The rise of autonomous cars is going to bring some major changes to society. Many will be good, but some of the implications of cars that drive themselves will no doubt be bad. One such downside that you probably weren’t expecting, though, is a band of armed youths surrounding your autonomous vehicle to trap it, leaving you at their mercy while they fleece you for everything you own.
The British government, however, is expecting such a scenario, along with a couple of other equally bonkers (yet possible) events related to the widespread adoption of autonomous cars. The Brits had the University College London conduct a study about the possible impact of self-driving cars. The resulting report is lengthy, but the most gobsmacking bit come at the end, when the report lays out a dozen possible “scenes” imagining some, uh, surprising consequences of riding around in a self-driving vehicle.
The craziest is essentially Mad Max with loitering teenagers instead of War Boys, since the researchers predict that crafty young ruffians might take advantage of autonomous vehicles’ inability to run-down pedestrians and hold passengers hostage just by standing around the car. Here’s the report:
AVs travelling down residential streets have been suddenly surrounded by groups of young men, wielding bars and bats. The vehicles come to a halt, to avoid causing injury, and then remain immobile while windows are smashed and occupants are threatened. Having suffered the fear and humiliation of the attack, the occupants are further angered by the vehicle’s monitoring systems identifying damage and thereby refusing to restart so they can resume their journey.
“What could I do?” a made-up victim says in an imagined quote later in the report. “If I’d had my old manual car I’d have driven at them and they would have soon scattered!”
Some of the other autonomous car-enabled doomsday scenarios UCL’s report lays out include a rise in alcoholism due to the obsolescence of drunk driving laws, hacking celebrities’ cars in order to stalk them, and a dumb 13-year-old nearly getting killed after trying to play “chicken” with a self-driving car that couldn’t stop in time.
Another scene turned a malfunctioning autonomous vehicle without a manual override into a coffin on wheels. As the report’s imagined victim explains:
I spent two nights locked inside a stationary car in the Highlands with no light or warmth, wondering if I’d ever see my family again. The car had suffered a complete systems failure and I mean complete. Not only could I not get out; I had no comms either. Maybe manual override wouldn’t have made much difference in my case but I can think of lots of people who would want the option for when the system goes down and it will.
Honestly, the whole “scenes” section of the study is seriously worth reading. You don’t need to plow through all 91 pages — the scenes start on page 60. They are, quite possibly, the best short form fiction published all year.