This was going to be a rant.
Then I thought about it, which was a mistake. As any experienced ranter can tell you, thinking about it has the unfortunate tendency of turning a good, clean rant into a muddy quagmire of fine points, conditional sentences, and digressions as delicately balanced as a Swiss watch.
You want to flambe the target of your ire, but you find yourself conscience-bound to admit: maybe your target has a point. Such was the case last week when California governor Jerry Brown signed a law legalizing self-driving cars in the Golden State. Cali joins Nevada in allowing Google and other manufacturers to test “autonomous” cars on its roads. The law in both states requires that a human driver be onboard to take over in the event of emergency but the cars, which use a combination of sensors, cameras and artificial intelligence to stay between the lines, apparently don’t need the help.
If you are a kid — “kid” herein being defined as anyone under 35 years of age who uses the phrase “back in the day” when referring to 1992 — you’re probably wondering what the fuss is. The notion of self-driving cars probably sounds cool to you — or whatever word your generation uses to mean cool. “Jiggy”… “da bomb”… “fo’ shizzle” … whatever.
If you are a grownup — “grownup” herein being defined as someone over 35 who has begun to look with faintly homicidal malice at those kids who insist upon traipsing across your lawn — you understand quite well what the fuss is. Bad enough you now use a computer to order a pizza, and you have to interface with a machine to buy your groceries, pay your parking or communicate with your own kids. Bad enough you have to press one for English, then press two for the service department, then press three if you are over 6 feet tall, then press four if you are left-handed, then press five and hop on one foot if your favorite color is red, then listen to 15 minutes of Kenny G before you are allowed to speak with another human being. Now the machines will drive our cars, too?
When “The Terminator” came out in 1984, it postulated an apocalyptic future wherein machines had risen against us. Having arrived in that future, we now know better. The machines won’t kill us. But they are removing us from the equation.