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Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside.
Released in June of 1990, Total Recall is set in 2084, when the planet Mars is a growing colony. Back on Earth, if you can’t afford a real vacation, they can implant memories of a vacation in your mind for a more reasonable price. Total Recall, which received a makeover in 2012 with Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale, is based on another work by Philip K. Dick, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. Like all of his work, it’s about what is capital R Real and what is capital F Fake.
What is reality? Are you sure? Are you really sure?
It’s worth noting that Phillip K. Dick battled substance abuse and certain mental health issues his entire life, so it’s no surprise he was working out his own struggles through his art.
“You’re In a Johnny Cab!”
What is less of a struggle, by today’s standards anyway, is the concept and use of self-driving cars as a technology prediction in Total Recall. As far as the accuracy of that prediction, it’s nearly spot-on. The film is set far enough into the future that it’s reasonable to assume most of the technical kinks would have been worked out. The other significant thing to notice is where in Total Recall they use self-driving technology: in taxi cabs.
The cab company in Total Recall is called Johnny Cab. They are all standard in look, feel, and user interface. In this case, it’s a voice recognition controlled robot driver that always refers to itself as “Johnny Cab.” Said robot driver is smarmy, chatty, and every inch a creepy puppet-like thing with wheeling mannerisms and snide eye rolls. It’s a trope put in more for comic effect than anything else.
I mean, c’mon, a bot like that today would get the Johnny portion of Johnny Cab vandalized out of existence by the end of “his” first day on the job.
The Rise of Robo Taxis
The thing is that self-driving cabs are almost a lead pipe cinch to happen. It makes complete sense when you think about it. Once we get the sensor suite and liability stuff figured out, it’s inevitable we’ll see some version of Johnny Cabs driving around (minus that puppet, I hope). I’d say it’s probably no more than 10 or 15 years away, and maybe even sooner than that.
As an example, AutoX recently launched a robo taxi service in Shanghai, China. In Hangzhou, Zhejiang, about two hours away, those who attend the 2022 Asian Games will be escorted around in autonomous taxis powered by the latest HD mapping and cloud technology. And when Elon Musk gets back from his own visit to Mars, it looks like we can expect a rush of Tesla robo taxis.
The reason for this near inevitability isn’t necessarily the technology we have at our disposal, but more how companies function. Let’s face it: companies exist mainly to make money – as much money as they can. And (not to be too brutal about it) employees cost a lot. There are salaries, benefits, labor relations, workmen’s comp and such. All of that gets taken out of the “cost” column and neatly deposited in the “profits” column if you can cut out the human element.
What Does The Future Hold?
So, of course, trucking companies and cab companies, and even quasi-cab companies like Uber, are betting heavily on an autonomous future. I wouldn’t want to be a long haul trucker 10 or 15 years from now. Even though some sources say jobs won’t be affected, it’s hard to imagine just taking that at face value if you are a life-long truck driver. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be the trucking or tech company trying to make this happen, because truck drivers are an essential part of our everyday economy.
While Total Recall accurately predicted Johnny Cab, it’s still hard to say how John Q. Public will be impacted by more autonomous vehicles on the road. If we ever get Johnny Cabs, remember to speak clearly and don’t swear at it like Arnold did.
If you haven’t seen it (or haven’t seen it in a while,) you can watch it on Amazon or Netflix.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.