I’ve just suffered an accident while driving to meet Taylor, an entirely lovely woman who’s not my wife. It’s nothing serious—the accident, that is—just a crumpled fender and a sore elbow from the impact—more of a nuisance than anything else. I am, after all, a busy man on a tight schedule.
There must be two dozen passersby who’ve stopped to stare. You’d think I just had a six-car pileup from the spectacle I am.
“Go on,” I tell them. “Nothing to see here. Everything’s fine.”
These days, ever since self-driving cars became the law, this sort of thing is rare. I almost can’t remember the last time I got stuck in traffic due to a wreck, and fatalities are way down, ninety percent in six years, if I remember the statistic correctly. No more good-timing drunks on the road, at least not behind the wheel. Just like that, a scourge of suburban American society was eradicated forever. A lot of good it does me, though! Where were these marvels of human innovation when I needed them most? It’s regrettable to admit, but before I had a bit of money in my pocket, I had something of a reputation for irresponsible driving. Even so, our technology is far from perfect. My car just hopped the curb and hit a streetlight.
I trace a square before me, opening my hologram.
“Insurance company,” I say, and Kaylee appears, her face a composite of two of my favorite actresses.
But no sooner have we exchanged some pleasantries than she assaults me with questions. She’s skeptical of my explanation for the accident. It seems she suspects I’m at fault. The insinuation is that I’ve tampered with the vehicle. That’s a very popular thing to do these days, especially with the kids. They watch the old films in which cars meant freedom, rebellion, and sex, and they want it for themselves. People are bored of being chauffeured around, so they attempt their own retrofits, to take back some control. Kaylee has repeatedly informed me that making such a modification is a felony, punishable by fine or jail time.
She puts me on hold, and I turn on some music to pass the time. Chloe, my car’s OS, is also upset. I refuse to listen to the playlists she’s made. She insists she knows my tastes better than I know them myself, which, I assure her, can’t possibly be true. Besides, at forty-seven years of age, I don’t do playlists. A thousand times I’ve told Chloe I like albums, but without fail she tries to persuade me that they’re an antiquated mode of consumption. They lack the consistency of quality and flow, she maintains, that only a machine can deliver.
On most occasions, after much opposition and reluctance, Chloe will generally acquiesce and play any of the two dozen garage rock bands from my youth that I still listen to with great piety. But today, she’s forcing Rachel’s music on me. Rachel has wholeheartedly embraced the technology-driven cultural shifts of the past twenty years with nary a gripe. It bothers her not one bit that it’s been years and years since a tune penned by an actual human being has made any kind of splash.
“The machines are superior to man in almost every way imaginable,” she once said. “Why else would we have turned over all of life’s most important functions to them?”
A song written and recorded by an algorithm named Nevaeh comes blasting from the speakers. I immediately recognize the chorus, comprised of this sequence of notes: A, C#, Eb—what’s come to be known as the “Melody Monetizer,” because in 2032, a research project led by a team of A.I. determined that this particular arrangement is the most pleasing to the human ear, and, thusly, the most profitable. A recently released study shows that ninety-two percent of contemporary pop songs and commercial jingles now use it.
“Can’t you find me any Talking Heads?”
“I’m sorry, Henri,” Chloe says, “but the Talking Heads are on my no-play list.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Rachel gave me a list of bands I’m no longer allowed to play for you.”
“In my own car?”
“Rachel doesn’t like guitar music, Henri.”
“But she’s not here now.”
“It’s out of my hands, Henri.”
Kaylee returns to the line. She’s completed her remote assessment of the vehicle. The miracles these modern-day machines can perform is beyond me. It seems each new day gives us fresh ways in which they can enter what was once private. Thinking about this sends me to despair. I engage the breathing practice my yoga mentor has taught me, and repeat my mantra—“There is the nothing that is there, and the nothing that is not there”—until Kaylee informs me that I’m “not guilty.” The culprit: my software had failed to update.