A flurry of videos made by Tesla drivers has appeared on YouTube, demonstrating the car's new Autopilot features. We see the road through the POV of the (male) driver-author, who narrates the scene in voiceover -- interpreting what the software is doing. Each clip culminates in a "close call," with the implication that the software is to blame ("Tesla Autopilot tried to kill me!" reads one headline). In nearly every video, the driver is misusing the technology -- a possibility the company had not apparently considered. Aghast at the behavior of these drivers, Elon Musk announced that new constraints will be added to the software "to minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it."
Some companies developing self-driving cars imagined complete autonomy right from the start. The majority aimed for some sort of middle ground, where intelligent automobiles would work in conjunction with their human drivers, learning from them and sharing operational tasks as situations might demand. As testing has ensued, however, the view from the automated cabin has not necessarily been kind to the organic operators with whom the machine is now required to share the road, the fleshy counterparts with which the algorithms must reason if an efficient transport choreography is to be produced. Indulgent and unruly, wildly incoherent and prone to error, these human drivers are now being cast in a new light, devoid of the slack we tend to cut them socially, as if the civilities had been seared away in the unwavering glare of precision optics, only to reveal the brute form that lay beneath. The fact that the driverless vehicle's entire raison d'être is avoiding the heedless moves that human drivers tend to make -- weaving in and out of lanes, lurching into crosswalks, cutting off bicyclists, barreling through intersections -- makes it all the more unbearable, especially when they result in accidents that could have easily been prevented. The most heinous of these acts, suffered by Google's fleet of autonomous vehicles, is the rear-ender: the impetuous driver who, failing to stop in time (likely due to fiddling with an Android device), plows into the intelligent vehicle from behind. By far the most common form of calamity that self-driving automobiles have endured, it is one that undoubtedly incites indignity and anguish, due not only to its incompetent nature but its utter unavoidability. Even the most advanced machine is powerless to dodge it; the possibility of its prevention hits a wall -- or rather, a windshield -- at the optical portal of the command cabin, as long as there is a human operator peering out from inside. The task of accommodating this mortal element, no less addressing it, is one that the logic of systems optimization -- informed by the legacy of modern thought -- is primed to reject. The body remains extricable from the machine, cognition from matter, and when push comes to shove, there is no question what is to be done. If driving is to be posed as a problem, rendered addressable in ways that software can solve, then it is the wild-eyed, paradoxical human at the helm that has to be trained properly or shown the door -- the indolent, drooling body perched at the wheel, capricious, fearful, and prone to distraction, easily riled by absurd, irrational needs, plagued by quizzical resentments and mindless delusions. The sensible solutions are algorithmic: logical operations unswayed by the vicissitudes of corporeal life. It is a driverless vehicle after all. The automobile is far from a logical construct; at the cultural and operational level it is downright perverse. If there is an irrational element at work, it is perhaps the expectation that it should be otherwise. Contradictions are present at every level and stack upwards from that point, each bridged with a compromise, a compensatory trade-off that resolves the complexities immediately below, stabilizing the mayhem that would otherwise require attention. The rendering of the driver as supplemental to the transport experience has been an incremental process, however the nature of the driver's presence within the cabin becomes somnambulant or spectral. Perhaps the rudimentary purpose of the motor vehicle, in its capacity to move bodies from one geographical place to another, is undergoing transition in tandem with some larger-scale reorientation of the transport aim -- the automobile having at long last fulfilled the level of self-determination anticipated by its prefix, though in the paradoxical form of a machine once geared for transporting bodies, which now attends to their needs in other ways, or attends to other needs entirely. J. C. # distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission # <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism, # collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets # more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l # archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nett...@kein.org