Gavin Green

‘’I Spy’ used to be a game I played in cars. In the fu­ture, it will be a game my car will play on me’

Car India - - GAVIN GREEN -

WHY DO WE LOVE CARS? FOR ME, as a kid in the Sydney north­ern beaches, surf­ing of­fered recre­ation, swim­ming fun, and ten­nis an out­let for sport­ing frus­tra­tions. Cars of­fered free­dom.

I loved the style. Be­fore I even con­sid­ered an in­dus­trial ob­ject’s ‘de­sign’, I knew there was some­thing achingly sen­sual about tightly sur­faced sheet metal. I knew an E-Type and a DS were beau­ti­ful. And that a Holden Ute wasn’t.

Then there’s the tech­nol­ogy. Cars are the most as­ton­ish­ingly com­plex pieces of tech­nol­ogy that most of us will ever own. (Far more than any­thing from the so­called ‘tech’ in­dus­try.) It’s partly be­cause of the ver­sa­til­ity of cars. En­gi­neers need to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing from aero­dy­nam­ics to ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, from crash safety to the cor­ner­ing grip of the com­pounds in tyres. They work with ma­te­ri­als vary­ing from rub­bers, from new-gen­er­a­tion steels, to rhodium and plat­inum in the cat­alytic con­verter, to alu­minium, to brass, to glass, to car­bon­fi­bre, to plas­tics. They are elec­tron­i­cally as com­plex as any ma­chine.

Cars are ex­tra­or­di­nary. And they’re get­ting more tech­ni­cally amaz­ing ev­ery year.

The other rea­son I love cars is be­cause I love to drive. You’re in con­trol of a lump of metal, an en­gine more pow­er­ful than a stud of race­horses, a hu­man cre­ation that breathes and growls and pro­vides con­stant re­sponse, more alive than any other me­chan­i­cal ob­ject. And you can go any­where you want, when you want.

The driv­ing is of­ten as en­joy­able as the jour­ney. You don’t drive down a B-road just to go some­where. You do it be­cause it’s fun.

Now, of course, driv­ing is un­der threat. Within 20 to 30 years, there could be no driv­ing at all. Au­ton­o­mous cars are all the rage. Even BMW, cre­ators of the ‘ul­ti­mate driv­ing ma­chine’, en­thuse about to­mor­row’s cars with cab­ins more like re­lax­ing liv­ing rooms than driver-fo­cused cock­pits.

It’s wel­come in many ways, of course. It will make roads safer. It will speed up traf­fic flow. It will give mo­bil­ity to the old, the young, the sick and the weak. To 90 per cent of driv­ers, who would rather surf the Web than surf the black­top, au­ton­o­mous cars will be wel­come.

Yet, to mis­quote Ian Dury, there are rea­sons to be fear­ful. To­mor­row’s cars may well be de­hu­man­ised digital droids that cheer­lessly but ef­fi­ciently trans­port us from A to B, while Google, Ama­zon, Mi­crosoft, Uber, etc, guide us, track us, an­a­lyse our jour­ney, and use it to per­son­alise an ad­vert on our car’s con­nected touch­screen or on our iPhone (‘Gavin, do we have some deals for you in Betws-y-Coed!’).

Some may find this help­ful cus­tomer ser­vice. Oth­ers, like me, find it in­tru­sive sales­man­ship. Will the po­lice, the DVLA, CIA, MI5, etc, also be mon­i­tor­ing us?

Au­ton­o­mous cars will turn peo­ple (driv­ers) into valu­able ma­chine-read­able data. Just as Face­book, Google and Twit­ter do now. They’ll know where we go, whom we visit, where we stop. And, of course, this data trail — and au­ton­o­mous driv­ing in gen­eral — is po­ten­tially hack­able.

‘I Spy’ used to be a game I played in cars. In the fu­ture, it will be a ‘game’ my car will play on me.

Google is not de­vel­op­ing driver­less cars to be phil­an­thropic; it wants to dom­i­nate the digital driver­less land­scape. There is no more likely to be a Google pro­duc­tion car than a Ford smart­phone. Car man­u­fac­ture yields poor re­turns. But the high def­i­ni­tion digital map­ping that au­ton­o­mous cars will de­mand, the so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware nec­es­sary for ‘robot driv­ing’, the in­for­ma­tion yielded on our jour­neys as com­pa­nies ‘get to know cus­tomers bet­ter’: that’s all worth big money.

More­over, as the Web gi­ants be­gin to dom­i­nate the auto in­dus­try, where does that leave the tra­di­tional car man­u­fac­tur­ers who em­ploy far more peo­ple and con­trib­ute much more to so­ci­ety (not least by pay­ing their fair share of taxes)? Will Sil­i­con Val­ley emas­cu­late them, as it’s done to other cre­ative in­dus­tries? Face­book and Google have colos­sal ad­vert rev­enues, while con­tribut­ing noth­ing to cre­ative con­tent.

Ei­ther way, big brother is go­ing to be fol­low­ing us in our robot cars. For respite, the only so­lu­tion may be to buy an old car. Then go to track days and drive feral, cel­e­brat­ing your hu­man­ity, your skill, your free­dom, and that no­body is watch­ing you.

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