Our guest this episode is Peter Norton, associate professor of history in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia. Norton is author the recently published “Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving.”
Eighty years ago, Norton tells us, “There were authoritatively presented promises that technology was about to deliver a future of zero crashes and zero congestion.” This is the same promise pitched today by autonomous vehicle advocates.
The auto industry is skilled in painting a future “that was always just close enough to be attractive, but far enough away that the promises did not have to be kept anytime soon,” Norton explains. Here, the two-decade rule applies. “If you promise these achievements in say, 10 years, you’ll be proved wrong too quickly. If you promise them in 30 or 40 years, that’s too far away for people to take interest in. But 20 years seems to be the sweet spot.”
In our conversation with Prof. Norton, we asked:
-What a historian is doing at an engineering school?
And we wondered:
-What can engineer, investor, business executive, and public learn from history?
And we learned:
-A futurist’s job is to predict what to expect from the future, but the best-qualified futurist might well be a historian.
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