Will self-driving cars take away the fun and enjoyment of driving?
What will happen to those who like to drive alone?
Automoblog columnist Tony Borroz with a perspective.
Recently I read and reviewed a very well done book on the future of automated cars and driving. While going through the review, I had to consider my own thoughts on automation and what it means to me as a car enthusiast. Unsurprisingly, I'm not a huge fan, but not the complete opposite either. It's just that, overall, self-driving cars seem like an answer to a question that I (and many other gearheads) never asked.
Who likes to drive anyway?
Automated Cars & Surf Safaris
Catch the waves via a smartphone
Play or sit on the sidelines
To defend the conduct
Who likes to drive anyway?< /p>
90 percent of my beef with self-driving cars comes down to one case. A few years ago, I attended a press conference with Google executives about their new self-driving car program. One of them, Brin or someone else, I can't remember who, said, “Seriously: who really likes driving a car? And therein lies our particular problem, and the biggest “problem” that technology brings with all its disruptive “solutions”.
The biggest failure of technology, circa 2019, is the way they think they solve problems; but they never realize that they don't fully understand a given problem. Take this quote: “Seriously: who really likes to drive a car? Obviously, it was spoken by someone who didn't like driving a car. Ergo, since he didn't like it, why anyone else? Well, thank you for coming to my rescue, but I was fine, and specifically, I didn't ask you to save me.
Here is my analogy for why this is both philosophically and logically the wrong way to go.
Photo: Hyundai Motor America.
Automated Cars & Surfing Safaris
Imagine a techie—smart, rich, overworked, thinks he's a godsend to the world—finally forced to take a vacation after solid months of programming from his office in Mountain View or Redmond or Boston. For some reason, he goes to Hawaii. Someone takes him to the North Shore and shows him what surfing is.
I picked a good day. The sunset is huge, Waimea could go out and Pipeline shoots, 16-18 feet and glassy. A wave comes up, a guy catches it, makes the drop, knocks it off the lip, comes back down for another lower turn and boom!, hooks a rail and clears. He stands there, zinc sunscreen on his nose, Teva sandals with socks, every inch of nerd haole.
“Do they always fall like this?” asks the technician.
“Most of the time, yes. It's not easy brah!" said the local as he led her away.
The technical brother then has a brainstorming session.
Catch the waves via a smartphone
A year later, he returned to La Côte-Nord. This time with his new start-up in tow. They rent the Volcom House (money is not an issue). They have a launch party to end all the parties. Kalua pork, three-fingered poi, Kim Taylor Reece shoots, they even get Jake Shimabukuro to play (because money isn't an issue for the tech bros). And then comes the big moment: the big reveal.
He pulls off the covers and shows off his new invention: the fully automatic surfboard!
He enters his pitch. “Our newest surfboard, the SrfRyder, is the world's first fully automated surfboard! With miniaturized water jet motors and ring gyroscope stabilization, just tap your smartphone to catch and ride the waves. You'll never miss a wave again. You'll never fall halfway again. You will be able to catch any wave you see and you will be able to ride any wave you catch. By using our Waterman smartphone app. . . blah blah blah. . .”
Last year, Hagerty began hosting a series of town hall talks about the importance of driving. Self-driving vehicles and their impact on society was one of the first discussions, with Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars and former General Motors Vice President Bob Lutz as panelists.
Play against sitting on the sidelines< p> Admittedly, this is just a story and an analogy. It would never happen. Do you know why that would never happen? Because if a machine does it for you, you're not surfing. And the point of surfing isn't to travel from the line to the beach while standing up, no. The purpose of surfing is to surf. To catch a wave yourself and then ride it as you see fit, and to the best of your ability. If a machine does it for you, you're not a surfer, you're just floating. You don't really ride those waves.
Same with automated cars. You go for it, but you're not actually engaged in the joys and thrills of driving.
For the defense of driving
And sure, one day there might be a tech bro standing on a beach, seeing a guy who just got back to work after losing him at Pipe, and the tech bro might be like, "Seriously: who really likes to surf? " And it's good. He is entitled to his opinion. But woe to him if he ever had to build something like an automated surfboard. It completely misses what a surfboard is.
And for some of us, driving is like that. I have no problem using a self-driving car the same way I have no problem taking a taxi or a bus. Don't make me.
Tony Borroz has spent his whole life racing vintage cars and sports cars. He is the author of
Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle.
Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.
Cover photo: Volvo Car Team.