by Johnny Bananas
Human ingenuity is a funny thing. Of course it has brought us such technological delights as the I-phone and the Thigh-master. But there is a downside to our eternal optimism in our ability to achieve God-like creativity. In our quest to solve the world’s many problems, as well as trying to solve problems that aren’t there (looking at you climate change), our finest minds have sallied forth in hopes of making life easier while trying to save the world.
What a deadly combination.
Elon Musk is one of those Uber geniuses who has honed his talent to achieve what many might have only dreamt of. Thanks to his uncanny ability to make his dreams a reality we have entered into an age where his products alone might cure our terminal cancer on our way to outer space will sipping a latte and listening to our favorite podcast on yet another use for shiplap. What’s not to be excited about?
I may not have the pedigree of an Elon Musk. However, I am the World’s First Truly Fake News Reporter, which means I possess a very rare and valuable brain trust, to me at least.
So when I was asked by my friend what I thought about self-driving vehicles I took the stance any reasonable human being should take which is – that’s a ridiculously bad idea. Of course my friend had sixty-thousand rea$on$ to disagree with me, and I was the one asking for a ride, so I was forced to reconsider.
After several minutes of listening to him promote this horrible idea of letting the car drive us I realized I was in for the ride of my likely-to-be-shortened life. After reluctantly easing into my white vegan leather passenger seat, the silent death trap let out a demonic howl that sounded more like a Banshee getting sucked into a black hole than the thunder of horses tearing down the road.
This is the sound of progress? Oh, sure.
As we attempted to leave my driveway the supposedly sentient beast seemed confused about what to do next. Its owner excused the machine’s hesitance because “it doesn’t recognize your driveway since it’s not on the map”. We’re not five seconds in to the trip and already it’s clear there are more bugs than the ones splattered on the windshield.
After “assisting” the rolling robot into position it takes off down the winding road and comes to a stop at an intersection with the braking sensitivity of a meat cleaver.
After turning, the next thing I know we are being driven up the exact middle of the freshly paved road because “it doesn’t have any lines painted on it so it doesn’t know where the lane is”. Which I’m sure makes perfect sense to the oncoming motorists who don’t have the same problem until they see us coming.
I try to distract myself by admiring the over-sized R-2 unit’s many bells and whistles, among which is a small flat screen TV where the stereo controls should be. On it appears a rudimentary 2-D/3-D map of the neighborhood as “we” drive through it.
To my friend this obviously feels like Star Trek has come to life in his driveway, fair enough. Star Trek was clearly ahead of its time. Yet it required us to suspend our reality. Evidence Spock was an alien were his pointy ears – really? The Enterprise’s diversity and inclusion policies were cutting edge but have another look at those control panels – they were barely ahead of the Commodore 64. As for that patriarchal playboy Captain Kirk, I have a La-z-boy in my living room that rivals his command chair.
Not to mention they were only to flip-phones at that point in space travel. Highly suspect.
I feel like I am having to similarly suspend my reality as I consider this piece of Space-X technology that has yet to make it down a stretch of road without my friend attempting to explain why it did the next dangerous thing. As we get into Hanover he’s made more excuses for it than a battered house wife for her abusive husband.
Enter the construction along the Ledyard bridge and the steely beast starts to convulse like it’s having a seizure trying to figure out what comes next. “It doesn’t recognize all these cones” my friend explains matter-of-factly. No, it does not.
It also doesn’t recognize the Ivy League privilege enjoyed by the Dartmouth student who just walks right out into traffic and nearly gets hit by Elon’s creation, which was about the only thing it almost got right that day. I can’t think of a driver who hasn’t secretly wanted to teach the student body about applied physics a time or two while they clog up the campus arteries like high-end extra virgin olive oil.
As we near our destination we have one more intersection to make it through and the green goblin does not disappoint.
“I don’t know why it won’t go,” he wonders aloud finally sounding annoyed.
I know why it won’t go – it’s a machine not a person. The only thing it has in common is the ability to mess things up spectacularly and look good doing it. It’s not made to rationalize or make judgment decisions. It lacks nuance and a nervous system. It doesn’t know how to genuinely solve the problems of human traffic nor does it keep a record of all the times some idiot violated the rules of the road and nearly ruined your day.
“One day the road is going to be full of these and they’ll all be talking to each other and it will revolutionize the way we travel” my friend beams believing this to be a good thing.
Millions of these, talking to each other in Tesla-ese, Toyota-ese, and Ford-ese?
That’s exactly what I’m worried about.
Johnny Bananas is the nom de plume of a fake news reporter living in Vermont. Nothing he reports ever actually happened. This is satire, folks.