2018-01-10 / Community View


Do you trust a computer to drive you home?

It’s hard to imagine that the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) got its start nearly 120 years ago. Of course, in 1899 it didn’t have quite too elegant a name, it was just the Detroit Auto Show and was a way for local dealers to introduce the public to their newest offerings.

It remained the Detroit Auto Show until 1987 when the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA) decided to go big time and renamed it NAIAS. It has evolved into The Show.

For big time automotive journalists, it kicks off a global trek that will start Sunday in Detroit and end in December in Los Angeles. In between they’ll visit Chicago, New York, Geneva, Frankfort, Paris, Tokyo and Las Vegas.

The point to all of these shows is the same as in 1899 when William E. Metzger began what was then only the second auto show in the country — get people excited about cars.

Sunday somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 journalists from 60 countries will descend upon Cobo Hall and pick up enough press kits to denude a small Canadian forest.

The thing is, the last couple of years it seems that all of the major manufacturers have been excited about talking about autonomous vehicles. Call me a Luddite, but autonomous vehicles just don’t excite me.

I miss my old Jeep Cherokee with its five-speed floor shift. I know it may be more efficient and a modern computer control automatic transmission may even get a few more miles per gallon, but I don’t care. I like pressing clutches and shifting gears.

Rolling along in my automatic transmission truck isn’t driving, it’s steering.

Now the automotive powers that be want to make the experience even less interesting. They want to put me in a self-driving car so I can spend more time on Facebook.

That doesn’t comfort me. That terrifies me.

I know that my beloved’s Chevy has more computing power than an Apollo command module, but I don’t care. I’m not even comfortable when she’s behind the wheel and it’s not just because she’s Italian.

When I’m in a car I like to drive and the idea of being along for the ride with a box of transistors scares the beejesus out of me.

For one thing, I’ve spent most of my adult life working with computers and it’s one thing for them to decide to take a dirt nap while I’m finishing up a 500-word story and quite another for them to have a brain fart while I’m doing 70-80 miles an hour down the interstate.

Whether it’s your computer at work or home, ask yourself this, home many times has it locked up in the last month? Would you trust it to drive you home?

Personally, I’d be more comfortable with a drunken friend at the wheel than my laptop.

For another, when I leave downtown Detroit for home, I know enough to take I-75 to Pontiac and then M-24 north, but every GPS unit I’ve had for the past decade insists I should take I-94 north to Port Huron before swinging west on I-69.

I am comforted by the fact that, unlike my beloved’s relatively new vehicle, no one at GM knows where my aging hulk is right now.

I’m not buying it. They can have my ancient pickup when they pry my cold, dead fingers from the steering wheel.

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