When I was in grade school back in the 1950s, we used to get the Weekly Reader, a little newsletter that would tell us a little about what was going on in the world beyond our small town.
Each week there’d be at least one story about what life will be like in the future, when we’d be all grown up.
One week there was an article about highways of the future. It said that scientists were as sure as scientists could be that in the future, we’d all ride around on magnetic roads and that our cars will be able to drive along on these high-tech highways automatically. They didn’t mention computers, of course, because only scientists had any idea what computers were or what they would be able to do in the future when we – like I said – would be all grown up.
Next to the implausible story was an equally implausible picture – an artist’s idea of what a typical family of the future, wearing what he thought clothes of the future would look like as they sped along a futuristic highway in a sleek-looking futuristic vehicle with no one at the futuristic wheel.
Even though I had a pretty good imagination in those days, I still couldn’t imagine how our town’s small road crew would ever get around to building one of these futuristic roads.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I picked up the newspaper the other day and began reading about the nation’s first fully automated highway. It was déjà vu all over again.
According to the story – which seems as implausible now as it did so many years ago in my Weekly Reader – test vehicles equipped with video cameras, magnets and radar navigated down the nation’s first 10-mile automated highway.
The story went on to explain that tiny magnets embedded in the asphalt on either side of the traffic lanes enable the vehicle to constantly orient itself within the lane boundaries. Right.
This newspaper article never mentioned the old Weekly Reader piece, but said the genesis was a recent federal law that empowered the Department of Transportation to develop “fully automated, intelligent vehicle highway systems.”
I guess they’ve given up trying to develop intelligent drivers and are now devoting all their efforts on developing intelligent, self-driving vehicles.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m just not ready to turn my car over to a bunch of magnets embedded in the road, video cams on the rearview mirror and computers under the dash – all inspired by the federal government.
I’d sooner trust our town’s road crew to install our first automated road. If it didn’t work right, I could always complain to our selectmen. If the Department of Transportation roads don’t work, what can you do? Text them? Post a complaint on their Facebook page?
John McDonald is the author of six books on Maine, including his latest, “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tales.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.