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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

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.

  • I know that the loss of control of a human activity is frightening, Mr. Pitts, and I sincerely sympathize. That said, it helps to remember that new human possibilities are opening up.

    We’ll probably never do them. But our children will. This theme has played out before, back at Newcastle. Quite a few times since, too. We and our descent will, *will* find a new equilibrium.

    Hang on, sir; it’s going to be a bumpy ride, but thrilling–if we manage to hang on.

    • You say that “new human possibilities are opening up.” The new possibilities are servicing those very machines that are taking over our jobs and our lives.

  • Not only have we become addicted to technology, to the point that we neglect the things we should focus on, we are likely to be replaced by technology.

    • 101strac

      Those of us in my age group know we won’t be around long enough to bear witness to this technological nightmare, but we know in our hearts it’s coming. It has already begun. I can’t remember the last time I dialed a business number and actually connected to a live human being. Thats the minor end of nightmare technology, but, self driving cars on the highways? heaven help us.

      • The big problem is going to be when robotics replace humans, and when humans are no longer needed to repair or make new automated systems.

  • René Milan

    “They haven’t come up with a machine that can write a whiny newspaper column.” Not to worry, that not too difficult task will be accomplished within a decade.
    “looming obsolescence” – i hope that’s not what’s depressing you. I’m quite looking forward too it. We’ll be able to continue having fun exploiting and killing each other (“you have now just 7 lives left”), while the adults will take care of the business at hand.

  • doemland

    how I long for the days of clutches and shift sticks!

  • doemland

    have you dealt with a GPS lately?

  • Big Brother is here and getting more control every day. Dumbing us down to total assimilation.

  • howa4x

    Well what would you like instead the 50,000 highway deaths that occur anually? We are not even talking about drunk driver deaths and maiming.
    We are way too distracted to actually pay attention to the road. What with getting a text or making a call or reading the paper while driving, or putting on make up, self driving cars could save thousands of lives. I would love a car to tell me that another is coming into my lane in my blind spot, and could take evasive action Great sign me up. Mr Pitts’rant reminds me of how real old timers used to talk about the 1st autos. They were noisy they rattled and got stuck on muddy roads. What good are they a horse could get ya there just the same. Well welcome to the future.

  • Will they pull over the police,howdo you if they real,fate is amazing.