Is this a story about today’s energy-dependent world?
Isaac Asimov wrote a parable for today – in his 1957 short story The Feeling of Power.
At the New Pentagon, Shuman is showing off a man with an unusual gift.
‘Aub! How much is nine times seven?’
Aub hesitated a moment. His pale eyes glimmered with a feeble anxiety. ‘Sixty-three,’ he said.
Congressman Brant lifted his eyebrows. ‘Is that right?’
Check it for yourself, Congressman.’
The congressman took out his pocket computer, nudged the milled edges twice, looked at its face as it lay there in the palm of his hand, and put it back. He said . . . ‘By Godfrey, so it is. How did he guess?’
Aub has memorized a few operations, and with them he computes on paper.’
‘A paper computer?’ said the general. He looked pained.
Centuries in the future, computers are so powerful and pervasive that no one remembers the arithmetic they are based on.
‘Well,’ said the president, considering, ‘it’s an interesting parlor game, but what is the use of it?’
‘What is the use of a newborn baby, Mr. President? At the moment there is no use, but don’t you see that this points the way toward liberation from the machine.’
Shuman’s Earth knows it has become too dependent on computers for its own security.
Back to today, the average American home uses almost 1,000 kWh/mo of electricity, and many say that Earth has become too dependent on energy for its own safety. Is part of the solution in our past?
‘After all, sir, computers have not always existed. The cave men with their stone axes, triremes, and railroads had no computers. Still, the cave men must have had some method, eh?’
(I chuckled throughout at Asimov’s thoughtful humorous story. You will too.)