COLM O'REGAN: The fear of cheating on an old faithful car

I FEEL dirty. I was on one of those websites. You know, the ones with the photographs of the different models. Lurid claims about performance were splashed all over the pages and it was clear a lot of them had work done. Everything is for sale and there is much hyperbole. After all, most cars have alloy wheels.

Even though it’s just a hunk of metal (and whatever the inside is made of), I think I’m cheating on my car. Nonsensical as it may sound, fondness for inanimate objects is hard to avoid. No matter how much you say “well, that hoover/kettle/brushpan set/underpants didn’t owe me anything, anyway,” you feel guilty throwing it away.

This object may have been broken or scuffed, or torn years earlier, but it carried on and, like a three-legged dog, you loved it all the more for its imperfection. My car has many breaks, scuffs and tears, but the current problem is a failed NCT. It’s putting a strain on our relationship and my eyes have started to wander. It’s tearing me apart. This separation anxiety is idiotic. The 1997 Corolla is hardly sentient. But what will happen if cars become automated and drive themselves?

Imagine how attached you would become to a 2037 Toyota Selfie — a car that will take care of everything. You sit back and relax and the Selfie will drive and chat to you amiably, like a taxi driver; except it won’t complain about the regulator.

Automated cars will change the driving dynamic. Neither spouse will be driving, so neither will be able to claim the high moral ground in arguments about which radio station to play. Parents will have free reign to keep an eye on their children in the back seat, and know EXACTLY who started it. Unfortunately, it will also remove one of the last places where people can be alone with their thoughts and not play with a smartphone. It is the final nail in the coffin of humanity’s power of concentration.

But all of this assumes that consumers will accept driverless cars without question. There are practical problems. Who will have the first driverless car? If no other car is a robot, how will it deal with the humans? How will it interpret waves, horns, swearing and idiots? How will it judge human drivers? A Nissan Micra driver behaves completely differently to someone with ultraviolet lights underneath their chassis and who sports clothing logos on the back window.

In the film iRobot, sentient robots conclude that mankind is innately self-destructive, and, for the greater good, some humans need to be restrained or neutralised. Could a car decide you’re morbidly obese and refuse to take you to eat at LardSaltDoughLand? Could it scupper a romantic date with someone who, according to its calculations, would have ruined your life? Can driverless cars be hacked so that your car suddenly diverts to bring you to where men are waiting with a business proposition involving baseball bats? I can’t imagine my Corolla betraying me. Anyway, with the NCT ‘resit’ in a fortnight, it has enough on its mind.


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