COLM O'REGAN: Opening Lines: "What’s that light for? No, not the oil one, the other one"

MY car doesn’t have a complicated dashboard. It gives very little feedback or nothing involving the word ‘Diagnostics’ or “Realtime Information”. “Get petrol” or “The key is on”, it mutters gruffly from time to time. Except today.

“That’s a new light.” I think. I’m driving out of Dublin and I procrastinate about stopping. No country person driving out of Dublin wants to interrupt the escape if they can help it. It would be like Bruce Willis going back for his father’s watch in Pulp Fiction.

Eventually, reluctantly, I pull in and ask Google “What’s that light for? No, not the oil one, the other one.” and it turns out it means Engine Malfunction Light. This would mean nothing to some people but I’ve been to college and I can tell you that the Engine is a Fairly Important Part of the car and Malfunction means something’s wrong.

Later that day, the garageman produces a laptop to see if he can run any diagnostics on the light but there’s nowhere to plug it in. “She’s pre-diagnostics,” he says.

I’m nearly proud. My car is ‘off the grid.’ It probably does have some sort of computer in it, but I’d like to believe it’s not a very complicated one. You couldn’t hack it, certainly not without a shovel.

Cars are becoming so sophisticated, they are practically driving themselves. When I get a lift in newer ones, the dashboard looks like a bridge on a sci-fi spaceship . And it doesn’t take much to impress me. I still can’t get over the first time I saw a taxi meter embedded in the rear-view mirror.

The cars are humming with data and apparently it’s going back and forth. In a few years’ time, the EU will bring in eCall — a compulsory system where your car will call the emergency services in the event of an accident. It will save lives of course but if your car can ring people without your knowledge, how soon before someone hacks it so that your car can tell your employer that you’re not sick, but actually going for an interview. Of course, the EU says data protection will be built into the legislation but evil geniuses taking over the world care not a whit for legislation. They laugh with evil when they hear the word.

It’s not just cars. The phrase you’ll hear more about in 2015 is the Internet of Things. Ordinary everyday devices will become that little bit more sentient as they are all enabled with wireless technology. Your watch will be able to talk to your fridge to find out if the jelly is set and the toaster will be able to text the cooker to remind the washing machine to tell your child it’s time to go to bed and to stop playing Grand Theft Auto on the hoover.

All through time, humanity has proven adept at sleepwalking itself into vulnerability while all of us idiots are dozing, slightly sneakier people sneak in and before you know it your identity has been stolen and another man is wearing your slippers.

No, I’m glad my car is “pre-diagnostics”. I’ve started calling her the BattleStar Galactica — after the television series where humanity is nearly destroyed by network-hacking robots and only one spaceship survives because it is so old, it’s not on the network.

That’s my car. While humanity burns in the cities I’ll be tootling in the Outlands, perhaps stopping for petrol near Thurles.

Although, if it is going to save me from the end of humanity, I should really get that orange light seen to.


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