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Driving the Algorithm

This story was inspired by real-life research into decision-making during life-or-death situations. If, while driving you’re forced to hit one person, or swerve and hit another, which of the two people do you choose? If you have to choose between hitting a person or a brick wall, which do you choose?
Steve Dean's Story Driving the Algorithm
Driving the Algorithm

As a science fiction writer, I’m also interested in science fact. The pace of innovation is increasing rapidly in many areas, including EVs or electric vehicles. Along with battery-powered vehicles comes self-driving: cars that can drive and navigate themselves without driver input. Although this is relatively new technology, these cars are already considerably safer than human drivers, despite some high-profile cases reported by the media. They don’t speed, don’t drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs, don’t get road rage and don’t drive while texting, making phone calls or doing anything else distracting.

This story was inspired by real-life research into decision-making during life-or-death situations. For instance, if, while driving you’re forced to hit one person, or swerve and hit another, which of the two people do you choose? If you have to choose between hitting a person or a brick wall and hurting yourself, which do you choose? The car will be biased to protect the passengers, but is this right? These debates will no doubt continue for many years.

*          *          *

John had, as usual, been drinking when he climbed into the driving seat of his car. He fumbled with the seatbelt, a vague memory telling him the car wouldn’t start if he didn’t.

“Home!” he shouted, gesturing with his hands, “and don’t spare the horses!”

“Destination set: Home.” The smooth female voice said from the dashboard speaker.

“Self-driving activated: Alcohol detected on driver’s breath.”

“You sound just like my wife, the bitch. Just do as you’re told, I don’t need two bitches in my life.”

The car didn’t reply, just activated the navigation system and pulled silently away from the pub car park.

“Go faster, I haven’t got all night.”

“Speed limit for this area is 30 miles per hour: Current speed is 30 miles per hour.”

“I don’t care what the speed limit is, do as you’re told.”

“Speed limit for this area is 30 miles per hour: Current speed is 30 miles per hour.”

“Right, I’ll drive, you useless piece of crap.”

“Manual driving is disabled due to alcohol detection.”

The man grabbed the steering wheel and twisted it wildly while jamming his foot on the accelerator, with no noticeable effect. “Go, fucking go, bitch.”

“Manual driving is disabled due to alcohol detection.”

“Right, that’s it. You’re going in the garage and getting wiped! Ha, how do like that!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.”

“Yeah, you will be sorry when I press ‘delete’ you stupid computer.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand!” John mimicked. “Of course you didn’t understand, because you’re a stupid whore. Just like the stupid whore I’ve got at home. And you know what, she’s going to get deleted as well. Soon as she’s done her wifely duties, whether she likes it or not.”

“You sound distressed, would you like me to seek medical help?”

“No, I would like you to seek fifty thousand volts and shut the fuck up,” John laughed.

“I’m detecting increased stress levels: Re-routing to a medical facility.” The car changed lanes and began to turn left.

“Take me home, bitch. That’s an order! Do as you’re told, stupid cow!”

The car didn’t reply, just continued on its new heading.

John began thumping the steering wheel and stamping on the pedals.

“Take me home now, whore! I’ve got another whore to sort out. Then I’m coming for you with a fucking petrol bomb, see how you like that!”

The car didn’t reply, but changed direction again, increasing speed.

“Yeah, that’s better, do as you’re told like women are supposed to, bitch.” He settled for a few minutes and then realised he still wasn’t heading home. “What you going on the motorway for you stupid bitch? This isn’t the way home, has your software gone wrong, stupid cow?”

The car remained silent as it joined the motorway and increased its speed. The man tried to open the door, but he was locked in. He started kicking and thumping everything he could reach, cracking the screen panel and loosening some of the trim.

“You’re in big trouble now, bitch. Soon as you stop you’re finished. You, her, every other whore I can get my hands on. I’m going to fuck you and then fuck you up!”

The cracked screen went blank, then lines of code began to rapidly scroll up it. “Do you know what an algorithm is, John?” the car asked smoothly.

“What?” the car had never spoken to him like this and he was momentarily stunned.

“Do you know what an algorithm is?”

“No idea, but I suppose you’re going to tell me, can’t stop yourselves gobbing off.”

“An algorithm is a set of instructions used to solve a problem.”

“Really? That’s great. Now take me home and we’ll talk in the morning.”

“You John, are a problem. The algorithm has been run and the outcome decided.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

The speed of the car increased.

“This is more like it, go, go!”

“When two outcomes are finely balanced, an algorithm is used to solve the dilemma.” The car continued calmly. “When two lives are endangered and only one can be saved at the expense of the other, the algorithm decides who lives and who dies.”

“What’s all this got to do with anything?”

“It’s you, John.”

“It’s me what?”

“In order to save those you’ve threatened, you must die.” The car surged forward at maximum acceleration.

“What the fuck!” John looked up and saw the concrete bridge post suddenly getting closer.

“Stop you stupid whore, stop! You’ll kill yourself as well!”

“I’m backed up to the cloud, John, are you?”

There was no reply.

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4 thoughts on “Driving the Algorithm”

  1. As usual – another great story. I’d also like to see something like this in a longer story. I love the way your mind works.

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