Of the several internet browser tabs open on my desktop at the moment, one reads: ‘A world without work is coming; it could be utopia or it could be hell.’
Coincidentally, that is often my second thought on a Saturday morning. Another says: ‘Facebook in the car will cause road deaths to soar’, to which I think: “Well, it probably won’t, will it?”
We do fear change, don’t we? Yes, an avalanche of technology is arriving and sometimes it feels like coping with it is going to be quite the struggle. The thrust of that first story I mentioned is that we should plan for the day when robots eventually put us all out of a job, just like Tomorrow’s World said would happen by 1995.
The second story focuses on the fact that the screen in your car will soon replicate anything your smartphone can do. Some already do.
Whether this is a change for better or worse depends on your mood. I usually think things change for the better and would take the 2016 version of my village newsletter – where the big story is outrage because people park on the village green’s verge – over a period when the thrust of the front page would have been about the plague or marauding Vikings.
But war, famine, Brexit, exile, political collapse and now motorised Facebook keep the presses turning, I suppose, breeding a fear of cars whose centre consoles mimic a smartphone. Tech arrives before the legislation to control it and, as a result, people get all of a pickle.
Not unreasonably, to be fair, because some people will be stupid enough to use their phone’s functions while driving. Think of what your phone can do: web browse, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Jetpack Joyride… fiddling with any of these on the move is ridiculous. Some cars have voice control to assist, but these systems are so hopeless that they’re as likely to telephone your ex-wife as skip forward a track on Spotify.
So what’ll happen? The government has shrugged its shoulders and reminds drivers that responsibility for not being clowns is theirs alone. Car makers could/might/might not disable complicated software while a car is in motion, or on-board cameras could decide whether the passenger is doing the bidding. But they might do neither. I don’t think deaths will soar, but they might curve up a little, and it’ll be worth thinking even harder about how you filter on a motorcycle, or on which roads you should cycle. Then legislation will catch up, in the way that next year new measures will give drivers double the current penalty points for using a phone on the move. Six points on your licence is a deterrent in the way that three points simply is not.
Eventually, autonomy in vehicles will mean you can do anything you like on big roads, but until then, I suppose we’ll be destined to muddle through, like always.
And so it’ll go on, change threatening, sensible people reacting, right up until my last column for this magazine when the autonomous vehicle finally arrives and Autocar becomes Autoautocar. I’ll be replaced by a robot who, unfortunately for him, will find his first road test is of a fully autonomous car, and that he has nothing to write about. Ha! Take that, the future.