The God Call

This is a short story by Chris Gardner started in 2018 to explore the issue of how artificial intelligence implements in self-driving cars.

Chapter 1

Cary walked out the front door of her smart 2-bedroom walk-up and stood at the curb. Her watch pinged her and she saw a white 4-door Lyft coming down the street towards her. Thinking to herself that white was a good color for this hot and muggy DC summer day, she waited till the car rolled to a stop. Perfectly aligning its passenger back door with her body, the door unlocked with a click and slid backwards to open. Cary stepped inside the cool, dark interior. The door shut with a snap and click and the car patiently waited till she’d fastened her seat belt.

As the car accelerated smoothly away from the curb, Cary addressed the air in front of her “Call my sister Audrey on her mobile”. Her watch pinged a few times as the phone rang and her sister answered. “Hey Cary, are you on your way?” “Yes” Cary answered and said “do you need me to stop and pick up anything, or are you all good?”

Audrey replied “I went shopping yesterday and got everything we need. Mom’s birthday party is going to be just perfect!” Cary checked the timer where other cars’ rear-view window was normally and said “Ok, I’ll see you in 25 minutes or so, bye!”

Cary’s car approached a busy intersection without slowing down, and smoothly turned right onto I Street with just a few inches to spare between the car in front and behind. Cary grimaced that the tolerances for automated car spacing were so close, but reflected that the accident rate had dropped to near zero when the District of Columbia passed the no-driver law, prohibiting anyone from driving their own car inside the district limits.

“Hmm, near zero isn’t zero, so there must be at least a few accidents” she mused as she looked out the windows and saw bumper-to-bumper traffic on I street, with everybody moving at speed. Cars were turning off and on at a rapid clip, yet every car was hugging the bumper of the car in front with just a few inches to spare. It reminded her of the old PeopleMover ride at Disney World from when she was a kid.

Cary’s car veered over to the left as cars made a space for her. Turning left quickly onto 15th Street, she looked out her right side window as Lafayette Square, still with tents and signs passed by. When her car came up to the side of the White House, it turned left onto F Street and then pulled up to the curb – she was at her office for a quick stop. She jumped out as the door slid open and walked quickly to the doorway, which opened when she was only a few feet away. Her watch pinged again as she passed through the portal and an elevator door opened just as she arrived at the bank of elevators. Up to the 4th floor and into her office, she walked up to her desk and grabbed the box with balloon tied to it, and turned around and walked back to the elevator, which had patiently waited for her. Back down to the ground floor, she reached with one finger and tapped her watch twice to call for another car.

Cary didn’t even marvel that she never once had to open a door, as they were always aware of her location from her watch, and opened as she approached. The elevator knew which floor to stop at, and since it was a Saturday, didn’t go down to pickup other passengers. This technology was pretty slick, she reflected as she waited at the curb with her package. Another car pulled up as her watch pinged and she entered and sat down. She fumbled for a minute to set the package on the seat next to her without tangling the balloon string, and the car politely waited for her to fasten her seat belt.

The car didn’t move immediately and she wondered if something was wrong. Looking up, she saw the arrival timer was blinking a message at her: “Please place your package on the floor”. With an annoyed look, she moved the package to the floor, and as soon as she withdrew her hand a cover slid over the package, neatly trapping the balloon string. Sighing softly, she wondered if the string was going to hold until she got to her sister’s house.

Looking back up, she again saw the timer blinking a message at her “Location please?” and realized she’d forgotten to tell her watch the final destination. Cary said “My sister’s house” and the car finally started moving.

As the car wound its way through the streets, she wondered again if there was ever a traffic accident these days. All the cars moved so quickly, much quicker and with less following distance than the old days, and once she got on 6th Street heading north towards her sister’s apartment, she thought about how there wasn’t a traffic light or stop sign in the entire district, and if the spacing between cars would be increased on the higher speed 6th Street thoroughfare. Virtually all streets in the district had been changed to be one-way only, so that cars could turn left or right without having to