Ever wonder when robots will finally take over? When human beings will relinquish their dominance over the open road? Or be relieved of it, depending on your philosophical outlook. Well, search no longer. We now have a figure.
Mark it in your calendar (if you're a Luddite) or type it into your BlackBerry (if you're a modern member of society).
That's the year experts at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2013 World Congress believe self-driving – or at the least semi-autonomous – cars will proliferate our roads. Last week, The Detroit News reported that Christian Schumacher, head of Continental Automotive's advanced driver assistance systems for the NAFTA region, told a panel discussion that "2025 is the time frame where we see cars driving themselves."
So there you have it – 2025. That's the year your car transforms from being a vehicle you drive from Point A to Point B into a new sentient being. That's the year we finally beat distracted driving. How? By giving in. By making it easier for us to be distracted. We won't need to pay attention to the road because our smart semi-autonomous cars will pay attention for us.
When our cars are fully autonomous, we'll be free to wallow in our distractions. We won't beat 'em, we'll join 'em. Our eyes will be at liberty to read texts and scan e-mails. Why? Well, once we're released from the chore that is driving, we'll be able to devote our attention where it belongs: to the full-time pursuit of buying things. We won't be drivers. We'll be consumers. A humanoid life form entombed in rolling mini versions of the 7-Eleven.
And what will happen to anyone who doesn't want to drive a self-driving car? They'll be free to stick with their old ride. This is a democracy after all. They'll just have to pay insurance rates that are 20 or 30 times what everyone else pays. You know, freedom of choice.
Freedom. Free from the responsibility of doing anything. Free of the need to know how to drive. If we're being honest, we have to admit we've already been sold our freedom. Today's cars are pretty much driving themselves, according to Andrei Nedelea, a writer with the website Carscoops.com. If you buy a new car, it is likely to come loaded with high-tech features such as lane-departure recognition, collision warning, autonomous emergency breaking, self-parking and blind-spot warning. "If there's one thing that is for sure in the uncertain climate of the modern automotive industry," writes Nedelea, "it's the fact that in the future we will choose if we want to actually drive our car, or not."
I'm guessing that, for the most part, the answer will be "not."
At first, we'll only use the self-driving features on special occasions. If we've had too much to drink or if we're feeling a little overtired, but soon, it will become the default setting. If history has proven anything, it's that people will never pass up the chance to not do something.
Automatic transmissions started out as a technological advance that freed us from having to change gears. Now it's the norm. People went from actively driving to pumping their brakes like glorified apes. Back in the 1950s, most drivers knew how an engine worked and, if the car broke down along the side of the road, they could fix it. If they had to take it to a mechanic, the costs would be manageable. There were no computers to remedy or high-tech gadgets to mend. Today's vehicles, in contrast, cost small fortunes to maintain.
But be sure, when our self-driving saviours arrive, not to ask who'll be running those, that these self-driving cars report to someone, or even worse, something.
Don't be surprised if, when you absent-mindedly cruise into a traffic zone you haven't paid to traverse, your self-driving car automatically shuts down. Want to keep driving? Just electronically pay the toll fee and your car will start right up. Want to take a long anonymous drive? Feel free. Your self-driving car will keep its makers informed of your whereabouts at all times (take note: self-driving cars will be murder on adulterers).
Funny, your data shows that you've been buying a lot of potato chips lately. Time to send your self-driving car an advertisement for dip.
Technology – it's all about money. It always has been.
Consider the old-fashioned paper calendar versus a newfangled mobile device.
The former cost you $19.99 – tops.
The latter is going to cost you a whole lot more. And then you'll be free to have to answer it – every time it beeps.
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy