The Technium

Machine Fecundity

A while back George Dyson sent along this note about the fecundity of manufactured items:

I had to park my car at [Seattle’s] SeaTac on Saturday-Sunday and this sparked a small epiphany. It now costs more to park a car at one airport than to rent one at the other end. To my twisted mind, this indicates that machines (taking the automobile as a benchmark) are now self-reproducing so fast we have reached a transition point where machines are cheaper than the empty space they fill.

2007 08 31 Parking Lot

Not only nature, but the Technium too abhors a vacuum.

  • Daryl Oster

    There are few places in the world where the value of a parking space amount of land is greater than that of a low cost car. Most airports charge considerably less for parking per day than for car rental. In the few places where land value is this high, and demand for parking high, you will see parking structures to reduce the cost of parking. Parking represents less than 5% of typical car ownership costs.

  • You’re telling me! Today I was depositing a cheque for $16, only to return to my car and find a $50 parking ticket!

    Between global warming, diminishing fossil fuels and parking charges, cars are fast becoming the planet’s dominant species ;)

  • B

    It’s hard to know where to start with that. For instance, “empty space” varies in value according to the location. It’s not really comparable to the value of a manufactured item which, while it might vary, has a certain base level that applies everywhere.

    Besides which, automobiles don’t self-reproduce.

    Dr. Dyson might have a valid comparison between the value of open space in his start/end points, or perhaps the relative scarcity of parking spaces in Seattle. It has ZERO do to with the value or prevalence of the machine, as such. You can argue that more cars makes parking space more valuable, but that presupposes that the only use of open space is as parking for cars, I think.

  • Too much of anything is annoying?

    This is true about data than anything else. Most of the data out there is indeed cheaper than the storage they are using !!!

  • Tom Buckner

    I heard years ago that plastic flamingos far outnumbered real ones.

    But since you mention cars, it seems to me that even the cleanest, greenest ground car is worse for the environment than a flying car would be, if the flying car could be made efficient enough. All those roads, that’s why. Land covered over (in the United States it’s estimated an area approximating South Carolina is paved); many, many animals run over; and then there’s the embodied energy of the roads, all the fuel and resources expended to build and maintain that vast road area.

    I was reading a web site detailing one man’s years of work on a 2-seat kit plane with a Corvair engine (the cars had a bad suspension, as any Nader fan knows, but evidently a very fine air-cooled flat six engine). He’s modified and flown it so much that he still hasn’t got around to putting paint over the primer, but reports as much as 42 mpg at 140+ mph. Moller’s Skycar, if it ever hits the market, is expected to go at least 20 miles on a gallon. These aren’t Prius numbers, of course, but better than an Escalade; and you get far more speed without using surface roads.

    On the other hand, you still need surface roads for short distance travel and large loads. If I were redesigning America’s transportation from scratch, the passenger cars would be much smaller and more local, sharing narrower roads with many more bikes and scooters, and big trucks where needed; lots more rail service, like the old days; and fleets of personal robotic aircraft for longer trips.

  • Kev

    Nice observation. As a follow up, if using a washing machine and tumble dryer became so expensive, and high street fashion continues to fall in price, so that buying a piece of clothing costs less than it does to wash it, would we all start throwing stuff away after one wear? There is an overarching green issue when it comes to cost of purchase vs cost of upkeep, and one that I can only see arising further into the future.

  • I believe that Niyaz meant to say that “storage is cheaper than the data they are storing.” However, outside of a topical, humorous observation on urban density, I agree with the points made by “B.” The relative value of open space vs. the object occupying it is indeed a complex equation that has to take into account far more than the price of a commodity (such as land) and the value of a fixed asset.

  • Chudley

    It took me a moment to catch up to your thinking. It costs less to temporarily reserve a car than it does to temporarily reserve a car sized space of land. Think of it compared to cost of ownership of each and it actually sounds about right. Shouldn’t a 14 x 7 plot of land at the airport cost more than a no frills Grand Prix ? Roughly same ratio as temporarily renting each.

  • Jim Tobias

    Is it safe to assume that these 2 markets are not distorted by some sort of policy intervention or attempt at monopolization? Is there as much competition in parking as there is in car rental? Not at the airports I know.

  • slideguy

    “Besides which, automobiles don’t self-reproduce.”