I Left My Heart in San Francisco, But I Can Retrieve It in a Mere 30 Minutes

We’ll admit that we might not be among the earliest passengers on the Hyperloop, since it’s only polite to allow others to test out 760-mile-an-hour pneumatic tube transportation systems first. But, no denying it, it’s a heck of a vision.

In case you missed it, swashbuckling entrepreneur Elon Musk, creator of SpaceX and the Tesla, has told California to hold off on building high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Instead, build a “Hyperloop” for a tenth of the price (about $6 billion instead of $60 billion) and save both money and transportation time. The technology would be, in Musk’s words, “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” Back of envelope numbers: a $20 ticket for a 30-minute trip, 840 people an hour.

Now, many are skeptical that Musk’s numbers pencil out. (Land purchases alone are one of the biggest costs of constructing transportation systems, and Musk seems to have missed that.) But the technology and vision are another matter.

Martin Simon, a professor of physics at UCLA, has told Bloomberg Businessweek that the plan appears feasible. “It does sound like it’s all done with known technology,” Simon says. “It’s not like [Musk] is counting on something brand new to be invented.”

Image source: Elon Musk/Tesla Motors

Indeed, with the Hyperloop, Musk looks to be pursuing a type of innovation that Drucker termed “new knowledge”—but, in fact, is really a bunch of existing knowledge coming together in a whole new way.

For example, the computer drew on “no fewer than six separate strands of knowledge,” according to Drucker, including the punch card (created in 1890), the audion tube (invented in 1906) and symbolic logic (developed between 1910 and 1918). “Although all the necessary knowledge was available by 1918,” Drucker explained, “the first operational digital computer did not appear until 1946.”

This kind of lag is typical. With new knowledge, Drucker wrote, “the lead time involved is something like 50 years, a figure that has not shortened appreciably throughout history.”

He added: “Long lead times and the need for convergence among different kinds of knowledge explain the peculiar rhythm of knowledge-based innovation, its attractions and its dangers. During a long period of gestation, there is a lot of talk and little action. Then, when all the elements suddenly converge, there is tremendous excitement and activity and an enormous amount of speculation.”

What do you think? Will L.A. and San Francisco be connected by Hyperloop in the year 2063? Why or why not?