CityLab reporter Laura Bliss writes about “the realm of speculative transportation.” It is a useful concept, denoting the raft of lavishly hyped promises about “autonomous” and “electric” automobiles.
One question this burgeoning realm suggests is how much of it, at the planning/managerial level, stems from delusion, and how much from propaganda.
Surely, delusion is there. People who make comfortable livings from working on deadly products find ways to not just justify it, but spin it as visionary.
Yet, the habit of including preposterous techno-promises in the automotive marketing mix did not emerge last week. It is as old as the overclass push to sell cars.
This fact strongly suggests that the use of car-of-the-future promises is also knowingly propagandistic, i.e., that car-makers consciously use images of impossible futures as cover for keeping the existing meat-grinder going.
Alas, since business corporations are private tyrannies, the extent to which the realm of speculative automobility is a carefully planned marketing tactic remains unclear. It would be extremely fascinating to lay hands on the evidence, though.
Seems robocars are already producing negative effects in existing drivers’ behavior. Per Automotive News:
“Without question, technology is making drivers lazier and less attentive,” said Mike Harley, group managing editor at Kelley Blue Book. “Most of today’s digital ‘driver assistance’ features are designed to overlay basic driving skills, which relaxes the driver’s sense of responsibility.”
A University of Michigan study showed that may already be the case. The school recently conducted research for an automaker concerned with how people are using blind-spot detection systems that alert drivers with chimes and warning lights when another car is in a difficult-to-see area. The study found a significant increase in drivers failing to look over their shoulder to check for themselves when changing lanes.
A future of robocars — itself far from a proven outcome, thanks to the very skills it would have replace — would mean the loss of the amazingly complex body of lifelong learning and knowledge that now goes into live, person-controlled motor-vehicle operation. Automation, you see, erodes human capabilities.
The question of what forces are most deeply behind the apparent madness for “self-driving” automobiles is complicated and interesting. Certainly, the good old desire to pile more mark-uppable parts into cars, which have always been one of corporate capitalism’s two great platforms for maximum commodification of life (the other being the single-family surburban house, itself mostly an offshoot of the rise of the private automobile), is one major factor. And, given corporate capitalism/market totalitarianism’s inherent problem of advancing commercial saturation of life spheres, the overclass is also certainly eager to gain heightened access to people’s drive-time attentional processes.
Another force is the PR need to paint the hugely outdated automotive-industrial complex look like it’s somehow “cutting edge,” rather than the patently obvious (albeit unmentionably so) planet-endangering dinosaur that it is.
In any event, you know you’re in a decrepit empire when the only discussable answers to problems are further redoublings of past pipedreams/disastrous wrong turns. “Self-driving cars” is absolutely just such a phenomenon.
Turns out there’s another problem — you know, other than their wild, ecocidal unsustainability — with the cars of the future. The integration of computers is rendering them externally controllable.
Andy Greenberg reports in Wired:
I’d come to St. Louis to be Miller and Valasek’s digital crash-test dummy, a willing subject on whom they could test the car-hacking research they’d been doing over the past year. The result of their work was a hacking technique—what the security industry calls a zero-day exploit—that can target Jeep Cherokees and give the attacker wireless control, via the Internet, to any of thousands of vehicles. Their code is an automaker’s nightmare: software that lets hackers send commands through the Jeep’s entertainment system to its dashboard functions, steering, brakes, and transmission, all from a laptop that may be across the country.
Greenberg’s piece is worth reading.
This week brings the 2014 World Congress on Intelligent Transport Systems. The “intelligent systems” in question? Cars!
Meanwhile, as they try ever more elaborate tricks to perpetuate the suicidal but necessary-to-capitalists cars-first transportation order of the United States, the challenges and costs are predictably piling up.
As reported by Automotive News, here’s what they’re learning — and like Captain Renault, they are shocked — about the realities of robot cars:
Stepper said once the technology is perfected, proving that it works perfectly and safely in every driving situation will be a massive challenge. Said Stepper: “The validation will have to be that your system will not have one single failure.”
Dellenback compared the cost of developing the software to control self-driving cars to that of writing software for a manned space flight.
He said, “The cost of each line of software is incredible.”
Oh, yes, there’s this, too: Robot cars don’t work in the rain or snow!