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Lights Out in Nigeria

LAGOS, Nigeria — WE call it light; “electricity” is too sterile a word, and “power” too stiff, for this Nigerian phenomenon that can buoy spirits and smother dreams. Whenever I have been away from home for a while, my first question upon returning is always: “How has light been?” The response, from my gateman, comes in mournful degrees of a head shake.

Bad. Very bad.

The quality is as poor as the supply: Light bulbs dim like tired, resentful candles. Robust fans slow to a sluggish limp. Air-conditioners bleat and groan and make sounds they were not made to make, their halfhearted cooling leaving the air clammy. In this assault of low voltage, the compressor of an air-conditioner suffers — the compressor is its heart, and it is an expensive heart to replace. Once, my guest room air-conditioner caught fire. The room still bears the scars, the narrow lines between floor tiles smoke-stained black.


I cannot help but wonder how many medical catastrophes have occurred in public hospitals because of “no light,” how much agricultural produce has gone to waste, how many students forced to study in stuffy, hot air have failed exams, how many small businesses have foundered. What greatness have we lost, what brilliance stillborn? I wonder, too, how differently our national character might have been shaped, had we been a nation with children who took light for granted, instead of a nation whose toddlers learn to squeal with pleasure at the infrequent lighting of a bulb.

As we prepare for elections next month, amid severe security concerns, this remains an essential and poignant need: a government that will create the environment for steady and stable electricity, and the simple luxury of a monthly bill.

このOpEdを読んで思い出したのがマーガレットアトウッドが年末NYTに寄稿していたロボットと人間の未来の考察も根本的な問題としてthe lifestyle we have built and come to depend on floats on a sea of electricityと語っていたことでした。

Are Humans Necessary?
Margaret Atwood on Our Robotic Future


Every technology we develop is an extension of one of our own senses or capabilities. It has always been that way. The spear and the arrow extended the arm, the telescope extended the eye, and now the Kissinger kissing device extends the mouth. Every technology we’ve ever made has also altered the way we live. So how different will our lives be if the future we choose is the one with all these robots in it?

More to the point, how will we power that future? Every modern robotic form that exists, and every one still to come, depends on a supply of cheap energy. If the energy disappears, so will the robots. And, to a large degree, so will we, since the lifestyle we have built and come to depend on floats on a sea of electricity. Hephaestus’ bronze giant was powered by the ichor of the divine gods; we can’t use that, but we need to think up another energy source that’s both widely available and won’t end up killing us.

If we can’t do that, the number of possible futures available to us will shrink dramatically to one. It won’t be the Hurrah; it will be the Yikes. This will perhaps be followed — as in a Ray Bradbury story — by a chorus of battery-powered robotic voices that continues long after our own voices have fallen silent.