Baby, You Can Drive My Car
When we were growing up, getting your driver’s license was the brass ring of teenage dreams. It gave you status. It gave you a whole new level of ‘cool’ and brought you a step closer to achieving that other wet dream of puberty; nudge nudge, wink wink.
If you could get you dad’s car on Friday night – even the ‘hot chicks’ at school smiled at you differently than they did when they ignored you through the week in the halls.
From the day most of us got our driver’s license and from then on, we were transformed even more so than when we first learned how to walk as toddlers. Like learning to walk, it set us free from the narrow confines that had been our world.
In a car; you had control.
Sure, there were rules about which direction you could drive on a street, how fast you could drive and where you could park. Lots of rules but they were for outside the car. Inside, it was just you and your tunes on the stereo (or the old AM radio back in the day). Sometimes it was you and your latest love interest, sometimes it was you and your closest friends. Sometimes it was just you alone.
It didn’t matter. In the car, you were free and the allure of ‘the car’ was compelling.
It didn’t even matter what kind of car – at least not at first. That came later. At sixteen, all that mattered was having a license and access to a car. Get behind the wheel of your father’s beat up Chev Malibu and you became Steve McQueen in Bullet behind the wheel of a classic ’68 black jade Ford Mustang fastback.
Try to imagine Vin Diesel in Fast and Furious XXII where they race electric driverless cars with flourescent Google logos on them. You can almost hear the the little electric turbines hum, can’t you?
I remember when my daughter first got her driver’s license, there was barely a day she didn’t ask if I needed her to drive to the store to pick something up. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember her ever asking if she could bike up to the store for her mother and me before she got her license and she had a pretty nice 10-speed.
Unlike today, back then cycling was primarily for people who hadn’t yet acquired a driver’s license. It wasn’t even called cycling. It was called biking and you lost a lot of style points for asking a girl out on a date and then offering to peddle right over to pick her up.
It was uber-uncool although to be fair, they didn’t have the really nifty aero-dynamic pointy-head helmets, spandex outfits with padded crotches or biker-shades with frames in fluorescent colours.
It didn’t matter what you wore when you had your dad’s car – it was the car that made you cool.
Later, as adults, we evolved – sort of. We bought our own cars, usually forced to manage our expectations of owning a new Porsche just a bit. Typically many of us ended up with a used Toyota Corolla or Chevy Vega – but it had stick on the floor so it was still almost too cool and it was ours.
Later, if we were lucky, we worked our way up to something a touch more glamourous or sporty’, usually going into hock to acquire it but, oh man, it was our baby! And when we got married and the babies started to arrive, we contented ourselves with that new minivan to let everyone know we were parents now.
Through it all, however, no matter what car or pickup we had, our vehicles were symbols of our freedom and who we were. Cruisin’, whether in a ragtop with the top down and the tunes blaring or in a four-door sedan with three-speed automatic on the column was still cruisin’.
And now Google wants to take all that away from us. I despair for humanity.
Google is developing a driverless car which begs the question, just how lazy do you have to be that you can’t be bothered steering a vehicle that is pretty much fully automatic now?
The car is being developed by current project leader, Sebastian Thrun, who was formerly working on the development of artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking believes that artificial intelligence will ultimately lead to the destruction of mankind but I believe that attempting to develop AI when we haven’t yet mastered natural intelligence is more than just a bit ambitious.
But I digress. We were talking about driverless cars.
Google has developed a prototype which has approximately $150,000 worth of driverless technology in it. Considering that it looks like a balloon on wheels and is about the size of Smart Car, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince folks that they should take out a mortgage just for the privilege sitting in a bubble and doing – well – nothing.
It also appears that $150,000 worth of technology doesn’t buy you something that can distinguish between soft harmless debris on the road and a serious hazard. It also has an issue recognizing a police cruiser trying to pull you over which can be problematic at times – especially in some American cities these days. The gendarmerie don’t find it amusing when you refuse to stop.
Try to imagine how embarrassing it would be to be arrested at the end of a low-speed pursuit through suburbia because your car didn’t recognize what the flashing lights on the police car meant and refused to stop.
The car has to be pre-programmed with route information from Google Maps which isn’t very encouraging. Google Maps can’t provide an accurate print out for real drivers half the time and now it wants to pass that same misinformation along to another inanimate object. What could possibly go wrong?
Well – nothing actually unless you consider the fact that the car, despite the $150,000 worth of technology, can’t identify and respond to things like temporary stop signs and lights, pot holes, road construction or detours.
In Google’s world, those things don’t actually exist although they claim to be working on it.
Oops! Into the new sink hole you go. If you’re lucky your driverless car will be the last one to fall into the sink hole and will land on top of the others. It will make it easier to pull you out.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not resistant to change or even new technology. In my life I’ve gone from vinyl to 8-track to cassette to CD to digital downloading my music. I’ve gone from teletype to fax to email and from Beta and VHS to DVD to Blue Ray to Apple iTunes and Netflix.
I’ve seen more technological change in the past five decades than civilization saw in the thousand years preceding 1900 and I’m good with it.
I’m no longer analogue – I’m digital, baby!
But here’s the thing, most of that change advanced something. It was driven by purpose beyond the rather simplistic idea that just because we can do it we should do it. It was real innovation driven by need rather than by want. It was change that transformed and improved how we did things in the same way that Gutenberg’s printing press changed publishing and the Cotton Gin, the manufacture of cloth.
In the past few years, however, it seems that most of the things being pursued now have little real purpose other than an attempt entertain us. There is no innovation, just updating, fixing security holes or upgrading versions of something.
Most new products are just old products twisted and turned by technology into the illusion of something new and innovative.
Did we really need an Apple watch or a phone that doubles as a camera, computer and television? Does Apple’s watch actually tell better time or a smart phone actually do much other than constantly distract us from living and enjoying life itself? We’re developing into a society that seems to have a considerable amount of ADHD and which suffers from severe separation anxiety. We have this constant need to be entertained, to be in touch with others and catered too with new gadgets.
It is making us less and less relevant in our own world. Soon, we will have robotic weapons that will fight our wars for us which ought to completely eliminate the need to find solutions to conflict other than war.
There is a day coming when our toasters will be smarter than we are. Try to imagine how good you’ll feel first thing in the morning when you come downstairs to the kitchen for coffee. Your toast will be ready because your smart toaster heard you get up and toasted your breakfast for you. It will also take a quick selfie of you in your underwear with your hair standing on end and then post it to your Facebook account for your friends to like and share; print out your day’s agenda to tell you what you have to do today and remind you to pick up more bread for tomorrow’s breakfast.
At about that time you may start to realize that you’re working for a toaster.
If you’re smart alarm clock had a technology meltdown overnight and you’re running late and don’t have time to check your texts, your FB and Twitter accounts or your emails before getting in your car – no worries. Your car is the new Google driverless car and you can attend to your messaging while your car drives you to work – that is, of course, unless you left the window open overnight and a couple of very fat and heavy raccoons climbed through the window and your car, not recognizing them as not being you – started up and drove off. You can almost hear the all points bulletin….
“Be on the lookout for a fluorescent green plastic balloon on wheels stolen by two, overweight. short thieves wearing fur coats and black Lone Ranger masks. The vehicle was last seen heading west on the freeway at approximately 17 kms/hr.”
I’m exaggerating – almost — but it seems to me that the real question that we need to consider is, just how little do we want to do in our lives? How much control are we willing to concede to technology? We’ve already given control over our fundamental freedom and rights to a brainless and self-serving political class and our economic freedom to a corporate culture that treats us a little better than sheep to be sheared. Do we really want to give up whatever is left to driverless cars and smart kitchen appliances?
Just how afraid are we to actually take responsibility for, and to live, our lives? We now live in a society where something like Facebook, which manufactures nothing, is worth more than General Motors which does.
There is a race happening right now between the development of artificial intelligence and the accelerating growth of stupidity. Regardless of which wins, it could well result in the end of humanity.
© 2015 Maggie’s Bear
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