Beware of the spime cars

In October 2004, i had to prepare a presentation for Art Futura in Barcelona. It was about “Things that think.” Of course i quoted extensively the talk that Bruce Sterling had made at Siggraph that year. A series of stories i read in UK newspaper recently made me think of his talk. This part in particular, where he imagines our daily life with spimes.

We’ll have to wrangle with:
* brooms that bellow ads, mops that demand money
* subtle software faults that make even a simple shovel unusable
* unstable software
* security flaws, hacking, theft, fraud, malware, vandalism and pranking
* identity theft
* Industrial hazards: spime kitchens that fry the unwary, spime cars that follow outdated software maps and drive right off broken bridges



Now the stories. In April, The Times reported about a new sport in the village of Luckington: fishing stranded motorists out of a ford at £25 a time.

Since a road closure, dozens of drivers were blithely following directions from their satellite navigation systems, not realising that the recommended route goes through the ford. Every day since the main B4040 was closed after a wall collapsed on April 8 one or two motorists have been towed out, having either failed to notice or ignored warning signs. Some farmers have been charging £25 to give a tow with tractors. Lesley Bennett, a Luckington parish councillor, said: “When the car conks out the driver looks stunned. When you ask what happened, they say, ‘My sat-nav told me it was this way’.�

That same month and for similar sat-nav bummers, motorists were sent to the edge of a 100ft drop on an unclassified road at Crackpot (!) in North Yorkshire.

And yesterday, BBC News wrote that satellite navigation systems are being blamed for caravanners getting stuck in a narrow lane in a Welsh village. “It’s easy to say they should have more common sense, but really if they don’t know the area they have no reason to doubt what the computer is telling them,” explained Gwilym Jones, who lives at the entrance to the lane.

Technically these cars are not spime’d yet, but we’re nearly there, right? I’ll let you know when my mop asks for a salary raise.