Not to be a whiner, but the techno-gods have really dropped the ball when it comes to transportation advances. Their promises of flying cars and jet-packs turned out to be so much smoke up our sphincters. Happily, though, it looks like the next best thing may be on the horizon. Most of the major car companies – and Google – are working on some form of “self-driving” or “robot” vehicle. Not one that merely parallel parks, but actually takes you from point A to point B while you conquer the latest level of Candy Crush and check stock quotes on your iphone. And no doubt eat bonbons – the preferred activity of the leisurely decadent.
Hell, they can already start (and stop) our cars from the satellites. I guess this is simply the next logical step. Even so, the prospect of “driverless” driving requires a lot of trust in those techno-gods – the latest versions of the vehicles don’t even have steering wheels or gas and brake pedals. Instead, they’re equipped with a bevy of gizmos including lasers, sonar, radar and cameras to help them sort out what may be on the route ahead of them. That’s all well and good, but I’m just not convinced that heaps of technology can replace the vast and nuanced road skills we as a species have been honing for more than a century now.
For instance, will my new autonomous car roll through stop signs if no one else is around?
Will it lay on the horn and deliver, in its best HAL 9000 voice, a string of withering epithets when someone pulls out directly in front of it and then plods along, oblivious, at a good 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, or cuts it off as they swerve out of the left lane at 80 mph once they suddenly realize their exit is upon them despite those giant green signs overhead which have been announcing that fact for the last three miles?Does it understand the concept of “keeping up with traffic,” or will it insist on driving the speed limit on the freeway and thus become a road hazard to be passed as if it were dragging a boat anchor?
When it pulls up to the gas pump, will my car remember which side the hole is on, or will there be any number of those awkward moments when it realizes it’s guessed wrong again and now has to swing around to come in from the other direction? And will it lunge for the first open spot in an effort to beat the five other cars circling the pumps like vultures or politely wait its turn?
Will it pay the ticket after it’s hung out to dry while waiting to make a left turn when the guy coming the other way decides to run the light, leaving it stranded in the middle of the intersection and a sitting duck for the traffic cameras?
Will it tell the wrench-jockeys at RubeLube to take a flying kiss at the moon’s ass when they recommend $290 worth of maintenance work when all it went in for was a $25 oil change?
Will it be able to find the slowest lane in every freeway backup, with an uncanny knack for changing into whichever lane is about to grind to a complete halt?
Can it sense when that really irritating guy is tailgaiting it, the one who keeps nosing out over the yellow line at every opportunity in an attempt to pass on that winding road, and if so will it slow down in the curvy spots and then speed up in the wide open stretches just to piss him off?
Will it accept driving tips from passengers, for instance suggestions to slow down as indicated by their frantic pushing on an imaginary brake pedal?
Will it let me listen to “indie rock” or insist on changing the station to “talk radio?”
How long before Skynet goes fully operational?
As you can see, there are still a lot of details to work out. Good thing, because I really don’t plan to relinquish my grip on the steering wheel any time soon – unless I get that jet-pack for Christmas.