Self-driving cars in a dystopian society

This Friday as we were having beers at work, we started talking about self-driving cars. Obviously the conversation started with all the cool things that self-driving cars will bring – lower accidents, sleeping while on the move, easy sharing of cars and parking – but we ended up thinking about the ways companies could distort this new invention. Hence I decided to have a little writing session, and come up with a few short paragraphs.

Extra minutes for holidays

While your car drives itself, you, your family peer out of the open windows. The landscape keeping you forever in awe, the warm wind blowing your hair back. This holiday was well deserved, the break is blissful.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The car pulls over into a little nook on the side of the road, between the cliff and the mountain. It seems to be the perfect place to stop, breathe, and observe the vast landscape sprawling below you. Everyone in the family comes out of the car, as the engine automatically shuts down.

In the warm summer afternoon, you can’t even tell how much time went by looking at the little villages and valleys afar. When everyone is ready, they make their way into the car, and as you try to set a new destination, it refuses to accept the given coordinates. An error message pops up:

No more minutes available to drive abroad. Contact provider.

This company has benefits

Roberto had just joined to company as a low skilled machinist, one among many. He worked in shifts, sometimes during the day, other times at night. He lived far away, as rent close to the factory was expensive. Life was hard. Long hours and long commutes meant little rest. Some of his colleagues had even had accidents whilst driving to or from work. Well, not anymore. No one would have to worry again.

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Once that policy was put into place the car arrived at his driveway within a week. No driver at the wheel, just the soft electric buzz of the motor announcing its arrival. It was gorgeous. The silver color shining in the sun, caught Roberto’s family’s eye, and all were immediately drawn to it. The kids obviously went in first, as he stayed with his partner outside, basking in the joy of having a new vehicle in the family.

The first week was strange. Roberto would get into the car in the early hours, it would start moving, and his reaction was to grab a non existent steering wheel. He would tense up in the front seat, observe every single object moving past, and hope the vehicle knew what it was doing. He always arrived safe, and day by day comfort washed over him.

By the end of week one, the routine was sorted. Make some coffee, put it in the cup holder thermos. Have a second pair of clothes in the passenger’s seat. Keep the pajama, and snuggle in the comfy blanket, and let the car drive the 2h into the factory. Wake up, change, get the coffee, and walk into work feeling energized! How amazing this technology was!

All the happiness of having a car went out the window when one of Roberto’s colleagues had an accident at the factory. Years of cutting costs, old equipment, and negligence cost a friend his life. The unhappiness was generalized. People wanted to get together and complain — protest if you will.

Unfortunately, as soon as corporate heard about this, some people’s cars started not driving to the plant. They were never officially reprimanded for missing work, they just would not show up. They were told to enjoy the day off, on company pay. Which they did, but at what cost?

I guess investing in all those cars did pay off. No unionizing, no protests. Or at least, when they did happen, some of the key charismatic players were easily moved aside.

And the world continued moving forward.

Leave late, arrive early. The DoubleFast way.

Jan had been a longtime customer of DoubleFast for years now. She was racking in all the rewards. Discounted memberships, car upgrades, extra comfort during service stops, the list went on. Climbing the corporate ladder came not only with a good paycheck, it brought these perks with it. Well deserved for all the hard work and time she put in for the well being of the company. Time was valuable, and with DoubleFast she could leave her house at 8am and be in the office by 9am — for the first meeting of the day.

The new corporate guy was there. Jim. He looked tired. Unlike Jan, he couldn’t yet afford the luxury of DoubleFast. He actually lives close to Jan, but his self-driving car isn’t upgraded, therefore he needs to use the regular lanes. The traffic is insane, it actually takes 2h30 to get to the office. And sleeping in the car just isn’t the same as sleeping in your own bed and making it to work in slightly under 1h.

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

So what is DoubleFast?

DoubleFast is what years of lobbying around infrastructure do to you. Verizon, Comcast, and others tried to do this with the internet. They tried to remove Net Neutrality, and give better bandwidth and speed to some big players. Well, unfortunately for them, the internet is jam packed with smart people that don’t need to leave their homes to fight — so they turned to infrastructure. No one cares about infrastructure.

Grease the palms of the logistics industry leaders, some other big names in the transporting world, and sure enough you get to build real fast lanes in the real world. Just enough to make a few extra millions, not enough to cause a big riot. Just enough perks to get people to play the game, and defend what you are doing. It’s sick. But it is the world Jan and Jim live in today — and it sucks.

The end. These are just some half baked thoughts about things that could go wrong. Maybe they are unrealistic, maybe they aren’t. What matters is we should keep our eyes open. New technologies will certainly bring creative ways to make inequality larger. Lets not be blinded by shiny lights and perks.

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Jose Antunes

Software Developer based in London. I want to never be outdated. I write about whatever is on my mind — from work to life.