Unfocused Group #1: Self-Driving Cars and Microwaves

Michael Vail ’24

Might Start a Podcast

Welcome to the first edition of Unfocused Group, a novel medium of discussion between the most unlikely collaborators. A typical focus group consists of people from diverse demographics and is used to gauge interest in a product or yield results in a psychological experiment. This group will do more than that. This group is special. This group will change humanity.

     Today’s Unfocused Group includes:

     · Bart, your average, unsuspicious Illinoisan, who may or may not have escaped from a distant, self-destructing planet

   · Martha, a hardworking, single mother from Boston

     · Marthason, the five-year-old son of Martha; she insisted that he could attend the group despite his youth, as she wants to teach him about how the world works

   · Cassandra, a young electrical engineer looking to make her mark

      · Stanley, an old-money businessman in the automobile industry

     Topic #1: Are self-driving cars a thing of the distant future, or will they become prominent within the next few decades?

     Bart: I don’t think self-driving cars sound that unrealistic. They have them where I come from. I mean, they don’t. But do they? If I drive it myself, is it not self-driving? Because it’s my self who is driving it.

     Stanley: I don’t think they exist yet, at least not commonly. I hope they do soon. They probably will. I hope so. I legally can’t speak on this topic anymore.

     Bart: Can’t speak? Let it out!

     Martha: Stop it, the both of you! I wouldn’t ever want those death machines out in the world, risking the safety of our children. What happens if they’re not made correctly? I don’t want to see any of them.

       Marthason: I like planes and trains!

       Stanley: Who brought the tot?

    Cassandra: This is a really complicated question, both practically and ethically. I don’t even know where to start. It’s not exactly my area of expertise, but the scenario is familiar to me. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the technology is advanced enough. And that’s quite the assumption. How do we program the cars? If confronted with a situation where the car must choose a person to hit, given no other option, can it analyze the person of lesser value? Is any person even of lesser value than another? Does it choose at random? I can’t imagine how I would react if my death were caused by pure chance.

     Stanley: It’ll sure make backing out of the driveway easier.

     Topic #2: If someone accidentally ate aluminum foil, and then you microwaved them, what would happen?

     Bart: Ah, yes. I’ve dealt with this kind of situation before. Happens all the time where I come from.

     Stanley: What?

     Bart: Nothing.

     Martha: No, he’s right. My son accidentally eats aluminum foil once a week. I haven’t microwaved him yet, God forbid. If he acts out, the most I’ll ever do is take away his Xbox for the night. It sets him straight. But microwaving him? Lord, I could never.

     Marthason: I like planes and trains!

    Stanley: Let’s get back to the question, kid. You know what happens if you microwave aluminum foil? The whole room goes “ka-blooey!” Remember those times you ate aluminum foil? What would happen if we microwaved you?

     Marthason starts to cry.

     Martha: Oh, Marthason, don’t let the scary man get to you. I know his type well. Relentless, aren’t they? You keep your guard up around them, and soon enough, you’ll be at the top of the food chain. Then they’ll be in the microwave.

     Bart: Oh dear… it’s just like before. This is how it all started.

     Stanley dubiously stares at Bart.

     Bart: In Illinois, I mean.

    Cassandra begins to speak, but chooses to remain silent.

Photo by metamorworks/Adobe Stock Images

Categories: Eggplant

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