Eric Peters: It won’t be like the Jetsons

By Eric Peters

What does it mean when people talk about self-driving cars? We really ought to be talking about programmed cars.

And about who does the programming.

The “self-driving” car doesn’t decide for itself how fast it goes or what route it takes – at least, it won’t until it becomes an autonomous thinking machine, an artificial intelligence. We are not quite there yet.

So, in the meanwhile, who decides?

And it is a who – a flesh-and-blood someone (or someones). Guess what? It’s not you. This whole “self driving” car thing is about taking you out of the driver’s seat. And putting someone else in control of “your” car.

That part stays the same. Nominal ownership. You will make the payments, pay the taxes and fees. You will still be responsible for all of that.

But who will control the car? And how will they control it?

The “who” will be the same people who already control the roads: The people who arethe government. Clovers. Authoritarian Control Freaks. The same people who make the laws about how fast you’re allowed to drive, when (and whether) you’re allowed to pass, make a right on red or a U turn . . . every last little thing.

They will control your “self-driving” car.

And when they do, not only will you not be allowed to proceed at a speed faster than they decree – or make a U turn or a right on red . . .  or do anything they do not want you to do- it will be impossible to do so.

The car – controlled by them – will not do your bidding.

It will do theirs.

Can you imagine? I can – and it makes my teeth ache.

People have this idea that the “self driving” future will be fast and free. A techno-Libertopia of high-speed and high-efficiency. Cars zipping along at triple digit speeds in tight formation, travel times cut down to a fraction of what they are now.

In fact it will be the opposite.

It will be Least Common Denominator . . . universalized and encoded in the electro-mechanical DNA of “your” car. No longer will you bee free to mash the gas and thread the needle through a Clover Cluster, chuckling to yourself as you watch them recede in the rearview. There will be no “speeding,” no right on red.

You – that is, your car – will drive at exactly the pace of the Clover Cluster.

A slow pace.

No more burnouts; no more drifting. Nothing “aggressive.”

Acceleration will be metered in accordance with the Fear Factor of the Clover Cluster. Think of your mother-in-law.

Of your grandmother. In her ’87 Buick Le Sabre, hunched over the over the wheel, perpetually riding the brakes.

It will have to be one size fits all. Because the programming must be. No more wiggle room; no more driving the way you prefer. No more driving faster – or harder – than they allow.

Individuals vary, but the Clover Hive is just that – a hive. Napoleon chose it as the symbol of his authoritarian state for good reason. Everyone the same and expected to do the same, except the Queen. The analogy is excellent, too, because the people dictating programming policy will almost certainly be “moms” and others of the female persuasion – who esteem saaaaaaaafety above everything and for whom velocity is the sine qua non of not-safe.

Slower is always better.

It will be like taking the bus – only worse. The bus driver was still an autonomous individual; he had the option to exercise initiative; he could even do something technically illegal – but reasonable and even necessary to deal with a situation that would otherwise mean just sitting there, Because It’s The Law.

Imagine how it will be in your programmed-by-others car. Traffic has come to a dead stop because of an accident up ahead. You could drive on the shoulder – briefly – to reach that exit a few hundred yards away.

But the programmed-by-others car will veto that. It is, after all, illegal to drive on the shoulder – and the car’s programming won’t will permit the law to be violated. Leaving aside the Cloverific adulation of The Law, the lawyers would never allow it.

Can you imagine?

Well, your honor, I knew it wasn’t legal to drive on the shoulder but I was just the passenger.

Shrug.

So the cars will be programmed to never do anything that isn’t “safe” – as well as punctiliously, exactly legal. And what is legal will be strictly in accordance with what your near-sighted, fearful mother-in-law would approve of. What the termagants who control the levers and billy clubs of government decide is “safe.”

To believe otherwise, you must believe that in this one instance, the government will not use technology to further control us. That it will set us free, expand our liberty.

The one upside – maybe – is that we’ll be able to get soused before the trip and just pass out. Tell the car to wake us up when we get there.

Whenever that turns out to be.

 

 

Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.

 

 

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