What is it
about not doing things for oneself that’s so unappealing to
so many people?
the latest – something I’ve been dreading for years:
The first production driverless car: The 2013 Lincoln MKZ.
The thing can be set on what amounts to autopilot, at which point
a combination of cameras, servos and computers keeps the car in
its lane – even in the curves – without any hands on
the wheel at all.
it Lane Keeper. (Soporific video here.)
This is a great
leap forward, technology-wise, over the “smart” cruise
control systems that have been available in mid-priced and higher
cars for several years now. Those systems merely adjust the car’s
speed in relation to the ebb and flow of traffic. If you set the
cruise at 65, but roll up behind a car going slower, the system
will slow you down (by cutting throttle or applying the brakes)
without your having to do anything but keep your hands on the wheel.
does away with the keeping-your-hands-on-the-wheel part.
board, Captain Dunsel.
Do you remember
In a prophetic,
sad – and very instructive – episode of the original
Star Trek series, Captain Kirk – the driver
of the Enterprise – is replaced by The
Ultimate Computer. It autonomously controls all the Enterprise’s
functions. Kirk is reduced to 180 pounds of ballast – Captain
Dunsel, a mocking term used to describe something useless.
But, a problem
soon manifests. The M-5 Ultimate Computer starts doing unanticipated
(and unwanted) things – like using the starship’s weapons
to destroy other Federation vessels. It won’t accept orders
to stand down – and fights to keep from being turned off.
The crew eventually manages to disable the M-5 and regain control
of their ship. The moral of the story is that while computers are
more efficient than human beings, they aren’t necessarily
excessive reliance on computers makes them worse.
– Lincoln’s real-world version of the M-5 Ultimate Computer
– assumes the driver is an idiot. Addled/lazy/inept –
and can’t be trusted.
As this and
similar technology becomes ubiquitous and pervasive – which
it will - that assumption becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,
a feedback loop. Expect less – get less.
Try to imagine
a future – not far off – in which a generation of people
have never learned even the rudiments of controlling a car themselves,
but have been conditioned to rely on computers to “keep them
is not even necessary. We already have the example provided by anti-lock
wheel lock during hard braking, which in turn avoids the problem
of no longer being able to steer the car because the (front)
wheels are locked up. Skilled drivers know to ease up slightly on
the brake pedal to keep the front wheels from locking up –
and thus, avoid losing the ability to steer the car. This is called
threshold braking. Unfortunately, it was deemed an art
too abstract, a skill too tough to master. And thus, ABS. Most people
under the age of 30 have never driven a car without ABS. Which means,
they never learned how to threshold brake.
the rest of the article
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2013 Eric Peters
Best of Eric Peters