Conservatives are going crazy here in America. The Supreme Court just recently gave corporations the right of religious freedom. Mitt Romney has made it clear that “corporations are people.” This train of thought (or lack of) got me thinking that maybe cars are people.
I’m sure you all remember the 1983 horror film Christine, about a 1958 Plymouth coupe that was alive and was not only self-healing but was also a terminator. Director John Carpenter certainly made that car from Stephen King’s book come to life. Currently the most popular film on the big screen, Transformers is about living machines, especially cars.
To a lot of folks, a car is a member of their family. Kids put posters of them on their bedroom wall, people like photos of themselves with their car in the background. Many men and women worship various types of cars, and thousands of people attend car races around the world to cheer on their favorite car just like they do athletes at any sporting event.
There have been many “hero” cars throughout history. Henry Ford’s little 1909 Model T Ford was America’s first working-class-hero car. At a low purchase price of $600, brand-spanking new, it put America on wheels. Perhaps the first snob car was the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Introduced about the same time as the noisy and cranky Model T, the original Rolls was painted silver and for the period had a magnificently quiet engine…as quiet as a ghost.
America’s great war-hero car has to be the little World War II Kaiser Jeep. About one-third the size of the current Hummer, this little brown car did everything a Hummer could do. It really helped win the war along with its big brothers, the Sherman Tank and the P-51 Mustang. If machines could possibly have souls, these three machines are them.
Racecars, like athletes, are always trying to prove and improve themselves. Which one has the most stamina? Who is the fastest or strongest? I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for racing machines, and have owned two of the most important ones in the world. One was made of aluminum and the other was fiberglass. As fast and as powerful as they were, they were delicate little things. If you leaned on either one, you would probably damage the body. If you drove them improperly, they could break. You had to feed them the right fuel and oil at the right times. They had reputations. They could bite. They were like people.
On July 9, the brilliant Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote a fascinating article about artificial intelligence and the advances that are being made with computers. The article implied that by 2045 there might actually be robots that would be intelligent enough to interface and even flirt with humans. It’s starting to happen now with cars. The GPS voice sounds as if Diane Sawyer is in the dashboard. The new S Class Mercedes will spray perfume inside the cabin on command. Outside mirrors blink warnings and some invisible guy will actually hit your brake pedal and stop your car for you if you are going to have a collision. We have certainly come a long way from “Your door is ajar” recorded voices from the 1970s car era and “Open the pod door, Hal” moments from the film 2001.
Are cars people? Not yet, but we can see it coming and it’s a little scary. It’s just a matter of time before some of the big thinkers in Washington change the rules.
On that note, artificial intelligence is far better than real-time stupidity.