It’s 1989. The mailman brings a new issue of Road & Track. You learn about the latest cars, their engine displacements, torque curves, lateral Gs. Then you pore over the spec charts in the back of the magazine. Want some “color”? Catch a MotorWeek episode on cable TV, where you can actually see those cars in motion, see their bodies lean, hear their exhaust notes. You want to try one out? You leave a message at a local dealer. With any luck, they’ll you back when the first shipment arrives. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep on calling back or driving by.
That was car enthusiasm back then. No YouTube. No cell phones (well, not really). No internet (well, not really). Let’s stay in 1989 for a minute. A guy sitting next to you on the bus tells you the following:
“About 27 years from now, your pocket will buzz. It’ll be your phone doing the buzzing. It’s telling you an auto CEO, who incidentally aspires to die on Mars, has confirmed via Twitter that his forthcoming electric car will have Ludicrous mode, which annihilates the gas sports cars you used to fantasize about. You’ll tap your phone to scroll down an online Reddit discussion — that’s part of the internet , but no time to explain that now — anyway, you’ll read about the ramifications of this announcement. A year later, you’ll tap your screen to fine-tune your order. Ludicrous mode for you. Car arrives at a mall store, not a dealership. You take it home without touching the wheel much. A month later, an update arrives over the air — the first of many to come, each materially improving the car. You touch a screen and wait a minute. Suddenly the car has new cognitive functions. Think I’m crazy? I had an epiphany in the shower this morning, about all if this stuff.”
You would probably pull the emergency stop cord on the bus and let yourself off a mile early. Better to walk than sit next to a nitwit who might blow up the bus.
So when people warn of another sea change approaching, this time involving self-driving cars or maybe even self-teaching nonhuman beings (ASI), it’s probably not poppycock. TeslaMondo thinks the shift to autonomy will take several decades, if only because of the slow attrition rate of “dumb” cars and the lagging pace of regulation and infrastructure. But just imagine if the next three decades bring at least as much change as the last three.