After an interesting and unexpected expedition through the Werakata National Park in the Hunter Valley recently I have lost all faith in our car’s navigation system. For a premium car the navigation and entertainment operating system has always been substandard, as though it was a last-minute thought, knocked up in a hurry by some work experience kid at TAFE. Lucky then that the technicians at Subaru have engineered a superb car that can go anywhere a Toyota Land Cruiser can. Because when the computer decided to take us down a fire trail we really needed that 4WD capability.
We’ve only ourselves to blame. It’s not like we couldn’t override the navigation and find our own way home. But we thought it must know something we didn’t. Alas, our car wasn’t as bright as we thought it was. That won’t be the case for long though. The day when cars are fully autonomous and us mere humans are relegated forever to the passenger seat is not that far away. KIIT the artificially intelligent Trans Am from the 80’s TV show Knight Rider wont’ remain in the realms of science fiction for much longer.
But before we get too carried away with AI cars becoming our nemesis we need to ask whether the boffins in Silicon Valley have fully appreciated the impact AI cars are going to have on society? For example:
· How many divorce lawyers will be put out of work? Think of all the marriages that have ended as a screaming row on the side of a road because one person can’t read a map and the other won’t stop to ask for directions. That’s a lot of extra lawyers to have suddenly chasing work place injury claims.
· If AI eliminates all human error accidents, there will be nothing to fix. From insurers to panel beaters (not that any panel has been beaten back into shape in the last twenty years) there’s a whole industry built up around repairing the damage from fender bender collisions to touch parking bingles. Who’s finding that lot new jobs?
· How will Hollywood replace the car chase? Law abiding vehicles that obey all the traffic rules are hardly the ideal get-away car. Think of all the petrol head franchise movies that will have to reinvent themselves around painfully obedient cars. How is James Statham going to make sitting in a Prius driven by a computer at a sedate 50km an hour seem exciting?
· What happens if we enjoy driving? How does one drive to the shops like The Stig if the white suited wonder has been reduced to series of ones and zeros by a micro-processor?
· And can our state governments afford to lose the revenue associated with speeding fines?
Amidst all this social upheaval, unequalled since the introduction of sliced bread, somebody had better be working on making flying cars a reality. Until then our car’s computer is being renamed Orac; after the notoriously terse and unhelpful super computer from Blake’s 7.