No, that title is not a typo, and this post is not from 39 years in the future, but it is about the future. I have been having a lot of conversations about technology, especially self driving cars lately, and this post is in reaction to those conversations, and anticipates / explores that topic through a possible experiential evolution of my Sprint ownership.
In 39 years we will celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the 1954 shipment of the first Giuliettas. If the technological progress of the last 10 years is any indication, we, and our Giuliettas, will be living in an interesting, very different world (yes,I live in an urban center in a technology hub). Since this blog is about a family of cars, the last of which was built roughly 50 years ago as of my writing this post, then I must be referring to driving, or being driven as the case will likely be.
Before I proceed in earnest, let me just say that there will be a culling of the automobile fleet, not at noon on some Tuesday 14 years from now, but as the result of market forces and regulations and other practicalia. Our Giuliettas will be on the right side of this culling, seen as having value beyond intrinsic transportation value -value as art or craft or both, or something else even maybe; riding the coat tails of the lobbying power of Ferrari / Corvette owners. My 2014 VW GTI? Probably not.
Brief history of self driving cars: In late 2017 Tesla Motors announces a fully autonomous* mode for its paradigm changing Model’s S and X to coincide with the launch of its much anticipated Model 3. This news is not a surprise, but rather a relief; lawmakers have finally figured out a legal path to self driving cars coexisting with the rest of traffic. The rest of the automakers are expected to follow suit with autonomous modes of their own by years end. It is calculated that with state sponsored electric and autonomous vehicle incentive programs, 90% of the US fuel consuming fleet will be off the road and recycled by 2030. This seems about right to me. But so what?
*By fully autonomous mode, I mean you can summon your Model S from across the continent and it will come pick you up, having observed some basic ‘safe conditions’ speed limits and recharged itself along the way, and maybe recouping some cost of ownership for you by picking up passengers headed in its direction. It might even get itself detailed, then grab a latte and croissant for you just before picking you up.
In the years between 2017 and 2054 a complete reversal is going to take place: roadways will go from accommodating the exception that is self driving cars, to accommodating the exception that is human driven cars, on specially designated lanes or roadways only. This will probably be more true the closer you are to urban centers. I suspect that people will resist giving up driving in principle, but once they taste being chauffeured, they will quickly embrace it. Traffic fatalities and insurance premiums will begin a steady asymptotic decline towards zero as autonomous cars approach near ubiquity and the computational power of the control systems continues to grow. Eventually there won’t even be individual ownership associated with day-to-day transport, and neighborhoods will be walking affairs only like villages of old.
So what about my Giulietta? In 2054 I will be 82 years old. There is a very good chance that advances in genomic and medical science mean that baring catastrophic mishap, I will probably be healthier than just about any 82 year old alive today, and unless I get into serious financial trouble, I will probably have my trusty old 1959 Sprint tucked away for occasional use, shared by Rufus and maybe another ‘shareholder’ or two; people who buy into ownership in exchange for use and a slice of appreciation. In 2054, since I was the ‘original’ owner of the Sprint, I actually make money owning it, having what would be considered ‘preferred shares’ in the Sprint.
It’s a Saturday morning, 2054. I am headed to my local old-time race track for a meet up of Alfa Giulietta owners to celebrate its 100th anniversary. I get dropped off by an Alphabet electric automated local transport module just as Rufus pulls up on his electric motorcycle -the latest driver assist model that makes every trip more exciting than the best 20th century roller coaster, with a setting for how white you want your knuckles to be as it makes its way perfectly safely through the sea of autonomous cars, all exchanging information on an infinitesimal time scale. If a human brain were measuring the resolution of these exchanges in human sensory time scale, it would be the equivalent of years spent driving across a city. Or, from the other perspective, for the computer’s potential rate of data processing, the car is moving at a rate of perhaps years per foot.
Rufus will be a little bigger than this in 2054 – he will be as old as I am now.
Rufus and I enter the cultural museum / event space / classic car storage facility just as the attendant is wheeling the Sprint out. In addition to mechanical maintenance, the facility guarantees conformity to the latest human powered car standards and regulations -basically verifying the completion of almost weekly firmware / security updates and occasional hardware changes. I will drive the car just like I did 50 years ago, and a suite of sensors will relay real-time adjustments to my destination, route and any other necessary information to the regional control network, while locally, transponders and other sensors will interact with traffic at the individual vehicle level. An automated parallel brake master cylinder, accelerator and steering box servo, developed to control traffic in the developing world, and capable of being controlled by the network as a last resort measure will hopefully not need to be used.
I check the most recent maintenance and usage logs on the tablet the attendant hands me and assume liability for any illegal usage with a thumb print. Rufus gives a thumb print too. We are basically agreeing to stick to the human controlled vehicle lanes and do our best to obey any traffic controls. When this system debuted, in the second major top down rethink of network controlled traffic regulation, my ‘loss of freedom’ nerve was touched, but with speed limits changing in real-time in response to actual traffic conditions that are being regionally orchestrated, and things like traffic lights and stop / yield signs controlled to minimize the inefficiencies associated with arbitrary stopping, the maximum performance of this old car is unlikely to exceed what is legal, and I almost never have to come to a full stop -seldom even having to slow down. Driving in 2054 is somehow both safer and more fun!
We climb in, buckle up and enter traffic. Autonomous cars give us a lot of room to get up to speed and merge while quickly and efficiently passing us -like a stream parting around a rock. As always, it takes us a minute to acclimate to a system that can handle a high degree of erratic driving without so much as a hiccup – a vestige of the systems having been developed from the bottom up -forced to deal with the demands of mostly bad human driving habits rather than preventing these bad habits.
To be continued…
Please – let me hear your thoughts on what Giulietta ownership will be like for you in 39 years!