A Tale of Self-Driving Cars and Horse-Drawn Buggies

by Beth Dolinar, Luminari Coordinator

We Pittsburghers are getting a glimpse of the future not yet available to those in other places. Google’s self-driving cars are out and about every day, mapping our streets and working out the bugs so the rest of us eventually may be driven around.

You’ll recognize the special cars by the boxes of GPS gear on the roofs. I pass them all the time in the city’s Strip District, a route they favor for both the ease of navigation but also for the proximity to Enrico Biscotti.

It’s exciting to see in real life the embodiment of the most futuristic ideas of my childhood.  Imagine the possibilities: self-driving cars will bring freedom to people with vision or physical impairment, and to the elderly.  The cars will “think” for themselves, making their way around our cities and towns, launching us into the future.

The newfangled cars remind me of an experience I had this autumn. I was on a cycling trip through Amish country in Holmes County, Ohio, a place where signs of the eschewing of technology are everywhere.

While on the trail, I happened along a man who had stopped to show some people his recumbent bike. Interested, I pulled over to join the conversation.

As often happen among cyclists, we struck up a conversation. The man asked if I’d like to ride along with him to the next town. It was five miles, long enough for me to learn some things about his life.

He was raised in a large Amish family. The life, he said, was idyllic, a wonderful way to grow up.

His father was a farmer who died a number of years ago, suddenly, in his 60s. He suffered a heart attack one night while riding his horse and buggy through a nearby town.

“My dad was alone in the buggy,” my friend said. “Dropped dead right there on the seat. The horse turned around and took him home.”

I doubt I will see that man again, but his story was a gift, a gem offered during a short interlude between two strangers.  Since that day I’ve thought of that story a lot, how animals have an intelligence that we don’t always acknowledge; how that Amish farmer and his horse were friends in the truest sense of the word.

And I’m reminded that autonomy and superhuman intelligence are not the purview of modern technology. The roots of our greatest ideas can be found in the simplest places.