Monday, June 22, 2015

Microstory 86: The Intersection

When I was your age, people used to control the operation of cars. They would push a button with their foot, and turn a wheel with their hands to make it go. And their movements would be regulated on the streets by lights. Green meant go, and red meant stop. The vehicles weren’t deeply programmed, and they couldn’t talk to each other. They would even run into each other, sometimes killing the passengers. It was a dark time. During the transition to heavier automation, the traffic lights on one of the busiest intersections of the city shut down. All the lights turned to green. Fortunately, no one in the front of the lines took that seriously, so they didn’t collide with anyone else, but they couldn’t go anywhere either. I was eating ice cream on a bench with my grandfather when a man pulled his car onto the sidewalk next to me. He stepped out and walked to the middle of the intersection. He started waving his arms around, directing the cars manually. Keep in mind that he was just a normal guy, and this was not his job. He just took it upon himself to help. Before too long, the traffic was moving smoothly. A technician drove out and started to fix the lights, and two cops came by to arrest and replace the man. I and the other people on the corners starting booing and yelling at the cops. Before they could resolve the situation, a human driver who wasn’t paying attention to the road crashed into and killed all three of them. The following year, the last of the holdout states passed laws allowing driverless vehicles.

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