair comparison if in the "no jet" option turbo-props are allowed. You are too young for this, but some of my first memories are of looking out the window of an airplane on a flight to visit my grandparents and watching the propellers slice through the clouds. DC-3's and larger passenger airplanes flew all over the world before jets. They were just a lot slower.

    There is no comparable partial version of the "no net" option.

    If it were "no air travel" vs "no net", I'd go with the "no net".

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    Replies
    1. Of course there is a partial version. Several I would guess. Reverting back to the BBS days instantly comes to mind. What about USENET? What if you limit connections to 300 baud?

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  8. I'd go with no jets. There are certainly other ways to travel from Point A to Point B (but much less conveniently). Although there's a time delay, many people went from America to Europe and back and still accomplished many things (Washington didn't fly, as just one of countless examples). As we rush about, it might be a welcome change to have a chance to catch one's breath and think about that paper you're carrying.

    Besides, if there was no net, how would one reply to this blog comment?

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  9. It seems rather obvious to me the fact that jet fuel does not grow on trees, notwithstanding the facetious arguments put forth by various ethanol producers (where from do they claim they procured all their petro-based chemical fertilizers to sustain the rate of production they project for corn production?), my admittedly pissy prediction is that the jet age will come to an abrupt end quite a bit before the end of the 21st century. Will we have passenger ferrying electric airplanes? I have strong doubts about that. Once we exhaust our one and only store of sequestered solar energy, that's it, its gone forever! The rate at which we can conceivably capture and utilize renewable sources will by no means afford us the luxury of jet, or, even "high-speed" travel.

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    Replies
    1. Why is it inconceivable? Why does it have to be the same jet technology? Talk to someone at the start of the age of the telephone and propose the current use of the Internet to them and they'd have easily called it inconceivable.

      We create and innovate or we die.

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    2. The inconceivability refers to the very diffused nature of renewable sources. Just as a point of reference, the total energy stored in a major hurricane is dwarfed by the total fossil fuel 'daily' energy usage by humans. The average power dissipated by all major earthquakes comes to about 20GW [Kanamori 1977 gives 7e14 Joules/year]. The point is we are going through prehistoric stores of energy at phenomenal rates that are unmatched by even the most powerful natural phenomena. This fact sends a shiver down my spine despite all the undeniable creativity and ingenuity demonstrated by humans.

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  10. If jet travel becomes too expensive because of petroleum costs, there will finally be the political will in this country to build high speed trains (which can be powered with nuclear-generated electricity). Still not as fast as flying if you're going from NY to SF, but can be very competitive for shorter trips (say Boston to Miami)

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    Replies
    1. ah, yes, the arrogance rears its head with a little naivete thrown in for fun (nuclear-powered trains when people don't even want a single new nuclear power plant in their state?)

      why not the political will to allow the weak to die and conserve resources? why not the political will to say that some things should be sparse and not the right of everyone to have to the level where welfare recipients are allowed to ride for free and throw their money around on luxury items with the assumption that the government will always provide for them?

      if you want to bring politics into the conversation then let's start listing all the idiotic things the politicians do to make themselves feel good and make people like them as opposed to what corporations do to make money which is create and innovate when challenges are met because that's how you stay in business to make future money

      when the government stupidity on helium means your hospital's MRI machine is useless, it won't be the government working out how to build a machine that can see inside your body without needing helium, it will be the companies trying to figure out how to build the next thing they need to be able to sell that will tap into the research world an invent natural-light "x-ray" machines

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  11. If Charles Babbage had tried building electromechanical computers, they might have been combined with telegraphs to form a Victorian Internet.

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