Columns and Letters

Column: An arresting moment in San Francisco, or reflections on the future

April 20, 2022 

-by Frank Macdonald
    The future, if we have one, would be an interesting place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. However, enough bits and pieces of technology filter down like acid rain to give us a glimpse of what the day after tomorrow may entail. A recent visitor from that world-to-be was arrested in San Francisco just a week ago.
    San Francisco police pulled over a car for a motor violation (driving at dusk without the headlights on). When the siren sounded the car dutifully pulled over to the curb. A passing pedestrian was the first to notice and announce that “Ain’t nobody in it!”
    A moment later police officers, having carefully approached the law-breaking vehicle, were able to confirm the pedestrian’s claim. It was a car with no driver.
    This particular motor vehicle violation was one of those crystal ball glimpses into our evolving world. Driverless cars are not new. Driverless cars are just one of the transportation industry’s many experiments. What makes this particular news item more interesting than most is that the police have arrested a car.
    In what courtroom will it be tried?
    The 2022 San Fran courtroom of now? Or the 2084 (1984 having been updated to scare future generations) courtrooms where driverless cars and trucks on trial wear notches on their fenders like prison tattoos to tally each car’s pedestrian crosswalk kills?
    Less traumatic, but no less concerning, a few thoughts come to mind should I find myself abducted by a driverless car and driven into the future, impounded there like a stray dog, sharing a kennel with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd who were captured during one of their Back to the Future sequels.
    Some things about the future will surely stay the same, such as Saturday night. That would be the night we would send our driverless cars out for pizza.
    So, there you are in front of the hockey game, waiting for the friendly honk from the driveway that tells you your pizza is here. Instead, it’s a knock on the door. Answering it, you see your driverless car dangling from the back of a tow truck, front fender crumpled from trying to stalk a pretty pink driverless Mercedes down a too-narrow alley. Which brings about a discussion about insurance and who will pay for the metal damage and mental health trauma the Mercedes suffered.
    Which brings about a discussion about how much it costs to insure a driverless car?
    I know that for many of today’s parents of teenagers, insurance coverage can do to your bank account what you are afraid your child might do to the family car. But after a century or so of cars on the road, actuaries have worked out just about everything that can go wrong with a teenager behind the wheel. They come up with insurance rates that ignore the fact that most teenagers are unlikely to have a teenage accident.
    How will insurance actuaries, who calculate the accident risks (risks not to the clients but to the company), assess the premium for a driverless car? What if a glitch in an algorithm turns your car colour-blind, a condition where frequently a human sufferer of such a physical glitch mistakes red for green and vice versa.
    If the traffic light looks green, it probably isn’t. So, you stay put until the line up of impatience behind you at the intersection begins honking their horns like a wedding parade. The colour-blind driver eases forward and so the accident-free traffic is flowing again, at least until it reaches the next intersection and its green and red confusion.
    A driverless car with a colour-blind condition has no logic of its own. Even a distracted, thumb-texting, first time in love, teen can work out a bit of green/red logic using what’s left of their brain’s intelligence, the part that isn’t distracted by the creation of a poetic composition of a great text. Such as LOL. A colour-blind teen will usually sense by the traffic flow that the red he sees is green. That’s why insurance policies for teens are only a few thousand dollars more than the value of the car.
    The driverless car, operating on artificial intelligence (AI), has collision written all over it. When the insurance agent comes to your house (or texts you from his car just like your teenage child, he has calculated everything that can go wrong, might go wrong, and is unlikely to go wrong, but might. This calculation, including his commission, would make an empty nest home long for its teenagers to return.
    Up to now, the most expensive adornments a car can have is a teenager behind the wheel.
    Now it is having no one behind the wheel as it drives downtown to get what will likely be your very first multi-thousand dollar pizza.
    Unless, of course, it is being followed by the RCMP. As the San Francisco police have demonstrated, driverless cars can be, like the rest of us, law-abiding robots when under surveillance by the state.
























Oran Dan - The Inverness Oran -

The Inverness Oran
15767 Central Avenue. P.O. Box 100
Inverness, Nova Scotia. B0E 1N0
Tel.: 1 (902) 258-2253. Fax: 1 (902) 258-2632
Email: [email protected]