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My Smart Car Makes Me Feel Stupid

We bought a new car a couple of weeks ago. Check that. We bought a wiz bang, interactive, computer-operated, Bluetoothed, voice-activated, high-tech rocket sled with more options than a fully armed F-16.

This car isn’t a product of Detroit. It’s straight out of the Silicon Valley. You don’t take it to a mechanic anymore. You call the Geek Squad. According to the salesman, you don’t sit in the driver’s seat. You sit in the cockpit. When you step on the gas (excuse me, operate the throttle) a seven-speed automatic transmission kicks in “while adaptive logic paces the shifting to your driving style.”

The fact that the car “recognizes” my driving style is disturbing. I wonder what else it knows? My credit score, annual income, wine preferences, nickname, political affiliation? It probably does. When I drive, I feel like I’m in a wiretap on wheels. If this car had a name rather than just a number, it would be called the Interloper.

But I digress. This thing is a technological marvel. The steering wheel alone features at least a dozen button-controlled options which in turn lead to numerous other operations for control of the radio/CD/satellite/navigation/telephone/temperature/engine data read-out systems while simultaneously tracking the orbit of Jupiter and investing in orange juice futures. I’m pretty sure there’s a cappuccino machine and a Margarita bar in there somewhere but I haven’t finished reading the owner’s manual yet.

And, by the way, the audio system will read my text messages to me in a friendly, slightly smoky female voice, even if it’s about a past due bill. Yes, this car will talk to you. So if you see me driving alone down the street babbling away, I’m not drunk or crazy. I’m establishing a meaningful one-on-one verbal relationship with my car. Honest. Don’t call 911.

Check this out: The screen displays 3D maps with building profiles and includes built-in Zagat ratings for hotels, restaurants and golf courses. This is a good feature if you mistake a crack house for a Hilton or attempt to dine at a sushi joint with an “F” letter grade in the window.

Of course, all of this technology requires your undivided attention. But not to worry. A warning system alerts you when other cars are nearby or when the car drifts out of its lane. If the warnings are ignored, the car can guide itself back into its own lane.

All of this leads to me to several conclusions:

— This is one hell of a lot of sophisticated gear to essentially take me from one location to another.

— If any of it goes haywire, say taking me off the Redondo Beach Pier into the Pacific instead of directing me to Palm Springs, it would cause massive personal, technological and financial havoc.

—If I keep this car five years, it would be a stretch to say that I would use 25 per cent of the gadgetry therein.

— On the other hand, in five years most of this stuff will be obsolete and will be replaced with even more brain cramping technological gizmos.

Personally, I’m impatiently awaiting the day they start manufacturing autonomous, or driverless cars. Just climb in, tell the car where you want to go and off it drives, guided by GPS systems and computers. During the journey, you can relax by reading, or nap, or play Angry Birds on your smartphone or flirt with the passenger in the car next to you.

According to various studies, this mode of transportation could result in fewer traffic collisions by eliminating the always problematic human element, increase road capacity and alleviate the tedium of looking for parking spaces since these cars could go anywhere to park and return when called. An unexpected benefit: fewer traffic cops, drunk drivers or road signs.

Of course, human nature being what it is, some guy will want a bigger, faster, louder and flashier autonomous car than his neighbor. And the auto industry being what it is, we will pay dearly for this technology.

In the meantime, I’ll be out and about in my new car. If you see me, I’ll be the guy at the stop light frantically reading the owner’s manual in an attempt to put the car in drive.  

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Robert Rector
Robert Rector
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