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Self-Driving Car Almost Hits Pedestrian, So He Fights Back

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Photo by James Conrad

By James Conrad

For about a couple years, we have been seeing white, futuristic Jaguar automobiles with a spinning thing on the top, under a plastic enclosure. I used to look upon these bizarre, Phildickian vehicles with puzzlement, but then I figured out that they are self-driving taxis.

More recently, I also learned that, like all newfangled technology, these machines – though far more benevolent than the wicked gadgets in a certain Stephen King movie – are only as smart as the people who build and program them.

Case in point, I was about to catch the bus home from the corner of Haight and Fillmore one damp, dreary Sunday night in early March 2023, when I saw one idling in the middle of the intersection, with a young man and his small dog on a leash standing alongside it.

As an amused crowd gathered to watch the standoff, I walked to the corner and asked the fellow with the dog what was going on.

“It cut me off in the crosswalk,” he said, gesturing toward the self-driving car. “This was an illegal left turn. So I’m going to annoy the robot. I like annoying robots. Fuck you, robot.”

Not long afterward, the car honked its horn and a disembodied, monotone computer voice said, “Unsafe behavior.”

This amused me for a few seconds, but then I saw a line of cars descending downhill and due east on Haight Street. Sure enough, there were exasperated honks and cries of “Go the fuck home.”

Photo by James Conrad

At this point, I began to see that the jape had begun to outlive its usefulness. Not only were the drivers coming down Haight Street getting annoyed, but a safety risk had been created. I said, “Is this actually helping? Isn’t your dog getting cold? This isn’t Tienanmen Square, you know.”

I then asked perhaps the most appropriate question of all, given both the matters at hand and the terrain of San Francisco – “Is this the hill you want to die on?”

“I don’t care. I got cut off in the crosswalk, so I’m just going to annoy the robot.”

HONK! “Unsafe behavior.”

“Compared to what? You cut me off in the crosswalk! Fuck you!”

I then said something to the effect that the machine doesn’t have enough of a conscience to react effectively to being taunted, and having seen enough, caught the next bus downtown.

Sure. I get that it is scary to be cut off at the crosswalk, as that puts any given pedestrian inches and seconds away from certain death. When a self-driving car is involved, I suppose I cannot help but think of Maximum Overdrive at least just a little. I also recognize the risk posed to the dog. On the other hand, it probably might be a more effective way to deal with the problem by telling Waymo, “Fuck you – strong letter to follow” and taking the obvious next step. At least that way, nobody has to get hurt, arrested or possibly killed.

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  1. Jessica Jenkins
    March 7, 2023 at 12:27 pm — Reply

    Dear author, I hope you give as much grief to the DoorDash, Uber, and other delivery drivers that regularly gridlock Haight & Fillmore as you do somebody standing up for pedestrian safety. And don’t forget all the drivers that regularly speed down Haight to beat the lights. Pedestrians aren’t hurting anybody, cars are.

  2. Rob
    March 7, 2023 at 1:02 pm — Reply

    This piece was incredibly car brained. I hope you give as much concern to pedestrians outside of metal boxes as you do the poor robot cars.

  3. Casey_Awesome
    March 7, 2023 at 2:55 pm — Reply

    You sided with the robot car? Against the human? What is wrong with you?

  4. Mr. E
    March 7, 2023 at 3:02 pm — Reply

    Concerntrolling much?

  5. Chim Cham
    March 7, 2023 at 5:29 pm — Reply

    Dear Broken Stuart- as a person who is frequently offended, I am highly offended more than usual after reading your article. I demand you publicly shame yourself and apologize for writing this article, as well as pre-apologize for future social mis-steps that you will surely make.

  6. John Apple
    March 8, 2023 at 1:12 am — Reply

    I disagree. The crowd might have done the proper thing and collectively destroyed the car. Because YOU KNOW that if that guy had been killed, no individual person involved in the company operating the car would be held liable. We’re brainwashed to think this is acceptable. It’s a car. Destroying property is okay with me, if it saves live. THAT is the only way you would get attention from the company to invest enough more so that we are not the victims in their fucking experiment

    • Annie Dillon
      March 9, 2023 at 11:47 am — Reply

      I love that. Just disable the robot cars and call for a tow truck. Maybe just let all the air out of the tires so no one gets arrested.

  7. Doug
    March 9, 2023 at 11:18 am — Reply

    I totally agree with this article. The guy accomplished absolutely nothing except to piss a lot of people off. Anybody who thinks they’re making a serious statement by standing in front of a computerized car and repeating “Fuck you, robot” to it over and over again is a complete fool.

    • Daniel
      March 9, 2023 at 8:03 pm — Reply

      Having been cut off in the crosswalk, what do you suggest his proper response should have been? Registering a complaint with Alphabet Inc. would have achieved about as much as repeating fuck you to the robot, no? Would that have been a more sound course of action in your estimation? Standing his ground may, in fact, help teach the robot to better navigate our streets; probably not, but likely more effective than a strongly-worded, unread email. Fuck you robot, don’t do that again.

      • JW
        March 10, 2023 at 12:07 pm

        Seriously? I assure you, the ‘robot’ does not CARE or realize it made this guy mad. Go to the company and complain.

        But instead he causes gridlock which could have caused real accidents. Constantly Offended Cupcakes need to start growing the hell up.

  8. Cadence
    March 9, 2023 at 11:56 am — Reply

    There’s no winning against robots. Even if you destroyed them. The owners of the company has to be held liable for this experiment that they’re making us endure.

  9. Yellie
    March 9, 2023 at 2:51 pm — Reply

    Poor little dog has no choice but to wait in the street while the human works out his issues with a giant hunk of metal on wheels.

  10. Lois Furlo
    March 9, 2023 at 5:48 pm — Reply

    This is a total hot mess sh*t show, how much more are the poor guinea pigs in SF going to have to endure ? This cannot continue, this is a failed experiment, and these robot cars need to go away forever.

  11. Herb
    March 9, 2023 at 11:13 pm — Reply

    We’ve turned thinking over to machines in the hope that this will set us free, but this only permits the men who own the machines to further enslave us.

  12. Gyo Mhe
    March 10, 2023 at 4:05 am — Reply

    Anytime a robot car does something like this, you should pull out a lipstick and write what happened on the car. I’d rather use a key, but lipstick won’t get you arrested.

  13. Big O
    March 17, 2023 at 11:06 am — Reply

    We need a Butlerian Jihad already. I’m tired of hearing about AI. One positive thing is that if you do something in the physical world (carpentry, electrical work, waiting tables, driving trucks etc) your job is safe- for a long time anyway. The insufferable pricks who told you to learn to code? Their jobs will be the first to be done by AI. Sweet justice!

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