RID­ING INTO FRESH CHAOS

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

Friday - - Humour -

Ihaven’t con­ducted a sur­vey, but I imag­ine that a good num­ber of us would feel rather fool­ish if struck by a self-driv­ing car. Maybe not as fool­ish as we might feel if a self-driv­ing bi­cy­cle or a self-driv­ing pair of roller skates tripped us up on a morn­ing walk, but fool­ish all the same.

Now, here’s some­thing to make us feel even more fool­ish. The man­u­fac­tur­ers of a self-driv­ing car have patented a new sticky tech­nol­ogy to pro­tect us if we get hit. Ap­par­ently, it will hold on to the pedes­trian (known in le­gal par­lance as the hit­tee, to dis­tin­guish it from the ve­hi­cle, which is the hit­ter) un­til the ve­hi­cle slows down and comes to a stop, or the per­son de­cides to jump off to search find his dig­nity.

But what if the ad­he­sive is too strong and doesn’t re­lease the pedes­trian? News­pa­pers, which carry pho­to­graphs of road ac­ci­dents (the­o­ret­i­cally to present their hor­ror and dis­cour­age bad driv­ing, but ac­tu­ally be­cause we are a mor­bid lot) will now be filled with im­ages of peo­ple caught in var­i­ous un­shake­able poses on wind­shields, be­ing taken for a ride.

Along the way, the ad­he­sive might pick up the odd an­i­mal, a fallen tree or two, some low-fly­ing birds and the garbage thrown out by an un­think­ing cit­i­zen. The orig­i­nal pedes­trian, with time on his hands now, might pull out a book to read while the ad­he­sive de­cides when to be­come less sticky.

For those with a more soar­ing imag­i­na­tion, here’s another sce­nario: two ad­he­sive cars ram into each other. What hap­pens next?

Some­how, I thought the charm of self-driv­ing cars is that they would be ac­ci­dent-free. But if we are pre­par­ing for ac­ci­dents, then cars that ex­ist are ter­rific at that al­ready. Once they are on the road, who pays the in­surance, then, who goes to court and ar­gues that he was the hit­tee, not the hit­ter?

I have noth­ing against self-driv­ing cars. They are prob­a­bly the only kind I could ever drive. And I can see some

News­pa­pers, which carry pho­to­graphs of ROAD AC­CI­DENTS (we’re a MOR­BID lot) will now be FILLED with IM­AGES of peo­ple caught in var­i­ous un­shake­able POSES on WIND­SHIELDS, be­ing taken for a ride

great so­cial uses. You send out your self-driv­ing car (SDR) to meet my SDR for a bev­er­age at a nearby bev­er­agedis­penser while you and I stay in our homes and fo­cus on work. We al­ready have phones and note­books as sub­sti­tutes for so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. Now cars too can join that happy com­pany.

Yet, there is some­thing weird about these self-do­ing gad­gets. For we use the time thus saved to in­vent more self-do­ing stuff. Self-read­ing books, per­haps, self-tai­lor­ing suits, self­milk­ing cows – the list is end­less. If you want more, I can work on a self-gen­er­at­ing list.

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