A . . . Autonomy


“Why are you dressed all in black, Grandpa?”

“It’s January 28th. I’m in mourning.”

“Mourning for what? Did somebody die?”

“”Not somebody, something. Really not even a thing, but an old-fashioned concept.”

“Tell me more.”

“Well, you’re too young to remember the automobile.”

“I’ve seen them in history books. Like boxes on wheels, moved from place to place, carried people?”

“Yes, more or less. Thy used to be everywhere, people moving around minding their own business, getting things done. You don’t see them any more. People hardly move around any more, they stay in their cubes and have things delivered by drone, control machinery remotely over the net, provide virtual services to other people but never actually see them face to face. It’s hard to say how it came about, but making the car driverless was a big step on that road.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time to put reliable artificially intelligent software in charge of vehicles equipped with all kinds of sensors. Let the machines see for themselves, communicate with each other, follow standard sets of rules. Take control away from individual people, for their own good and safety, and put it in the Cloud. Worked pretty crudely at first; the early ones hit foreseeable problems, like pulling over unexpectedly for software updates, being hacked by ill-wishers, reacting to false alarms from animals on the road – a squirrel or a blowing paper bag looks just like a pedestrian to a computer – and failing to know the difference between the driver’s voice command and the kids arguing in the back seat. Those were mere technical problems, solved after a lot of aggravation by making the cars more complicated and expensive. The bigger problems came later.”

What kind of problem? Still sounds like a good idea after overcoming teething problems.”

“Well, the whole transport system had to be re-invented. Roads needed smart sensors, radio transmitters instead of cheap painted lane markings. Expensive improvements, to be paid for by taxing road users. Human drivers did unexpected things – things a machine would never do – and caused accidents. So, for safety, human drivers were banned from major highways; they could take a bus or an airplane if they really needed to get somewhere distant. Then, for local streets and parking lots and driveways lacking special equipment, a network was set up to monitor every car, whether controlled by a human or itself. A supercomputer in the Cloud could over-ride any action by a human that might possibly be dangerous. This was very frustrating, with continual stopping and pulling over while the suspected danger was analyzed from above. Some people stayed home to avoid the increasingly-prohibitive cost of a car. Other people resorted to buying antique cars without the driverless features. ‘Street cowboys’ they were called, then ‘irresponsible eccentrics’, finally ‘vehicular terrorists’. Law enforcement and the NSA hooked into the control network, had autonomous vehicles identify and report on non-interactive vehicles, arrested humans who dared drive on their own. This surveillance naturally expanded to require all occupants of a vehicle to identify themselves and state their destination and intentions before the Cloud allowed the vehicle to start up. The final solution was to withdraw all drivers licenses and ban all non-autonomous vehicles nationwide [this had happened much sooner in some foreign countries with less-independent populations; America followed in the wake of Russia and China]. But by then, even sitting in a private car had come to be seen as suspicious, probably anti-social behavior, and the need for personal transport had pretty much vanished. All cars went out of fashion and then out of production except for some playthings for the obscenely rich. The static society of today had evolved. We live alone, on-line, monitored all the time. For our own good, of course; the Cloud knows best what is good for us”

“So you mourn for a lost way of life. Why today?”

“Back in 2016, January 28th, California came out with regulations permitting the sale and use of the first driverless car. Things went downhill from there.”

Also find these older posts…
A … Autonomy B … Bear C … Corporations I … Introduction J … Judgment P … Potholes R … Review S … Snoozers W … Weather

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IP Doorman

Copyright 2016 Flight of Eagles

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Writer of Kern.

8 thoughts on “A . . . Autonomy”

  1. Wow! Such a thought-provoking post. Make me wonder ‘what if’ because it does seem we are heading in this direction at times. I’ve thought about how we don’t see check stand clerks in grocery stores and home improvement stores – just the self-check out stands with one person roaming around to make sure glitches are taken care of. Personally, I prefer a real person but it’s seems we get that less and less.


  2. Love this post! I enjoyed the story format and was also intrigued with the ensuing ponderings the concept brought up for me. It was interesting to see the process of things-that-seem-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time presented in reverse. Thanks for the thoughts.


    1. Thank you for your comment, Jeannie. Sorry for the late reply, Im still fumbling my way around websites. The story-related-to-editorial is a format I’m playing with, I really prefer the story-that’s-just-a-story; but other people apparently don’t see that as true blogging.


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