Very Precise Fortune Cookies
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
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
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
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