I’ve got a confession to make. I really want a new car. I’ve been driving the same ’98 Honda since I graduated college in 2001 and that thing has been through the ringer. It’s ugly and noisy and the damn left turn-signal needs to be fixed… Again!
I’ve got another confession to make. I live 2 miles from where I work. I could walk. I could take the bus (my work provides free transit passes). I could bike (there’s a workout area at my office with showers on-site that bike commuters can use). Or I could wake up a little earlier and hitch a ride every day with my wife, who passes by my office at the start of her much more legitimate commute.
But out of sheer laziness I still find myself climbing into that old, noisy, beat-up Honda almost every day – carefully so I don’t knock out the ball-point pen propping up the lever that makes the wind-shield wipers work – and drive it 2 miles to work. I might as well print out a picture of Mr. Money Mustache and have it punch me in the face. I can’t right now, though. Our printer is out of ink.
So, if I’m that lazy and if I’m also slightly embarrassed parking my old car next to brand new BMWs and Range Rovers, why don’t I just ditch the Honda and get a new car (or at least a nicer used car)? Well, some of it is the fact that I have alternative transportation as a back-up. And I am just frugal enough to grin and bear the embarrassment so I don’t have to have a car payment. But there’s another thing that helps me hold off…
The Fast-Approaching Auto Singularity
How can I explain this? How many of you watch The Big Bang Theory? Lots, I’m guessing. At least that’s what CBS says.
In one of my favorite episodes, The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification, Sheldon charts his remaining life-expectancy on a white board and determines he’ll die before humanity reaches the Singularity. He describes the Singularity as the point where a man can merge his consciousness with machines and essentially live forever on-line. Sheldon even rigs up a homemade “Mobile Virtual Presence Device”, a computer monitor on wheels, to interact with the outside world for him while his physical body stays safe in his bedroom so he can survive long enough to make it to the Singularity.
The Singularity is heaven for Sheldon. But it can also be thought of through the much darker and dystopian lens of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fictional Borg Collective, where man and machine have merged and all thoughts and actions belong to and are controlled by the Collective. That version of the Singularity would suck. Just ask Captain Picard.
We may never reach the Singularity as Sheldon describes it, the point where human consciousness lives online. If we do, I don’t know whether it’ll be paradise or the end of humanity.
We are, however, fast approaching what I’m calling the Auto Singularity. This is when the “auto” in automobile truly means automatic. This is is a world where most cars are self-driving and their collective car “consciousness” is uploaded online so they constantly talk to each other and know exactly where each other is at at all times. The Auto Singularity is a fully intelligent transportation system.
It’s coming sooner than you think. John Zimmer, president of ridesharing company Lyft (the ones with the fuzzy pink mustache), recently predicted the majority of Lyft’s fleet would be self-driving by 2021. Five years! Lyft competitor Uber is already testing $2 fares in some cities to compete with public transportation. It seems we’re quickly heading toward a ride-sharing reality that’s extremely convenient and super cheap.
Imagine a city in the not-too-distant future where you pay a monthly membership for access to a fleet of shiny self-driving cars that can be summoned to your driveway to take you anywhere you want to go at the tap of an app. Imagine a city with no parking lots. Imagine a city where these autonomous cars are so efficient at picking up and dropping off that they never ride empty and never sit idle. Imagine a city with no traffic congestion because the cars control the speed, never tap the brakes and actually know how to zipper merge. I think the Auto Singularity will be awesome!
For those of us that still like to drive ourselves every once in a while. There will be special “race” tracks for that. Or you can drive with other human drivers in what may end up being known as the “demolition derby death” lanes of the future. If they don’t ban human driving on freeways altogether, city engineers will certainly separate human drivers from driverless cars. Consider this proposal for a stretch of Interstate 5 in Washington.
Much like Sheldon going to extremes to extend his life to reach his Singularity, I’m trying to extend the life of my little Honda to get me to the Auto Singularity.
That’s a big reason I’m reluctant to get a new car. I keep thinking if my Honda can putter along long enough to take me to at least the early days of the Auto Singularity, I may never need to actually own a car again. I may never need to pay insurance. I may never need to schedule another oil change or tire rotation or have a greasy mechanic plug my car into a computer to tell me that the reason the check-engine light is on is because the stupid sensor is busted.
Whenever I drive by a car dealership in my beat-up Honda, I’m tempted to pull in and just sign and drive. I’ve owned a crappy car for so long! Of course I don’t want the car payment. I am fairly frugal and I value cash flow. Besides, we’ve got bigger plans for the money. Of course Mr. Money Mustache is on my right shoulder steering me away.
But there’s one thing that ultimately seals the deal and I end up cruising right on past the dealership. The future of transportation is just on the horizon and it will change everything. My Honda and I have been through a lot together. We can make it a little further.
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