Humans Are Not Butterflies

Jan 21, 2017 | 0 comments

Last evening’s “Friday Night” discussion centered partly on predictions for the future.  The Grennans had been sent an article concerning future probabilities by their daughter. I’m not sure of the original source but it was not (as one might have expected on the night of January 20, 2017) full of doom and gloom.

Welcome to the 4th Industrial Revolution it said.  Welcome to the Exponential Age.  Software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years it went on.  And, as the first examples of what and how fast changes are happening:  Uber is just a software tool, they don’t own any cars, and are now the biggest taxi company in the world. 

            That was the lead-in to a prediction that I think I can definitely get behind:  Autonomous cars: In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will probably never get a driver’s license and will never own a car.

Fabulous!  I’ve been wondering how many more years I can get to Jack’s for groceries or even to the Post Office in Oysterville for my mail.  Maybe ten?  Unless they take my license away in the meantime.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just call for a car and leave the driving to a computer chip?  To say nothing of eliminating some of the nitwit other drivers from the road.

But… how long will it take before that automotive revolution gets to the outlying areas like Oysterville?  Will I live long enough to experience it?  I take hope from another recent change in life-as-we-have-always-known-it:  AirBNB is now the biggest hotel company in the world, although they don’t own any properties.

In Oysterville, we are actually on the cutting edge of that transformation.  Both the historic Dewitt Stoner House, and The Oysterville Guest House have been listed on AirBNB for some time now. They both underscore the fact that places to stay for travelers (to say nothing of the underlying purposes of travel, itself) have changed a good deal in our lifetimes.

I like these hopeful predictions far better than the dire predictions of the past.  I remember when, fifty years ago, biologist Paul Ehrlich concluded that the human population was too big and soon would strip the world of resources, leading to mass starvation.  He based that prediction on his studies on the population dynamics of butterflies.  Economist Julian Simon famously disagreed.  “Humans are not butterflies,” he said.


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