This 1911 Film Predicted the Dangers of Autonomous Vehicles, Like Dragging Cops and Dogs and Getting Stranded Inside of Saturn

I know we tend to think that robotically-driven cars are a very recent phenomenon, but the truth is that people have been imagining the consequences of AVs since the turn of the last century. In fact, there’s at least one film that addresses the issues head-on, Walter R. Booth’s 1911 film, The Automatic Motorist. All of our modern-day concerns about autonomous vehicles are here: how will they interact with police, will they burrow into the crust of Saturn, and will they cause us to drive underwater, surrounded by wriggling axolotls?

The movie is only six minutes long, so it probably makes sense for you to drop your surgical scalpel or whatever and watch it right now:

So, interestingly, we see the method used to make the autonomous vehicle is via the use of a robotic chauffeur, as developed by the inventor we see in his lab, in the film. I actually suggested a similar approach over a century later, you may recall.

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For some reason, the inventor has a bride and groom with him, and he takes them with him as he tests his Automatic Motorist in a car I can’t quite identify, but looks a bit like this other car nobody can identify.

A cop pulls over the Automatic Motorist, who reacts violently, and for some reason the inventor and groom handcuff the cop to the rear of the car, and soon after which a dog clamps onto the cop’s ass.

Then they go to the moon, a nod to MélièsA Trip to the Moon, and from there on to Saturn, into which they burrow and meet the native subsaturnalian beings, and then things just get weirder from there.

This movie made pioneering use of animation and special effects via models, but, more importantly, brings up issues regarding autonomous vehicles that we’re still asking today.

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How much work is Waymo doing to prevent interplanetary burrowing or dragging around cops with dogs clamped to their asses?

Not enough, I bet.

(Thanks, T.Mike!)

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Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)