©2019 Kari Carlisle
For the past thirteen years, I have been spoiled. The first eight of those years, I had a thirteen-mile, twenty-minute commute to work with no traffic. The worst thing I had to worry about was a cattle drive in the road. The following five years, I had no commute. I lived less than a fifth of a mile from my office.
I am no longer spoiled with an easy commute. Back in the big city, I take 45 minutes to get to my office with no traffic. During rush hour, or I should say rush four hours, I have an hour commute. Longer if there’s an accident.
I use my iPhone liberally to gauge the traffic and select my route. With an unlimited data plan, I can use Siri daily to give me directions even though I know where I’m going. She can reroute me if there’s an accident or other road blockage. Just this week, she shaved five minutes off my commute by sending me onto the freeway frontage road for several miles.
Siri is not perfect, though. While I saved five minutes on one commute, I lost 20 minutes trying to find a doctor’s office… TWICE in the last few weeks. Which makes me really worried about self-driving vehicles.
Just years away from becoming ubiquitous, self-driving vehicles are now undergoing testing in my urban area as well as others. There are a few things that concern me about the future of commuter travel and one thing that really excites me.
The first concern I have as you’ve probably already guessed is getting where I want to go. Are those self-driving cars using the same navigation systems as what is currently in use? If so, we’re in trouble. I have been directed to the wrong side of the street, the wrong block, and even the wrong side of town. We still have to be smarter than navigation to be certain we’ll arrive at our destination.
Another concern is safety. While safety is being touted as a selling point because self-driving vehicles can respond faster than a human, there have been fatalities, albeit not always the self-driving car’s fault, but I really would like to know that my car is not going to run someone over or decide that my well-being is secondary to, say, a beer truck. Pardon my desire for self-preservation.
I’m also concerned about the ramifications of self-driving vehicles for the future of personal privacy and freedom. Once we have a bunch of self-driving vehicles around, and they’re all communicating with each other, I expect next we’ll be making strides toward smart cities where a central A.I. knows where everyone is going and remotely manages all traffic signals and directs the routes of all the vehicles.
Next thing you know, we’ll be required to carpool with strangers, use public transit, and begin our commute within narrow time windows in order to serve the collective. Obviously, we do a lot of that now by choice – it’s the potential for a directive that bothers me. We’ll be a massive swarm of ant drones being directed by the queen A.I. Someday, we’ll be required to live along convenient (for the system) travel routes, and moving or changing jobs will be regulated.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that population density does not lead to such draconian controls, though other factors such as seemingly benevolent crime control may. If it does come to that, I don’t expect it in my lifetime.
Which leads me to what excites me. With a self-driving car, I’m looking forward to a commute during which I can get some work done, read, or watch a movie. That and not have to deal with road rage.