Driving into the Wreck

Tech writers have their own brand of auto fiction

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In the past half decade, a small publishing miracle has taken place: many books about driverless cars are available for purchase, whereas driverless cars are not. For what feels like the first time in the twenty-first century, prose has outrun product. Book-length analysis has sped past tech-sector hype. As massive companies like Volvo, General Motors, Tesla, and others spent the 2010s missing preposterously optimistic release dates for their driverless prototypes, writers conducted research and interviews. They finished draft after draft. They no doubt procrastinated, often severely, and still, still they beat the wunderkind roboticists of the autonomous vehicle (AV) realm to the marketplace.

I have become obsessed with these AV books, in part because the “coverage” of the undertaking is so unappealing. Reading AV Twitter will only teach you to blame misleading headlines on journalists as opposed to the companies that create misleading timelines for their misleadingly named technologies. Listening to AV company founders on podcasts and at conferences will only teach you how soon they have a funding round coming up. Sure, AV books have flaws, but unlike much of the underlying artificial intelligence of these chimerical vehicles, the books at least improve with every update. Reading the genre these past few years has been like witnessing a coming-of-age story—the first titles, though terrific introductions, are too enfeebled by nostalgia to seriously challenge the industry; in adolescence, the genre sizes up its foe; the emergent third-wave witnesses a heroic, cathartic breakthrough.

Sure, autonomous vehicle books have flaws, but unlike much of the underlying artificial intelligence of these chimerical vehicles, the books at least improve with every update.

It should be noted that “AV books” is not only a bad name but an inaccurate one. The motley collection of nonfiction titles covers far more than autonomy. And yet the inaccuracy of the designation is precisely why I find it so fitting, seeing as all new terms in the industry are either meaningless or inaccurate (see: “partial self-driving” and “autopilot”). Even “industry” is incorrect—most AV companies don’t yet produce goods, services, or revenue.

About revenue. It turns out that it matters, particularly when global pandemics like Covid-19 start infecting every balance sheet on the planet. Even if the AV sector did have products to sell, it would be a challenging business climate. Companies championing electric models now must compete in a global marketplace of declining oil prices. Already shaky business plans for robotaxis or autonomous rideshares now likely need to add a line item for a human to sanitize screens and interiors between rides (better yet—they’ll develop an automated system that doesn’t work). The looming Covid-19-induced economic collapse will bankrupt some AV companies. Other outfits will merge. For years, there’s been a horse-race mentality to AV discussions: Who will be first to market? In 2020, the gossip has begun to invert: Who will be the first to collapse?

New voices in and around AV are now working to deflate the sector’s nonetheless buoyant optimism. Their sentiments mirror my own, which have calcified into three words after immersing myself in this lavishly funded, hilariously inept enterprise for a few years: it ain’t working.

Get Outta My Dreams

The first wave of AV books was published from roughly 2016 through the first half of 2019. In many, though not all, of these initial offerings, a ghostwriter helped some transportation official from the public or private sector condense their career into zippy, pun-filled prose. The best of these offerings is No One at the Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future (2018) by Samuel I. Schwartz (with Karen Kelly). But before he gets to detailing valid arguments about mobility and the impact of driverless vehicles on the urban environment, Schwartz must first establish that cars have made him feel. Seven paragraphs into the introduction, Schwartz recalls his first vehicle:

It was a used 1960 Chevy Impala I bought for $450 in 1966 from tip money I got delivering groceries by bike from my father’s grocery store in south Brooklyn. It had wings (called fins) like an airplane. Each year all my friends and I would eagerly anticipate the fin changes and enlargements; as they got bigger, the feeling you were flying while driving got stronger. You could even believe you were a little airborne when accelerating on the highway.

In what is otherwise a brisk, exceptionally informative book, the writing slows down for this Impala reverie. There’s a semicolon, the only one in the entire introduction, and Schwartz employs it to carve out extra space so that he can better describe his Impala’s “fins.” “Airborne” in the final line seals it: time is frozen, bliss is high. It’s a common feature of the genre: the cargasm.

A cargasm at the outset of a first-wave AV book proved to be the most reliable thing about the industry (aside from AV companies missing their deployment timelines). While it’s not exactly breaking news that white men of a certain age like to write about cars, it was noteworthy that AV nonfiction titles adopted lyrical auto remembrances from traditional car writing of the twentieth century. For all the talk about the future of mobility, there was still plenty of talk about the past.

I am not exaggerating: every first-wave AV book romanticizes the car, that great internal combustion engine of freedom. Lawrence D. Burns (with Christopher Shulgan) manages to delay his until the middle of Autonomy: The Quest to Build The Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World (2018). The instantly dated Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead (2016) is more or less one long imagined car fantasy in which the reader is continuously asked to “imagine . . .” how amazing they’ll feel in innumerable, totally amazing futuristic scenarios, all of them involving their first totally amazing autonomous vehicle. Dan Albert dedicates Are We There Yet: The American Automobile Past, Present, and Driverless (2019) to the eleven cars he has driven. He then proceeds to single out his 1985 Saab 900S for the cargasmic treatment:

Admittedly, plastic bits were falling off, and the body was still a little bent where it had been rear-ended. Yes, it wouldn’t stay in third gear without a bungee cord, but the Saab had never let us down. My future wife and I had taken it on a six-week grand tour of America, down winding hollows in West Virginia and across the South Dakota prairie. At Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, a kangaroo rat had bedded down on the warm engine overnight and the violent blowout of its little body popped a belt off when I turned the key. The ranger lent me a wrench and I put it back on. Guts and hair coated the engine compartment, but the musky smell through the air vents dissipated in a few days. It was gone by the time we reached the California coast, where we parked next to a campsite by the beach and watched whales swim along the shore in the late-afternoon sun.

The first clue a cargasm is underway is the kangaroo rat. It didn’t nap in Albert’s engine, it “bedded down.” The literary pile on continues as Albert describes engine temperatures and blowouts in what is more or less a multisensory creative writing exercise aimed squarely at his Saab. In the crescendo, the car facilitates whale watching. Whale watching!

Individually, these sentimental recollections are fleeting, harmless odes. Obsessing over them risks overlooking some of the very good arguments these books advance about the implications of driverless vehicles. Schwartz’s book has the highest student-approval rating of any book I’ve ever taught, and it’s easy to see why—he’s relentlessly curious about the implications of transportation policy, blending accessible statistics with anecdotes from his decades as a New York City transportation bigwig. Whereas Schwartz accelerates through the history, Albert goes long, contextualizing and analyzing the automobile’s influence on practically every era of civilization. Burns calculates the theoretical financial benefits of AVs to a microscopic degree. There are valuable, persuasive arguments in these books.

But also: the cargasms. They may be harmless individually, but collectively these clichéd remembrances demonstrate just how deeply ingrained car culture is and how resistant the industry will be to change. For a sector that is supposedly overflowing with competing visions for the future of transportation, the first wave of AV books took a laughably formulaic approach. By the time I read my fifth or sixth fond car memory, I started to hear all of them, simultaneously. They sounded like Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson, that lecherous genie trapped in a town-shaped bottle: “Say man, ever drive a car? It’d be a lot cooler if you did.”

Riding in Cars with Toys

The genre achieved a level of maturity when, in the second half of 2019, journalists started publishing their years-long investigations of emerging AV companies. Their focus was naturally on the largest, buzziest companies, the kind whose operations entail far more than automation. In one corner, Tesla Motors, which has made more autonomy promises than any other and against which the English language ought to file a restraining order. (Tesla did, after all, give birth to the dangerously misleading term “full self-driving,” whose first newborn cry was likely the sound of a headlight shattering against a guard rail.) Into this morass waded Edward Niedermeyer, a very twenty-first-century journalist, i.e., a blog-born analyst-commentator who has produced reliable reporting for multiple online outlets, much of it to the chagrin of Tesla. In June of last year, he broke a story for The Drive about air quality non-compliance at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory, which received “18 notices of violation and 21 permit deviations . . . illustrating a pattern of chronic noncompliance that stands in stark contrast to Tesla’s public image as an environmental crusader.” Later that summer, Niedermeyer’ first book, Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors, appeared, and in the very first paragraph, Niedermeyer establishes that he will not be partaking in any cargasms:

When I started studying and writing about the auto industry in 2008, I had no idea that cars and mobility were on the precipice of fundamental change. I was simply a kid who had left college at the wrong time and couldn’t even get work waiting tables, thanks to the fact that the economy was crashing down around me. My dad, a lifelong car guy, spent his spare time writing for an automotive blog called The Truth About Cars (TTAC) that had made its name predicting the downfall of the Detroit automakers, and when the opportunity was offered, I agreed to start freelancing there.

Whereas the overwhelming majority of vehicle-related texts begin with a writer eager to situate themselves inside their favorite car, Ludicrous opens with the writer situating himself in an economy. Niedermeyer isn’t looking for an open road. He’s looking for work. He goes on to undercut the romance of car writing entirely: “The allure of cars themselves is what typically brings people into the auto industry’s orbit, but in my case it was the complex system of people and ideas that make and define cars that sucked me in.”

If you doubt that this approach represents a radical shift, look no further than Niedermeyer’s podcast, The Autonocast, which he co-hosts with TechCrunch senior reporter Kirsten Korosec and rally race driver Alex Roy. Though the trio usually covers transportation technology, in one episode, the hosts turn their attention toward Niedermeyer’s book. Roy, the type of car enthusiast who requires a new species designation (corpus cargasmus, perhaps), offers the following criticism of Ludicrous: “Why did you not include a chapter devoted to your first drive of a Tesla?”

Roy’s request for a chapter on a Tesla test drive is delivered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as is his likening of Niedermeyer’s book to eating a mountain of broccoli. But it’s quite obvious that Roy yearns for more throttle in the book. He craves an awe-inspiring ride-along chapter—followed by, sure, some detailed reporting on Tesla’s defects, its propensity for half-truths and outright lies, all that journalism stuff, why not, if there’s time.

“Say man, ever drive a car? It’d be a lot cooler if you did.”

In short, Roy notes—correctly—that Ludicrous lacks the snazzy, overwritten scenes that swamp practically every other entry in the genre. But Niedermeyer, God bless him, never shares the make and model of his first car. He never gets behind the wheel of a Tesla. In Ludicrous, he avoids the genre’s main cliché and instead provides detailed narrative reporting on Tesla Motors’ erratic production under Elon Musk. The company as presented by Niedermeyer serves as an especially relevant case study for at least three modern crises: (1) the steroidal growth of online “brand loyalty,” the end-stage of which seems destined to be a Brand Nation-State whose loyalists stand in opposition to any and all dissenting views; (2) the ability of cultural figureheads to capitalize politically and commercially on said brand loyalty and stoke it via social media; and (3) the danger posed by “tech” principles (i.e., “move fast and break stuff”) when they expand from gadgets into domains where no one wants things broken, such as bodies, democracy, and so on.

For all its many accomplishments as the first entrant in the second wave of AV books, the slyest achievement in Ludicrous is this: there is no cargasm anywhere. It shrugs off the conventions of the previous books. From the opening paragraph, Niedermeyer establishes that the second wave of AV books will not lay claim to the urgency of the future of driverless vehicles only to burn page count on nostalgia. They will bypass gauzy vehicular remembrances. They will instead hop the company walls. They’ll peek inside these purportedly revolutionary, controversial companies and attempt to force their inner crises into the public discourse.

Super Pulped

Unfortunately, the invaders encountered problems once they got inside the gates. If cloying nostalgia colors the first wave of AV books, the implacable despotism of the non-disclosure agreement marks the second. NDAs aren’t new, of course, and in tech, such vows of silence are common—otherwise you risk having megalomaniacs like Anthony Levandowski jumping from Google’s AV crew to Uber’s with fourteen thousand highly confidential documents. (On March 19, Levandowski struck a deal to plead guilty to just one of the thirty-three charges filed against him; he is currently fighting Uber about which of them owes Google $179 million.) But narratively, NDAs and their detestable cousin the mandatory arbitration clause prohibit secondary characters from telling a company’s story. They ensure no secondary figures appear in the public narrative, full stop. NDAs not only cast the CEO as the lead; they turn the company into a one-man show.

The erasure of voices downwind of the CEO is a primary factor in Mike Isaac’s Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber. Isaac, an award-winning technology reporter for the New York Times, offers a reported and openly critical look at Uber, a company whose involvement in the AV space is viewed by some commentators as crucial to the company’s future. To more cynical spectators, Uber’s entry into the AV sphere was more along the lines of “well, I mean, we could try driverless, and it’s cool, and it might be a revenue stream, so why not?” The book’s enraging details pertain less to driverless vehicles and more to Uber’s rideshare program, which boosted profit margins some $500 million by charging users a bogus safety fee. Isaac provides a play-by-play of how he broke the Greyball scandal, involving a program that enabled Uber to skirt municipal sting operations by spying on city officials via their geolocation, credit card, and social media data. There are also endless examples of the company’s autocratic abuse of workers and language. To wit: “supply” is “the term founder and erstwhile CEO Travis Kalanick used for the workforce of human drivers.”

Despite recent layoffs, Uber is still a massive company with over sixteen thousand employees, yet reading Super Pumped, you often feel as though one person works there; it nearly reads like a biography of its degenerate founder. Consider the point of view established at the outset of many chapters: “Kalanick was fuming”; “Travis Kalanick had an even bigger problem to deal with”; “Things were going well for Travis Kalanick.” Yet another finds him “breathing down his engineers’ necks to solve the problem.” I would pay good money to hear from those engineers.

NDAs and their detestable cousin the mandatory arbitration clause prohibit secondary characters from telling a company’s story.

But we don’t. It’s impossible. The safest details for sources to share and for Isaac to corroborate are those about Kalanick, and so that’s what the book is filled with. As Isaac notes, “Emails or text messages that appear in the book were viewed by or described to the author,” and though Isaac is one of my favorite tech reporters, this methodology produces an unintended effect when stretched across a book-length work. By obscuring certain details as a way to protect the anonymity of sources, the details surrounding the founder only grow sharper in relief. And what is relief but a kind of pedestal? Raise a shitbag closer to your eye, and they can appear worthy of more nuanced, sympathetic consideration. (Unsurprisingly, Showtime bought the rights to adapt Super Pumped for a television series, and I really hope they do not frame Kalanick as some kind of sensitive anti-hero who’s not so bad once you understand that his interior monologue is backed by nineties songs you used to love.)

I didn’t feel this cynical immediately after finishing Super Pumped. I felt informed and entertained, but the book frustrated me in ways that were hard to articulate. For comparison, I returned to Niedermeyer’s Ludicrous, which I should reiterate that I loved and reviewed positively elsewhere. On my first read, I had blown past the epigraphs that open each chapter. The first: “This isn’t a Silicon Valley versus Detroit story.” —Elon Musk, January 15, 2009. The second: “We say the things we believe, even when those things are delusional.” —Elon Musk, May 31, 2016.

Fourteen of the eighteen epigraphs in the book are courtesy of Musk. In several instances, a chapter opens with an epigraph from Musk, then the actual text commences with . . . a quote from Musk: “‘We had no idea what we were doing,’ Elon Musk told the crowd at Tesla’s 2016 shareholder meeting, as he mimed cluelessness.”

Reading these two second-wave AV books in tandem clarified an obvious point for me: tech journalism is trapped in the same bind as political journalism. The powerful, disreputable men in both realms avoid participating in substantive and sustained dialogues with their critics (neither Musk nor Kalanick participated in Ludicrous or Super Pumped), yet because of their outsized influence in their companies and the sector writ large, it would be considered “inaccurate” for journalists to ignore them. So in tech, as in politics, journalism has fallen into a now-familiar cycle: accurately present the stray newsy comments offered by the Shitbag in High Relief, then engage in online and televisual debates about the veracity of said comments as well as the utility of presenting such comments at all. Meanwhile, the shitbag gets a few days’ head start on their next sordid misadventure. The shitbag’s underlings often see all too plainly what they’re up to, but thanks to the NDA’s chokehold, none of their discontent can be voiced.

NDA Jam

The way forward for books dealing with autonomous vehicles—and for all tech writing, and also for, oh, I don’t know, the United States—is straightforward though not necessarily easy: the insider must rise up against the shitbag.

Few in the tech industry have done more to challenge a Shitbag in High Relief than Susan Fowler. Her February 2017 blog post, “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” is one of the most important documents of the last decade. In it, she recounts the routine sexism and harassment she experienced as a site reliability engineer at Uber. Her bravery played a central role in Travis Kalanick’s eventual ousting. The publication earlier this year of her memoir, Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber, may well represent a new third wave of the AV book.

But Fowler’s work fits into many more important genres. It is, for instance, a significant and enraging entry in the evolving sphere of #MeToo nonfiction. While it is perhaps a stretch to include Whistleblower in a discussion of AV books, seeing as Fowler’s time at Uber did not explicitly intersect with Uber’s increasingly troubled AV wing, the book’s impact on the sector can be directly measured by how many AV companies now bumble their way through a monthly blog post or tweet promoting “Women of Company X, See, Look, Here’s a Woman! We Have Them, We Do, Honest, We Even Pay Them!”

It should be briefly and unmaliciously noted that Fowler’s book is not particularly well-written. Her insights are often too rote to even be considered cliché as she recounts her childhood, her mistreatment by university officials at the University of Pennsylvania, and her entrance to the Silicon Valley workforce. In certain moments, she is “lost at sea.” In others, she is “on top of the world.” If judged on style alone, the book might be filed under “I got this book deal for something I did online.”

Yes, the writing may be a bit mechanical for my taste, but if Fowler isn’t a gifted wordsmith, she is a valiant combatant in the fight against techspeak. At Uber, “bar-raiser” was initially an honorific term intended to coax extra labor out of its employees, yet Fowler details how she raised the bar not by staying late but by asking more uncomfortable questions and challenging internal processes. She in effect weaponized the term against Uber, raising the proverbial bar by, for instance, attending as many as three candidate interviews a week to help curb Uber’s discriminatory tendencies in the hiring process. Her persistent challenges to Uber’s internal procedures got her tagged with an “undocumented performance problem,” a term that she comes to define more or less as “a woman they don’t like.”

The highest compliment I can give Fowler is that when it comes to car-adjacent writing, her book might be the first worthy ancestor to the greatest car book ever written. Like Ben Hamper in 1986’s Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line, Fowler doesn’t need sources; she is the source. Rivethead’s insider perspective made it a best seller; Fowler’s blog post led to her being named Time’s 2017 Person of the Year along with other “Silence Breakers.” The two are an unlikely insider pair, and one often succeeds where the other fails. Fowler’s testimony produced far more seismic changes within her industry, but Hamper has her beat on sentences—though to be fair, that nervy General Motors shoprat would win that distinction over just about anybody.

Rivethead is one of the most overwritten books I have ever read, and I say that not with disdain but with sincere envy and admiration. Hamper uses alliteration the way most stylists use commas, describing how his fellow factory-floor shoprats napped in “cardboard crypts” and “cursed at a clamp” all while “clawin’ for coins.” It’s easy to see why Michael Moore hired the lifelong assembly-line riveter to be a columnist for the Flint Voice. (Hamper on Flint, Michigan: “A town that genuflects in front of used-car lots and scratches its butt with the jagged peaks of the automotive sales chart.”) Hamper, like Moore, shambles up to a towering slab of corporate power and thinks: let’s see how much energetic style I can fling at this butt-ugly behemoth.

What makes Ben Hamper’s book more haunting than the average Moore film, though, is the framing of his personal experiences. When it comes to the assembly line, Hamper has been an insider his whole life: “I was seven years old the first time I ever set foot inside an automobile factory.” It’s family night. The young Hamper is watching his father work:

We stood there for forty minutes or so, a miniature lifetime, and the pattern never changed. Car, windshield. Car, windshield. Drudgery piled atop drudgery. Cigarette to cigarette. Decades rolling through the rafters, bones, turning to dust, stubborn clocks gagging down flesh, another windshield, another cigarette, wars blinking on and off, thunderstorms muttering the alphabet, crows on power lines asleep or dead, that mechanical octopus squirming against nothing, nothing, NOTHINGNESS. I wanted to shout at my father “Do something else!” Do something else or come home with us or flee to the nearest watering hole. DO SOMETHING ELSE! Car, windshield. Car, windshield. Christ, no.

The above paragraph shares traits with the average cargasm in that it monkeys around with time (“a miniature lifetime,” “wars blinking on and off,” “stubborn clocks gagging down flesh”). Yet Hamper’s vignette could never be adapted into a car commercial, unlike the openings of so many other car-related books. It’s too bleak. It’s too soul crushing. Try making a car commercial about NOTHINGNESS. Have fun.

I had assumed that modern legalese like the NDA and the mandatory arbitration clause had discouraged, and in many cases even prohibited, raw, insider scenes like Hamper’s from ever being published again, but Whistleblower compels me to rethink this stance. It indicates that perhaps there are individuals in the tech—and specifically AV—sector who aren’t content to romanticize the tools they wield. They’ll size up a shitbag and get to writing.

Starsky and Such

Here’s one of several flaws in my evolving (i.e., routinely debunked and reconsidered) AV-book thesis: not all of the founders in this automotive world are shitbags.

Take Starsky Robotics. Starsky foregrounded labor in its mission. Noting that “truck drivers risk their lives spending months away from their family to keep the American economy moving,” their solution was to develop remote-controlled trucks so that drivers could operate rigs from their homes. Unlike so many other transportation innovation companies, Starsky never consigned labor to an afterthought.

Tech journalism is trapped in the same bind as political journalism. The powerful, disreputable men in both realms avoid participating in substantive and sustained dialogues with their critics.

Now Starsky Robotics itself is an afterthought. In a March 19 post on Medium, “The End of Starsky Robotics,” founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher explained why his company was going under. He notes that back in 2015, “everyone thought their kids wouldn’t need to learn how to drive,” and while the use of “everyone” here gives you an idea of the closed circles these AV people run in, the blog post is, much like Whistleblower, something of an autopsy. There is no cargasming. There’s no need for sourcing. Seltz-Axmacher is speaking from his own insider perspective. He blows the whistle on his entire industry:

There are too many problems with the AV industry to detail here: the professorial pace at which most teams work, the lack of tangible deployment milestones, the open secret that there isn’t a robotaxi business model, etc. The biggest, however, is that supervised machine learning doesn’t live up to the hype.

Here’s how you know that these comments are unusual in their honesty: AV people are pissed. They promptly complained to Richard Bishop, who, in a Forbes article the following week, noted that Seltz-Axmacher’s competitors in the AV space were “irate” at some of his “unfounded assertions.” Bishop’s unnamed sources whined that “because Seltz-Axmacher hasn’t experienced their technology nor been briefed on their technical/safety approach, he has no basis to make sweeping claims about the entire industry.”

These leaders are pissy for the same reason I am excited: voices in and around AV are finally calling bullshit. They are finally saying aloud that the sector’s core technology, as of now, doesn’t work. The business plans just aren’t tenable on this ever-expanding timeline. The math on the environmental benefits of electric driverless vehicles is hazy. The math for labor is stark, and it is bad. The cultures inside many of these AV companies do not work for those not in power. Many of the incentives dangled before employees and contractors alike don’t work either—try getting excited for your ten-hour test-driving shift when you know that, if you’re successful, it means your job is eliminated.

There’s a disingenuous counterargument that tech devotees often make to skeptics like me. Shouldn’t a Luddite like you want more testing? More safety? Isn’t slower integration of technology into society what people like you want?

The driverless vehicle sector is laughably, embarrassingly, nowhere close to delivering on the pie-in-the-sky promises they began making years ago.

Here’s my rebuttal, and it doubles as the final word on the first era of the AV company. Social distancing presents a once-in-a-century business opportunity for automation. Older demographics and the disabled—two groups the AV sector often throws a half-chewed, bottom-shelf rhetorical bone—are in clear need of driverless delivery. If society was ever going to accept autonomous vehicles, the moment is right now—the summer of 2020 and beyond. In an eerie coincidence, these dates are remarkably close to the deployment dates once projected by multiple AV companies.

And yet the driverless vehicle sector is laughably, embarrassingly, nowhere close to delivering on the pie-in-the-sky promises they began making years ago. Covid-19 has called their bluff. At some point in every discussion I’ve ever had about the likelihood of AV adoption, the stakeholder has paused their vatic mobility ramblings to note: “Of course, we’ve only ever operated in boom times.” That frame is about to be drawn around every AV company with the thickest, smelliest of Sharpies. Funds are going to be hard to come by in an industry where the new consensus is, according to Seltz-Axmacher, that “we’re at least ten years away from self-driving cars.” The fallout from the forthcoming AV bankruptcies and consolidations will lead to anger, disillusionment, and, inevitably, more writing. We can hope there will be more missives like Stefan Seltz-Axmacher’s. It would be nice if there never needed to be another Susan Fowler, but I spend the majority of my time in reality, where the focus of autonomous vehicle literature is shifting from origin story to autopsy. The first era of the AV company is over. For the companies that disband, and perhaps even more so for the companies that survive, Ben Hamper sings for thee: DO SOMETHING ELSE!

Patrick McGinty lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in the English Department at Slippery Rock University.

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