Will the car replace the dog as mans best friend?
Do you ever feel emotional about your car? It’s possible that you do. After all, it’s quite common for a person to attribute feelings or intention to inanimate objects. It’s called anthropomorphism. But the other way round doesn’t work. Just because you can care about the ‘feelings’ of an object, it doesn’t mean it can care about yours. That, let’s face it, is just silly.
Or is it? Because, as we all know, things change. And one of the things that’s changing - rapidly - right now is our understanding of how the human brain works. True, there are still some large gaps in this understanding, but there have also been some major advances in recent years. And one of these advances means that we may soon be able to let machines know how we feel. Machines such as cars. Before long, our car, whether it’s a Skoda Citigo or a Mercedes S-Class, will be equipped with ‘empathy’ - an ability to observe and understand our physiological and emotional states.
Now, if you’re wondering how this apparent miracle could happen, the answer is through devices similar to (but more advanced than) ones you’re probably already familiar with – devices such as fitness bands that allow our physical state (e.g. heart rate) to be monitored. By feeding data from wearable devices or remote sensors in to a car’s ‘brain’ (an artificial intelligence (AI) system), we can train it to know how we feel and how to respond appropriately. In other words, we can give the car a basic form of empathy. This could then be enhanced by giving the ‘brain’ its own artificial emotions, so it could simulate feelings.
All this may sound like science fiction – but the aeroplane once seemed like science fiction. And we can already see the reality of ‘empathetic’ vehicles beginning to take shape. Several companies are today investigating the use of empathetic interactions to protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians from harm. As we speak (OK, so write), biometric sensors, cameras, and microphones are being developed to detect things such as fatigue & drowsiness, driver distraction, intoxication and medical incidents (such as a potential cardiac failure). If the car detects such a condition, it can take appropriate, and automatic, action.
But ensuring the safety of humans is just the start. Empathic technology can also be employed to optimise the ride experience. The car’s brain will be able to interpret feedback data to automatically adjust things such as environmental controls (lighting, heating, sound etc.) to suit the driver’s current mood, or to set physical parameters, such as seat position, to meet driver preferences. And some of this control will use sophisticated and subtle empathic judgements to suggest changes which affect the ride quality, such as playing different music, or offering to increase the engine’s power output, when the driver is feeling confident and happy.
The implication of all this goes far beyond ensuring the satisfaction of individual car drivers. It is a development that’s likely to change society at a radical level. That’s because each vehicle’s ‘intelligence’ won’t just be limited to an interaction between car and wearable devices – each vehicle will also be designed to share data and processes with other AI systems in our lives, such as our smartphones and home-automation systems. And that’s not the end of it – these systems will, in turn, be integrated with the global digital infrastructure, which shares data of all types, from weather forecasts to traffic conditions. Gradually, as we let go of the wheel and hand control of our mobility requirements over to ‘the machine world’, a new set of rules will emerge, leading – in the not-too-far-distant future – to a new type of ‘social’ structure with its own norms of behaviour.
And at the heart of this new social structure will be empathic vehicles – cars which have learned to ‘know’ us much better than was ever thought possible. Cars, that is, which behave less like the mechanical slave that we’re used to, and more like a trusted friend. It’s true that, in a few years’ time, we still won’t be expecting a Valentine’s Day Card from our car – but that’s only because cards, and the postal service, will have ceased to exist. The fact is, our cars will learn to love us.
But that’s then. This is now. And right now, we love cars, not vice versa. And if you’re looking for a car to love, there’s no better place than the Desperateseller.co.uk used cars section. Why not have a browse!