26 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Suresh Menon: riding into fresh chaos

Our columnist goes bonkers over self-doing gadgets and predicts chaos if they develop minds of their own

Suresh Menon
27 Jun 2016 | 03:11 pm

I haven’t conducted a survey, but I imagine that a good number of us would feel rather foolish if struck by a self-driving car. Maybe not as foolish as we might feel if a self-driving bicycle or a self-driving pair of roller skates tripped us up on a morning walk, but foolish all the same.

Now, here’s something to make us feel even more foolish. The manufacturers of a self-driving car have patented a new sticky technology to protect us if we get hit. Apparently, it will hold on to the pedestrian (known in legal parlance as the hittee, to distinguish it from the vehicle, which is the hitter) until the vehicle slows down and comes to a stop, or the person decides to jump off to search find his dignity.

But what if the adhesive is too strong and doesn’t release the pedestrian? Newspapers, which carry photographs of road accidents (theoretically to present their horror and discourage bad driving, but actually because we are a morbid lot) will now be filled with images of people caught in various unshakeable poses on windshields, being taken for a ride.

Along the way, the adhesive might pick up the odd animal, a fallen tree or two, some low-flying birds and the garbage thrown out by an unthinking citizen. The original pedestrian, with time on his hands now, might pull out a book to read while the adhesive decides when to become less sticky.

For those with a more soaring imagination, here’s another scenario: two adhesive cars ram into each other. What happens next?

Somehow, I thought the charm of self-driving cars is that they would be accident-free. But if we are preparing for accidents, then cars that exist are terrific at that already. Once they are on the road, who pays the insurance, then, who goes to court and argues that he was the hittee, not the hitter?

I have nothing against self-driving cars. They are probably the only kind I could ever drive. And I can see some great social uses. You send out your self-driving car (SDR) to meet my SDR for a beverage at a nearby beverage-dispenser while you and I stay in our homes and focus on work. We already have phones and notebooks as substitutes for social interaction. Now cars too can join that happy company.

Yet, there is something weird about these self-doing gadgets. For we use the time thus saved to invent more self-doing stuff. Self-reading books, perhaps, self-tailoring suits, self-milking cows – the list is endless. 
If you want more, I can work on a self-generating list.

Tell us what you think?

Suresh Menon

Suresh Menon

is a writer based in India. In his youth he set out to change the world but later decided to leave it as it is.