Jun 3, 2015

Clogging Up the Damn

From about every engineering and societal viewpoint, autonomous cars are the obvious future. That is, in fact, a fact. But it is possible that the US might be completely out of the progressive loop when this giant sociological change takes place. We’ve done it before. Often.

The US has a long history of being terrified by intelligence. We elect congress-critters, governors, and presidents whose sole credential is being (or appearing to be) a whole lot dumber than the average guy. Apparently, we mostly like ‘em stupid. Smart cars, then, have to scare the shit out of the ordinary mouth-breathing, NASCAR whooping, goofball. The scary news, if they were capable of reading it, is that computers are capable of out-smarting about 50% of us and have been since the Z80 days. In more recent times, computers are getting smarter every day while Americans are . . . downbreeding into puddles of terrified, conservative backsliders.

We did the coward/conservative thing in 1980 with Reagan’s promise to save us from having to “learn stuff.” When Reagan canned the United States Metric Board and ridiculed and ignored the requirements of the Metric Conversion Act, 15 U.S.C. 205d, most 'mericans cheered not having to adapt to the international measurement standard. Today, we’re the only industrialized nation in the world still concerned with the length of the King’s foot, the width of a man’s thumb (inch), or the rest of our disorderly, overly complicated SAE system. That bit of backwards thinking has been as expensive, on an annual basis, as our last two recreational wars. “Jos. V. Collins did some work on this question in 1915. He concluded in an article called, 'A metrical tragedy', that a 'Total annual loss of $315 000 000' could be attributed per year to non-metrication in the USA at that time.” In today’s money, that would amount to about $6.5B/year. We could pay for all sorts of idiot wars and invasions with that kind of money or we could make stuff we and the rest of the world want to buy. Currently we don’t make much that anyone else wants and what we do make is being replaced by foreign (non-USA) sources.

With that history in mind, it is totally possible to imagine ‘mericans stubbornly screeching “You’ll have to take the steering wheel from my cold, dead hands” while the rest of the world efficiently converts personal vehicles to a municipally-owned autonomous transportation system. Because we’ll be a backwards market, our auto manufacturers will stick with old-world transportation and manufacturing models and products and they will slowly become as obsolete as their products; dying off one-by-one like their US competition did in the 1950’s. Eventually, only 3rd world manufacturers will service the US market’s demand for 20th Century transportation technology and we’ll join them in their misery. Most of our 1% will move to where the lifestyles are more comfortable (and modern), since none of those folks have any more loyalty to the United States than do our corporations.

I suppose some people will look forward to an America that resembles the Mad Max vision of cobbled-together junk-mobiles. Most of the Southeast and the Rust Belt won’t notice a change at all.

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