What Came Next

The buttons do nothing

There is another reason we are anxious on planes: because we are the passengers and not the pilots. As passengers, our vision is limited. We can only imagine what might be ahead of us, behind us, or underneath us. We lack an understanding of what signals are important, and which are not. We think we might have information the pilot missed – a strange grinding sound coming from the wing, perhaps. And who is the pilot, anyway? He might be drowsy or drunk, or maybe he received the divorce papers right before takeoff.

As passengers, we want to be pilots. Even the illusion of control settles us in our seats.

Thus, the emergence of autonomous cars will bring with it the mortal dread we feel on airplanes.

We will sit in the passenger seat during those first rides, hands balled, stomach knotted.

Today’s question is not how do we solve the technical challenge of autonomous vehicles, but the psychological one?

Perhaps we will need a tablet full of brightly colored, beautifully styled navigation data. At the top of the screen, a row of buttons to tap: CONFIRM ROUTE, CALIBRATE, UPDATE MANUALLY. A soothing British voice confirms our selections. We relax in the backseat, satisfied with our input. The buttons do nothing, but we don’t know that.

As they say, if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.