[1599 words] Self Driving Cars

It all started a couple of years ago with Google X, followed by the Ford Motor Company and then Tesla Motors.   In a very short space of time the world was introduced to self-driving vehicles.   Once the Japanese and Asian manufacturers began installing self-drive technology into cars, the public started buying them.  Eventually, other kinds of vehicles disappeared from Australian roads and highways until the only cars left on the road were self-driving.
At first our Government had been unsupportive of the new industry.   Members of parliament opened their mouths in public, fear-mongering away about the potential dangers of the new technology.  Simultaneously, the motor vehicle industry fired back with  supportive research data, flashy you-tube video clips, and colorful billboards outside every major sporting arena.  The industry won.   After this, the government quickly hopped on the bandwagon; introducing legislation that was to cause the demise of all non-self-driving vehicles.
Self-driving cars had steering wheels.  It was the ‘fly by wire’ systems that used them, not the drivers.  The steering wheel was merely a computer part.  Although not physically connected to the wheels, a detector sensed and remitted information re wheel movement to the computer.  The computer then made a decision whether to allow a movement to occur.    People sitting in driver seats were no longer in control; they were just passengers.  The ‘driver’ issued verbal commands to indicate destination and preferred route, but his or her car made all other decisions; the auto-drive being rarely disengaged.
The Government became a happy group of well-paid public servants.  With fewer road accidents, traffic duties for police were drastically reduced and police numbers quickly reflected this pattern.  In case anyone thought they could still cheat the system, CCTV surveillance was installed at every intersection with traffic lights. Hidden speed cameras were also located along highways and freeways and anywhere else the government suspected people might try to speed or break other existing laws..   
Computer hacking was not restricted to communication devices.  A news report covered several incidents where people had either created optional speed, self-mobile transport, or hacked the computers of self-driving cars to reduce vehicle conformity.  They were all caught through surveillance techniques and publicly shamed, fined, and/or jailed for not conforming.  The Government described these offenders as ‘traffic terrorists.’   The media applied a less aggressive label, describing such offenders as ‘selfish-risk-takers’ who were prepared to put other people’s lives in jeopardy.  There were others who took an entirely different point of view.  These were commonly referred to as the ‘Anti-Techs.’
The Anti-Tech movement grew.  It made some strange claims, most of which were laughed at.  Apparently, a number of people had been suggesting that computers in some self-drive-vehicles might be malfunctioning.  Checks by experts found nothing wrong with any of the vehicle command modules (VCMs) in the cars of these folk.  Nevertheless, these claims persisted.  The Anti-Tech followers, despite being labelled ‘paranoid,’ continued to express concerns about VCMs; saying that some had made poor decisions.  The kinds of examples being offered were frightening.  There were several accounts of vehicles swerving toward pedestrians; always in a non-surveillance area.  Without evidence, people making these claims were being ridiculed and labelled ‘antigovernment.’  Some Anti-Tech leaders and many of their followers were arrested.
I became sympathetic toward the paranoid, Anti-Tech group.   One morning, my car ran a red light. I couldn’t believe it had done this. I tried using the emergency brakes but the car overrode my efforts.  The screen had a message running across it, ‘NO SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS INSTALLED.’  What did this mean?  My car drove right through the red light.  I broke into a sweat thinking how I might have been wiped out if another vehicle had been traveling across the intersection.  Safely on the other side of it, the car slowed.  I tried to justify what had happened, wondering if my vehicle could have been WiFi aware of traffic flow.  Still, I wasn’t in control and did not feel comfortable trusting my car after that.
I decided to stop using the car for small trips.  I was losing confidence in technology.  Two weeks later there was another incident.  I was sitting in a public car park in my stationary vehicle.  Suddenly, the car started to move forward, out of the parking space, without my issuing a command.  I panicked, looking to the left and right, to see if there were any cars coming towards me.  I tried to press the emergency brake pedal.   I even grabbed the steering wheel, attempting to alter direction.  The car remained in control, apparently responding to its own dictates.  For some reason it seemed to want to follow a bright yellow delivery van.  With me shaking in my seat, it followed the van for almost ten minutes before letting me regain control.   Originally, self-driving cars were only intended to engage in auto-drive when a driver presses a button on the dash or issues the verbal command, ‘Take over now.’   Our Government had mandated that this built-in mechanism be overridden.  A vehicle’s ‘automatic pilot’ was required to engage when driving on public roads. This was the law.
It was only after the two hair-raising experiences with my own self-drive car I learned how common such occurrences were.  My computer’s search engine led me to many similar accounts.  I was also able to locate an official government response to some of these concerns. The car manufacturing industry echoed this edict.   “The GPS data must have been corrupted, or, there could have been a sunspot, or interference from locally placed mobile telephone towers.”   These excuses continued to be put forward.  The low number of accidents meant that neither group had sufficient motivation to look more deeply into the matter.
Then it happened…’CAR-nage Day’ arrived.  It was a ‘day’ that lasted for several, long weeks.   It began early on the first morning, with all vehicles locking out their owners.  The cars took off without passengers and began driving onto pedestrian crossings, sidewalks and car-parks, like small packs of large wolves.  As the vehicles worked together to mow down pedestrians, they maintained a level of group dexterity that prevented their crashing into each other.  During that first day, twenty-percent of the population was killed. The rest retreated in fear to their homes. Eventually, necessity forced them back into the streets. Very quickly, supermarket stocks declined throughout the country.  The self-driving cars continued their rampage.  It didn’t seem to matter if it was night or day, the cars would track people down, never killing animals, only humans beings seemed to be targeted.  The carnage was carried out with efficiency.  The victims could not protect themselves.  Past attacks by terrorists and mad gun-men had resulted in the Government legislating for a gun-free society.  Weapons no longer being allowed, not one citizen owned a gun.  The already much reduced police force had only revolvers and stun-guns to use against the out of control cars.  This defence was woefully inadequate.  The cars seemed to be programmed in their efforts, driving straight at the officers, into the police stations, into their homes, killing both them and their families.  Within three weeks, the police force had been completely dispensed with.  The rampant cars were able to recharge themselves at will.  Manufacturers had built multiple charging stations across the country.   No-one could stop them recharging.  Power failure in some districts only resulted in cars heading across the city to another source; only to return and continue their terrorizing.
Somehow, prison doors were flung open during this melee.  Thieves and murderers joined ranks with the Anti-Techs to help remaining citizens find a way to fight back against the autonomous vehicles.   In the end, a simple, age-old solution, was agreed to.  With no other option available to us, we started making bows an arrows. It was the only defense we could think of.   From roof top positions, we fired arrows at the tires of the marauding cars.  With tires punctured, the link between the wheels and VCM was destroyed.  The cars became stationary, eventually running out of power.  They didn’t give up easily, however.  The killing continued for a few more days. Some vehicles even using guerrilla warfare tactics, pretending to be out of power until they saw enough people in a group to mow down.   Eventually, it all ceased.    
Two years have passed since CAR-nage Day.   We no longer have cars.  Too many of the folk, who survived the horror of those days, still live in fear of them.   We learned a computer virus had been responsible for the malfunctioning, self-drive vehicles that almost destroyed society.  Understand-ably, I guess, nobody seems to trust technology anymore.  Soon after the carnage ended, people started destroying all technology.  We now live very simple lives. We no longer have mobile telephones, tablets, computers, or use the Internet.  After all, it had been the Internet that transmitted the virus to the cars’ computers. How could we trust it again?  I’m not even sure we could forget the significant role the Internet played in the development of artificial intelligence.
The Government held a plebiscite.  As a nation, we collectively made the decision never to go back down a technological pathway.  These days, paper has become more popular, as have libraries.   It’s a simple life, but a good one.


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