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Fortunes: Way the cookie crumbles

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: January 1, 2014 6:07AM



The fortune cookies that accompany my weekly lunch with a friend usually assure me that things will soon change for the better, I can look forward to a comfortable old age, or an unexpected payment will come my way.

Perhaps one should never admit to reading those little slips, or eating the cookies for that matter, but occasionally they serve as worthwhile reminders of just how quirky a world we inhabit.

“A tub and a rub will change our day,” promised this week’s fortune. Never mind that I don’t own a whirlpool or have a masseuse on speed dial. The sentence part that seized my attention is the pronoun. “Our day?” Whose voice should I hear making this pledge of shared, intimate rejuvenation?

Assistance at figuring that out may have come in the previous week’s cookie, which warned, “Watch your relations with other people carefully are reserved.”

If this is code of some kind, one subject, two predicates and no conjunction might be a clue that carelessly sharing a hot tub and enjoying a rub with just anyone could spell trouble, unless, of course, you have a reservation.

On the other hand, three lunches earlier came this fortune that’s still lying on my desk awaiting further interpretation, “There is a prospect of a thrilling time head for you.” Perhaps this should have primed me for sharing thrills at a spa somewhere, but alas, I already have a time head, and only a time head, and not all that thrilling a time head, actually.

Give me instead an infinite mind not bound to time and space and I might begin to understand these strange messages that presume to lay out my future. Failing that, I’ll rely for now on older, more certain bits of wisdom, such as, “Rub-a-dub-dub, three friends in a tub ...”

The news, of course, far surpasses fortune cookies when it comes to challenges of comprehension. A recent headline in the business pages read, “University of Michigan sets goal of driverless cars on the road by 2021.”

Curious, thought I. We already have plenty of those where I live. All manner of texters, make-up artists, pet-handlers and inebriated persons cruise our streets and roads in driverless cars. Has Michigan escaped this scourge?

The point, of course, is that Michigan’s engineers want to get those very people and a whole lot more fallible folks into the rear seats of automobiles instead of at the steering wheel. Accordingly, by 2021, automobile traffic will work in much the same way we’ve learned to conduct war — by remote control.

Just as pilotless drones now deliver bombs to the homes of suspected enemy combatants, computerized, driverless cars will soon deliver passengers, who may or may not be bombed or explosive, to offices, shopping malls, clinics and, at the end of the day, to their homes or places of rendezvous.

The whole point is safety, say the Ann Arbor dreamers. “We’re developing cars that don’t crash.” And since human error causes nearly all accidents, human drivers face elimination.

Two thoughts. First, there is no crash quite like a computer crash.

Second, imagine the heated debates we’ll have in 2021. Driverless cars will represent a social experiment that seriously dwarfs anything related to affordable health care legislation. For example, will we be allowed to keep our old habits when transported about in government-controlled, driverless cars? What if I still want to stop on the way home from work for a rub in a tub with someone other than my spouse? Will the computer tattle?

Folks in Michigan had better start reading their fortune cookies.



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