Honk if you love smart cars -- and viruses and hacks and data leaks

If your smartphone/tablet/computer addiction isn't enough, wait till two tons of mobile distraction take over the streets

When my father passed away, he left a few items: an HP desktop my brother-in-law couldn't turn on, a fancy watch that will someday befuddle my 6-year-old niece, about seven sets of golf clubs, no buffer zone between me and my mother (just teasing, Mom), and a slightly rusted 1987 Mercedes 560SL. He loved that car, yet left it sitting in the driveway under a tarp for five years. By the time I got there, it had given way to body rust, cracked leather seats, and a sophisticated spider society that attempted formal diplomatic relations before trying to eat me.

Why this walk down automotive memory lane? Because someday I might want to bequeath my last car to whichever mail-order kid I adopt, so he can fondly maintain it after I go the way of the floppy disk. But odds are that won't happen unless I skip the human connection and take in a Cylon.

[ Dumb apps equal big bucks in Silicon Valley's new math. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. | Can we talk? Send your tech war story to offtherecord@infoworld.com and get a $50 AmEx gift cheque if InfoWorld publishes it. We're all ears! ]

Every tech yuppie I know is suddenly caught up in five distractions:

  1. Not-so-smart watches and glasses that run pointless crap-apps and get you punched in bars
  2. Every iteration of a seemingly endless evolution of multisized rectangles with HD screens to track your jogging (or lack thereof)
  3. Mobile apps so stupid in design and origin they make my eyes bleed
  4. 3D goggles that look like blacked-out SCUBA masks but are supposed to enhance your perception of real life
  5. Connected cars (to bring it back to Dad)

Open source meets open road

Case in point: The Linux Foundation just released Automotive Grade Linux (whatever that means) v1, and Apple and Google recently gave ominous glimpses of what they want your next ride to be. Judging by those specs, the connected car of tomorrow is basically an embedded data center on wheels with apps that hopefully work together to control different vehicle systems. Then throw in big-time Wi-Fi hotspot connectivity so that your buggy can link back to your automaker and let it know who you are, where you're going, what you're buying, and what kind of fuel you're using, as well as hand over God-mode control of your A.I. jalopy in moments of need.

Also, don't forget recent developments by a whole bunch of car companies that let cars park themselves, brake themselves, cap your speed, edit your PowerPoint, mix cappuccinos, and eventually, talk to other vehicles, which will supposedly make the roads safer and retire the middle finger as the state bird of New Jersey.

It sounds great -- except when your car forgets to update on Tuesday or has a CPU-fart or suffers a Carbleed vulnerability, thereby deciding a tumbling Coors Lite can is worth slamming on the brakes at 80 mph. Maybe it thinks that a baby carriage is a great place to park. Perhaps it decrees your life is boring, so it adds some spice by suddenly accelerating into a tollbooth.

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