I can remember clearly, as a 14 year old teenage boy, dreaming of the day I would finally get my driver’s license and my first set of wheels. Even as a teen, I was a firm believer in the value of working hard towards achieving your dreams; so I set out to buy my first car well before the day I was legal to drive it with money I earned on many a hot summer day welded to the push handle of a Murray self-propelled mower. Gaining the ability to drive meant so much more to me than just one human’s ability to get around oneself. It was a tangible symbol of a newfound freedom and, looking back, a strong part of your personal identity. Those memories are still extremely strong and anchored in who I am today; so much that whenever I’m not feeling like all is right with the world, I can climb behind the wheel of the old Jeep; somehow the whir of the tires and cool breezes help everything find its proper place in my perspective. I guess that’s why I don’t understand why kids today don’t long for the same independence as we once did, waiting till they are 17 and even 18 before they are forced, often against their own will, to get their license. Heck, even a large number of adults want to pawn the driving duties off to a box full of microprocessors, without so much as a second thought.
It seems as though the future forecast involves technology doing most of our dirty work for us; a fact that I am, admittedly, not prepared for. Primarily because driving is not work at all to me, but rather something I truly enjoy. I am quite positive that when the future was projected to us years ago on television shows like The Jetsons, it was NOT like that. Sure, George Jetson and his family were flying around Orbit City in their little space car, but he was always grasping controls. It may have been a steering wheel or a rod or some joystick contraption, but he was always at the controls and driving; in control of his own destiny and destination. If the cartoonists had made him face rearward with a 4-inch handheld screen on the end of his nose, I’m pretty sure viewership would have plummeted. Nobody in the viewing audience would have even pretended to be entertained by the prospect of not being able to drive anymore. We will gladly take Rosie the Robot to see to our household chores but please keep your hands off of our cars. I want that future The Jetsons were able to foresee and not the one we currently have coming to us!
As a means of preparing myself mentally for what the future likely holds, I decided to read what the NHTSA had to say about our less than bright future of driverless cars. Since they are departmentally responsible for keeping our highways as safe as humanly possible, it would seem to me that they would be less-than-thrilled with a highway system jammed up with cars not being operated by humans. This was, however, not the case at all. They seem to be fairly excited about the possibilities that our autonomous future holds in terms of overall safety- a future where a person can potentially be carjacked by their own vehicle because they failed to update their software in a timely fashion. Nonetheless, as government agencies are known to do, they have established a standardized table in which to gauge the autonomy of a vehicle, with SAE Level 0 being where a human driver performs any & all tasks related to driving, up to SAE Level 5 where the automated system performs all driving tasks in all conditions with no interaction from the driver. I’m not ashamed to say that I am extremely uncomfortable with any of these designated levels higher than Level 0. I develop an uneasy feeling even at a Level 1, where the vehicle would incorporate common features like lane-assist and cruise control systems which, in my opinion, largely remove the human element from the driving experience. I was equipped from the factory, although it was quite a few decades ago, with the ability to perform many of the complex processes involved with driving a car and I am fully committed to use my eyes, turn my head and commandeer any of my other senses, if the need were to arise. There’s really no need to develop any gizmos to do the same.
Many will argue that having a computer present to help a driver determine his surroundings and provide vastly more accurate data will result in better driver decision-making and potentially less accidents. While I do acknowledge that there is surely some credibility to such a claim, I would argue in response that I cherish my safety best when it is in my sole power to preserve it. I am just unable to come to terms with the potential that my final moments on earth are spent being completely blind-sided by a tiny blue spinning donut of death on my autonomous cars user display letting me know I need to hastily adjourn with my ongoing game of Tetris and get back to the driver’s seat for some sudden evasive maneuvers. Obviously, my slight hesitation in terminating a game where I had managed to compile such an impressive score would be at the root of my eventual undoing. I am all but certain the accident report would detail how all the autonomous systems show to be in perfect operating order and the reason for the accident declared to be “Lack of Appropriate Driver Intervention”, an allegation fully supported by the on-board digital voice recorder that would shamelessly broadcast to my loved ones my final words, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”- And then silence.
I guess, in time, I will have to become a little more comfortable with the prospect of cars that drive themselves, with us ‘superior beings’ being reduced to nothing more than mere pieces of cargo; but then again, I kind of doubt it. It just won’t be as easy a transition as we’ve had in the past; like when the TV remote controls went from making that loud clicking noise to shooting an invisible infrared beam across your living room and eventually making no noise at all when you change the channels. We finally figured out that the infrared beam wouldn’t catch the curtains on fire and life returned to something that resembled normal. Those were relatively easy transitions in comparison but still very monumental in terms of how we watch television. In the meantime, I think I will get back to dreaming every night of the day when I can once again jump in my Jeep and hit the road any time the mood strikes me with no assistance from anyone. Working towards that end, is anyone interested in a used GPS? OlllllllO