Friday, October 23, 2015

Incessant Divagation

by Rick Jones, Husband of the Minister's Wife

Wednesday the news media focused on “Back to the Future” and discussed which of the movie's predictions about October 21, 2015 came to pass. Futuristic fictional devices have captured our imaginations and led to the development of many devices we have now. But the track record for serious predictions isn't very good.

Where's my flying car? How about undersea cities or a colony on the moon? Why am I not munching on Space Food Sticks in outer space? Why don't I have a clone of myself to do all that stuff I don't want to do, like mow the grass and eat brussels sprouts? And where's my bacon tree? Okay, I made up that last one. But all the other things were serious predictions from respectable scientists back in the mid-20th century.

Scientists sound so confident when they tell us about the future. There are even people known as “futurists” who make a living this way, even with track records about as good as the “top psychics” who reveal their predictions in the year's last issue of the Enquirer but hope you never refer back to what they said. All the psychics and futurists are really sure of is that no matter how poor their batting average, someone will pay them to take a few more swings next year.

The lack of humility involved in such predictions offends me, but the lack of success is actually comforting. When we're told today that we have only enough oil reserves to last 50 years, I am comforted by the memory of the prediction, in 1975, that we would run out of oil by 2000. Many of the climate change alarmists today who warn us of global warming were the young scientists of the late 20th century who warned us of the approaching ice age. From “global cooling” to “global warming” to the conveniently vague catch-all, “climate change”. It's difficult for me to trust their judgment when they made serious predictions around 2000 like “no snow in London by 2012” and “polar bears will be extinct in a decade” [they're bigger and more numerous than they were 10 years ago], but dismiss people who call them into question as “deniers”. Oh, I don't deny that the climate changes. It's called “weather”.

Makes me wish Al Gore would categorically and unequivocally rule our the possibility of bacon trees.

Maybe I'd be more inclined to believe if my clone and I were watching the last polar bear die while eating Space Food Sticks in the comfort of my flying car. And maybe I'd take the alarmists more seriously if they weren't filling the atmosphere with carbon emissions by burning all that jet fuel to attend yet another global conference on climate change, when they could confer through the world wide web, accessible to anyone with a computer.

Which brings me to a series of quotations you may wish to share with anyone willing to declare “case closed” when “the experts speak”. [These and many more can be found at]

1943 Thomas Watson, chairman, IBM: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” 1949 John von Neumann, mathematician: “We have reached the limits of what is possible with computers.”
1977 Ken Olson, president, Digital Corporation: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”

Aren't you glad that in many ways, the future isn't what it used to be?

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