Chapter I: Introduction

Ξ January 12th, 2008 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Science |


A few years ago I attended an event where the guest speaker was a cabinet member. In conversation afterwards, the subject of long term petroleum supplies came up. He warned that at some point, perhaps a century or so in the future, someone would put his key in his car's ignition, turn it, and nothing would happen - because there would be no more gasoline.

What shocked me was not his ignorance of the economics of depletable resources--if we ever run out of gasoline it will be a long slow process of steadily rising prices, not a sudden surprise--but the astonishing conservatism of his view of the future. It was as if a similar official, a hundred years earlier, had warned that by sometime around the year 2000 the streets would be so clogged with horse manure as to have become impassible. I do not know what the world will be like a century hence. But it is not likely to be a place where the process of getting from here to there begins by putting a key in an ignition, turning it, and starting an internal combustion engine burning gasoline.

This book is about technological change, its consequences and how to deal with them. This chapter briefly surveys the technologies. The next discusses how to adjust our lives and institutions to their consequences.

I am not a prophet; any one of the technologies I discuss may turn out to be a wet firecracker. It only takes one that does not to remake the world. Looking at some candidates will make us a little better prepared if one of those revolutions happens. Perhaps more important, after we have thought about how to adapt to any of ten possible revolutions, we will at least have a head start when the eleventh drops on us out of the blue.

 

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