And what could be more industrial-age...

...than automobiles? Yet, chips and networks can take the industrial age out of cars, too. Most of the energy a car consumes is used to move the car itself, not the passenger. So if the car's body and engine can be diminished in size, less power is needed to move the car, meaning the engine can be made yet smaller. A smaller engine requires a yet smaller engine, and so on down the slide of compounded value that microprocessors followed. The car's body can be reduced substantially using smart materials--stuff that requires increasing knowledge to invent and make--which in turn means a smaller, more efficient engine can power it.

Detroit and Japan have designed cars that weigh only 500 kilograms. Built out of ultra-lightweight composite fiber material, these prototypes are powered by high-tech hybrid engine motors. They reduce the mass of radiator, axle, and driveshaft by substituting networked chips. They insert chips to let the car self-diagnose its performance, in real time. They put chips in brakes, making them less likely to skid. They put microprocessors in the dashboard to ease navigation and optimize fuel use. They use hydrogen fuel cells that do not pollute, and electric motors with low noise pollution. And just as embedding chips in brakes made them better, these lightweight cars will be wired with network intelligence to make them safer: A crash will inflate intelligent multiple air bags--think "smart bubblepak."

The accumulated effect of this substitution of knowledge for material in automobiles is what energy visionary Amory Lovins, director of the Rocky Mountain Institute, calls a hypercar: an automobile that will be safer than today's car, yet can cross the continental United States on one tank of hydrogen fuel.

Already, the typical car boasts more computing power than your typical desktop PC. Already the electronics in a car cost more ($728) than the steel in the car ($675). But what the hypercar promises, says Lovins, is a car remade by silicon. A hypercar can be viewed as step toward a vehicle that is (and behaves like) a solid state module. A car becomes not wheels with chips, but a chip with wheels. And this chip with wheels will drive on a road system increasingly wired as a decentralized electronic network obeying the network economy's laws as well.

Once we visualize cars as chips with wheels, it's easier to imagine airplanes as chips with wings, farms as chips with soil, houses as chips with inhabitants. Yes, they will have mass, but that mass will be subjugated by the overwhelming amount of knowledge and information flowing through it. In economic terms, these objects will behave as if they had no mass at all. In that way, they migrate to the network economy.



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This is a blog version of a book of mine first published in 1998. I am re-issuing it (two posts per week) unaltered on its 10th anniversary. Comments welcomed. More details here.
-- KK