Meanwhile back in the UK – A Crash Course in Technology

Some idiot reversed into my car in Tesco’s car park. That, I expect, is what the owner of the car behind me in Tesco’s car park probably said when he got home. He might well have added an adjective or two to describe the idiot in greater detail, but the editor’s Big Red Pen of Purity won’t let me speculate in print.

It wasn’t my fault; I was distracted by a low-flying government spy-drone. Of course, they will deny it – well they have to, don’t they – but you and I know the truth.

In my favour, I could just have driven off. No-one saw what happened, and to describe the damage as minor would be to bestow upon it a Brobdingnagian exaggeration. But, like the responsible citizen whose demise I often decry, I wrote a note containing my phone number and a grovelling apology, and explaining that I was only at the supermarket to buy, with my last coppers, supplies for starving children in various disaster areas, and left it, somewhat securely, under his windscreen wiper. The weather gods clearly saw fit to provide not even a zephyr to dislodge and waft it to a place where it would remain hidden until the statute of limitations expired, because an hour later I got the call from a gentleman who agreed that it was bad luck, what with the government drone, and, yes, the world’s poor undoubtedly need our help; then told me I was about to become one of them and hung up.

This all happened – with what would be a curious serendipity if I wasn’t facing a payout more inflated than a bulging tyre, but which, given the circumstances, is now just plain irritating – after a Budget which pledged £100m towards further developing driverless cars. They are currently being road-tested here, after boffins claimed they would be safer than vehicles with humans at the wheel. I would normally spend a few paragraphs rubbishing this notion, but it is difficult to put the boot into an idea when you haven’t got a leg to stand on. And I can see how, in the case of some drivers – the irresponsible ones who go forwards way too fast, as opposed to the desperately unlucky ones who go backwards fractionally too far – they would be a good idea.

Some people are very much against this, of course, from car repairers to manufacturers of peaked caps, and heaven alone knows what taxi drivers might start doing in order to keep the statistics favourable. But safety on the roads is a trump card, and driverless cars will be stuffed full of technology like ultrasonic sensors similar to those that stop bats piling into tree-trunks, so accidents would definitely be reduced. What’s more, road-rage incidents would be eradicated, because robots – which is what driverless cars basically are – just don’t have it in them.

Which prompts a thought or two. For example, the road tests are being undertaken in four cities, including Milton Keynes, which some of you may know has enough roundabouts to make Zebedee go boing. But what happens, I ask myself, and now you, when four robotic cars arrive simultaneously at one of those mini ones, where right of way must be ceded to the vehicle on your right? Each of them will calmly sit there and cede, motionless, presumably until their batteries run out, at which point they won’t be able to move anyway.

And would they stop to let a human driver out of a side turning? Doing so causes the cars behind to brake unexpectedly and is potentially dangerous, so the safe thing to do is just to carry on. But that inevitably raises the blood pressure of the waiting human driver, which is also dangerous. And we all know that logical dilemmas like that make robots’ heads explode, which has got to be dangerous as well.

I suppose they’d manage a reversing manoeuvre in a car park, though, since, lest we forget, to err is human. To forgive? Well, whether that is the province of the divine I will leave you to decide, but I can now confirm that it certainly doesn’t fall within the remit of the insurance companies.

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