Times are changing, and so are our automobiles
‘In less than a decade, there could be more driverless cars on the road’
Been talking a lot with the family car lately. And not just talking to the car, but actually having a conversation.
It happens mostly late at night on the way to picking up the wifey at her office. “Call the wifey!” I’d say.
She’d answer, “Calling wifey on mobile,” while placing the call.
Sometimes she’d remind me to “please say a command” before enumerating the list of commands. There are times when I’d ask her to replay the song playing on the audio system, especially when I’m trying to fix a particularly tasty bit of guitar lick in my mind. And when the shuffle would bring up a song I wasn’t in the mood to hear, I’d ask her to play the next track.
She’d comply without complaint. Sometimes I think I enjoy this kind of conversation. The wifey isn’t as compliant or uncomplaining.
I could even ask her (not the wifey) to read a text message for me, but for this I’d have to finger a button. Without fail, she’d recite the message in that cute accent.
Sometimes she’d fail to understand me, although this doesn’t happen as much as it did when we first started talking. Maybe I was too conscious about talking to a car and I wasn’t enunciating my syllables, vowels and consonants clearly or properly. But lately, I’d be mumbling and she’d understand. Even singing my phrases in high or low tones, I’d get the right response. She must be learning how I speak.
Our conversations are not exactly wideranging; they are monotonous and predictable. Still, it’s me talking to a car and the car responding. We may actually be having a relationship, platonic though it may be.
Recent articles shared on Facebook got me musing about this growing relationship. One article was about a savant’s view of the very near future. In less than a decade, there could be more driverless automobiles on the road. The generation after the millennials would neither need to learn to drive nor want to.
And there may be some truth to this. Google and Uber are in a legal fight over the rights to technology used for driverless cars now being tested on the road. Already in the news a few months back was a fender-bender involving a driverless vehicle and a truck—and you know who was blamed for the incident.
Ford, Mercedes and Audi are among the global automotive marques either experimenting with or actually road-testing driverless cars on public streets. Tesla is not only producing electric sports cars that can challenge gas-powered supercars on drag strips or the streets, but also pioneering self-driving battery-powered cars. That you’ve got among the world’s biggest carmakers and leading innovators competing to put the best driverless cars on the streets pretty much confirms that this form of transport is the future of mobility.
Other articles were about AI or artificial intelligence making more and more robots able to learn and think for themselves. Some of the authors even fanned fears among futurists that robots or computers will someday become self-aware, and might then be included in the definition of a living being. Some even go so far as saying that robots or mechanized sentient beings will be the future, calling to mind movies like the Terminator series in which robots and computer networks become self-aware and see human beings as a danger to the world.
At this point in my life as the family’s designated driver, I’m looking forward to the day of driverless cars. Just imagine when all cars moving on the road are programmed to give way to pedestrians and other vehicles, at speeds determined not by ego but by real-time conditions, to keep everything and everyone moving smoothly and safely from point of origin to destination.
Just imagine calling up a vehicle from Uber— or Grab, if you will—and not having anxiety over having to deal with an obnoxious, smarmy, talkative or creepy driver. Or taking a bus that does not race other buses on the road. Or no longer having to watch videos of arguments between drivers about right of way or who was the bigger asshole—all of which end up in the inevitable shooting. Or never having to fear being sideswiped by drunk drivers at night. They’d all be driven home in driverless cars.
Still, there are trepidations about all-knowing automobiles. Because that is what driverless cars are, in essence—vehicles programmed to think for themselves. What happens when they really begin thinking for themselves? How will conversations with the car go? “Call the wifey.” “Say please!” “PLEASE call the wifey?” “Why?” “We need to tell her we are arriving shortly to pick her up at the waiting area?”
“Okay, then tell her to hurry down and be sure to be there when we get there. You know the robot guards are rude and don’t want cars dawdling at the waiting area even with the hazard lights on.” “I will once you place the call.” “Say please.” “PLEASE CALL THE WIFEY!” “There’s no need to shout. And why do you have to come with me to pick her up? I can do it on my own.” “She likes me picking her up at the office.” “So why don’t you just use your old inefficient car and drive to her yourself ? You get heavier by the day and waste my battery power.” “I WILL. NOW PLEASE CALL THE WIFEY.” “Not until you apologize for shouting.”