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Art: Futuristic Conveyor

How fast is safe?

The idea was if you had conveyor belts next to each other, with a low speed difference, you could get up to high speeds on foot somewhat safely.

If the red belt goes six kilometers per hour, people who can walk could step onto it without too much risk. The yellow belt would be double the speed, at 12 KPH, but that’s only a six KPH step for someone already on the red belt. And so on up to (in the image version) 36 KPH for the indigo or whatever that far left color is.

The facility in the image is probably for testing only. In a fully finished version, it would ramp up to the middlemost lane, and then ramp down on the far side, palindrome-style. And there would be another set, going the reverse direction, on one side or the other, allowing for bidirectional transport.

It takes a bit of imagination (or a better illustrator than myself) to really consider what it would be like. Airports often have those moving sidewalks, but they are single-speed. They do speed you up, but imagine if they had those next to each other like this?

I imagine that 36 KPH is about as fast as you’d want to go, even next to two 30 KPH lanes, as things like windspeed (though partially avoided by having the tunnel-like colorful forcefield thingies) would get annoying.

I’m sure it’s not at all practical, but I still like the imagined version all the same.

Future of Transport as much Why as Where

Most of the concerns over the future of transportation focus on mapping today’s transportation patterns onto tomorrows infrastructure. But the why (as in why we use transportation) is important and changes the patterns completely.

When looking at how transit will change in the future we tend to think of self-driving cars (soon to be just called cars) or bullet trains (or maybe a few of us still harbor dreams of jet propulsion sneakers). But the reality isn’t as clear as these simple technology stories seem.

These stories go something like:

Cool technology struggles to become practical, gain acceptance, and then takes over the world.

But the future of moving around is as much about why you want to go somewhere as where you want to go. For example, if you’re only going because you need to buy groceries, at some point it becomes easier to just bring the groceries to you. Or if you need to meet a friend or business associate, it may be more viable to either hold a teleconversation or to meet-in-the-middle.

Of course, we already do meet halfway, and Skype and similar systems are already widely used. But in the future you might be having that conversation while you’re going somewhere else. Or you might meet your friend who is already on the train by side-boarding without the train stopping.

All of this will make destinations and journeys start to blur a bit. Where you are stops mattering as much. Unlike commutes of today, where time to destination is so important, tomorrow it won’t matter as much if you take your sweet time to get somewhere. Being late won’t hold the same sort of stigma, because being somewhere becomes less a matter of physical presence.

Being there in the decades to come will be about awareness, and thus physical presence will be increasingly devalued. That’s not to say people won’t make the trip. It’s just where they go will be more about the why. Instead of being at the meeting, they’ll go to their kid’s game (which might be a video game). They can catch the meeting on the way.

That is, the why of meeting is shared awareness, not shared breathing space. In these early days of technology, physical presence often helps ensure awareness (more or less). But in the long view, attention can be held without sitting around a conference table. The why is more important than the where.

How will it work practically? Will you get in a cab and say, “take me to the Fùchūn Teahouse?” Or will you say, “take me to a Chinese restaurant with at least 70% rating?” Or maybe you won’t get in a cab, but you’ll order food. Nah, you’re in the mood for a dining experience. But maybe you’ll order food, delivered to a dining area that doesn’t actually have food prep. Maybe it will specialize in ambiance, the experience of a shared space, and the food is your responsibility. After all, maybe you want to eat Sugar Orbs cereal in a Chinese dining atmosphere. That’s your choice.

The Coming Fragmentations

Very few people refuse to slice a large pizza and eat it as a single unit. Even the few that do (you monsters) would cut up a pizza that was twice the size. Another way it happens with pizza is when the parties to the pizza could not agree on a single set of toppings, so different portions of the pizza have different toppings.

As any system grows, the cost of maintaining it as a single system grows.  When a system becomes a certain size, maintenance of it is too high, and fragmentation is required.

This can be seen in pizza.  Very few people refuse to slice a large pizza and eat it as a single unit.  Even the few that do (you monsters) would cut up a pizza that was twice the size.  Another way it happens with pizza is when the parties to the pizza could not agree on a single set of toppings, so different portions of the pizza have different toppings.

But it can also be seen in a few non-pizza places, which I will examine below.


There’s a reason why a world government has been opposed by many people for a long time.  The size of such a government would be so big, with so much bureaucracy, that we would all die trying to figure out which floor we needed to visit to requisition a pencil to fill out a form to submit that would let us take our street-crossing test so that we might return home.

At some point, government at one level may grow too large, and it should fragment.  We have in the USA a national government, with state, county, and local governments.  At some point we will need to rework the layers so that we have regional governments (some of which might overlap), or specialized governments (eg, the Mississippi River Government that would manage collective interests for states and regions directly related to that river).

When we learn to manage the layers of government, we will be able to institute world governance that is not a threat to individual liberty.

This type of fragmentation might be called stratification, since it deals most particularly with layering the governments.


The transportation in America, of humans, anyway, is primarily by autonomous transport (ie, cars).  There is some use of buses, trains, planes, and boats, but these are fairly limited in scope and, therefore, use.  In certain areas, the road-based system has grown too large, and it should be fragmented to help reduce that burden.

You can only build so many roads before it does no good.  It makes far more sense to add alternative transportation to augment the system.  This means that fewer people are reliant on the original form, and more of the traffic does not overlap.  It’s equivalent to adding multiple traffic channels in other systems.  Instead of getting cross talk on a radio, you can simply move some traffic to another channel, and continue with multiple sets of conversations independently.

This type of fragmentation is also a form of stratification.


At some point it may make sense to fragment the browser.  When it happens, the OS gets new services to handle different parts of what’s currently in the browser.  That includes HTTP, bookmarks, cookies, authentication, signup, and rendering.

Some of these are already partially fragmented in the form of libraries, and some browsers like Uzbl already try to move toward a browser that is reliant on outside components.

While the functions could permanently remain in the browser, with other applications relying on the browser as a service, the benefits of moving them outside will reach a tipping point for most systems and users.

This type of fragmentation isn’t about the layers as much as about specialization, which it could be called.

Mobile Devices

One day the mobile device will likely fragment.  You will still have a dedicated component with a CCD for a camera, one with broadband wireless IO, one with a screen, but you won’t have a separate screen on your camera and phone.

In that world, you could use your computer screen as the head for your mobile device, for example, and you could use the power from the train to power your phone or mobile computer, saving your battery for later.

This is also a form of specialization, and some aspects are already there.  Many smart phones use WIFI when available instead of the wireless broadband.  There are also a few smart phones with the ability to plug in to a netbook-style dock.

Online Services

The final fragmentation for thought today is of online services like Facebook, but also things like Google and Wikipedia, and even the DNS itself may fragment.  There’s an ongoing push for someone to come up with distributed social networking.  Diaspora is the most prominent attempt, but others are working in the same direction.  This type of fragmentation might be called democratization, because its primary goal is to restore the control over the service to the users.

But it also has other benefits, including the possibility of improved utility.

Stratification, Specialization, Democratization

The three types of fragmentation today were in layering the functions, in breaking up by activity, and in distributing the control of systems.  They all have their places, and some systems will require a combination of them, or even something different entirely.

But we should be aware of the systems we interact with, and we should consider whether the problems we see are caused by other factors, or if they are due to the system outgrowing its britches.

The examples are numerous.  I could go on.  Economic systems, little league sports organizations, insect colonies, large-scale computing, military, etc.  The abstraction of fragmentation is quite useful, and even more so when intelligently put into practice.