Will future cars free our time or enslave us to our AI masters?
Fifty years ago, when a computer ‘bug’ still meant a wee beastie crawling into one of the valves, the US navy handed the landing of aircraft on carriers over to machines. Why? They were better at it. Safer, and more consistent.
In time we will put the piloting of more craft into robot hands. The simple fact is that machines are already better than us at driving cars. The challenge now is one of commercialisation, political, and finally social acceptance.
Yes there will be deaths. The first last week will not be the last. But there will be many fewer.
We will spend less time on the road as a result. But what time we do spend there will be ours to do with as we please. Without the frustration or exhaustion of piloting a couple of tonnes of tin between other over-stretched monkeys in their own metal shells.
So what are we going to do?
In reality, this is only one area of our lives where time is suddenly likely to become abundant. At least in relation to the current state of time-poverty that most working people experience. Strip away the undoubtedly troubling aspects of the destruction of employment — I’ve covered that many times elsewhere — and just think about what we will do. When machines answer the phone, manage our administration and expenses, file our accounts, open doors, transport us where we want to go, and even help us to more efficiently transcribe our thoughts.
What will we do?
I’ve already suggested we might learn. Education might bring some of the rewards we miss when the availability of work is diminished. But what about play?
Perhaps this is the Matrix-like end goal for virtual reality. Hundreds of us in our future cars being transported around while embedded in a game, all senses synced to a different plane. We might even be enjoying the thrill of driving.
Joking aside, play is important. And play could be hugely valuable. It could be an opportunity to restore the human experiences that modern life has stripped away: danger and excitement, risk and reward.
Play does not have to be an activity of consumption: it can be an act of creation. And it can be an act of collaboration.
Imagine seas of commuters in their future cars, formerly separated by their steel shells now connected by a shared virtual experience. Interacting without the stress of the commute. Playing together.
To me this would not be a colder world. It would be more human, not less.