Melanie and Simon Huntley moved into a 1950’s era contemporary house on a peak overlooking Pittsburgh a year ago. It’s a private space with a nice yard in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood; a great place to raise their sons, Eliot, 4, and Theo, 6 months. After living on a peach farm outside Grand Junction, CO for two years, they returned to Pittsburgh a few years ago to settle near family. Melanie is a trauma nurse with Nurse Practitioner credentials, though she is at home these days with the boys. Simon has merged his heritage and love of farming with his IT expertise to create a business that provides websites and software geared toward small farmers and CSA’s. Melanie and Simon were my warmshowers hosts in Pittsburgh. Their thoughts on tomorrow are distinctly different yet complementary.
How will we live tomorrow?
Simon and I sat in the kitchen, drank a beer, and absorbed the view. “I live in a house where I get to watch the sun set every day. It’s a treat.
“We are only in the middle of the computer revolution. The software revolution will continue for some time, and the robotics revolution is on the horizon. Within ten years we will have autonomous truck driving. Six percent of Americans have jobs related to truck driving. What will it mean when those jobs are gone? Robotics will be an atomic bomb in our economy.
“Pittsburgh is a robotics center. Uber is here, developing autonomous cars. Driverless cars will drive the cost of Uber down, and private car ownership will go away. I think autonomous cars will be good. We are just not that good at driving. What are there, 30,000 auto related deaths per year? I want driving automated, but automation will go so deep in our economy. We will be in a position where everyone needs an education to work It will have tremendous effects on our lives. From an economic perspective how are people going to live? Will we get a ‘draw; just for being citizens that will allow us to live?
“Look at the industrial revolution, 90% of the people lived on farms, now it is three percent. There will be disruption, but I don’t believe in the idea that we will become a leisure economy. People will need jobs. The industrial revolution moved jobs from the farms to the cities. Now, people like me can live anywhere.
“My work in farming has reached a plateau. I have set up my business to pretty much run itself. So now I ask, ‘What do I want to be involved in next?’ I am interested in doing something in automation. I want to position myself in that area over the next five to ten years.
“I used to worry about the future, but I am more confident now. When I look around, we are living amazing lives. I have machines working for me right now. I own the machines. I have over 1000 farm clients and just a few staff. I have no accounting department, no HR department. I have software for all of that.
“Farming is the specific thing that I do. I am pretty positive that we can solve the problems before us until we hit a limiting factor. There will be pain, famine, disruption, but I think we can solve what lies ahead.”
I ask Simon how his point of view evolved from one of fear to one of confidence?
“The earth is resilient, eco-systems are resilient. We are resilient. Look at Pittsburgh’s rebound; it’s amazing. It’s based on universities and healthcare and education. But it’s also affordable and livable. I have this beautiful house in a nice community. My boys will be able to walk to school. I can live anywhere and bring my job with me. I have an awesome life.
“I merged my IT interest with what I know best, farming. Others are doing that in other areas. I believe things can get better for everyone.”
Melanie joined us after Elliot was in bed.
“I hope that people will reach out to one another. I want to connect, in life, with others. We connect electronically, but we hardly talk to anyone. When you are really with someone you find out what they really need.
“Small acts make such a difference. Sometimes, when I have the boys and my bags at the grocery, someone takes my cart back to the store for me. That’s the best.”