Mel’s World

Now that his Ja­panese smart car has taken to rec­om­mend­ing lo­cal sushi restau­rants, Mel Croucher thinks it won’t be long be­fore it’s us­ing his per­sonal data to flog him stuff

Computer Shopper - - CONTENTS - MEL CROUCHER Tech pi­o­neer and all-round good egg let­ters@com­put­er­shop­

Modern cars are so smart they can im­merse you in for­eign cul­ture and take you to the best restau­rants in town. It’s only a mat­ter of time, says Mel Croucher, be­fore they start flog­ging you stuff, too

ISN’T IT GRAND to be a mo­torist in the fu­ture! Long ago, when I was a mo­torist in the past, I tried to ne­go­ti­ate a re­la­tion­ship with a snot-green Mor­ris Mi­nor that re­ally sulked. I had to fon­dle its han­dle and crank it for ages un­til it fired up, and every week­end I had to get down on my knees to grease its nip­ples and oil its dash­pot, all to keep the re­la­tion­ship go­ing. And it never an­swered me once when I talked to it. Maybe it never an­swered be­cause of some trau­matic early garage ex­pe­ri­ence. Maybe it had been in­volved in a sui­cide pact. There were traces of lipstick round the ex­haust pipe. Mean­while, here in the fu­ture, my shiny modern car likes noth­ing better than to have a chat, if only to break the silence un­der its sleek bon­net where there is noth­ing but a com­put­er­con­trolled sil­ver slab pow­ered by rain­bows and uni­corns.

Al­though my new car is very happy to take or­ders and prof­fer ad­vice, I have to ad­mit it has be­gun to ex­hibit be­hav­iour that may not be in the best in­ter­ests of the Bri­tish way of life. For ex­am­ple, yes­ter­day I was driv­ing in un­fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory and busting for a pee. So us­ing the voice-con­trol, I asked my car to take me to the near­est com­fort sta­tion. It promptly se­lected a new route and slith­ered to a halt out­side a branch of YO! Sushi. The thing is, the day be­fore I had asked my car to di­rect me to a wild­fowl na­ture re­serve, and it went and took me to a dif­fer­ent branch of YO! Sushi. It just so hap­pens that I drive a Toy­ota, and I’m start­ing to think my car is not only en­dowed with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, it’s also on a mis­sion to serve Ja­panese cul­ture. I won­der if smart cars built by other na­tions are pulling the same trick. Per­haps if I drove a Volk­swa­gen it would force me to pick up Syr­ian refugees or in­vade Poland. Prob­a­bly best if I stick with the Toy­ota.


We’re used to the fact that our phones track us and re­port back to ad­ver­tis­ers, and most of us don’t bother to change the de­fault set­tings be­cause we ac­cept be­ing tracked as part of the deal. Or we sim­ply don’t care. Now cars are get­ting con­nected to the web, I reckon the same ac­cep­tance has al­ready be­gun. Af­ter all, most peo­ple are per­fectly happy about speed cam­eras and num­ber-plate recog­ni­tion, and if there’s a way of stop­ping data get­ting slurped from our dash­cams and sat navs then most of us have never both­ered to find out how. The likes of Audi and Volvo are al­ready in­te­grat­ing the An­droid Auto sys­tem into their next generation of cars, which feeds straight back to Google. So cars are be­com­ing com­put­ers on wheels, and they don’t even need a ser­vice provider or net­work con­nec­tion to gen­er­ate all that per­sonal data. And there’s a huge amount of data to be gleaned, cross-ref­er­enced and mon­e­tised.

As ever, it’s all about the money. Pun­ters are will­ing to ac­com­mo­date an in­tru­sive app that mon­i­tors every press of the pedal and turn of the wheel in or­der re­duce their car in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums in re­turn for ev­i­dence of good driv­ing, so an in­ter­rup­tion to their in-car lis­ten­ing with per­son­alised ad­ver­tis­ing is no big shift. Costa vs Star­bucks, McDon­alds vs Burger King, Shell vs BP, all ready to pay for the priv­i­lege to push-feed a tempt­ing of­fer to any driver in the vicin­ity and get one over the op­po­si­tion.

And it gets even smarter, as the car’s sen­sors are alerted to a com­po­nent fail­ure and rec­om­mend a de­tour to Kwik Fit or Hal­fords, who­ever pays the right price. In fact, cars could self-as­sess the im­pact of an ac­ci­dent and de­cide whether to call the AA or re­serve a slot at the cre­ma­to­rium.


So should I be wor­ried that my near-silent elec­tric car won’t be able to keep its com­put­erised gob shut about my per­sonal be­havioural pat­terns? Will it shop me if I drive home from the pub, or have sex in the back seat, or be­tray Aldi in favour of Lidl, or visit a clinic, or a church, or a crack den?

Well, should I be wor­ried? Ac­tu­ally, no, I should not be wor­ried in the slight­est, be­cause gov­ern­ments and guardians can’t af­ford to chan­nel and ex­ploit this huge stream of car-based data that is au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­ated by the on-board com­put­ers. But Google, Face­book and Ama­zon can, and every car man­u­fac­turer on the planet will be only too happy to fa­cil­i­tate them. And not one of them cares if I’m a spy or a drug dealer. They don’t care if I am a saint or a sin­ner. They’re not in­ter­ested in my secrets and lies. They don’t give a mon­keys about my monkey busi­ness. All they care about is try­ing to sell me as much stuff as pos­si­ble.

And right now, all I care about is why I seem to be parked in front of a large glass win­dow, star­ing at a mov­ing belt of colour-coded dishes that con­tain an end­less se­lec­tion of healthy Ja­panese cui­sine at very rea­son­able prices. Yummy.

I won­der if smart cars built by other na­tions are pulling the same trick. Per­haps if I drove a Volk­swa­gen it would force me to pick up Syr­ian refugees or in­vade Poland

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