A man wants to drive.
Sexist? Sure. But we live in a sexist society. I didn't invent it, I'm just trying to live in it. Scanning 25 years of marriage, I'd say I drive 95 percent of the time. Maybe more.
I like to drive. It feels strange to sit in the passenger seat watching the scenery go by. Powerless.
Which is why I've been following the advent of Google's self-driving cars.
They're curiosities, now. Only four states allow them even to be road tested—California,
Nevada, Michigan and Florida, though this month the tech giant is scooting vehicles around Austin, Texas, through a special arrangement with the government there. They always have a human driver, in case something goes wrong.
But that will change. You'll eventually see one, then a few , then they'll be everywhere.
The artificial intelligence required -- perceiving conditions in real time and reacting to them -- is incredible, and it's amazing that in the 2 million miles driven, there have been a handful of minor accidents, and all of them are the fault of other, human drivers; mostly rear-end collisions when the Google car is stopped at a light.
But what interests me most is not the hardware or the software, but the wetware: how Americans will accept the the cars when they're introduced. Right now Google is talking about 2020, which is just around the corner. We'll do so grudgingly, I assume, given our worship of freedom, the open road. Born to Run, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady in their '49 Hudson. "The road is life." How will we sit passively and let a silicon chip do the driving?
The same way we gave up galloping horses for sputtering black Model Ts. There will be psychological hurdles. I noticed in the official Google video of the first civilians to ride in the car, the 12 are mostly senior citizens, with one middle-aged woman and one child. There isn't a male between the ages of 12 and 60, with the possible exception of one grey-haired guy who's blind. While that might be coincidence, it also might be because we expect Daniel Craig to be working the gear shift of his Aston Martin Vanquish, not puffing out his cheeks with his hands on his knees and watching the world go by.
But it will happen, just because the cars are so much safer. Let's say you spend $1500 a year on your car insurance, and the insurance on a self-driving car is $150. Suddenly you can save half the cost of your car over its life expectancy. Most people will do it.
About 32,000 Americans died on the road last year, in accidents that were caused by excessive speed, drunkenness, stupidity, texting, aggression, lack of care and general obliviousness. Not problems that will be associated with the Google self-driving car, though it will take us a while for us to see that clearly, to recover from what we can call Myth Hangover—the tendency to react to technology based, not on actual reality, but on stories.
Look at security cameras. For decades, the idea of being recorded in public places was filtered through George Orwell's 1984, where a repressive government uses cameras to spy on citizens. That such cameras are actually used to catch criminals and -- for you fans of irony -- hold excessive and racist police forces to account, has been very slow to register. We're still scared of Big Brother.
And—spoiler alert!—die he does. The steam drill wins. The steam drill always wins. Paul Bunyan notwithstanding, loggers use chain saws instead of axes. The century when people drove their cars will be a misty romantic memory, like the era when they rode horses and dipped candles. Not that there won't be all sorts of blustery macho pushback from a culture that spawned the Fast & Furious movie franchise The self-driving cars will be portrayed as weak and tepid, like clip on ties and package vacation tours. But we'll accept them, just as no city worker breaking up an old patch of concrete with a jackhammer frets, "You know, it would be so much more spiritually satisfying to use a sledge hammer and a spike to do this." Get used to those Google bean cars, because you'll be seeing a lot of them.