Thursday, November 12, 2015

Driverless Cars: a very short story, except that it's not a story.

As silly as this piece may be, I think it has interesting implications.  Maybe I'll dig beneath the surface next week.

Driverless Cars

            Some day it will be illegal to drive cars.
            Don’t believe me?  The timeline will be something like this:
2014-2015: The first serious experiments with computer driven vehicles occur.  Sebastian Thrun, the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, teamed up with Google to build a working test model.  The driverless vehicles successfully traveled hundreds of miles on California roads without mishap.
2017: Volvo sells at least 100 driverless cars (a prediction the company made back in 2015).  Other auto manufacturers jump into the market.
2019: Amazon starts using computer driven forklifts at many of its delivery centers. 
2020: The first big lawsuit: Mrs. LaDonna Macready of San Francisco (where else?) sues Chevrolet for damages, alleging that a self-driving Chevy struck and killed her husband while he was crossing the street.  Eyewitnesses to the accident disagree whether the stoplight was green or not.  The jury endures 500 hours of testimony from Artificial intelligence scientists, including Sebastian Thrun, on both sides.  Chevrolet settles out of court shortly before the jury was to reach a verdict.
2022: The second big lawsuit, a Texas case, makes its way to the Supreme Court.  In Hinkelberry v. Honda, he court rules against the plaintiff, citing the lack of convincing evidence of computer malfunction in Mr. Hinkelberry’s car and the many scientific studies demonstrating the overall safety superiority of computer driven vehicles. 
2020-2035: Traffic fatalities decline steadily in the U.S., even as the number of cars, truck, and buses goes up.  Traffic engineers repeatedly document the superior safety numbers of driverless vehicles.
2027: Bus drivers in Portland, Oregon go on strike, protesting the use of driverless buses.  The transit authority, Trimet, threatens to fire the striking drivers.  In arbitration, the two sides agree that half of all buses will be human driven—for the next two years.  After that, the agreement specifies that as human drivers retire, computer driven vehicles will replace them.
2029: Nationally, one third of all vehicles on the road are computer driven.
2033: Pennsylvania is the first state to designate a “CVO” (Computer-driven Vehicle Only) highway, a high-speed connection between Pittsburg and Philadelphia.  CVO lanes had been adopted in metropolitan Atlanta, Washington, and Los Angeles the previous year.
2037: The third big lawsuit: Jennifer Sohappy, of Des Moines, sues Ralph Olds for damages to her computer driven car.  Testimony in court alleges that Mr. Olds had been piloting his car continuously for more than 55 minutes, and that he was distracted when he plowed into Sohappy’s car.  The jury awards Ms. Sohappy $105,000 to replace her vehicle and $2 million for emotional trauma.  Shirley Newwoman, famous co-host of This Minute America, denounces Olds for his selfish behavior.  “Mr. Olds told our correspondent that he, and I quote, ‘Likes driving.’  It is outrageous that 20th century attitudes still endanger people on our highways!”
2039: Three fourths of all vehicles on the road are computer driven.
2044: A referendum in Hawaii declares all state highways and roads to be CVO routes.  A year later, the state legislature outlaws all human driving (except on private property, the so-called “golf cart” exception).
2047: The fourth big lawsuit: the Supreme Court rules, in Stoneface v. Hawaii, that there is no constitutional right to drive cars.  Charles Stoneface had tested the Hawaii law by driving his lawnmower between his primary residence and his son’s house, a maneuver that led him to drive 150 feet on a public road.
            2051: Wyoming is the last state to outlaw human driving on public roads.  Nevertheless, the picture of a rugged cattleman, riding his all terrain vehicle across the windswept Wyoming countryside, is still a common feature of beer commercials during National Football League holovision programs.  Of course, football fans know that real Wyoming ranches use computer guided drones to move cattle from place to place, but the image of the rugged ATV rider still sells more beer—certainly more than pictures of computer programmers sitting at their desks.


  1. PHIL -

    I know you presented this story at a story slam in Newberg, OR a few days ago. I'm sorry I couldn't attend. What was the reception there?


  2. People laughed at appropriate places. Two or three spoke to me afterward, saying that they liked it.