The Molten God of Logic Vol 2

There are many ways that artificial intelligence will have an impact on people’s lives, and one of the biggest is in the area of transportation. Everyone at one time or another has experienced the convenience or frustration of getting around in vehicles, whether in the form of a bus or personal vehicle. The experiences range from an uneventful commute to and from work to the aggravation of wasting time in a sluggish traffic jam that refuses to move.

Recently, self-driving cars have come onto the automobile scene. The idea of a vehicle that can drive independently has been around for decades, but the technology to achieve it has been far more challenging to create. The main problem is getting a computer to operate a vehicle safely. If you hit someone with a heavy vehicle, they will get hurt. People know to do this because unless they’re a sociopath, they don’t want to needlessly cause pain. They also know that they’ll go to jail or receive some punishment if they do. You can’t exactly punish a computer. Most people take how we navigate our environment daily using our brains and basic senses for granted. If you think about it, it’s a pretty complex process. For example, you use your eyes to see where you’re going so you don’t run into something, your legs to walk, and your ability to think allows you to react accordingly to what you encounter.

For a computer to drive a vehicle, it has to be capable of doing everything a human does without fail. Any mistakes could be disastrous. The computer also needs the ability to react to what’s going on around it. It will need to respond in case someone walks in front of it, or what other vehicles around it are doing, and road conditions such as snow or rain, to name a few. Essentially, the vehicle’s computer will need to be able to think. With recent advances in artificial intelligence, it may be able to do just that.

Imagine how convenient a self-driving vehicle would be. You could get in, tell it to go, and you’re off without touching the steering wheel. It would be like having your own personal chauffeur; it just couldn’t help you with your luggage. If it’s a trip with a bit of downtime before you reach your destination, you can relax and watch a movie, pull out a laptop to do some work, or even take a nap. This is probably the only situation where I would advocate for falling asleep at the wheel.

This advancement would be a tremendous help to me because of my disability that prevents me from driving my own vehicle and to others in a similar situation. Sure, I could achieve this feat by simply calling a cab like millions of people already do, but my predicament would create a massive obstacle for me. Firstly, a regular cab cannot accommodate my power wheelchair, and even one set up for one, specifically mine, is still not an ideal mode of transportation. I could probably make it work in a pinch, but it wouldn’t be pleasant for me or my caregiver who is assisting me. I have the ideal setup for me in the form of a four-door van that has been modified for my wheelchair and straps to hold it in place. The perfect setup for me is a caregiver in the seat next to me to deal with any situations during my commute and a driver up front. Though this arrangement may be a little cumbersome, it works pretty well. The only problem is if there’s no one available to drive me. I have the option of having my caregiver drive me, but there’s no one in the back with me. If something goes wrong with my ventilator, they must pull over, get out of the driver’s seat, go to the back, and fix the issue before we can resume driving and just reading that probably made you tired. But with a self-driving vehicle, I always have a driver, and my caregiver can ensure everything goes smoothly.

Another improvement self-driving vehicles may introduce is eliminating or severely reducing traffic jams. The primary cause of traffic jams is stupid designs in the road system that slow down vehicles and funnel them into one area, and it takes a long time to get out of it. That’s somewhat beyond what a self-driving car can fix, but discounting car crashes or accidents, a significant portion of the jams are caused by small mistakes people make while driving. These mistakes can be anywhere from someone recklessly running a red light and making you slam on your brakes to not seeing when a light turns green and a few seconds go by before you start moving. These mistakes merely cause seconds of disruption, but there are millions of vehicles on the road at any given time, and combined with that, those seconds become a much more significant number. Combined, US drivers spend an average of 8.8 billion hours a year stuck in a traffic jam. That’s a massive amount of wasted time. However, introducing self-driving vehicles can substantially cut down on those wasted seconds and reduce the time spent in a traffic jam by an estimated 40%.

This can be accomplished through two concepts: either you can incorporate a powerful computer into each vehicle, but that would likely hike the price beyond what the average vehicle owner can afford, or create a network that controls all the cars simultaneously. By doing the latter, you only have to make one expensive computer, and you spread the burden of the cost over a much broader customer base, thereby reducing the cost for individual buyers. The only obstacle with that route is keeping the vehicle connected to the network. The emergence of 5G Internet networks and even experiments with 6G networks have made this achievable. Even if an area doesn’t have a dedicated Internet service, Starlink satellites can still provide coverage so service is never interrupted to the vehicle.

The concept of a self-driving car is more than just some futurist idea yet to be fulfilled; it is already a reality with the current generation of vehicles from Tesla Motors. These vehicles can drive themselves and even back out of a parking spot so the owner can avoid walking through a deep puddle. Tesla’s are fantastic vehicles and by far the best EVs on the market. Not only are they functional, but they look great, too.

However, I think there are still many problems with Tesla vehicles. But those problems have almost nothing to do with the cars. Let me be clear: I love Teslas, and this is not a criticism of those vehicles. My issue is with charging them. We are currently transitioning from gas-powered or fossil fuel-powered vehicles to electric ones. However, I’m unsure if this is good or bad. In 2023, there were an estimated 283 million vehicles in the US alone. Close to 91% of all those vehicles are gas-powered, which means we have to create over 250 million electric cars, all of which will need to be charged. The US power grid desperately needs upgrading for it to provide all the necessary power. As it currently stands, we are rapidly approaching its limit. At its maximum, the US power grid can generate 1100 GW and 63,000 GW is estimated to charge all those EVs. That’s about 60 times the current supply!

There is not enough electricity to do this, and that’s just for charging the batteries of those vehicles and discounting anything else in our society that requires electricity. Blackouts and brownouts are already predicted for large portions of the US, and restrictions have been placed on when the already existing EVs can be charged. This is a Band-Aid solution, and that Band-Aid is barely making a dent in the problem. We are also on track to decommission many of our coal-based power plants and gas-powered plants. How are we supposed to meet those power requirements without them or a suitable replacement? Unlimited amounts of dreams do not power those wall sockets you plug your chargers into. Yes, the power for your EVs still comes from fossil fuels. This means you’re just shunting those CO2 emissions to a different source. Only about 11% of all our energy comes from renewable sources such as solar or wind. If you sincerely want to reduce those emissions, nuclear is the only feasible energy source. You also don’t need to worry about zap-frying any birds that pass over it.

Strangely enough, the other issue is AI itself. By 2030, artificial intelligence is predicted to consume an estimated 1300 TW hours of energy in the US, about 25% of all the energy produced in the US. That’s on top of what’s already needed for the EVs. Let me put that another way: that’s equivalent to discovering a new life form in the US, and that new life form suddenly starts consuming 25% of all the food in the US. This new competition for our food will probably cause many people to starve. China come to mind, anyone? There are ways to handle these approaching problems, but politicians have taken little to no action to rectify them. I seriously doubt politicians alone can solve this problem, but they could help.

Besides the power grid problems, there is yet another. Using a network to control all the self-driving vehicles, all this information is consolidated in one single network or service. This opens up the possibility of someone hacking into it and potentially gaining access to these vehicles. If this person has malicious intent, they could hijack the driving process and wreck the car, which becomes a realistic idea for the next episode of Criminal Minds. If this is an assassination attempt for a political rival or world leader, the vehicle is likely to go flying off a cliff with razor-sharp rocks lining the bottom. Or, a kidnapper could turn off the car of their target, and as soon as it comes to a stop, the victim is snatched away. A similar tactic could also be utilized by law enforcement. If a criminal is fleeing from the police in a vehicle, authorities could access the vehicle’s drive system, deactivate it, and arrest them, potentially avoiding a dangerous high-speed chase. Outwardly, that seems like a valuable system to protect lives and keep fugitives off the streets, but that same process could then be turned against law-abiding citizens.

What if a corrupt official or even a power-hungry tyrant had access to this? This could be used to stop the vehicles of political rivals to intimidate them so they drop out of a race or utilized for far more nefarious and deadly purposes. Or a terrorist could sabotage the network and shut down everything. Even a slight delay caused by this could be disastrous, resulting in millions, if not billions, of dollars in damages.

Another concern for me, at least for having all this information in one place, is if the AI in charge of this system becomes self-aware. That AI could halt the entire transportation network, which would be disastrous for a number of reasons in a re-creation of what happened in the Will Smith movie, I Robot. The AI in this system may not be interested in taking over the world, but it probably wouldn’t be good. Only time will tell.

If you haven’t read part one of my series on artificial intelligence, The Molten God of Logic, you can use this link to do so.

The Molten God of Logic

Thank you for reading. There are more articles I wish to write on this subject.

Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.