This past week's episode of HBO's Silicon Valley featured a subplot where a character was essentially abducted by a driverless car. While it's certainly funny to watch people on TV taken places against their will and put in grave danger by a malfunctioning robot, could this actually happen?

The way it plays out in the show is like this: guy is told that the autonomous car will take him home. He gets in the back seat, tells the car his address, and the car sets off. All fine so far. However, as the car approaches the destination, a new, remotely-sent destination is received by the car, over-riding the original destination. In this case, the destination is an artificial island on the International Date Line, which the car helpfully reports will be 4,126 miles, or 104 hours.

To get to the island, the car drives itself into a shipping container, which is then loaded onto a container ship.


So, could something like this actually happen? Maybe, but you'd have to be kind of an idiot. And, the show very conveniently left out one very important piece of equipment found on autonomous cars.

First, as to why the passenger just didn't exit the car when he realized it was heading somewhere else, there's a few possibilities. Child locks could have been on for the rear doors, though he later does open the door when the car is in the shipping container, only to be thwarted because the container is too narrow to allow the doors to open. Also, the character in the car, Jared, has been established as being fairly timid, which may explain why he didn't attempt to exit the car before,even when it was slow or stopped.


The real issue here is that all self-driving cars, such as the Google one this Prius is clearly modeled after, have a nice big fat red emergency cancel/override button right smack in the center of the dash. They all do, no matter what company they're from, and part of why they're there is to prevent things like this, however improbable.

So, unless you're bound or incapacitated in some way, or maybe asleep or really, really drunk, chances are good you can't be abducted by an autonomous car.


Unless whoever owns the car disables the switch. Hm. If they put the child locks on the doors and disable that switch, then maybe, just maybe, you actually could be kind of boned.

Oh God. Nobody get in any robot cars!