we use our first ride hailing experience to ponder the future downfall of the human brain

I took my first car app ride a few weeks ago. Most of you will probably wonder what took so long. You must understand, part of me wishes for the return of the stone age. I could probably do without the tetanus, lack of running water, or everpresent ancient angry demon gods, but otherwise a lot of that simplicity appeals to me. If it wasn’t for my dogs, I’d spend most of my evenings at home lit only by candles. Because night should be night and day, well, day.

So when on travel, and for whatever reason I don’t have a rental car, I’ll typically either walk or just call for a traditional cab. If I have a rental and can’t or don’t want to drive because alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, then regular cabs or walking work then too.

But a few weeks ago I just figured I’d try ride hailing apps. I’m moving overseas for work in a few weeks and the country has ride hailing there. Which I figured would be vastly superior to some of my prior international cab experiences I’ve had where I threaten to debark the cab while in motion because the crook in the front seat refuses to run the meter.

Work is sending me out the door so my colleagues (who I actually like) want to do a farewell party downtown. I’m in a hotel in the suburbs that’s an hour away by train. The hotel is three miles from the train station. Usually if the weather is decent and the walk is safe, I’m walking those three miles. In this case, the weather was rainy, chilly and it was most certainly not a safe walk.

Ironically I could’ve just driven to the train station. We all had to work very early next morning and so we hardly drank at all. My need for a ride from the hotel to train station and back later in the evening turned out to be entirely unnecessary. But I can’t see through time, so I used the app. I won’t tell you which app I used because that’s not really the point of the post.

The driver ends up at the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I found this timely and easy to arrange, so far so good. I’ve been driving around this area a long time so I know my way around. The driver clearly has no idea where he is. I offer to guide him but he refuses and says he’ll follow ‘her’ directions. The app takes us the wrong way, and then down an industrial access road that adds about five minutes to what is otherwise a short three mile drive.

But then the app starts to tell him to go the wrong way. At the intersection the train station is right. The app tells him to go left. He has no idea where he’s going and so is in the left lane to obey the app. I tell him the app is wrong and he should turn right. He refuses. I have to tell him three times that the app is wrong. He keeps saying he has to obey ‘her’, like he’s the app’s mind slave or whatever.

Eventually I talk him to the train station. The entire time the app is telling him to turn around blaring in the car. I get out and the driver mentions to me that he’s going to have to drive back to where the app tells him to. I ask him if the app can’t just be told he dropped me off where I wanted to be, that the app is wrong? He says no and drives off.

While I’m waiting for my train out of curiosity I observe his movements on the app. He does indeed drive the wrong way for ten more minutes arriving at the ‘destination’ of the train station. Even though I’m sure what the app thought was the train station was just a parking lot. Only after he arrived at this mythical area did my ride close out and I was prompted to tip him. Total cost $10 with tip.

Following the evening’s abbreviated festivities I’m back at the same station off the train. Now I need a ride back to the hotel. I use the app to hail a ride and it refuses to work. It keeps telling me that where I am, where the train station is, is at the mythical parking lot to the north. I can’t find a way to fix this.

This goes on for ten minutes until I finally just decide to acquire the ride and then call the driver once he’s chosen, or whatever. Again, this is my first ride app experience, what the hell do I know? The driver agrees and I see his car is a mile down the road. Awesome. I call him and let him know the app says I’m way up north, but I’m actually at the train station. Please come to the train station and get me here.

The driver says he doesn’t know where the train station is. I’m at the only train station within five miles. He’s one mile away, on the same road as the station, he doesn’t know. I offer to talk him to me, but he refuses, gets frustrated and starts to run his mouth against me. I immediately hang up.

I then call a regular traditional cab company. I tell them where I am on the phone to the dispatcher. A cab arrives in about 90 seconds. When I get into the cab, I tell the driver my hotel name and the street it’s on. He agrees and we’re off. That’s it. He needed no additional information, he needed no directions, he knew exactly where to go.

I ended up talking with him for the whole ride back. He was a bit of an older guy, been driving cabs for a long time and knew the whole area. We talked about my brief ride hailing experience, which amused him, as if a master wood craftsman saw a child trying to build a chair with a hand grenade. He also told me where all the cop speed traps were. He then made various belligerent comments about fellow members of the human race, which we won’t get into, but had me laughing my ass off in the car. He was a well thought out guy. He drops me off at the hotel. Total cost $15 with tip.

I have seen the future. It goes like this.

As soon as five or ten years from now all my frustrating moments with ride hailing won’t exist. Using voice recognition, I’ll tell my phone simply, “Need a ride back to the hotel.” Within five minutes a car will arrive and take me there. That’s it. No problems with directions, or location finding, or drivers who are angry or incompetent. In fact, within a few decades I think the car that shows up will be driven by a computer. But, because tech freaks are the new robber barons of the Giant Octopus, the ride will cost $20. And something will have been lost to the human race.

Ponder if you will, that on one hand I had two app drivers, who were so utterly unaware of their surroundings that they were entirely reliant upon the app to tell them how to get from point A to B. Otherwise they couldn’t do the most basic aspect of their job. It’s like a nurse who can’t treat a patient without a computer telling them the commands step by step.

But hold on a minute, why can’t nurses be told exactly what to do on command by a computer in say 20 years? Why not? And why when I’m driving do I need to know where I’m going anymore? Why can’t I just always follow the map app’s directions? Why do I have to think or do things that can be done by an app for me?

Let’s leave aside the horrific privacy, security, financial, and ethical arguments of this brave new world for the moment. What I’m most interested in is what this does to the human brain. On one hand you have two dudes who can’t do their jobs, at all, without machine assistance. On the other hand I had a cabbie who could recall in his brain the entire map of a city on command. Without machine assistance. Without error.

We’re turning more and more of our most basic and timeless brain functions over to machines. What happens to the human race, to the human brain if say 50 years from now most people can’t get from point A to B without machines. What if 100 years from now there are no people, cabbies or otherwise, who can recall in their brain the entire map of a city on command?

Tech freaks will convince you their future world is going to be a swell place for us. Where technology can and will make all our lives easier.

At what cost? Technology is just a tool. The human brain, human thought, human knowledge are supposed to be timeless and eternal. I’m not sure what happens next.

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