driving-carRemember when I died and was found leaning against the Pearly Gate’s back fence? Oh yeah. Good times. Apparently they had a meeting to decide if they were going to let me in. I tried but I realized I just wasn’t that worried about it. It’s all good, I thought. Apparently being dead gave me a whole new perspective on life. Who knew?

As if by magic St. Peter appeared in front of me. Perhaps even more weird, he was holding a clipboard.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” he asked. “Before you died, I mean.”

Funny. I hadn’t really thought about it that way. Then it came to me. Yep, as easy as that. Wow. My memory was suddenly working again. I could get used to this place, I thought to myself.

“I was driving a car,” I replied. “So naturally I was looking at a computer screen. Oh, and also, there was a really loud splatttt!

Yes, a computer was driving the car. And it was deliberate. It was our plan. On purpose. As is often my wont, I paused to ponder wee trivial philosophical questions like, “What could possibly go wrong?!”

We’ve had computers in cars for a long time now. Modern cars have at least one computer in their innards and maybe more. Try buying a new car without one. Mr. Goodwrench will likely tell you “access denied” or, if he’s a fancy lad, “syntax error.”

There are “computers” in our cars but to most of us this isn’t a big deal. After all, they’re not “real” computers like those found on our desks or in our phones or on our wrists or in our glasses. They’re just circuits and electronics that do things like control sensors and stuff. Computer is more like an affectionate nickname than anything else.

Not any more. We live in a world were computing power doubles every 18 months. People who know things are predicting that by the year 2020 a single $1,000 computer will be able match the processing capabilities of the human brain. Even more scary is that by the year 2099 that same computer will match the thinking power of all the brains on Earth — combined. They’re calling it “The Age of the Spiritual Machine.”

With all that in mind (get it?) I couldn’t help but wonder: What can a computer actually do these days? Naturally I turned to the one person I know who is most knowledgeable about such things, Siri, the woman who lives inside my iPad.

“The Last Supper,” I said to Siri.

“You didn’t have any events on your calendar yesterday at dinner time,” she replied.

Oh, crap. This does not bode well. Undaunted, I optimistically tried again.

“Restart iPad.”

“I can’t restart your iPad. But you can do it yourself.”

Spirituality, my ass. These things have a serious attitude problem.

That’s when the uber cool computer programmer showed up with his fancy self-driving car and reflective Top Gun sunglasses. “Get in,” he said. “I feel the need, the need for speed.”

“Over my dead body,” I replied.

Google has been working on a self-driving car. It’s all fine and dandy when they build a headquarters in Mountain View that looks like a pimple when viewed from orbit, but cars? Yes, when people think Google, cars is the often the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t believe me? Google it.

Apple has also been rumored to be working on a self-driving car. That ices it. These things are cool and must have. Can you even imagine? Toolin’ around PDX in an uber Go Car with the latest operating system and no steering wheel? That just might be trendy enough to shiver me whiskers or spill my microbrew. In an extremely weird twist, even traditional companies like Mercedes-Benz have similar projects underway. Fools.

corinthian-leatherAfter strapping myself in, the programmer uselessly sat in the anachronistic “driver’s seat” and said: “Computer, evasive maneuvers, pattern Riker alpha. Code zero zero zero. Destruct. Zero.” I’m not going to lie. I wet myself all over those nice seats of rich “Corinthian” leather. (Yet another automotive lie.)

The machine started all by itself. The engine revved. And suddenly we were away. Zoom zoom! Doom doom!

“Watch this,” the programmer said as we veered towards a brick wall. “When this baby hits 88 miles per hour … you’re gonna see some serious shit.”

That’s when I suddenly remembered some useful information. Computers suck. They can’t even do mundane things like stream House of Cards on Netflix. I know. I tried. That’s when my newest BFF got up in my grill: The spinning “loading” animation icon. That little dude really loves me. He follows me everywhere.

Speak of the devil. With the brick wall looming ever larger, the screen we were watching suddenly reported it was “accessing navigational controls” and there it was. The spinning wheel! “An error has occurred.” In closing, it added, “Try again later.” We always plan to do things “later” but we never really get around to it, do we? That’s sad.

Those wacky programmers! They’re always forgetting minor details like “divide by zero” or “avoid brick wall.” Nobody’s perfect.

In retrospect maybe it was a bad idea to name the vehicle The Beta.

My programmer friend was yelling “manual control” repeatedly but to no avail. The error message was too damn cryptic to be of any actual use. If computers are so powerful why can’t error messages have more meaning? That’s spirituality we could actually use.

And then we hit.

Luckily these futuristic cars won’t be around any time soon. If you can read this you’ll likely be dead, too, long before any of us ever have to be chauffeured by these freakish Frankensteinian monstrosities. Wait. I’m being told that it’s now being reported that Tesla Motors will have a self-driving car out in the United States by the summer of 2015. Hey, that’s only a few months away.

And that, my friends, is literally the last thing that went through my mind before the big meeting with St. Peter. Well, that and a brick.

Elon Musk Says Self-Driving Tesla Cars Will Be in the U.S. by Summer
New York Times, March 19, 2015