If a narrow, two-lane country road could be called seductive, this is it. Arrow straight into the horizon, it lies flat, bisecting rich, gently rolling farmland. Mile after mile of soybean, cotton, and corn planted three yards from the edges of asphalt ribbon — a lush agricultural tunnel. You nudge the accelerator. The road is yours. Deserted. Nothing moving under the late August morning sun. Not man. Not beast. The 535i shares your love of the place, humming almost gratefully as it gracefully settles on 90. Your right palm rests casually at five o’clock, eyes fixated just above the horizon, at once seeing everything and nothing, out of body, dreamlike. There’s something spiritual about speed. Are you gliding on a blacktop or floating on a cloud? Or, like an F-18, lifting skyward near the end of a land-based carrier deck, speeding toward….toward what?
Even a self-induced hypnosis has nowhere to go without an eventual slap in the face. Two hundred yards ahead, the Peterbilt Semi rumbles past a slight bend, refusing to be ignored as it roars past. The morning seduction is over, but not forgotten. Past the runway, you decel to 70. Exceeding the limit by 15 mph won’t land you in lockup but satisfyingly challenges you on the serpentine segments of backroad. This is driving as it should be, requiring hand/eye coordination, a tidbit of risk and a large helping of joy. Unfortunately, the future frowns on the joys of human proficiency, the joys of owning the road.
Well, better buckle up; the future is now. Vehicles already park, reduce speed and brake automatically, ushering in the arrival of the automatic pilot — your driverless car. As always, the changes are surreptitiously incremental. At first, you have the option of manual and automatic operation. In time, manual goes away. You become a full-time passenger. Your vehicle mandates speed control. Combustion vehicles disappear. All vehicles are electric and conform to standard design. Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over and you take a back seat.
Not today, though, as you and Gladys Knight and her Pips (Midnight Train to Georgia)happily straighten out a nifty “S” curve. Sweet.
Truth is AI has been here in one form or another since the 50’s. You remember Hal 9000. (He) had a mind of (his) own in the 1968 flick: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Fifty five years later, AI knows your bathroom habits through a bevy of tech companies. It surrounds you with smart devices, controlling household utilities and security, ordering groceries, analyzing preferences and behaviors and predicting what you will say and how you will say it. Eventually, AI replaces the need for true, unassisted human endeavor. It penetrates all business sectors and all skilled disciplines. Optimists rightly claim that brilliant human brains are responsible for machines that think. Yes. Humans store the data, humans write the code and humans develop algorithms. Human brains give the instructions; machines listen and learn. Smart machines save time, make your data more useful, curtail errors, expedite decisions, make predictions, continuously evolve and minimize risk — 24-7. All these benefits arguably make the world a better place.
But at what cost?
In the wrong hands, pessimists and at least one realist suggest: AI technology is a weapon — destined to invade privacy, cheat, steal and completely subjugate a populace. Given recent history, AI is exactly poised to accelerate Huxley’s Brave New World, where an “oligarchy of big government and big business” threatens individual freedom — where “standardization and conformity in everyday life . . . becomes inevitable,” (and) where “brainwashing techniques influence people to conform to approved ways of thinking.” Sound familiar, Matilda? Hell, U.S. lefties would nod pridefully. Even in the right hands, AI crushes critical thinking. History and history’s geniuses are irrelevant. Reading and writing are passe. And profoundly lost is respect for the architecture and artistry of the English language. But all isn’t lost for the GenX and GenZ congregation. Need a piece of knowledge? Grab your cell, enter or verbalize a few keywords and instantly you become educated. How sweet is that, comrades?
Not as sweet as this country road and this lusty machine that loves and depends on you and your touch alone. You have a biker friend who understands.