The View

Back to the future – a ‘smart car’ is just not for me

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2015, 10:51am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2015, 10:51am

I know what follows is very bad, verging on the Neanderthal and possibly inappropriate but what the hell. The thing is that I really could not stop myself having a chuckle over the news that Fiat Chrysler has been forced to recall 1.4 million vehicles after it was discovered that cyber-hackers had found a way of disabling these vehicles while they are in motion.

Yet it’s no joke that there appears to be a way of attacking not just the transmission system but also a whole range of critical safety systems. Why are they vulnerable? Well, it’s because vehicles, like so many other things these days, are being integrated into communications systems, which, precisely because they are connected to an external global system, are vulnerable to attack.

The imperative towards integration and everything having multiple functions is a blessing for those who like this sort of thing and a curse for those who don’t.

I am in the latter category and this explains a recent decision to replace a rather more sophisticated car with an older, less technologically complex vehicle that also happens to look a lot nicer. I have readily ‘sacrificed’ access to a number of more sophisticated devices in the older vehicle in favour of owning a car that performs its principal task with elegance and competence.

This not only applies to my choice of vehicles, as I must freely admit that I am backward enough to own a mobile telephone whose main purpose is to make telephone calls. I even have a watch that is dumb enough to do no more than tell the time.

With these declarations of backwardness in mind it is possible that technologically sophisticated readers might have decided to pay no further attention to this Neanderthal. However even Neanderthals have their day and that day may well be the one that identifies some large business niches.

The reason being that as technology becomes sophisticated it not only becomes highly complex but gives rise to vulnerabilities that sensible people wish to avoid. None of this needs spelling out to anyone who uses the Internet and quickly discovers that as soon as they get on line they are monitored by unseen eyes, can be attacked from cyberspace and should, at the very least, standby for identity theft.

This is all very unpleasant, not to mention annoying and is probably unavoidable in the badlands of the Internet but when this level of intrusion spreads to other pieces of machinery the concerns mount.

Those who worry about this will searching for alternatives to so-called ‘smart’ cars and smart televisions that can have a good look at you while you are looking at them, not forgetting home security systems that are connected to the web and quite possibly equally connected to criminal gangs and… well, you get the picture.

Some indication of a backlash against this kind of sophistication can be seen in recent book sale figures that show a rising interest in books printed on paper. Even vinyl records, known for their superlative sound, are making something of a comeback and, mark my words, demand will grow for simpler cars, not least because they are capable of repair without having to buy big expensive units to replace the highly integrated pieces of kit that simply cannot be mended, only replaced.

Obviously the march of technology is not going to stop but its progress is not quite as linear as is often imagined. Revelations of hacking into vehicle systems with lethal potential is but the latest example of why the march of progress needs to take detours. Some of these detours lead to what are coyly called ‘patches’ to fix technological problems but others are persuading consumers to question whether they really want or need such sophisticated technology.

Here lies a considerable business opportunity for companies brave enough to hang back from the technological revolution and boldly declare that they will start making goods for people who are technologically-challenged It is also worth noting that the people most likely to be in the market for simpler products are in the older strata of the population, which almost always equates to the more wealthy strata. Satisfying the needs of the well off seems like a rather obvious business proposition.

I would like to write more on this subject but I’ve just seen a bill to replace the insides of a very hi-tech oven recently purchased by my company and I really need to focus on finding something that does a similar job but without all the gadgetry that was supposed to be taking us to ‘a new level’. I suspect this will not be easy and I might even be mocked for making the effort but I insist on going backwards into the future.


Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and a broacaster