The thing about driving is that it consists of two different elements:

  1. the mechanical aspect of steering, shifting gears, braking, etc.
  2. the attentional aspect of keeping one’s eyes on the road, looking ahead, anticipating events and compensating for them by means of ‘1’ (above).

With time and experience, the mechanical becomes ‘second nature’ as it were; we are no longer distracted … as we were when we were learner/novice drivers … by the cognitive load of “I need to take my foot off the accelerator briefly to reduce the revs, before continuing at the slightly slower speed, depress the clutch with my left foot, shift the gear stick with my left/right hand, release the clutch pedal at the right rate to engage the clutch plate with the gears smoothly so as not to cause the vehicle to stall or ‘kangeroo’ forward, potentially causing an accident, adjust the pressure on the accelerator pedal to accommodate the real versus anticipated variation in speed and engine performance and, oh, my God this is nerve-wracking.”

Instead we focus on the actual driving … the eyes-on-the-road anticipation of, and compensation for, others’ actions and other real-world events such as weather conditions and related phenomena (landlsides, rockslides, falling trees, whatever).

It’s like the difference between making love with a new partner or a long term lover —with time, instead of focusing on the … <ahem> ins and outs of the matter¹ … we focus on delivering the best experience based upon our understanding of their responses to our moves as we make them.

And with automatic gears/transmission, all you need to do mechanically is steer with your hands and press either the ‘Go’ pedal or the ‘Stop’ pedal with your foot. There are video games that are more demanding than that — physically and cognitively.

Add in cruise control and all you really need to do is steer and, in an emergency, hit the brakes.

In fact, you could dispense with the need for a brake pedal at all and have a hybrid accelerator/brake that you simply take your foot off/release quickly in order to perform an emergency stop maneuvre.

So, seemingly … if Tesla’s defense of their vehicle’s behaviour is anything to go by … the idea of autonomous vehicles is not that they should do the driving for you but, rather to dispense with the need for the mechanics.

Except when you need to step in and take over the mechanics that is … which you will recognise the need for when appropriate because really, you’ve been driving the autonomous vehicle all along yourself, just not physically steering it or pressing pedals.

It’s a bit like riding your bicycle ‘no hands’ … fun while it lasts but you’re on your own if something unforseen happens, because, you are actually riding that bicycle … it isn’t steering itself or braking for you — just like Tesla’s autonomous vehicle as it happens.

So, what’s the point of autonomous vehicles, exactly?

You can’t sit in them and read, use your phone, whatever, whilst someone else drives you (like, say a taxi driver), because … like when you’re riding your bike ‘no hands’ … you have to drive the vehicle yourself.

In fact, it almost seems self-defeating in that all it does is as a delay to your response time because you have to put your hands on the wheel first rather than their having already been there — because, apart from that delay whilst you position your hands and foot correctly, the difference between driving an autonomous and non-autonoumous vehicle appears to be zero, zilch, nada.

It’s almost as if there’s not only no point but that, actually, it’s a bad idea.

Because, if a vehicle takes five seconds to decide it isn’t going to do anything about an obstruction but hit it instead … if it watches you hit a pedestrian instead of deciding that you weren’t quick enough and braking for you … what, exactly, is it doing that an ordinary vehicle doesn’t do when you don’t apply the brakes and/or swerve to avoid an obstruction or a pedestrian yourself — that adds any value to the whole experience that is?

And I don’t seem to be the only one sceptical about claims made for them either …²

Apropos of all this …

And …

¹ Does s/he like it when I do this? What about that? Does that face mean s/he’s enjoying it or something else? Was that a groan of pleasure or discomfort? What? What does any of this mean? What am I supposed to do? How? Shit!

² Or about tea ³.

³ I keep thinking I ought to mention Stephen M. Tomic whenever I think of tea … especially tea made in untoward parts, but … although I feel he ought really to be British … he’s a Mary queen and, therefore, knows no more about than any other of you Philistines , other than not to drink it in France.

⁴ That reminds me … I haven’t spoken to Phyllis Stein in absolutely ages — I should giver her a call.

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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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Where Angels Fear

Where Angels Fear

There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live and too rare to die.

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