Times are chang­ing, and so are our au­to­mo­biles

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Contents - ERLE SE­BAS­TIAN

‘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.”

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