2050: Self-Driving Cars Beget A Sleep Dystopia

Can you imagine a world where it’s a luxury to get up from a bed to walk around in an apartment-sized living area?

When self-driving cars progress further down the development curve, it could happen.

Beyond the effects on jobs in transportation like truck driving and delivery, wages won’t keep up with real estate price values in high cost-of-living areas. There’s no reason to think they ever will. People’s desire to live in certain places outpaces their ability to afford to live in such places.

Real estate appreciates over time. Cars, on the other hand, depreciate as they age. Why wouldn’t this time-honored pattern hold for self-driving cars?

Self-driving cars will find their way onto the used car market. Their price will depreciate. At some point, people will find it cheaper to live in their self-driving vehicle that rarely stops. If you keep driving, you save on real estate.

As it is, many people who can’t afford housing in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco live in their cars.

They stop and park in lots. They have to. The cars don’t drive themselves. That real estate they park on is valuable, potentially used to generate revenue for its owner. It’s offered to people often by non-profits and governmental agencies. Eventually, that could become problematic when self-driving cars become an option. Real or imagined, there are legal considerations that occur to people. Rightly or wrongly, Americans are afraid of getting sued. Those lots will eventually shut down.

These workers on the coasts will take to the roads. They’ll drive on in self-driving cars night after night. There will be millions. Sometimes the cars will go fast (though always within the speed limit). Sometimes the self-driving cars will go slower.

They’ll rack up the distance, mile after mile powered by electricity, natural gas, or petroleum.

With a self-driving car, you don’t need to stop. You can keep on going for the majority of the day.

With more and more self-driving cars on the road, traffic will become more predictable. Those cars will just keep on going, electric or gas-powered, rarely stopping.

Push-push

You see, this is the way it works, Dr. Rupa had said.

You never stop looking for an edge. That mindful stuff that is looking for a balance, it’s a mirage. You can’t ever achieve that. Humankind is made to push the boundaries of what’s possible. We’re made to do significant work, meaningful work, made to strive, and break the boundaries. Balance is impossible. Looking for that is a recipe for feeling empty and unfulfilled.

My father would have been transiently happy being back in India eating biryani, looking at all the pretty girls in their saris. He admitted that. That’s not what happened. We’re made to be uncomfortable. I agree with him. We’re made to push.

Dr. Rupa pushed against imaginary walls as they sat at the table in the dimly lit Mexican restaurant.

“So push-push,” he said. “Strive for what’s not yet possible. That’s what we’re made for.

Liam and Emma agreed, taking a bite of food. Push-push.

You’ll never break any barriers if you accept the limitations of your forefathers.

San Francisco, like New York and Los Angeles, was a place where people did significant work. Important work. It was a place where the limitations of what was possible fell.

They were the cities where the people who mattered lived and worked.

For generations, it had been called The City. Or The City By The Bay. Cities with names everyone knew were the only places that mattered.

Provo, Utah, had a nickname too. They referred to it as “The Garden City.” Probably nobody knew that who wasn’t from Utah. Provo mattered, but not as much.

That’s why Liam and Emma lived in a car that went non-stop all day and all night. They’d stop only to refuel or pull over at a remote parking spot miles from where they worked.

When Liam and Emma achieved an absolute pinnacle in their careers, they’d be able to graduate to an apartment. Then, maybe, a house. Then, if they did amazing work, they’d get a house with a mortgage. Some people did, after all. It could happen. Anything could. This was still the United States of America. It had always been that way.

Being like her sister, the one who worked in the local electric company in Provo, was like accepting defeat.

Push-push.

* * *

As she did every work night, Emma checked in with her mom and dad living 12-hours west back in Provo. It was the routine. Emma waited curbside on Market Street. Their GMC Revenant made its way toward her through the traffic. First, it would pick her up. Next, it would pick up Liam over where he worked.

Then the nightly drive started. They’d order food from a grocery store or a restaurant. A drone would swoop down. They’d slide back the sunroof and accept the delivery. The drone would fly away. They’d have their Chinese for the night. Or their Mexican. Or their Vegetarian. Or whatever they felt like that night.

Next would usually come another stop to get rid of the restaurant containers.

“Hi. It’s me. Just checking in.” Emma said, brightening at seeing her mom and son on the screen. As the picture flicked on, there was her Ralphie in the background. He munched on a tortilla with a dab of butter on it, tortilla sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar as a treat.

“Look! There’s mommy!” Nana gushed excitedly.

“Mommmeeee!” Ralphie said happily.

“Ralphie! How’s Mommy’s boy?”

“He’s doing fine,” Nana answered. “He got up from his nap about an hour ago, and we’ve been working on puzzles. Now it’s time for a little snack, or we’re not going to make it to dinner. We went to the park today, had a good time.”

Emma brightened. “We’re coming home for the weekend tomorrow. We’re leaving at six tomorrow evening. We’re not stopping until six in the morning the next day. I can’t wait to be back. What a week!”

That would give the Gonzaleses 48 hours back home in Provo before they’d have to leave at 6 p.m. Sunday, right back up Interstate 80. They’d arrive back at the office in downtown San Francisco in time for work Monday morning.

How good would it feel to go to sleep in her old bed? It would feel awesome! It always did. Growing up, Emma never realized what a luxury it was to spread out on that soft mattress. Nobody ever told her how fondly she’d look back on it.

Staying in her old bedroom was a lot more crowded now that she was married. That was okay. It would beat the heck out of being cooped up in their auto-auto.

She’d get to use the bathroom by herself! A luxury. No designated rest stop. No fast-food restaurant. No roadside porta-potty. A real restroom.

“You were talking about moving out there?” Mom asked.

“We were, but there’s not anything we can afford. Not even close. The cheapest place we could find was $4.5 million, and we barely have $300,000 for a down payment.”

“Keep looking. I like having you come back home, but this way of living has to be hard on you and Liam. I wish your father and I could help you kids out more, Mija.” Mom apologized. “Things are just so expensive.”

“It won’t be like this forever. We’ve decided we’re going to have to live and sleep in the car for now. We’ll do what we’ve been doing, at least for the next few years. We get off from work and get in the car, set in to drive all night until morning the next day. We’re going to do this for a few years until we have more money saved. When we do, we’re coming home, maybe Salt Lake. I just can’t imagine raising a child in a car.”

That’s what she told her mom. It made her happy. She wouldn’t understand the part about doing important, significant work. None of them back home would.

“People do.”

“People do all kinds of things,” Emma said.

“Ain’t that the truth, honey! I feel sorry for them. Kids do best when there’s room to run around and play. They need the room. Your father and I are glad to help you and Liam out as much as we can.”

“I just can’t imagine it, the way it is. During the week, Liam has to research and write sales proposals. I have to come up with social media campaigns. We can do that sitting in a car going here and there in the traffic, but to have a kid with us in the middle of all that? I can’t see it.”

She and Liam had watched a documentary the other day about another couple who raised their daughter in a self-driving car, an auto-auto. The documentary was about the girl’s day in the car. Both of the parents in the documentary worked. The auto-auto, a Ford Commander, dropped each of them off at their jobs. The young girl stayed at home all day in traffic, babysat by an educational module in the car.

The little girl realized the module wouldn’t and couldn’t do anything beyond ask. As she sat, bouncing from seat to seat in the auto-auto, a goofy cartoon dog gently corrected her. “No. Please don’t do that. No.”

The girl went on. She poked holes into the car seat. Then she pulled out the fiber. Then she started banging on the windshield.

“No, no, no,” the cartoon dog gently chided.

The windshield and side windows didn’t give away to her assault, though the plastic they were framed in splintered and cracked.

“Stop that,” the cartoon dog grew slightly more stern. “Don’t do that.”

The little girl giggled. She realized how powerless the education module was. It would not and could not stop her from doing whatever she wanted. Today, what she wanted to do was destroy the interior of the auto-auto. What would happen if she kept going?

Her parents had left a portable computer behind, folded in one of the pockets. The little girl picked it up and used that to bang on the window. What would get ruined first? The computer or the side window?

The education module turned and called her parents, notifying them their daughter was misbehaving. Unfortunately, both parents were both busy at work. That was the way things were.

Later in the documentary, the little girl said she had just wanted to go to the park and play. See the sun from something beyond a windshield. Feel the soft, verdant grass. Skip pebbles on the pond in the middle of a park somewhere. She said it so wistfully it was difficult for many people not to feel sorry for her.

The educational module couldn’t let her do that. It wasn’t authorized. She’d have to stay with its age-appropriate, preprogrammed learning-based activities until both of her parents got off of work in the evening.

As the film went on, you realized the girl had learned what to expect. There wouldn’t be any time to do what came naturally.

So she took her computer crayon and crammed it into the seat. Then she took some important papers that had been stuffed into the pockets of the seat and tore them up.

When their auto-auto pulled over to pick the couple up after work, they were taken back by the damage to the auto-auto’s living compartment.

After the documentary was over, Liam and Emma thought of those parents as idiots. They weren’t like that. They wouldn’t dream of leaving Ralphie all day alone in traffic to be raised by the auto-auto’s educational module. Ralphie was safe back in Utah with Nana and Tata.

Maybe they were, but perhaps they weren’t. Reality TV always made its subjects look foolish. It had for years. Doing so was still good for viewership numbers.

Thinking about the documentary, Liam became reflective as he turned in his seat for the night.

“We’re lucky your mom and dad have Ralphie. The poor girl on the show was just trying to go outside,” Liam said. “That’s what kids do.”

“Kids just aren’t made to live in traffic driving around all of the time from here to there,” Emma said.

Liam looked at her blankly. “And we are?”

“Well, we wanted to do work that mattered. It really matters where we are,” she said.

“Right. Push-push our professor used to say,” Liam said.

“Push-push,” Emma agreed.

* * *

There were auto-RVs, recreation vehicles that drove themselves. They had more room but weren’t made for the narrow streets of The City, however. Residents of The City didn’t want them. There were laws on the books against them. The additional room made them much more livable though the operating costs were higher.

In The City, auto-autos like Ford Commanders and GM Revenants ruled the day. They were everywhere, made for long commutes. You could live in Stockton or some other far-off place. You could sleep, read the paper, or do whatever while you rode into the city.

That bought more people into the city than ever before. The price of parking kept rising. Eventually, some people did away with parking. They lived in a car. When they were done with work for the day, the vehicle picked them up.

No need for the house in Stockton, miles and miles away, either.

No need for the family, too, not if you wanted to do important things in a place that mattered. Not if you wanted to push-push.

* * *

The 2042 GM Revenant made its way through the night. Through northern Nevada, snow-capped mountains gathered in the distance. Yellow hills rolled up to them, then rolled away toward the distance.

Turnoffs whizzed by as the couple slept, read, and played video games. If they checked the location history on their phone, they’d have realized that this was their one-hundredth trip between San Francisco and Provo. Who could tell how many more there would be?

About a half-mile from home, the auto-auto started shimmying.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Liam said.

“It doesn’t sound good,” Emma agreed.

A fault light came on. The car glided to a halt at the side of the road.

Liam pulled out the driving seat and went through the checks GMC advised. It seemed to be no use. The engine wouldn’t turn over.

“We need to get out,” Liam said.

They started pushing. They rounded the corner, turning the front wheels with the mini-wheel that folded out. They pushed some more past all of the houses they’d seen growing up.

“Almost there,” Liam said.

They pushed and pushed all the way back home, all the way hoping the repair wouldn’t be too expensive so they could go back to The City and push some more where it really mattered.

###

For Further Reading:

Ten Non-Psychic Predictions Made By Looking At The Past

Physical Constraints

Blast Apart Biases By “Thinking In Bets”