Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

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?

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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.

Advertisement

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!)

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

goat7
son of a motherless goat (PSA: wash your hooves)

They already had autonomous vehicles in 1911. They called them horses.