According to Wired News ("Finally, a Car That Talks Back, " Sept. 2, 2004), Honda will introduce two new 2005 models, cars that give verbal turn-by-turn directions and let you make phone calls, adjust air conditioning, change CD volume, and more, all by vocal command so you don't have to take your hands off the wheel.
Not to be outdone, as reported in the New York Times ("A Car That Winks, Laughs, and Cries," July 26,2004), Toyota is working on a car that will "help drivers communicate better by glaring angrily at another car cutting through traffic as well as appear to cry, laugh, wink or just look around."
The inventors hope to enhance the vehicle with an "antenna that wags ... headlights that vary in intensity and ... ornamentation designed to look like eyebrows, eyelids and tears...."
My Car, the Teenager
If Honda and Toyota ever get together, we could end up with a car that refuses to leave the garage, just sitting there for hours, making moody entries in its blog, muttering to itself.
And what if every car starts having these features? Traffic jams would become even more of a living hell. Weeping. Honking. Screaming. Cars snapping each other's fenders with their antennae.
Science, frankly, can find better ways of spending its time than inventing cars better left in Toontown. Who would even want a talking car, outside of Michael Knight, and even there, you might recall, K.I.T.T. was sometimes a little peevish.
You Know You Want Me
Still, thanks to science, we may be on the way to a world in which products will know whether or not we want them before we do.
From the Economist, I learned of a new tool called "neuromarketing," ("Inside the mind of the consumer," Sept 10, 2004): "A volunteer lies in an MRI machine and is shown images or video clips. ... The subject's response is evaluated by monitoring brain activity. ... Neuroscientists know ... that the sense of self is associated with an area of the brain known as the medial prefrontal cortex. A flow of blood to that area while the subject is looking at a particular logo suggests that he or she identifies with that brand."
I can envision a future when products themselves have neuroscanners and will know immediately whether you want them or not. They will also have voice chips. If you like a car, say, it will follow you around, whimpering and wagging its antenna, until you make an offer. If you don't like the car, and if it's equipped with a flamethrower (like K.I.T.T.), well, you'd better get out of the showroom pronto.
Yearning Young People
Is it any wonder that many are opting for the kinder, gentler days of technology? The New York Times ("A digital generation's analog chic," Sept. 9, 2004) chronicled a sampling of yearning young people, including a young man who attached an old-fashioned handset to his cell phone to make it less "impersonal." Others are snapping up old Atari game systems and going back to turntables.
One young man, "trawling at eBay for a cheap cell phone," wound up with "a Motorola DynaTac, a 1980s-era "brick" cell phone that fits more comfortably in a backpack than in a suit pocket."
He told the Times, "Imagine this: I'll walk into a bar and ask for a girl's number, then break out my phone. How could you say no to that?"
Well, sadly, very easily. Much as I dread the world of the future, I suspect that young people will get a lot more dates with a talking car than a walkie-talkie. Better disable the flamethrower first, though. At least for the first date.
Ian Shoales lives in San Francisco with his collection of autographed David Hasselhoff posters, worth millions.