“I won’t be impressed with science until I can download a waffle” -Sean Gabay

Remember how they used to sting you at the video rental store when you brought back the tapes a day or two late? Netflix ended all that. And do you remember having to open your beer with a screwdriver because your genius brother-in-law lost the can opener? Pop-top cans solved that problem.(I think we’re showing our age here.)

Well we may soon be talking about traffic tickets in the past tense too, especially if the mega-nerds at Google have their way. They’re the company that’s going pedal-to-the-metal into the driverless car business. So far, they’ve convinced four states, California, Nevada, Florida and Michigan, as well as the District of Columbia to enact laws allowing driverless cars, or “autonomous motor vehicles” on their streets. In the case of DC, I guess it’s one way of addressing the problem of gridlock. But they have that big campus over where the Nabisco bakery used to be, and if Governor Wolf can figure out a way to tax it, it’s bound to come roaring down the off ramp to Pennsylvania. .

robotdriver

The Idler is a little conflicted on this subject. Initially we’d have to think that anything that allows us to get where we want to go and simultaneously squeeze in a nap or a few hands of cards has to be a winner. The economic impact seems positive. These cars would be programmed to obey traffic laws and not to speed,so you won’t be paying any tickets. The auto insurance industry is worried because robots are such good drivers that so far there have been no reported chargeable accidents. So insurance companies could take a major hit. Also, without auto accidents, personal injury lawyers could really suffer. So Judge Judy, Flo the insurance busybody and Edgar Snyder take it in the neck. Win-win-win! (No offense, Edgar, but how are you going to get money for me if nobody gets “hurr-tinn” an accident?) Some of our best friends are body and fender men, but there should still be enough business from runaway shopping carts and malicious knuckleheads. Also, as Neil Young told us, rust never sleeps.

So what’s the down side? Well, it just seems that as risk is eliminated from life so is a lot of the excitement. We’re all so seat-belted and helmeted, padded and air-bagged that all the drama has been drained from everyday living. Sure there are still some moments of fear, loathing and absolute lunacy to thrill and entertain us, but come on, we can’t depend on the Steel Valley School Board forever.

Let’s be honest, it’s obviously a good thing when your relative state of sobriety becomes irrelevant. Since you’re not driving it would only be a factor to the extent that you couldn’t find your car and/or open the door. Of course you’d have to be sufficiently coherent to tell R2D2 where you want to go, but you’re not dangerous otherwise. (By the way, if your robot gets snockered on 10W40, that’s his problem, right?) Still, there are aspects of the motoring experience that we wouldn’t want to lose. So we just hope the software engineers can program in some nostalgic scenarios where your robot flips off other robots who cut him off in traffic. And we’d want him to be able to get into some old fashioned, robot-to-robot shouting matches too. You know, like:

            Hey Commodore Vic, where’d you get your license, Radio Shack?

            Oh yeah? Well stick it in your USB port, you 32 bit bucket of bolts!

We just feel we need this type of entertainment even if it’s done in that monotone Stephen Hawking voice.

But of course all of this is highly theoretical so don’t let your driver’s license expire just yet. We’ll believe in the concept of self-driving cars when we’ve seen them operate in real-world conditions. Hey Google, let’s see your robots survive the Route 51 pothole slalom. Better tighten up those CPU’s!

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