Thursday, May 12, 2016

Noone at the Wheel

High Noon, right.

I find all the endless certainty about driverless cars tiring. Really really tiresome. It dissolves into senseless assumption that technology - "progress" really - carries along with it its own autonomous imperatives. As though there is no longer any room for human choice, nor even any necessity. If that is so then Kurzweil is right and the singularity is near. We will be sucked into digital eternity, which is at least the functional equivalent of extinction. In or out, that's it.

But of course technology has no imperatives, and its course remains a function of some kind of collective absence of caring. Technology is a very efficient way to pump wealth upwards, and one has to assume that driverless cars will do this still more efficiently than the imperative each to own one. So the price will balance out. Costwise, think of a very big iPhone. You won't be able to afford your own, but they will, those nasty .01%.

If I were them, I'd want a toilet in it. A bar. A big screen. Come to think of it, we won't even be able to own a car with a driver even if we wanted to. Since all accidents will be either the fault of a VW-sized entity, too big to ever lose to you, the liability to be at fault will drive those expenses through the sunroof faster than your insurance company can deny your claim. What is the cost to wreck a really expensive no-fault moving palace?

I mean it's nice to think that we might call up a car on our app, and get to where we want to go for less than the cost to own a car now. Except that the only fall-back job will be to tend bar in someone's driverless car, since you won't be hired to drive it.

When I was a kid, car-fueled sprawl had really only just begun. China now looks like a nightmare version of what I saw happening then. There is no-place to sit and rest except for the price of a cup of coffee which far exceeds the cost of a meal. This is the functional equivalent of free parking everywhere, which is a choice we make as well. So I walk on average maybe seven miles a day. Beats sitting still.

But surely a small city like Burlington could banish all but driverless cars to beyond the city limits and create a safe and calm place without the noise and smell of cars. No need to park them. No need to repair them oneself.

Burlington is home to socialist experimentation of a sort. It could happen. But it won't. Because there are just too many people seduced by cool and money together to allow for any workers' paradise to realize itself. There are coders and there are financiers and neither has time to grow a heart.

Not that they aren't all very nice people, but growing a heart takes actual time and not just for screwing around at cocktail parties. It takes education. It takes reading. It takes caring for more than yourself alone. It takes conversation beyond the ones that make you happy.

Sprawl of the sort which is suffocating the planet is not inevitable. It's a choice not to give a damn, to imagine that there is nothing that you can do about it even as you sit at the pinnacle of all mankind for all of time. Ommmmmm. It may be escape, but it's still a choice.

Driverless cars are not inevitable either. Likely political, environmental, and economic disaster will get in the way of the dream, and the folks who had the dream will feel as dejected as Buffalonians do about all the mistakes in our past. If only. Coulda been a contenda.

At about the time that driverless cars are a reality, we all can and will "work" from home. We will all be either coders or financiers. We will all enjoy endless virtual realities, smell free, touch free, dirt free, free free. Well, except for the ever-growing slave classes. Yeah, nothing I can do about that.

I'm not proud that I enjoy driving my car. A lot. I enjoyed my Harley even more. A lot. I'm not proud that I like meat. A lot. I ate dog the other day, OK? I'm not proud. They're no more intelligent than pigs, and why is that the measure anyhow? Intelligence! I was not about to insult my host. I'm only human. Human intelligence involves heart, not just machine thinking. Anyhow, I enjoy sailing on open clean water even more, and that I won't be able to do any more. That's where I draw the line. I'm not about to eat humans. But technology is.

What is humanity other than the civilization of the cosmos by means of the written word. I know I'm speaking Chinese here and you won't get it, but it is our freaking job to put heart into the cosmos. We are reverting to animalistic idiocy. We have become very very clever robots. We have come to model machines, and not the other way around.

Up in dog-meat city I toured ancient Han dynasty tombs, recently uncovered along the way toward excavating the entire city for the sake of "progress." You know the drill, wrap up the emperor in a jade eternity suit and bury effigies of those who served him. Obfuscate the entrance and maybe kill those who know the way. Serve up jade ornaments that took the artisan's entire life to carve. And all the instruments of death and destruction, already advanced to the point of crossbows with the accuracy and reach of our best snipers. Pre-drone, I mean.

I'll just bet you can order up one of those eternity suits again, to go right along with your pink driverless Rolls Royce if it suits your fancy. We're going backwards in time. I'll bet there's already somewhere you can buy human flesh if you really want it. I'm sure glad I'm not a one-percenter. At that level insulting your host is probably fatal.

I have a dream where the prisons are empty and the streets are full. Where transit involves conversation instead of solitude. I mean I've met the nicest people on the high-speed rail, which granted is its own kind of social filter. But I'm talking about friends for life across the span of an accelerated trip.

We won't invite China in to build these for us, because it would be too mortally embarrassing. Humiliating. But they could do it for an infinitesimal fraction in time and money as compared with Jerry Brown's ramrod dream. Or was that Musk? Anyhow, a lot of muscle, a lot of imperative, a lot of up against the grain of what it is the people want.

I hate to tell you that I don't hate the people who will vote for Trump.  I know them. They're nice. I know gun owners and biker toughs and wingnut right wingers, and I think they're probably all angry for the same reason I am. Too bad they pick someone who only plays a dealmaker on TV. Too bad they want Noboddady at the wheel. But I do feel their pain.

Somewhere along the way we will have excavated our past, we will stare into our future, we will become human again, and it will be as though there were a God. A virtual reality. This will happen with or without me, as my agency is approximately nil. But I still care. You do too if you will but admit it.