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The sun is shining! Spring is here at last, and the trees are in bloom. You’re driving down the road and you see … 

That your “Engine over-heating” light goes on! 

You think: My engine’s over-heating! 

Or,  you think, it isn’t over-heating at all; I just have a bad sensor. 

Over the next few months, the red light goes on several other times, and each time, you pull over and try to judge whether the engine is really over-heated. No easy task. But you get back in and turn the car on and lo and behold, the light’s no longer on. Aloud, you mutter: “I’ve got to get that damned sensor fixed. Maybe next week.”

In the olden days of driving cars, I had a continuous gauge of the temperature. It was more obvious if it was acting oddly because I had more information. I could track it day to day. If I went on a long trip I could see whether the behavior of the gauge “made sense.” I might go up a long mountain road on a hot sunny day, and I expect to see the temperature gauge climb. On the other hand, if I went back down that same mountain at night and the temperature gauge climbed, I would know to get it checked. 

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Suppose instead of a gauge, you or I only get is one bit of information: “Temperature sensor says overheated,”  it’s much harder judge the veracity of the source. But, if we cannot even trust the reliability of the sensor, then we don’t even get one bit of information. Before the light comes on, there are four possible states (not equally likely, by the way, but that’s not important for the following argument). 

Engine OK, Sensor OK; 

Engine OK, Sensor ~OK; 

Engine ~OK, Sensor OK; 

Engine ~OK, Sensor ~OK. 

When the red light comes on, you have some information because the state of:

Engine OK, Sensor OK is eliminated. 

But is it? 


It certainly is — under a certain set of assumptions — but let’s try to tease apart what those assumptions are and see whether they necessarily hold in today’s world, or in tomorrow’s world. 

Let’s imagine for a moment that your automobile is bewitched and inhabited by an evil demon with limited magical powers, mainly to do with the car itself. If you’ve seen the movie Christine you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t seen it, please buy the book instead. It’s so much better. But let’s get back to our own evil-spirited car. This car, let’s call him “URUMPUT” because it sounds a bit like a car engine and because — you know, just because. Let’s imagine the car has a lot of mileage and is painted a kind of sickly orange color. The tires are bald, and it’s a real gas guzzler. It’s actually more of a jalopy than a car. Your friends would have assumed you could have done much better, but it is apparently what you’re stuck with for now. 

URUMPUT, unbeknownst to you, is actually out to kill you, but his powers are limited. He cannot simply lock the doors and reroute the exhaust till you pass out from the fumes. So, what it does is to over-ride the sensor so that you get out to take a look at your car so you open the hood and you look inside and BLAM! Down comes the hood on your head with enough force to snap your neck. When your neck is snapped, you don’t die instantaneously. You are aware that something is terribly wrong. Your brain sends signals for you to move; to get the damned hood off; but you can’t move. And, worse, you can’t breathe. Soon, but much too late, you realize something has gone terribly wrong.




That blasted URUMPUT got you. Why?  Just because he could. He paid you no more mind than had you been an ant on the road. He gave you misinformation. That is information that you thought you had because you assumed you were dealing with a system that, although imperfect, had some degree of transparency. You certainly did not think you were dealing with an actively evil agent. But you were. And, now you’re dead. (But go ahead and read the rest as though you were still alive.) 

Of course, in real life, there are no bewitched cars. We all know that. 


Do we? 

Let’s consider how much electronics and “smarts” already exists in cars. The amount will skyrocket with driverless cars. For one thing, the human “occupants” will be able to have much more engaging entertainment. Perhaps more importantly, the “brain” of the car will be able to react to a much wider array of data more quickly than most human drivers could. 

With all the extra sensors, communications, components, functions, protocols, etc. there will be greatly enhanced functionality. 

There will also be all sorts of places where a “bad actor” might intentionally harm the vehicle or even harm the occupants. Your insurance company, for instance, might fake some of the data in the black box of your car to indicate that you drove a lot during nighttime hours. It doesn’t seem to match your recollection, but how would you double check? You grudgingly pay the increased premium. 

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Behind on your loan shark payments? Oops? Your driverless car just steered itself off a cliff and all the occupants were killed. 

Oh, but how, you ask, would loan sharks get hold of the software in your car? 

Then, I have to ask you a question right back. Have you been watching the news the last couple of years? People who owe a great deal of money to the wrong people will do anything to avoid the promised punishments that follow non-payment. 

Our government at this point is definitely not much like old time cars that allowed you to see what was going on and make judgments for yourself. This government just sends out signals that say, “Everything’s Fine!” and “Do as I say!” and “Those people NOT like you? They are the cause of all your troubles.” 


That is not transparency. 

That is not even informational. 

That is misinformation. 

But it is not misinformation of the sort where a student says: “Akron is the capital of Ohio.” That’s wrong, but it’s not maliciously wrong. 

When people lose a limb as a result of an accident, cancer, or war, they often experience something called the “Phantom Limb Experience.” They have distinct sensations, including pain, “in” the limb that is no longer there. The engine’s not working but the sensor is also bad. 

That’s where we are. 

The engine’s not working. The feedback to us about whether it’s working is also malicious misinformation. 

We have the Phantom Limb Experience of having a government that is working for American interests. 

We need to regrow the missing limb or get a really good prosthetic. 

We need straight information from the government which is supposed to take input from all of us and then make decisions for all of us. It’s never been perfect, but this is the first time it is not even trying or pretending to be fair or even accurate. People in top level positions in our government think that their oath of office is a joke. 

We live in a monster car — and not the fun kind — the Christine kind. 

The engine’s not working. And the sensor light means nothing. If you look under the hood to find out what’s really going on, you’d better have a partner ready to grab the hood and prevent it from being slammed down on your head. Because URUMPUT would do it with as little regard for you as he would have to out and destroy any other whistleblower. 

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The Invisibility Cloak of Habit

Author Page on Amazon

Story about Driverless Cars (from Turing’s Nightmares).