Self-Driving Cars Want to Be Our Friends

And tell us what to buy. Because that’s what friends do!

Black Mirror

So I think the biggest question about Black Mirror is whether you want to live in a “Fifteen Million Merits” future or a “Nosedive” future. (Nobody wants to live in a cookie future, and we all want to live in San Junipero.)

I’d prefer “Fifteen Million Merits,” because a world in which I get to spend all day riding a bike—working by myself, literally at my own pace—doesn’t actually sound that bad. I get a room of my own! I can learn to play the violin! It could be worse!

But we’re social creatures, which probably means we’re headed for the “Nosedive” future. Starting with our self-driving cars.

AI ‘friends’ will help you pass the time on autonomous drives

The last thing automakers want is for bored drivers to default to their current time killer: their phone. The problem for the companies is that if you get your entertainment from the computer in your pocket, it really doesn’t matter which car you own. They’re all going to get you to your destination without your input. So they’ve concocted a novel idea: the AI friend.


Plus, in addition to knowing your schedule and where you like to eat, these robots will know all about your feels. Both Toyota and Honda talked about their in-car AI systems detecting a driver’s emotions and reacting either with music or restaurant recommendations.

I don’t want my car to know my feelings. I don’t want my car to tell me what to eat, either. I’ve usually planned that, like, a week in advance.

Most of all, I don’t want my car to know my heart rate and body temperature and then tell me what I should do because it thinks it understands me. But Ian Cartabiano, chief designer at Toyota, loves the idea:

The designer behind the Toyota Concept-i talks about being friends with a car

Say I’ve had a tough day at work and through maybe my meeting schedule, a social media posts, biometric feedback, the tone of voice, my pulse rate, my breathing rate, my body temperature, the way I’m driving, Yui [the car friend] can kind of tell that and maybe suggest, “Hey, let’s not take the 405 today. I know you love driving. Why don’t we take PCH? It’s a beautiful day. The weather’s gorgeous. Traffic is moving. It’s a little bit longer. It’ll take you this much time to get home.” Then as we’re driving maybe realize that we’re driving by a restaurant I’ve always wanted to try. Like, “Hey, two miles away is this restaurant,” and it will know from my social media posts, discussions with friends in the car or with Yui, that I’ve always wanted to try it.

Just… no. None of this. I know this kind of thing is already happening with targeted advertising and so on, I know bots are reading my social media posts and web searches, but I don’t want them to know the inside of my body and I don’t want my feelings to be involved at all.

I also don’t want to have to perform emotional labor with a car. Especially while we’re driving.

How does money fit into this? Even if the AI doesn’t have access to your bank account, it’ll probably be able to figure out your spending patterns based on the rest of your online life—plus there’ll probably be a camera inside the car, and it might be able to identify logos and shopping bags.

So when you hop into your car and it scans your biometrics and decides you’re hungry, it’ll also know which restaurant is right on the edge of your price range. Just like Digit, except with spending instead of saving.

Saving Money Is Easier When You Don’t Have To Think About It

It’s also worth noting that the “taxi driver recommends a restaurant or shopping center and then drives you there” thing is a common scam. It’s the sort of thing they warn travelers about—and now it’s going to be a feature.

If there’s any consolation to all of this, it’s that most of us won’t be able to afford these self-driving car friends, right? We’ll be sharing self-driving Ubers with everyone else—and we’ll have to trust that the AI likes us enough to give us five stars.

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