A blog experiment by Brad Mills.


Driving inside computers

I got a new car. My old car was purchased shortly after 9/11 and it was a rather basic five-speed model with cruise control, air conditioning, and a CD player. Over the years I added a few minor upgrades to the vehicle as needed... such as a phone mount and a Bluetooth adapter for the stereo. The CD player quit working at some point, I don't recall when; but by the time it had, CDs were fairly obsolete anyway. The car suffered a mechanical failure a couple of weeks ago, mileage far into the six figures. Since the Blue Book value was way under what the repairs would have cost, I decided it was finally time to visit the car lot and make a big purchase.

So my new car also has cruise control and air conditioning. There is no CD player, which is fine with me. It has Bluetooth built in, which is also fine, and a big cubby in the front where I can put my phone. There are also a lot of bells and whistles, things like cameras, GPS, automatic headlights, voice control (!!!), separate temperature zones for the cabin, heated seats. It computes my gas mileage as I drive, has a couple of different display screens in the front, and can even pop up a notice near the speedometer when I get a text or have a turn coming up. It's an automatic, and I guess the word "automatic" is pretty all-encompassing as far as this vehicle goes. It doesn't even have a key... it detects my presence with a little transmitter thing, unlocks when I touch the door handle, and starts when I push a button.

The model I got has the base package for its class (do I sound like a car commercial, or what?). There's an upgrade package available which adds even more bells and whistles to this already hefty collection. Among the upgrades are quite a few mechanisms for keeping you safe in a slightly more aggressive manner than you'd expect, such as "nudging" you back into the correct lane in case you drift a little, or "helping" you apply the brakes in case you're getting too close to an object in front of you, or "watching" the car in front of you while in cruise control and keeping up with it. For people who are a little nervous about vehicles which drive for you, this is probably how you'll get eased into the concept... small incremental improvements which make the driving process easier and easier, eventually reaching a point where you can just relax and enjoy the scenery.

I've realized we're at a point where thinking of our vehicles as "cars" in the traditional sense is perhaps as obsolete as my old five-speed was. Instead, we maybe should see them as big mobile computers we can drive around in. That is... until they're driving us around instead.

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