|Very Precise Fortune Cookies|
By David Leonhardt
I cracked open the fortune cookie and read the little slip of paper on the inside. Immediately I realized that it had been written by a weather forecaster.
"You will be approached in the late afternoon by a pink polka-dot octopus..."
It continued on the other side: "... and asked to provide details of your application for a yellow cloud mulching permit."
Two things struck me about this particular fortune. The first is that they have come a long way in their ability to predict exactly what will happen and when, just like weather forecasters. This is undoubtedly due to recent technological developments. Laser technology, for example. Nano technology. Robotics. Bioengineering. And so many other specialized fields have been developed to points of precision unimagined just a generation ago.
And it's not just the weather forecasters.
In London, Ontario, specialists are performing microscopic cardiac surgery on patients miles away using a robot named CSTAR (Can't you just wait for new parents to start naming their children after the famous surgeon, CSTAR?). This has opened up the door to many benefits, such as sending robots to remote locations without having to worry about a surgeon replacing the wrong organs due to jet lag.
But the real benefit was revealed when one surgeon confided in me: "You know the world is a better place when we don't have to scrub our hands before surgery anymore."
I can call anybody in North America on the telephone and they will answer in real time. Not only is this a better response than I can give people face-to-face, but the telephone cables direct my call to the exact person I want, saving the other 400 million telephone subscribers the inconvenience of having to say, "Wrong number...again!" Just a few decades ago, Switchboard Suzie was manually connecting everybody.
"Janice Land? No problem. I'll connect you." CLICK.
"No, wait. I wanted to speak to Janet Lam. Hello?"
My father can pinpoint the exact amount of blood sugar he packs in his veins. Not very long ago, people could not care less how much sugar was in their blood, as long as they had plenty of it in their double-fudge sundaes.
Yes technology has come a long way, allowing us to send and received very specific information in great detail and in great volumes, allowing such thrilling 21st century innovations as spam (I know, I know, the great spam innovators you admire most did their heroic deeds in the 20th century, but you ain't seen nothing yet!)
Despite the volume of information I receive in my inbox, there is one very disturbing element to all this extra free information, which brings me back to the second thing that struck me about my fortune cookie message.
It was wrong.
I waited all day for that pink polka-dot octopus to approach me, and it never did. Just because modern technology can deliver huge volumes of laser-detailed information, does not make that information valuable or even accurate.
Which brings me back to the revelation that a weather forecaster is now writing fortune cookies. Weather forecasts have become increasingly more precise. For instance, I am told that today it will hail in the town just east of here and be sunny in the town just west of here.
Once upon a time, the forecast would be simply "Sun and hail expected to pass through the region." Less accurate and less wrong. Just as useless, though.
Maybe we should hire CSTAR to make the fortune cookies. Surely CSTAR would deliver fortunes that are not only precise but also accurate, right? As a bonus, the pastry chefs won't have to scrub their hands before baking.
And I wouldn't have to wait for a pink polka-dot octopus all afternoon.
About the Author
David Leonhardt is author of Climb Your Stairway to Heaven
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