Cars are no longer what they seem to be. On-board computers and their algorithms have invaded all organs, making cars better, but also more susceptible to hacks and invasions of privacy.
Having driven Route 85 between Cupertino and Mountain View a few thousand times, I’m familiar with every rift and gap in the concrete, every subtle camber shift as I follow an habitual, gradual arc through curves and lane changes. Some early Chevrolet episodes aside, I’m behind the wheel of a European vehicle, silent, good lungs, surefooted, precise, the kind of car that translates the driver’s steering motion into a smooth trajectory, no ifs or buts, no need for correction as the suspension takes its time to settle. After 31 years of driving this pleasant road, the feeling doesn’t get old.
A few weeks ago, I drove the familiar route in a new vehicle freshly delivered from Sindelfingen. Something is wrong: The first curve line is “dirty”, it lacks Germanic rigor. At the next curve the steering wheel argues with me, politely but clearly demanding a different trajectory.
When I get back home I look around the dashboard and notice two red indicators that had been hidden by the steering wheel while I was driving. The walkthrough tech at the dealership had set the vessel to autopilot. In retrospect, I should have seen the argumentative steering coming: I had ordered the autopilot and other geeky features that were unknown when I bought my previous chariot just five years ago. On the road, the autopilot had interpreted my steering ‘optimizations’ as daydreaming lane drift and had stepped in to keep me in line.
I disconnect the autopilot and go for a drive; the familiar pleasant feeling returns.
“…the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists…it excites interest less by its substance than by the junction of its components. ”
The striving, energetic copulation of the arts and technologies, the ‘junction of components’ has continued. Cars are now nearly completely penetrated by automation and algorithms.