Lately, the news has been full of stories about “automatic cars.” Supposedly, these are the cars of the not so distant future. Basically, they will be able to drive themselves, freeing us humans to do other things. On the way to work, car owners will be able to make phone calls, go over the presentations that they are going to give that afternoon, send e-mails, or even take a nap. Actually, it doesn’t sound all that different from the way some people drive today.

To me, the most amazing thing about these cars is that the predicted release date for them is not that far away. Forbes predicts that these cars will go on sale by the end of this decade. In other words, if you order one of these cars now, it will probably show up at your house before the cable guy whom you called this morning.

Google and other companies are in the process of launching cars that can drive themselves. (Photo courtesy ford-life.com)

Google and other companies are in the process of launching cars that can drive themselves. (Photo courtesy ford-life.com)

Do we really need more technology and less human involvement? Apparently, car manufactures would say, “Yes.” The way these vehicles work is that you program the computer in the car to go where you want it to go and when. If you go shopping at a busy time, you could have your car drop you off at the store’s front door and then go find a parking space by itself. When you’re finished shopping, the car will pick you up in front of the store.

The automatic or “autonomous” car will also have some of the other new gadgets and technologies that are due soon. Volvo says that it wants to have a fleet of cars by 2020 that are impossible to crash. Some cars already beep or stop when there is an obstacle in the way. The autonomous car of the future with “anti-crash technology” will not just react to emergency situations, it will predict them.

Automatic or “driverless” technology will get rid of road rage — unless the cars will be programmed to flip off other cars. (Memo to car manufacturers: the cars flipping each other off was my idea). Soon after they are on the road, it can’t be that far off when cars will make up their own “minds” about things. I know a little bit about artificial intelligence. I actually stayed awake during parts of the movie, “Her.” So I won’t be surprised if someday soon an automatic car decides to play pranks on its owner, like switching garages with another car. On a hot, romantic summer night, one of these cars is bound to sneak off with another car down to the charging station to get a few extra jolts of electricity. They’ll probably stay out till all hours of the night, and won’t even call their owners to tell them that they’re all right.

There will be no reason to have minimum ages for drivers. If the car can drive just as safely regardless of who is in it, why couldn’t kids “drive” them, too? Preschoolers wouldn’t need parents to drive the car pools. They could do it themselves. Think of how much time that would free up for parents. What a great idea, right? Well, I know it would probably be just as safe, but there’s something weird about people being allowed to drive a car before they can spell “car.”

Those who are excited about these vehicles point out how much safer the driving experience would be. After all, they will have eliminated the “human factor.” They will be guided by computers who don’t get tired, angry, or drunk. These new vehicles will be commanded by algorithms rather than emotional beings. What could possibly go wrong? It’s a computer.

 

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at lloydgarver@gmail.com. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.