Driverless or brainless.

It’s the question that’s been on everyone’s lips all year, the question that has consumed our every waking hour and filled our dreams at night. It is a question that needs an answer and the answer has become a holy grail for as many as 17 people globally. And that question is…….? Will we find a vaccine? No, no, no, don’t be silly, that’s not important. Will the American electorate muster the collective willpower, not to mention brainpower, to kick Trump through his own wall and try to rebuild themselves? No, no, no, you’re just being silly again, honestly why are you so thick?! Such questions as these are mere feathers drifting on the breeze compared to the really big one that we should all be focused on, because it’s just so vital a topic, especially at a time when we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of lives and have economies that are prolapsing before our very eyes. Let me hold you in suspense no more, the question we demand an answer to is – when do we get driverless cars?

Seriously. That’s actually of concern to some at the moment. Some people are really interested about whether the government is going to give driverless cars the green light (no pun intended) on our roads. A few optimists think there may be a breakthrough as soon as spring next year but I’m not sure about that. Can you hear me scratching my head? Can you see my tongue sticking out of the side of my mouth as I think really, really hard about this? When would be the best time to get these driverless cars out onto our roads and motorways? How about next spring? Or maybe, and this is just a thought, never. Let’s never, ever get driverless cars out on our roads and motorways because if there is one thing more stupid that a stupid person driving a car it’s a stupid car that thinks it can drive itself.

I don’t know the tech for all this. I don’t understand the electronics or the coding. I admit that asking me to explain how driverless cars work would be like asking Dermot O’Leary to say something interesting or asking Joe Lycett to just shut the fuck up. It will never happen. But it is highly likely that ever since cars starting rolling out in the first place some boffin was busy wondering how we could save ourselves the huge bother of driving them ourselves and get them to do it for us instead. I mean, cars are such lazy bastards, aren’t they? Just look out on the street – see them? See those cars? Now tell me what the cars with no drivers are doing. That’s right, nothing. They’re just sitting there doing absolutely nothing and they’ll keep doing nothing until someone goes and does something about it. They’ve been given and inch and they’re taking quite a lot more than a yard and who’s left to do all the donkey work? Us. So isn’t it about time that we turn the tables on these lazy buggers and get them to start paying their way a bit?

Who wants a driverless car anyway? Are they not just a distraction, a vacant luxury, a grand folly to sate our appetite for yet more ‘labour saving’ technology? What is the point of having a car that can work without you lifting a finger? To give you an example just look at long haul air travel. Yes you’ve got the drinks trolley coming round and a foil tray of inedible slop and an inflight magazine that tells you that wherever you’re flying to isn’t as good as the places you could be flying to instead, and of course a string a films to watch on a tiny screen until your eyes hurt and your ears ache from deep headphone thrombosis, and yet despite all these things long haul flights are relentlessly boring. The only person on a long haul flight who isn’t bored is probably the pilot and even assuming that is a stretch, but at least they have some level of responsibility just in case there’s some turbulence or a spot of bird strike. Put me in a car, sober, and I would always rather be driving it myself to save the possibility of someone else doing it badly.

They say that having cars drive you around will free up our time to do some of the excruciatingly important tasks that we’re missing out on such as, and this is really what they said on the radio, watching a film. Well pardon me being a bit flippant when I say a resounding whoopee-fucking-doo! Please sir, do you mean it?! Can I really sit in my own car and watch a film? Any film I like, you say. Well I never, whatever next? Perhaps next week I’ll bring a kettle and make a nice cup of tea as I get whisked around the Kidderminster ring road. Perhaps a toaster too. Or a microwave. I could even install a mini fridge and a camping stove and cook sausages while a friend in a kaftan reads me their latest anthology of poetry, or a magician entertains me on the back seat. Hey, maybe I’ll just have a nap with my fingers crossed and I might not wake up in a hospital bed. Such a treat and it saves me having to look out of the window and see the world I live in and notice where I am, you know, that kind of boring stuff.

The trick is of course that no matter how automated a car becomes there will always be a human occupant (though no doubt some twat will find a reason to have cars driving around with no one in them at all, basically this is what Range Rovers do already) and that occupant will always need to be ready to take over just in case the car gets confused when you press pause halfway through Fifty Shades Of Grey and assumes you definitely want to plough into the nearest reservoir at 68 miles an hour. This means that you would spend most of the journey literally on the edge of your seat because every unexpected bleep or flash might mean you are seconds away from becoming seriously intimate with a lamp post. How could you ever get through The Complete Works Of Shakespeare if you were even slightly in doubt over whether the car really understood the difference between braking and accelerating? And besides, just because you had a driverless car it doesn’t remove the cold fact that for decades to come most other cars are being driven by irresponsible pricks like me.

A few final points to make before I finish. Driverless cars will be so tightly regulated that they will always look like they are being driven by a pensioner with cataracts. If anything they will play it super safe at all times, and that will just clog up roads and motorways more and increase road rage (perhaps one day they’ll invent a system that can simulate road rage to save you the bother of getting angry). Driverless cars will be hugely expensive and so will become targets simply because everyone will know that the moron who’s playing the saxophone whilst not driving themselves to work has far more money than sense. Some say that introducing driverless technology will improve driving standards and hugely reduce driving related deaths but I’m really not convinced. For proof just think about this the next time you go through the self checkout in a supermarket and take a moment to appreciate that we still haven’t developed technology adequate enough to make that apparently time and labour saving tool work properly so how can we trust a tonne and a half of metal on wheels to behave while we hop in the back and touch ourselves? I conclude with this quote from BBC News which in many ways settles this once and for all:

“A fatal crash in the United States was caused, in part, by the driver playing a video game while leaving his car in “Autopilot” mode, before it drove into a concrete barrier.”

You see, technology can solve a lot of problems, it may one day be able to make an elephant fly, but what it can never do is make someone unstupid.

G B Hewitt. 21.08.2020

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