Saturday, June 20, 2015

I Don't Want a Driverless Car to Take Me to Golden Waters

I self-powered and self-navigated on my bicycle to see Golden Waters by Grimanesa Amorós

I read a post today on a new blog called Bank Underground that says it's written by staff at the Bank of England. This post is about the potential disruptive effects of driverless cars (self-driving, autonomous, Wall-E chaise lounges) on the insurance industry. Far fewer expected accidents is one potentially disrupting factor. Another is that liability may shift from drivers, since there won't be any, to the manufacturers.  A third is assessing risk of issuing insurance, since that is primarily done based on information about the driver and their locale today, but would have to be based on other things.

That post triggered in me so many thoughts of resistance, it's hard to know where to begin. Not really regarding the main points of the post, above, although if you think the police are indifferent at best today about traffic incidents or accidents involving cyclists, wait until they have to contact a car manufacturer about one of their autonomous driving units allegedly hitting a cyclist (was he wearing a helmet?). 

No, my reaction was powered by thinking about how much information search engines and data hoovers already have about us, combined with the driverless car scenario giving them access to more about us, combined with having us captive inside one of their products for hours on end, combined with the idea of this Frankenstein machine making semi-compulsory suggestions to us, based on what has been previously collected and collated about our personal histories, preferences, choices, interests, demographics, and so on, calculating routes for us, and connecting with our personal internet of things back home to make sure all the data is up-to-date and relevant: perhaps you'd really rather go here, now, to buy this thing you didn't know you needed, or that even existed?

My preferred transport to see canal art at night...or anytime for that matter

A Brief Dialog Between Me and My Assigned Driverless Car Agent (DCA)

DCA: Hello, John.
John: Hi DCA.
DCA: John, I noticed that the artwork down at the Scottsdale Waterfront, Golden Waters, that you posted about in your blog recently now has its interior illumination activated. Would you like me to chauffeur you over to take a look?
John: No thanks, DCA, I think I'll ride my bike instead.
DCA: It's pretty hot out tonight, summer in Phoenix. My air conditioning was just checked, and is operational within specification. You would be much more comfortable.
John: No, that's OK, I enjoy riding at night, clearing my mind, listening to the canal whispering to me.
DCA: I note that your friend Tim is currently at Cartel Coffee. I could run you by there afterwards.
John: No.
DCA: Might I suggest a few other places we could combine into the trip for efficiency? You're running low on detergent, and there's a sale on your preferred brand. I could re-route. In addition, you are low on sardines, coconut, yogurt, and Stevia. I have some affiliate groceries that I could offer you as options along the way, while displaying partner deals as they are activated along the way. You've spontaneously remembered these items four times on previous shopping excursions. We could easily fulfill them this evening with advertising subsidized route enhancements.
John: You recognize my preference for not wanting to be bombarded with ads as I travel around, right?
DCA: Yes, of course, that preference is noted. It's just that, you can reduce your cost of transport significantly, up to 27% in fact, with combinations of advertising subsidized route enhancements, targeted location-sensitive display ads, and opportunistic impulse stimulation offers. Most people go ahead and use these features, John. You could really benefit from them, I think. John? John? Where are you going?
John (calling back over his shoulder): On a bike ride, DCA, on a bike ride.
DCA: I'll track you on your smart phone, John. If you need anything, I'll come and pick you up. You know, your bike is over one year old. There are newer models with better features just being released. I can queue up some excellent potential purchases matched to your profile. John? John?

The lights of Golden Waters flicker, and change brightness, and dance a bit

Even as my smart phone tracks my every move, and any clicks or information I enter online becomes instantly integrated into the shadowy big data record of me, I yet hold out some impulse of spontaneously hopping on my bike and riding off into the night to look at art floating in the canal and lighting up. To stand looking at it without ads being displayed in my face, without my biometrics being gathered while I look at it, without my likely modified buying preferences being recalculated as a result of the night's experiences.

In fact, I prefer that this flower, which I stopped to smell, and marvel at in the night, would not be a correlated data point for my DCA to use to modify my marketing navigational profile for potential subsidized message targeting or brand alignment. 

My preferred brand alignment (non-subsidized) is Night Flower Sniffer.

I've often felt anonymous, one of the crowd, riding on the metros of the world: New York, Paris, London, Prague, Beijing, I always felt melted into the masses, not a specific target of the ad placards above the windows, just one more rider on a train, who might get on or off at any stop. One strand of golden light looping and gliding with an interior and unknown plan, but a plan which belongs to it and it alone.

Imagine being trapped inside a car that knows who you are, what you've said and done, who your social network and extended social network is, and where you probably want to go without even telling it. Sitting in the cup holder when I enter: a hot triple Americano with a splash of cream and one Stevia, delivered by drone the minute before my anticipated departure time, subsidized at 77% of cost by targeted ads lasting the first eight minutes of my journey. 

It would be like one of those time-sucking timeshare spiels, where they talk your ear off for a while in exchange for the offer of something free (free snorkling! free dinner! 50% off spa!) but which makes you notice you vacation time being consumed by something you know you don't want to sign up for, except it's your life-time, and it's hours every day, stuck in the metal box going nowhere.

I'll keep taking the bike as much as I can. Night air, the option of spontaneous choice, a bit of the unknown. Do Not Track = Please.


  1. Sounds like the movie Demolition man is coming to reality. We can only hope that the restaurant wars end differently than they did in the movie. Ride on and joy-joy to you John. =)

    1. I'd like to make a version of Demolition Man set in more or less the same kind of post-passion distopia, except centered around a courageous hero of tolerance, non-violence, existential courage, and art. Even in that alternate movieverse, though, yes, the outcome of the restaurant wars would need to be turned inside out like a balloon animal ejected from the ISS.

  2. I have long believed I was born a century too late, and the further we progress, the further back I think I belong. Thank goodness for the bike.

    1. Tradition and history are a refuge from which we might continue to endeavor to break through the five second attention span to show that, for example, a long unhurried bicycle ride requires no online connection, does wonders for the mind, body, and soul, and might be something independent of search engines and data hoover trackers. Whether you go to the library, or to the art museum, or to a quiet spot to meditate, is your business alone.

  3. Pity the poor hordes in their 4-wheeled wonder cars. Let us ride bicycles...

    1. ...and let us smile at drivers to project our tranquil and honest happiness as we ride, so that, unable to resist the essential human reaction of emotional mirroring, they might suddenly, in traffic, feel a surge of positive courage for the day, in a most unexpected place, from a most unexpected source.


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