Recently, there has been some media excitement about Google’s newest vision for a self-driving car. This vision does not include a gas pedal, brake, or steering wheel so you can take the controls in the event of an emergency. It appears to involve trusting the computer — whose reflexes, trust me, are indeed faster than yours, even if you’re Bruce Lee reincarnated — to deal with whatever arises. Computers, we should all realize by now, think fast.
‘But how does any of that justify your title?’ you might ask.
An automatic-drive car with no option to manually drive is the plot device that makes the title story of my Isolation and Other Stories collection possible. An unnamed-in-the-story-because-lawyers online mapping service (no doubt named Something-Maps) loses the protagonist’s home address, as do its competitors. As a result of this, not only can he not drive farther than the little feeder road that leads to his driveway, but his online orders of groceries and incidentals cannot reach him. He lives waaaaay out in the farthest burbs of his home city, and he has no choice but to hike out. From there, he becomes homeless, and uncovers a growing conspiracy right underneath the good homed citizens’ noses.
Isolation came out on 9/13/13. Less than a year later, Google is talking about making the cars that could make Isolation a reality. From my standpoint as a (mostly) science fiction author, it’s pretty cool to watch the real world inch closer to my imagination.
As a final comment, while the events of my story present a pretty alarming picture of the potential consequences of self-driving cars with no manual driving option, consider for a moment that the World Health Organization estimates that 1.24 million people die in automobile accidents yearly, and between 20 and 50 million are injured. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for those between 15 and 29 years of age.
Even considering what could go wrong, it is extremely difficult to imagine a way that no-manual-driving cars could go more wrong than we’re going by manually driving our cars.
I, for one, welcome our no-manual-driving overlords, and I hope they hurry up and get here.