Technology has a way of screwing up entertainment from the past. How many Seinfeld episodes would have been four minutes long is everyone had cell phones? Hell, almost any plot that revolved around missing someone or a wrong bit of information would be obsolete today. So what will autonomous cars do?
Autonomous cars are coming, and if we remember that they’re basically robots we can ride around in, you can start to see the level of change they will have on the way we live, and, as a result, the movies and television we watch.
So, I started thinking about what, exactly, this might mean for the fiction we write, and I came up with five key changes. I bet there’s more, so I’m excited to hear what you have to say, too, clever, clever readers. Here’s what I have so far.
1. The tension and/or advancing of the plot by having an inebriated/impaired character drive will be gone.
This comes up a fair amount in movies and TV, often as a way to kill off a character — have them drive drunk somewhere. We’ve also seen the extremely-fatigued-driver-goes-somewhere-unexpected thing a good amount too, usually in comedies like the Simpsons or National Lampoon’s Vacation.
I also realized that there’s one movie that hinges its entire plot on sleeping-while-driving, but the particulars of that movie make it especially strange in this context: Cars. In that movie, actual, living autonomous cars fall asleep while driving. So that’s weird in this context, but you get the idea — you can fall asleep or pass out drunk in an autonomous car and not end up dead or lost.
As soon as movies start having autonomous cars as normal parts of life, there will be movies about sexy, sexy hackers typing madly on keyboards and breaking into systems and re-programming them to take characters to scary warehouses or sex dungeons or whatever.
Essentially, it’ll be a more efficient sort of kidnapping, in that the kidnap-ee wouldn’t see it coming and you wouldn’t have to sandwich the target in between to massive goons in fancy suits anymore. We’ve actually already seen an inadvertent version of this happen on the show Silicon Valley.
Autonomous cars open up time and settings for rich character interaction — that setting is inside the autonomously-piloted car. I suspect that most of these opportunities will be used for sex scenes.
All of a sudden, characters — especially children or non-human ones — now have the same degree of transportation freedom as an adult. If the 5-year old or alien or dog can climb into an autonomous car and bark and address or slap a button with a sticky hand or tentacle, then they potentially can become as independently mobile as any character. That’s never really been the case.
Of course, in the real world there will probably be safety lockouts to keep your Daschund from driving away in your car, but, remember, this is the movies. The hypothetical movies.
5. Cars (well, modern autonomous ones) can no longer be used as impulsive weapons, at least not without a whole lot of work.
Any movie where some character decides on the spur of the moment to use a car as a weapon and run over another character or ram a car into another one, or through a gate or door or into a building or whatever — that’s all over with autonomous cars. Autonomous cars will be goody-goody little law-abiders, and won’t help with anyone’s nefarious plans.
Unless, of course, they’ve been maliciously tampered with, as alluded to in #2.
As I said, I suspect there’s more I’m not considering — what do you think?