Automated Driving

The Toyota situation has had me tweeting about it. Today, I started a string of tweets about being a pedestrian and crossing the street in front of a still moving Toyota. I wasn’t talking about a specific incident, but rather my policy changes as a pedestrian having to deal with this risk. Never step in front of a Toyota.

I realize that this is hyperbole. Is it the brake control, or is it, as some in the press have alluded to, a matter of the computer controlling the engine?

This latter issue put me onto my own suspicions about my car, not a Toyota, that has now, after numerous roadtrips crossed over into the post-warranty stage of a car’s life. You know the place where every time you turn around something else needs to be repaired. But, I’m talking sinister here. I don’t like car warranties, because they are only good if you can take your car back to the dealer that sold it to you. Apparently, the manufacturer can’t promise zip. But, beyond that, I wondered, hey do they program these breakdowns into the computer. Would changing your oxygen setting mess up your tuneup and force you to get it repaired? Just a question, but one driven by the state of my car today. It needs a tune up, and that won’t happen in the near-term.   Luckily, I don’t have to drive much right now.

The damage from the Toyota situation, aka a computer problem, bleeds over to other life safety-computer interactions like the idea of automated driving where a computer drives the car. More than trust in Toyota is taking a hit here. I can imagine the downsides of a computer-driven car. I even tweeted about being pulled forceably from my steering column, white knuckles and all. But, why do I object so much?

Imagine a car where the driver need not pay attention to their surroundings, what the car is doing, or what is happening outside the car. Imagine what a driver would do with all that time. I could spend more time kissing my significant other. Well, the car would have to have a bench seat, but they don’t make cars like that anymore. We are individuals even in our family cars. Loneliness has been designed in. She is way the hell over there now. I hate consoles. Go back to the days of gangsters. You could barely see into a car, now its all glass all the time.

But, beyond the fun of it, what about the boredom of it. It’s like the issue of speeding. We have used normal distributions to figure out that speed causes accidents. But, if you think about it, speed is the obvious thing, so it gets the blame. Never mind the car that veered into your lane forcing you to do something, anything not to hit them and in doing so, they drove away, and speed takes the blame. In a very standoff way, ok, speed, but…. In a no buts allowed world, forget the buts. Yes, speed makes the accident works. It turns an injury into a death. But, does that mean it caused the accident. Looking at my own driving history, I know that I have had accidents at low speeds, rather than high speeds.

A boredom threshold seems to exist. At a fast speed, I’m seeing the big billiards game that driving is. Hell, I once saw a car bounce off a median, so I slowed down, some other car passed me, not seeing it, went down there and got hit, then to my amazement, the driver gets out and is all upset.  At a slow speed, I become nearly oblivious to anything beyond where the bumper ahead happens to be. If the car ahead is an SUV, semi, or black glassed car, or that thing with the tiny rear window at the wrong height, I feel trapped. I’ll change lanes, and guess what, we are not supposed to change lanes. I’m better off fast, if I have to change lanes. But, I can see this boredom threshold, I’m sure its not just me. The same question came up around gamers playing those fast shootem up games. Do their perceptual cycles speed up, and then do they become bored at slower speeds?

I know the same thing happens to me when I play Snake on an old phone. Faster, but then too fast, but slower is far worse. You fall asleep before the next time you have to turn the snake.

So what would happen if you didn’t have to attend to the road? You could talk, but don’t you already talk, and if you don’t why not? You could sleep, but I can’t sleep in a moving car or plane. You could work, make cell calls, tweet, browse the web, anything, anything except look out across that wide West Texas desert as the clouds dance overhead and cast shadows that make the impressionistic colors dance on the ground, and form those vast thunderstorms that you can see for hours before they arrive, or at night watch the lightening strikes out in Arizona, while you are still in Texas.

On top of all that, you’d never get a traffic ticket. You’d never make up time if you were late.

But, how would it feel? Would you feel different, better, tired, groggy, bored? Would you need to be distracted, entertained visually, or informed by more of those “info just a little too late to turn off” signs?

Heck, we could get married in our cars while they are moving. Try that today. “Do you take this man….” “Harry, pay attention to the road!” .. your….” What a mess. But, with an automated driver, a car would become the stage for a life lived more fully in some odd, unexpected ways.

Look at what better healthcare  and a longer life expectancy has done to society itself. We have 40 year old teenagers. We have retirees that can expect to spend more than half their life retired into a retirement that demands frugality just from its shear length, that demands that we find volunteerism and golf, because you can’t contribute anymore. Life itself hasn’t gotten better as it got older. We keep that to ourselves. Society might catch up with life extension, but when, and not when for the few, but for everyone that has to go through it. Will we be bored?

Back in the automated-driven car, I’ll be having a picnic, yes with a bottle of wine followed by a nap…. “Hey, we need curtains for the car.”

More than boredom and negativity, what opportunities will automated driving create for us?

On the Toyota problem, think about how a category owner also owns the Hype Cycle. And, how, like unintended consequences, or unintended uses of our functionality, you own other yet unrealized, yet to be categories. Is it the brakepad, or the computer. Computer be damned. Move from the specific to the general, and realize the general takes a hit out on the Hype Cycle.

“No, thanks Maam. That’s not how mama fixed it!”–Allan Jackson.


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