The Roadless Revolution

This post will feel like sci-fi. Sci-fi gets lumped with fantasy, because sci-fi writers usually write to entertain rather than seriously to forecast, and they aren't held accountable for the feasibility of their ideas. As a result, to categorize something as sci-fi is almost to dismiss it.

I think that to escape The Great Stagnation, we need to be imaginative, which means taking seriously things that feel like sci-fi. It's almost a tautology that every technology must be a fiction before it's a fact, that is, it must be conceived of before it's implemented, and probably it also has to be believed in, at least tentatively, before it's pursued. But the kind of sci-fi that deserves to be taken seriously is the kind that describes futures that are possible and even likely, without any mere irresponsible invention of new laws of nature, or even new laws of economics.

That's what I'm trying to do here. What I describe might not happen, and it might not be likely…

Big is Beautiful: The Mind-Boggling Size of Giant Airships

The most counterintuitive thing about airships is their immense size. The recently built British hybrid airship Airlander 10, which first flew in 2012, was almost 300 ft long, and was the largest aircraft in the world before it was retired after wind damage in 2016. That's big!

Or not. The Graf Zeppelin, a German airship that ran regular transatlantic commercial flights between 1928 and 1937, was 776 ft long. The Hindenburg was over 800 ft long. Considering that, it stops seeming strange that the Airlander 10 was considered only a “prototype.”

The enormous size of airships is the biggest barrier to the re-emergence as a major mode of transportation. Often, when something is successful, people ask if it is scalable.

Scalability is good because it means success can be reproduced. Sometimes success isn't scalable because it depends on a single personality or unique local conditions. If a successful project isn’t scalable, that is a sad limitation on its value. Scalable succes…