Trying to predict what our technology will look like 10 or 20 years from now -- whether it's something as relatively simple as a new aviation fuel or as complex as a revamped electric grid that can run on renewable power -- seems to me about as hopeful an enterprise as trying to predict the ups and downs of the stock market. Advances in technology rely on an interacting web of complex variables, from volatile market forces to international politics to genius inspirations. It's all too chaotic and variable to allow for meaningful predictions.
This week's story from MIT got me thinking about this. I was surprised to learn that aircraft carrier crews still use little model airplanes with tail numbers painted on to help manage traffic on the deck of their zillion-dollar operation. You'd think there would be an app for that, but no. It looks like there will be soon, though, thanks to the work of the MIT students.
This is how complex problems get solved. Not with bolts from the blue, but with the plodding work of cadres of dedicated workers and creative thinkers working things out, inch by inch. I was witness to some of this process at AirVenture last month, when I sat in on an ASTM meeting about some modifications to LSA standards that have been in the works for a while. It was an incredibly painstaking process, about as exciting as watching paint dry. But everyone who wanted to be heard got their chance to participate, and while that's a slow and clunky way to get things done, it's not the worst way.
Where it all will lead is hard to say. Would we have guessed 20 or 30 years ago that we would have two-way videophones to carry in our pockets? Or unmanned aircraft that can fly themselves? I wouldn't venture to guess today how GA will solve its problem with finding a drop-in fuel to replace 100LL, or how we'll find ways to keep aviation fun and affordable. But I'll predict that if we keep plodding along, and give everyone a seat at the table, eventually we'll reach the future, and it will be something different than we ever expected.