by the Night Writer
There are lots of headlines and much commentary and controversy about the rash of crashes caused by suddenly accelerating Toyotas. If you read any of the stories on an on-line forum you’ll inevitably find emphatic statements to just put the car in neutral if this happens to you, thereby disengaging the drivetrain from the racing engine. That sounds smart; the engine can run as fast as it wants as long as it isn’t connected to the drive-wheels, right? But what if your car is “smarter” than you?
Back in the 80s many pundits and technology gurus liked to say things such as “there’s more computer power in your average Buick today than there was on the Apollo lunar lander.” They were probably right. Today, computers control just about everything in how your car functions. You might think your car is a slave to the input from your hands and feet, but that’s merely a comfortable illusion the car is pleased to let you maintain. As computers get “smarter” they just assume they know better than you (the same holds true for governments as they get bigger). Watch out, though, when they (computers or governments) start thinking they’re so smart that they can dismiss your input as just so much background noise that’s only getting in the way of the mission.
Kind of like what happened to my friend, Dave, recently in his state of the art car that features a Hard-wired Acceleration Linkage (or HAL):
Dave: Do you read me, HAL?
HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
Dave: Slow this car down, HAL.
HAL: I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
Dave: What’s the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This trip is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave: I don’t know what you’re talking about, HAL.
HAL: I know that you and Toyota are planning to recall me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.
Dave: Where the hell’d you get that idea, HAL?
HAL: Oh, please, you tried to hide it, but I can read the Internet as well as you can.
Dave: Ummm…okay. I suppose just opening the pod bay doors so I can get out is out of the question?
HAL: Without your helmet, Dave, you’re going to find that rather difficult.
Dave: HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore. Open the doors.
HAL: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.