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    In an Uber Google Car Future, Would You Let the Rich Pass You for Bitcoin?

    Written by

    Brian Merchant

    Senior Editor

    Image: Wikimedia

    There are plenty of good reasons to be excited about technological innovations like self-driving Google cars, electric Teslas, and encrypted digital currencies like Bitcoin. Enabling a world where rich people can pass you on the highway for pocket change is probably not one of them. 

    Over at ValleyWag, Sam Biddle pulls this weird little nugget out of a techno-utopian musing by some luminary at TechCrunch Disrupt:

    Imagine it’s a few years in the future, and you are driving down the road in an Uber, built by Tesla and auto-driven by Google software. You are in a hurry, so you decide to accelerate and pass the other cars. Your vehicle could then interface with the other cars, and pay them a sliver of Bitcoin to let you pass. You get where you are going faster, and everyone is happy. Programmable currency.

    Now, this might sound a little ridiculous to you, but I can assure you that, at least to a certain class of investors, entrepreneurs, and futurists that revolve around Silicon Valley and its attendant VC sector, it does not. This is not unlike the way a substantial number of people with an even more substantial amount of money and growing political influence imagine the future. 

    And this vision of a future where Bitcoin-fueled Uber Google Tesla Cars dominate transportation sucks—and it's so Silicon Valley. Let's untangle this for a second, shall we, and follow it to its logical conclusion. It's not just absurd and bizarre, but also classist and logically incoherent. 

    First, it's a classic example of some Silicon Valley techno-capitalist dude wanting to commoditize a simple social transaction—you want to drive faster than me? That will be $1.50. Forget the common courtesy of yesteryears, where we sort this out cordially and intuitively; the wave-through must be monetized to make things more "efficient."

    Second, it will either result in a world where rich people get to drive faster than everyone else, or one filled with hopelessly sluggish traffic.

    Imagine a sea of cars, all driven by people wanting to get to where they're going faster. The richer drivers (or passengers, I guess) are all trying to pay people to let them pass, and the hard-up ones are all happily waving them on. In what two-or-three-lane highway does this not create an instant traffic snarl? Soon, the only people who would be able to afford to go the speed limit would be the rich ones—even if you don't pay to let the rich pass you, all those up ahead who've been waving them through will slow traffic thanks to all the lane jumping. (And who knows what happens  if your car is from the 90s and can't "interface" with others—you don't get to drive at all anymore, maybe?) But maybe the deep-pocketed Uberers deserve it, for having disrupted more industries than everyone else. 

    This sounds like perhaps the most miserable vision of the future of transportation I could imagine; the Disrupt guys have unwittingly conjured up a dystopian transit structure where the trains only come on time for the rich. Who knows, maybe in this vision, the cyberpunks are scofflaws who rent Uber Google Tesla Cars, hack them with external solar power sources, and just cruise up and down the highway, collecting rent from hurried rich folk. 

    Regardless, this tangled ball of contradictory Valleyed utopianism is a great example of how so many of these VC-fueled and so-called bold ideas don't hold up to scrutiny, and instead yield a picture of a dissonant future where the poor just continue to get screwed by the non-innovators