Would you trust a robot to drive your car?

January 29, 2012

Science fiction writers have come up with a lot of interesting ideas about the future of transportation. Flying taxis have been around (in books) since at least 1940. When I was a child, we expected that there would actually be flying cars by the year 2000.

I vaguely remember reading Robert Heinlein’s short story “The Roads Must Roll,” in which the roads move instead of the people. There are strips moving at different speeds, ranging from 5 mph up to 100 mph. I’ve often thought of that story (without being able to remember most of the details) when attempting to merge into a lane of faster traffic.

There is the idea of teleporting, instantaneous transportation from one place to another. The best known example is “beaming” in Star Trek, but the idea goes back to at least 1933 (Frank K. Kelly).

The idea of cars that can drive themselves is hardly new either, but I don’t remember it showing up very often in the stories I have read. I suppose it just doesn’t make for much drama. I remember very much enjoying “Knight Rider” in the early 1980’s, but it was KITT’s personality rather than his (its?) technical capabilities that made the show interesting.

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