We have a very complicated relationship with our cars. I learned the strength of the emotional bond when taking calls from drivers whose cars had been towed away by the police (see bio). If just one of those hundreds of daily curses came true, I would have died in agony years ago!
For this reason, I’m fascinated to see how the automated car pans out. One of the keys to diffusing anger may be the outsourcing of ownership. If people don’t own the vehicles they travel in, maybe they won’t get so territorial. It’s hard to get sentimental about an anonymous four-wheeled box in the cloud. On the other hand, by ‘hot wheeling’ our cars (hot desk style), maybe we’ll lose some of the warmth of personalization.
It would be disappointing if all cars have the same personality – or lack of it. Is tomorrow’s automated car going to be like a small driverless train? Or will they have enough intelligence to develop their own personalities? If so, where will that lead? Will cars start developing their own driving styles in accordance with local custom? Will the automated cars in Pescara spend the entire journey honking their horn (like my Italian nephew does)? Can automated cars be programmed to drive like my wife and never let any man into traffic? That would be perfectly in keeping with London styles of driving.
Automation experts are keeping their options open on this. If there are two drivers I would trust to take me to the future, they are Paul Papademiitriou the founder of Intelligencr and Bola Adegbulu, founder and CEO of AutoMosys. In video interviews with Telefonica they seem quite open minded about the future direction of the connected car. It could go anywhere. It all depends what you want and what problems you want to avoid.
AutoMosys is building a smart brain for cars that takes in information and gathers a picture of the tastes and needs of the driver. Adegbulu sees the role of the connected car as an improver of driver behaviour. By doing this, they can improve the health of both the car and the driver and bring down the cost of driving. Automosys is working to make driving more of a social experience. In Adegbulu’s vision of the future, the human is still very much in charge of the car, which acts as a sort of intelligent assistant.
That sounds like a happy destination. Please take us there, Mr Adegbulu!
No, hang on a second. I want to know much this is going to cost, both spiritually and, yes, financially. Surely, if the intelligent car becomes more like a friend, people will become even more emotionally attached to them. I can see certain types of man getting jealous if guests enter their car and start flirting with its artificial intelligence. Who knows how angry they will get if some law enforcer clamps their four wheeled friend or, worse, abducts it and holds it to ransom in a car pound. That sounds like the inciting incident for a Mel Gibson revenge movie.
It was the car that liberated large sections of society by widening our employment options. It gave families options to travel further and gave householders greater purchasing power. I think the reason why there is so much emotional investment in the automobile is that they emancipated us all. Mobility gave everyone greater employment, consumption and childcare options. No wonder we fell in love with them.
Having saved our lives, cars went on to ruin them all over again, when they got too popular and the air became thick with exhaust fumes and the roads clogged by inconsiderate parkers. (That gave my employers license to start its parking protection racket.)
Having liberated us, will technology enslave us again? There are other versions of the future that Paul and Bola have outlined. The smart car may be watching over us in order to protect us.
In the interview, Bola says that soon we may not be able to take our eyes off the road. If we do, we’ll get an automated ticking off from the connected car. But to me that sounds even worse than Big Brother. This is Big Browser! How good or bad will this get? Don’t ask me, I’m only here to ask questions. I’m in the slow lane: you should check out the Trailblazers.