Film and TV

Hyperloops and Sassy Robots: The Technology of Futurama

Good news, everybody! Elon Musk, the philanthropist/buisnessman/mad scientist who founded PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors has announced plans for a new form of transportation: the Hyperloop. The proposed Hyperloop would be a huge tube that magnetically transports capsules within it at speeds approaching 700 miles per hour.

Musk claims that it will become a fifth mode of transportation, joining planes, trains, cars, and boats as a primary means of transporting people to their destinations.

Unfortunately, while the hyperloop sounds great in theory, it might not work out so well in practice. In the opening episode Matt Groening's influential documentary on the technology of the 30th century, Futurama, we see a Hyperloop that is disorienting, painful, and prone to failure. This is typical of the world of Futurama, which walks the line between utopian and dystopian. It shows us a vision of great technological wonders that never seem to improve the lives of anyone using them. To commemorate the end of the show's run next month, here is a review of what Futurama has taught us about several other future technologies.

See also: 13 Favorite Phoenix Comicon 2013 Costumes

Flying cars The flying car is one of the most common requests when people are talking about future technology. "We were promised a flying car; where is our flying car?" Although there do seem to be commercially available flying cars in the 30th century, that doesn't make them a good idea. To illustrate the impracticality of the flying car, imagine a typical rush hour at an intersection near you. Now, extend that snarl to a third dimension. Add hyperloop tubes, all manner of starships, and various flying aliens to the mix, and the flying car begins to seem more like a mobile coffin than a means of transportation.

Interstellar parcel delivery The cast of Futurama all work for Planet Express, a delivery business that specializes in transporting parcels throughout the known universe. From a physics standpoint, this entire business model is a scam. According to Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, as an object approaches the speed of light, it also approaches infinite mass. In order to deliver anything over galactic distances in a reasonable length of time, a transport ship would have to exceed the speed of light, thereby increasing the mass of its cargo to infinity and beyond. If charging their client by weight, every package delivered would require infinite resources to ship. On the plus side, that infinite price tag is a flat rate that does not change with the volume of the merchandise.

Heads in jars One of the unique aspects of Matt Groening's vision of the future is the ubiquity of heads in jars. From important cultural symbols like Pauly Shore to popular political icons like Richard Nixon, it seems like every celebrity from history is still around, chatting with anyone that enters their field of vision. These heads never seem to have anything of value to add, and just crave attention. While it is nice to see that the heads of Adam West and Burt Ward are still getting work, is it a good trade-off for having to live beneath the tyranny of Richard Nixon's head? Sassy robots Robots are increasingly becoming more common in daily life, as engineers discover new ways to automate repetitive tasks. Automated workers are in wide use in the production industry, and are beginning to take steps into the commercial space as well. However, the big difference between robots today and the robots of Futurama are those pesky personalities.

Futurama robots run the range of personalities from Hedonistic to Narcissistic to just plain Jerk. Any productivity gains a business might achieve through the use of robotic automation are instantly lost due to incompetency, larceny, and back-talk. Add in their alcohol-based combustion system and their habit of occasionally trying to overthrow humanity, and robots are not the good deal that they once seemed to be.

Hypnotoads Hypnotoads are mankind's greatest discovery, and the ultimate achievement of the 30th century. No one knows quite what they are or where they came from, but we don't know how we get by without them in the present.

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Negativsteve Mandel