MnDOT has announced it’s interested in self-driving buses. This is not exactly a vote of confidence for the drivers they have now. Our drivers are skilled, knowledgeable, resourceful professionals. And that’s why we’re looking at ways to fire every one of them.
Officials have allocated $355,000 to study the driverless future, which we’re told is inevitable. You’d think it would be a hard sell: “America, you’ll no longer have the thrill of piloting a personal car, but will be reduced to a passive husk in a swarm of Google pods!”
(General mutterings of discontent.)
But actually it’s an easy sell: “You can check Facebook all the way to work!”
(Cheers of acclaim.)
If you love to drive, self-driving vehicles are like an arranged marriage: no romance, but you’ll grow to appreciate it. So why not buses? The drivers will find other jobs, like polishing the touch screens at fast-food restaurants that fired all the counter clerks.
The most salutary effect: It will be impossible to be mad at buses anymore. Driverless buses will not solve the thing people hate most about buses: They are in front of us.
But consider this.
Before: Person runs after bus, waving his arms, shouting that one word that always works — “Hey!” — and then, after the bus pulls away, the would-be passenger utters a salty epithet for the driver. “You ... you ... you indifferent poltroon.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
The future: Person runs after bus, shouting “Hey!” Bus examines starboard sensory input, matches the movement of the facial structure of the humanoid unit to a database of words, identifies the word “hey” and then loads forward-movement code to proceed ahead.
Frustrated citizen curses the programmer who wrote the code. “Damn you and your pitiless subroutines, specifically written to emulate human behavior and eliminate a compassionate response!”
Isn’t that better? It’s hard to take it personally. It’s like being mad at an escalator.
Human-driven buses will be something you tell your grandchildren about. “Yes, my little ones, it was a different era. People would put on hats, light a cigar, get on the bus, which was driven by a real live person! And they’d eat a veal sandwich on their way to the telegraph factory. And then they’d take a bus home, where a zeppelin had dropped off a biiiiig, thick, folded object we called “the paper,” and it had all the news.
“Was the zeppelin self-driving, Grandpa? Was it?”
“Not after the Hindenburg, sonny.”