Soundbyte 312: Man and machine


One of the nice perks when working at Luminis is that you can pick a new lease car every four years. Last week my new car finally arrived and I have to say, it’s awesome. Not because it’s faster, more powerful or has some super cool engine, but because of the driver assist extras I ordered. Whenever I get on the road for more than thirty minutes, I just get too exhausted by all the traffic on our crowded Dutch roads. So the more help, the better. Unfortunately, a Tesla with autopilot was just a tad out of reach so I settled for installing stuff like adaptive cruise control and lane assist on my VW. And like I said: It’s awesome! Seeing the wheel turn by itself is very satisfying when driving in traffic.

But I noticed those options have a different impact on my driving than some new fancy sat nav or seat warmers. I’m still adjusting my style to make full use of the new extras. You might say my car and I are currently in the ‘storming’ phase. These days it’s often pointing out I should “Please take over driving” whenever I take my hands off the wheel for more than 10 seconds. Naturally, I respond with: “So why do you keep turning the damned wheel if you want me to ‘drive’?” I hope it’s just a phase we’re going through…

Anyhow, it got me thinking about our transport habits. The current relationship issues with my car might be of the “men obsessed with his car” variety, but for me, it’s a stepping stone to something more. Just like we now have horse-racing primarily for sports, I don’t think it’s far-fetched that manually driving a car would be limited to race tracks in the near future. Tesla’s autopilot is just a first step, albeit a very impressive one. Manually driving a car for regular transport is going to be a thing of the past sooner than we might anticipate.

The interesting bit is what will happen with society, car manufacturers, our cities or transport industry. In 2014 for example, truck driver was the most common job for almost each state in the US. I wonder what will happen to those people and their families when trucks become fully automated. Is Trump going to bring those jobs back just like he’s now ‘returning’ those (increasingly robotized) factory jobs back to the US? And how about our Dutch railroad infrastructure? Are they still relevant when you can just summon your car from your phone without the need for a driver? Is it going to be your own car or a car as a service? No more parking lots because all cars are always in use?

In any case, I predict a huge impact and a lot of companies going bankrupt if they don’t adapt in time. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep arguing with my car.

Sven Hammond released their new album this week and did a live performance during the morning radio show. They also did a live cover of Paint It Black which was just for radio but they managed to make a fine recording. So no more talk, go listen and if you like it, I recommend taking a look at Sven Hammond’s beard, I mean repertoire.