Wednesday 11 February 2015

Rise of the machines?

The 11th of February will mark a black date in the motoring calendar. Is this the official start of the rise of the machines?

The British Government has officially given the green light to manufacturers of driverless cars to allow them to test them on public roads.

But don’t expect to see a string of cars in your rear mirror with no-one at the wheel. There’s no need to worry (too much) as yet, because these trials will be very limited in scope and strictly controlled.

There’s no doubt that a great many people will welcome this concept, but what about those of us who live for the tactile connection between man/woman, machine and road. The sheer pleasure of timing clutch, gearchange, brakes and accelerator. The incisive bite of rubber feeding back through a leather rimmed steering wheel. The satisfying compression of suspension hunkering down under acceleration and digging for grip on corners. The visceral thrill of matching speed, progress and safety as the miles speed by. And then at the end of it, sitting there listening to the tick of a hot engine and exhaust cooling at the end of a hard drive. For some of us, there’s nothing to beat it.

But it begs the question. What next? We already have driverless trains, pilotless aeroplanes and captainless ships, so why not driverless cars? We have huge factories and warehouses where there is no human chattering, only the hum of the machines. We have unmanned tickets booths and dispensers, and Posties with less to deliver. More worryingly (or not?) we’re working towards doctorless surgeries and robotised operating theatres.

But will they ever replace humans on bin lorries? Can a computer replicate the random acts of missing collections, spilling bins and leaving the empties at the wrong house, randomly blocking pavements and roads. Can the sensors detect which householder is fast asleep after a busy nightshift and know exactly when to clatter the bins and sound the truck reversing siren. Now that would be a serious test for the robots, eh?

The future is closer than you think.

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