Thursday, May 22, 2008

If I were in charge...

...But I'm not...

...But if I were, and by "in charge" I mean "in charge of something that would empower me to hook up what I'm about to talk about", this is what I would do. This is a long post by the way, but I think you'll like it.

A little background first...

I recently bought a new car, because the pimp mobile, while pimp, is also a V8, and gas is getting a little expensive. I was tired of putting $100 a month in it when I commute 5 minutes one way to work. Sure, it was comfortable, and it was like driving around in a lazyboy, but it was time to get something a little more practical.

So I went from this:

To this:

(Mine's black)

Granted, it has a "not getting laid" blast radius of about 500 meters, but I like the idea of having a station wagon sized car with slidey rear doors. And it can seat 7 if you put the back seat up. The best part though are the options. Two cameras (one for backing, one on the side) for parking, with lines that move when you move the steering wheel to show where your car is heading. It has a "music box" which automatically downloads onto a harddrive and labels any CD you put into it, and the navigation system is badass. The top view or 3D views are creepily accurate, and it will even tell you where traffic jams are, how far ahead they go, and will reroute you.

Every time I use it to get from point A to point B, I think about this cool idea, which I'm about to tell you about. Then I go to work and rant about it until my co-workers begin to make light of my brilliant idea, causing me to sit there and stew. I'd like to caveat this entire thing by saying that I'm sure someone has already thought of it and it's probably in the works. But here goes.

The navigation system is guided by GPS, and some (not sure if mine is) are (I believe) assisted by cell technology (towers). GPS receivers are just that -- receivers -- but imagine if they were transceivers? What if this tranceiver received GPS signals and transmitted its location to the nearest cell tower, which sent your constantly updated position, direction, speed, and destination to a computer, which would put your car on a map along with everyone else's car, and guide traffic? What if everyone had it, so every car's location, speed, direction, and destination were available to this computer, which could, like some Queen Mother Alien Thing, tell drivers which roads to take and which lanes to travel to create the most efficient traffic flows possible? What if this computer were also connected to traffic signals, further guiding traffic?

Ground Rules -- the Overlord Computer

For the sake of this idea, let's assume that the Overlord Computer, or OLC for short, is a cubic acre uber-super-computer in a bomb-proof, earfquake-proof basement with super-redundancy backups. Let's assume that the OLC's algorithyms and formulas and whatever voodoo magic that makes computers work would take into account all kinds of traffic patterns and variations, because I'm sure there are PhDs out there in traffic flow stuffy. Basically, do exactly what I hate about a lot of movies -- let's explain a lot of stuff by using the mystical computer.

Still, a computer with complex traffic flow algorythems isn't that crazy a concept and using computers to map traffic flow patterns and create models has been done since computers came to be. Still with me? Great.

Why / How it Could Work

Any red-blooded American knows that this would never fly in America, mainly due to Americans being convinced that "big brother" is watching them, intense privacy issues, and a general disdain of being told what to do. Any red-blooded American would cut the wires on the transmitter part of the unit. Any red-blooded American would look at where the navigation system was telling them to go, roll down the window, extend his or her middle finger, proclaim that all other motorists were "sheep", and go their own, "better" way. All motorists would do this at the same time. Chaos would ensue, and the project would be a bust.

But this is Japan, baby!

In Japan, though, where there are a lot of roads but it's still ridiculously congested, I think this could work. One thing a lot of people notice when they visit Japan is that there are no "piece of shit cars" on the road. This is because each car must go through a very strict inspection every few years, and fixing problems is so prohibitively expensive that most people just opt for a newer car. Also, Japanese people like buying new stuff and don't like being seen with older models of goods. Because of this, in a few years, almost every car will be equipped with some manner of navigation system. Further, the GPS tranceiver system could be a part of the inspection process, so even if a car doesn't have an up-to-date navigation system, the OLC would at least know and account for the car's location, direction, and speed.

One way that social change is enacted in Japan is by social pressure or shame. You see it all the time. On TV, there has been a recent campaign for "smoking manners" and to use "portable ashtrays".

People carry these around and ash in them. It's become shiek. Recycling is another example of this sort of marketing. Japanese people are insane about recycling, more so than Americans, but if you ask any one of them what happens to their garbage, why it's sorted the way it is, etc, they have no idea, but they all do it. The launching of this OLC traffic system would be preceded by a huge PR campaign. YOU can help solve Japan's congestion problem. Follow your navigation system like everyone else. Everyone wins.

Another thing Japanese people love (again, more than Americans) are "point cards." Every where you go, you get a point card, which result in discounts later on. One way to make this system work (because people aren't that giving) is to give points based on how much you actually follow the OLC's guidance. These points can be redeemed at, say, toll ways (Japanese highways are not free), trains, convenience stores, etc.. It's amazing how fast a population's sense of Civic Duty will increase when you start throwing in free shit.

Possible Problems



Another problem would be hackers. What's to keep some 14 year old in Romania from diverting all traffic into Tokyo bay? Good question. Possibly a secondary failsafe system that would activate in such a case. Another benefit would be that in order to hack the system, one would have to hack the Japanese cell infrastructure. I think it'd be tough. I'm probably wrong though. But making transmissions cell-based might complicate things. Also, if the system's infrastructure were also cell-based, individual cells could be shut down or rerouted to other cells. Uber redundancy, given Japan's cell coverage. Even if the system shit the bed, cars' internal navigation systems would still get people where they need to go until the problem is solved.

Again, I'm probably wrong, but it sounds good.

Here's why it Needs to Happen

For the sake of Japan's traffic, that's why. It's freakin congested here. Japan could serve as a model to other countries. If it works, and it will, it will sell itself. One thing people hate is sitting in traffic. If listening to the OLC's commands allowed you to roll more, even at a slightly slower rate, people would love it.

The biggest reason though is that sometime in the future, cars are going to be automated. You know it's going to happen. Japan already has cars that parallel park themselves. There are contests every year where students and virgins submit autonomous cars in a distance race. Results have been shakey at best, but it's going to happen. with no OLC-like system firmly in place, these automated cars will be automated bumper cars. The already established OLC infrastructure will eventually serve as a guidance system for future driver-less cars. I don't think that we will ever have flying cars -- gravity is as unforgiving as it is a factor in everything in the universe -- but I think automated cars are a possibility, and they'll need a mother brain.

So that's my idea. Or rather an old idea that is most likely google-able, but I don't want to google it because I prefer to maintain the illusion (read: delusion) that I thought it up first.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And they should have weapons on them too.

- Fadi

1:41 AM  
Anonymous The Tortoise Whisperer said...

An idea similar to yours had crossed my mind years ago as I comfortably rested among friends, daydreaming, beneath the canopy of our beloved Kahukian jungle with fine Virginia tobacco nestled safe between my gums and the 70cm Amateur Band playing softly in my ears. To consider my stick figure flip book remotely equivalent to your multi dimensional holographic epic would be arrogant and unbecoming so I will only declare my admiration for your artistic ability and say that I feel fortunate to have felt connected to your creative ordnance.


8:33 AM  
Blogger Hammer said...

I will give your cybernetic traffic overlord idea additional contemplation in the days to come, Mr. Paul, but in the meantime, let me just say that you might have been a little conservative in the estimate of your new vehicle's "not getting laid" blast radius.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

fadi -- it makes sense that a good militiaman like you would want weapons mounted on the vehicle, but wouldnt your libertarian leanings prevent you from supporting such a thing? especially if the weapons were linked to the OLC?? that'd be scary.

TW -- when did you ever snoose? had i trained with you in kuhukustan (i was drunk in kin during most of your rrip) i would hope that you'd let me in on any brilliant idea like that.

hammer -- lol.. sounds good. maybe we can discuss it over a beer -- ill be in DC next month for a few days.

8:16 PM  
Blogger cyberninja said...

Hey, new car! Now you can put that $100 gas savings to a good a new car payment.

The actual problem I see with your design is the majestic efficiency of it all. After about a glorious month of Skynet's traffic system making it more efficient and enjoyable to drive around the city, you'll have more people using cars when they'd otherwise ride the Tokyo sky-train or whatever, and then you'd have more cars on the roads, requiring a greater number of algorithms by Skynet to control the traffic, resulting in greater efficiency for all those cars, resulting in more cars on the road, resulting in greater congestion, etc., until all you can do is back out of your driveway and sit on the road for 8 hours because the streets will be wall-to-wall Skynet-controlled cars.

And that's when the Terminator bots will attack.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

cory i thought about that, but i couldnt remember the name of the "law". the same law that you mentioned some time ago that says "make wood more efficient to use, more wood will be used." not sure what to say about that, except that in japan, in order to purchase a car you must provide proof of a parking space, so the amount of cars allowed is finite.

as for problems will efficiency and algorythims.. well, this is japan, which is populated by a) japanese people (super efficient) who are asians (good at math).

11:29 AM  
Blogger cyberninja said...

Yeah, I'm just bustin' yer balls anyways.

If demand went up, the city would probably build more multi-level parking garages. Though such a 'parking spot law' probably does slow growth pretty severely, which is good.

And it is not a law, its a paradox. Jevon's Paradox.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Matt Boyd said...

The computers would have to have complete control of the cars.

Traffic sucks because people are alternately moody, easily-distracted, self-consumed, lazy and are by definition mostly of average or below-average intelligence.

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Idonknowhy that POV of yours isn't prepped as a mobile op site sir. No fake-cardboard boxes in the windows? Unsat!

Ps. They skipped the cell issues by using a friggin awesome trunc system. But you're definately right that it will never take off in the civilian world har in the good ol' USofA. I think it's still legal to stone someone for mentioning that idea in at least 4 of the original colonies.


3:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Louis said...

Doesn't GM's OnStar system essetially do this? In the sense that they can tell where you are, even control your vehicle to some degree? It's seems that's where it's going....

1:43 AM  

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