Full self-driving artificial intelligence for cars? Just say yes.

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

In my opinion, the push for automated autos is an idea I’m ready for. Even though Tesla’s automated car crashed and killed its test driver recently, I think the flaws will be fixed and the idea honed.

I’m not the only one who is tired of driving in traffic, fixing my chariot every time some vital bolt falls off or having to feed and polish it until it falls completely apart and I have to trade it in for less than I hoped. Right now in most of America, living without a car means you’re stranded.

I’ve never had a love affair with cars to begin with, considering them simply a means of getting from here to there. I am not car-proud, I don’t have a speed gene or a daredevil one either. And I don’t need the envy of strangers as I glide by. The myth of America is that we’re all in love with the privacy of our speedy, shiny steeds, and as with most stereotyping, not all folks fit this niche.

Lately I’ve become even less enchanted. It has something to do with how many more cars there are plus my driving myself back and forth across the country, a chore I’m now thoroughly tired of. I would really like there to be trains from here to there and everywhere, like it once was (and this is not wishing for a romantic past but a simple wish for public trans). It appears this will not be happening, however. We seem to be closer to getting automated cars than any efficient public transportation system.

According to writer Dan Neil in an article in “The Future of Everything,” a magazine, we are just about sick of owning, driving, caretaking cars. Too much of our increasingly valuable time and too much of our sadly dwindling incomes are contributing to this switch in thinking. Neil’s idea isn’t that we’ll each own a car that drives us to the store but that we’ll be able to dial up from a rental company any kind of self-driving vehicle we need for the occasion: a UHaul for moving, a pickup for hauling, a Bentley for impressing, any old car to take us to the store, the doc’s, the movies, the family’s Sunday dinner in the next burg over. A vehicle for a week’s vacation? For a month’s tour across the nation? Whatever suits.

Bring it on.

Neil’s stats read like this:

utilization=five percent of a car’s life; the other 95 percent (23 hours) is spent in the driveway. He calls this “a slow, awful cash burn.” And he proffers the idea that we have come to a realization that we can share a vehicle with hundreds of people we’ll never even have to know as we click on an app and the wheels are delivered to our front door. When we’re done, it will slink away to its own garage wherever that happens to be. We will be paying for the miles, not the cars.

current cost of owning our own cars=17 percent of our household budgets

around the globe= 40 million light vehicles in 2015; 100 million by 2020

He suggests that we will be posing nostalgically thoughtful reminisces once the artificially intelligent self-driving vehicles are perfected: Remember traffic jams in cities? Dead stop way too often for way too long on freeways? Close calls with bad mad drunk vague lost too old too young drivers? Traffic tickets, especially the ones we don’t deserve? The dread of our youngsters out there behind the wheel when we hear a siren and pray it’s not for them? We talk about these things now with little choice but to buckle up and hope for the best.

Neil thinks the “kiss-your-car-goodbye” dream will allow opportunities to more people: the young, the old, the blind, the physically handicapped, the mentally handicapped, the poor, the under the influence or likely to be.

And even though our to-ing and fro-ing will take on a different style for most of us, those who are still in love with the car can buy and drive till they drop. Private ownership will still exert its pull.

From a 1942 Orson Welles’s movie, “The Magnificent Ambersons,” I remember part of a line from one of the main characters about the automobile changing civilization, “for better or worse.” I probably watched this movie in the ’90s when movie rentals were big business, and I can recall feeling how the line struck me as prophetic, and sad. The car by the ’90s had really taken over: if there were two people in a family, there were two cars; four driver-age members, four cars. We became isolated families living in suburbs. Freeways cut through neighborhoods in cities, pollution browned out the skies across the planet and thousands each year died in road accidents.

I’m hoping this is the better way — thorough automation of cars programmed to see it all, avoid it all and get us there safely and at much less cost to our wallets, our time, our patience, our life expectancy and our anxiety levels.

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