I knew this would happen. It seems like Google’s much-ballyhooed driverless robot Prius was involved in a crash.
According to the website Jalopnik.com, the car – which uses radar sensors, a roof-mounted camera and lasers as a guidance system – engaged in some “Prius-on-Prius” violence last week. Robocar bumped into the back of another Prius parked outside Google’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. The smack allegedly triggered a chain reaction fender bender with three other cars.
At first it seemed like a great day for people who hate the idea of self-driving cars (also known as “car lovers”) to get their gloat on. But faster than you could say, “Illogical! Illogical!,” in a vibrato computer voice, Google announced that a human was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Well, isn’t that just like a robot.
Burn around town bragging about how you are, according to Google’s chief autonomous car researcher Sebastian Thrun, “the perfect driving mechanism,” but the minute you get in a fender bender it’s blame the human time.
The incident reminded me of another robot car, one that would never have thought to blame its master, and one that would never have allowed that driver to be in accident in the first place – namely the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT), a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am driven by detective Michael Knight (actor David Hasselhoff) in the NBC 1980s television series Knight Rider.
KITT was endowed with enough artificial intelligence to know that it was probably best that the Hoff be relieved of any difficult driving duty. He could also converse eloquently (unlike Google’s prize Prius), refrained from using the contraction “ain’t” and often cracked dry jokes at his owner’s expense.
For example, from the “Knight Flight to Freedom” episode:
Michael: What’s with the darkened windows pal?
KITT: This is Hollywood, Michael. I’m wearing sunglasses.
How did we go from a wisecracking, kick-ass, supercomputer Trans Am to a laser-guided nerd-ride Prius with a camera stuck on its head? And who’s responsible?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? If a robot Prius hits my ride in a parking lot is it programmed to leave a note? Or does it do a quick calculation on my finding out and then peel away? Who knows? It might wait around and vaporize me.
Robots and computers are not known for their empathy or mercy and, if my interactions with the Internet, mobile phones, PCs, ad hoc genre, are anything to go by, then their prime directive is to inflict as much suffering and frustration on us carbon-based life forms as computerly possible.
Sure, human drivers are awful but at least a human can be fined and sent to jail. If you tell a robot car it’s in trouble it would just give you a “does not compute” and turn itself off. We already have enough problems with people not taking responsibility for their driving without the added excuse “the robot made me do it.”
Robot lovers will argue that computers are less likely to make mistakes. The Prius, for instance, went 250,000 kilometres without an accident. That does not impress me. My grandfather drove his entire life without an accident. Sorry, correction. He flipped a jeep over once, but that was in Italy in 1944 and he was fighting the Germans, so he gets a pass.
Why build a driverless car at all? I’d say it’s because it gets our global technocrats one step closer to realizing their ultimate fantasy – having us infantilized inside our steel rolling wombs - free to be enslaved by our distractions.
I can hear the marketing people now: “Distractions aren’t the problem. It’s the driving. We need to get rid of the driving. Think of it. Every minute a person is driving is a minute he could be buying something!” We could Google ourselves silly in our no-brainer robot cars.
Roboholics will argue that computer cars will save lives. Most accidents are caused by human error. So are most births. If it weren’t for half-a-pint of gin and poor judgment, most of us wouldn’t be here. You want to make the roads safer? Make driving a privilege (don’t give a licence to just anyone who can walk and chew gum), spend money on public transit, stop trying to solve transportation problems with solutions and thinking that are 50 years old.
If you insist on creating robot cars, at least make them like KITT. I want a Trans Am loaded with Turbo Boost, Etymorphic and Anamorphic equalizers, olfactory sensors and molecular bonded shell. But who am I? I’m only human. I should just shut up, stick a burger in my mouth and leave the thinking to the computers.
I think KITT and the Hoff put it best in the “Knight Song” episode. “Michael, I may not be flesh and blood, but I am a friend. And I wish you happiness, but I still don't understand.”
“In a way,” Michael replied. “Neither do I.”
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter. He's very funny there too: @aclarkcomedy