Self-Driving Cars

Tall Tales By Your Grandparents About Walking Five Miles To School Will Instead Be About Using Self-Driving Cars For Your Kid’s Generation

Happy grandmother embracing granddaughter outdoors

Generation to generation: From walking to school in the snow to being driven to school via … [+] self-driving cars.


Your grandparents probably had a lot to say about what life was like when they were growing up.

They had to walk five miles to get to school.

Uphill, both ways.

In the snow.

That’s the classic tale told by many grandparents when regaling their children and grandchildren about how tough things were in their day. You’ve undoubtedly heard such stories, plenty of times.

There is no question that those prior days were likely harsh and entailed all sorts of ordeals. Nobody can reasonably dispute that type of claim.

That being said, there could be a bit of teensy-weensy embellishment going on. Just a tad. If you’ve gone online to look for stories about having to arduously walk to school as a child, you’ve also assuredly noticed the zillions of memes and parodies that have been placed onto the vast and a rather smarmy internet. I’m sure that those satirical markings and artistic elaborations are all in good jest and intended as a lighthearted piece of folly.

We can assume that in some cases the original travails did indeed match precisely to the engaging verbal versions told by those doting and erstwhile grandparents. Of course, there is also the demonstrative chance that the tale grew an inch at a time, getting bigger and bolder with each telling.

Eventually, these heartwarming anecdotes become the equivalent of the tall tales often told about having caught a colossal fish. The reality might be that it was actually a tiny minnow, and upon the recounting and retelling, the watery creature captured has morphed into the heroic snagging of a gargantuan swordfish.

For the parents of today, some are unsure of what to tell their children about their own trials and tribulations as a youngster going to school.

Though there was certainly walking involved, the odds are that a car was involved too. Many children of that era were given a lift to school by their parents. The kids got into the car in the mornings and were lugged to campus, being dropped off in front of the main building or perhaps at the edge of the school ground.

You cannot readily complain about marching in the snow for five miles when the reality was that you were taken in a car and adroitly deposited within a few dozen yards of where you had to be. This seems to take the air out of the proverbial “how rough things were” balloon.

But where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

Yes, there are viable and nearly believable “transformational conversions” used to make that fish become a mighty prized catch.

How so?

Well, some parents tell their children that being driven to school was altogether tortuous and nerve-wracking. Numerous exhortations are proffered as evidence to the court in an effort to prove to today’s young listeners that this is all rather heavy stuff and showcases a solemn life of extraordinary burdens.

For example, you had to get your parents to wake up and then pressure them to proceed on a timely basis to get out of the house and into the car. If your parents overslept or maybe forgot that they had promised to give you a lift that day, you become momentarily the adult in the house and had to boss them around to do the things they said they would do.

It was maddening!

You knew that arriving at school late was going to be a penalty you would endure and not one that particularly impacted your parents. The odds were that you would have to report to the attendance office and provide a sheepish explanation about why, once again, you’ve arrived at school on a tardy basis. At those moments, you really wished you did have to walk five miles in the snow since it would be better than having to indicate that your parents delayed getting underway and you were essentially helpless to do anything about their lethargy.

Another eye-rolling example of how bad things were involved the intrepid search for the lost keys.

It went something like this.

Your driving parent managed to get into the driver’s seat and then suddenly realized they did not have the car keys with them. Those darned keys were somewhere inside the deep bowels of the house. Everyone leaped out of the car and would run feverishly back into the revered domicile. A panicky search would take place that encompassed tossing over every sofa cushion and looking frantically in every nook and corner. Upon finally discovering the hidden keys, a huge rush out to the car took place and one could only hope and pray that the delay could be made up by driving fast.

And, this takes us to the next harrowing part of the gut-wrenching story about how bad it was to be driven to school.

Your parents would drive like maniacs.

They acted as though racecar driving had been approved for your neighborhood streets. Friends and other parents that were walking to the school knew what your car looked like. As such, when your parent, as the driver, managed to veer dangerously toward pedestrians and drove in an entirely maniacal way, you would get lambasted about the craziness after having arrived at school.

Yet, you knew that you were powerless to get your parents to slow down and drive carefully. They told you in stern terms that you were much too young and immature to understand. The world is dog-eat-dog, they would adamantly assure you. You need to take what is yours. This included being the type of take-no-prisoners driver that owns the road. Don’t let other drivers treat you like sheep. You are the wolf and accordingly, grow up to drive as wolves do.

The pièce de resistance had to be the car-based dogfight that would occur in front of the school. All the parents in the area were trying to drop off their young offspring at the same place at the same moment in time, each morning. This was not merely a venue for overwhelming congestion. It also became a hotspot for road rage and trying to see which parent was willing to be more domineering and aggressive to get their child to the closest drop-off point possible.

No child of theirs was going to be let loose a block away or even a handful of car distances from the main drop-off locale. Darwin must be observed and the survival of the fittest had to be demonstrated to your own children and to the other kids and parents that were also in line for the drop-off.

You would tell your parents, actually implore them, that you could readily and happily get out of the car early on and walk the rest of the way.

No sir, that was not about to happen.

To add insult to injury, as it were, when you got older and entered into your teens, this drop-off aspect became even more humiliating. Not necessarily due to the jockeying for position, which everyone eventually got used to seeing and took merely in stride. The problem was that your parents were dropping you off, and you weren’t of an age to be able to drive yourself as yet. That was painful.

Okay, so this provides a quick and vivid depiction of how the now outdated walking-to-school story can become the modernized version encompassing the act of being driven to school, amidst the wild adventures of your out-of-control and abysmally embarrassing parents.

Alas, what will your children be able to tell their children about?

We can make some reasoned speculation.

Here’s the deal. The cars that we use today are going to eventually give way to the advent of self-driving cars. Those self-driving cars are going to be driven by an AI-based driving system and no human driver is at the wheel (for my extensive coverage about self-driving cars, see this link here).

Consider this interesting question: How will self-driving cars end up changing the stories and tall tales about the chores and escapades of being driven to school?

Let’s unpack the matter and see.

Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars

As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.

These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).

There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).

Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).

For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.

You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.

Self-Driving Cars And Going To School

For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.

All occupants will be passengers.

The AI is doing the driving.

One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can (see my explanation at this link here).

Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?

Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.

With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about driving kids to school. This is an aspect that needs to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.

Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.

We’ll begin with a controversial element that not many are yet contemplating.

Presumably, children can ride in a self-driving car and do so without any adult presence at all. This is simply and obviously a consequence of removing the human driver from the vehicle. In a sense, you usually have a twofer, namely, an adult driver is needed to make a car go, and ergo the driver becomes the watchful adult to oversee any children inside the vehicle.

Not so, anymore.

I’ve discussed at length that this will be an emerging and acrimonious dilemma (see the link here). Nobody is discussing this just yet because there are so few self-driving cars on our roadways. Once the advent of self-driving cars becomes more predominant, you can bet your bottom dollar that people are going to be tempted to send their kids on errands via the use of self-driving cars. The parent will be busy and won’t go along or maybe believes that it is perfectly fine for their kids to be taken around town via a self-driving car.

If you are shocked at the idea of children riding in self-driving cars absent of any onboard adult, you had better get used to the idea. I assure you that many parents will do so willingly and possibly even gleefully. They can point out that self-driving cars are likely to get into fewer car crashes and will be driving carefully at all times. On top of that point, they would argue that anyone letting their kids go in a “strangers car” such as via human-driven ridesharing is taking more risks than having the kids by themselves inside a self-driving car (these are argumentative points, so please refer to my coverage for more insights).

Anyway, the essential notion in this particular use case of being driven to school is that your children and their children can inevitably be driven to school by a self-driving car.

This undercuts the fundamental theme about how rough things were when parents had to drive their kids to school. Parents won’t need to do so. Kids won’t have any stories to tell about how crazily their parents drove.

Here’s how things will likely occur.

A self-driving car is arranged to arrive at your house each morning at a designated time. It shows up precisely on time. Unlike the prior era of searching for car keys or getting a parent to be timely, you can set aside that narrative in the future.

A child exits from their home and gets into the waiting self-driving car. The youngster might be entirely alone or they might have a buddy from a nearby house that opts to go along to school together. Furthermore, the self-driving car might be scheduled to pick up other kids throughout the neighborhood, acting as a type of local school bus of sorts.

As an aside, in case you are wondering, there will eventually be self-driving buses too.

The self-driving car will make its way to the school. This will be done on a driving basis that is generally slow-moving and exceedingly cautious. All driving laws and rules will be strictly obeyed by the AI driving system.

What will the kids inside the self-driving car be doing?

The kids might be sitting quietly and trying to get themselves ready for the school day ahead. Some might be making last-minute changes to their homework or putting the final touches on their school project due that day. The interior of self-driving cars is anticipated to eventually have swivel seats and small tables, allowing for riders to do various kinds of work while on a roadway journey.

Wait for a second, you think to yourself, maybe those rambunctious and unsupervised kids are whooping it up, hollering and partying like it is 1999. That doesn’t seem like a good way to go to school. By the time they arrive at the campus, they will be out of their gourds and unfit to seriously do their schoolwork.

No worries.

The AI driving system can potentially be monitoring their activity while inside the self-driving car. Via the use of inward-facing cameras, the AI can be detecting what the kids are doing. Any outlandish behavior can spur the AI system to tell the kids to knock it off. Furthermore, the AI can send an electronic alert to you, the parent, and indicate that little George or Samantha is acting up again and will soon get banned from using self-driving cars henceforth.

We’ll add more twists into that in-car activity.

Via the use of the inward-facing cameras, the kids can be doing Zoom-like remote efforts. For example, the teachers at the school might provide early morning pre-class sessions. Thus, while your child is inside the self-driving car and on a perhaps lengthy commute to school, they can be interacting remotely with their teacher and getting already underway with their educational instruction.

Another use of that inward-facing camera is that it can allow you to chat with your child while they are riding to school.

You see, one aspect that might be missed is the bonding of a parent and a child that can sometimes arise simply due to the daily commute together since the parent doesn’t need to drive their offspring to school. The potential solution is that via your smartphone or smartwatch, you simply connect to the in-motion self-driving car and engage your child in a parent-child discussion that will be just as heartwarming as when you were driving the car (well, not everyone agrees with that notion that remote chatting is the same as in-person, but you get the general gist).

The coup de gras is that upon arriving at the school, the self-driving car won’t need to undertake the same wild driving efforts of jockeying for position that parents once did. Instead, the self-driving car will make use of V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications and coordinate with the other arriving self-driving cars. They will each message the other, indicating their upcoming arrival. Traffic will run smoothly and the self-driving cars will seamlessly slip into line and disembark their young passengers, doing so at the stipulated drop-off point.

No madness, no maniacs, no undue stress.

Those kids will listen to your stories about the travails of being driven to school and look at you with a quizzical expression.

Why did a human drive you to school?

That seems unnecessary and old-fashioned.

Kids will shake their head in mild disdain that you endured having a parent drive you to school. Sorry to hear about that, they will sympathetically say.

It will be up to you whether you decide to further play up the angst and agony of it. Walking to school in the snow and entirely uphill has got to be inspirational toward bolstering the parent-driving tales into some pretty amazing and nearly unbelievable yarns.


Lest you think that those modern-day kids are going to have a life of grandness due to being driven to school by self-driving cars, I feel compelled to inform you that even they will have their dramatic stories to tell too.

It might go something like this (imagine the future, whereby a child of today is now a mature adult, conveying what happened when they were a youngster and used to go to school in a self-driving car).

The elder stands up and relates the following saga.

I remember when self-driving cars were first getting underway, and we used to go to school in them. You won’t believe me when I tell you what occurred, so just go with me and allow me a moment to try and explain.

They were pretty stupid.

The AI system could not carry on any kind of intelligible conversation. Natural Language Processing (NLP) was nascent and not at all fluent. About the only thing you could do was give one-word and simplistic commands or instructions to the AI driving systems, otherwise they had no inkling of what you were saying.

I remember on one occasion, a self-driving car that I was in came to a sudden halt. We didn’t know why.

Turns out that the vehicle had a mechanical breakdown. A remote agent spoke to us via the onboard screen and told us to wait inside the car for help to arrive. When I called my parents, they freaked out. For the next several months, my parents insisted on driving me to school and no longer were willing to have me take a self-driving car.

They eventually went back to having me ride in a self-driving car.

There was a funny occasion when the self-driving car that I was in had allowed all of my friends and their friends to pile into the car. Those were the days when AI driving systems weren’t in real-time keeping track of each passenger and would let us get away with some quite outlandish pranks, let me tell you.

We rolled down the windows and were sticking our heads and bodies outside of the car, yelling, screaming, waving, and altogether having a good time. When we arrived at the school, the administrators were very upset, and we all were put into detention for the day.

Probably the weirdest thing of all was that self-driving cars didn’t fly at that time.

They went only on the ground. This seems unimaginable now, but that’s the way it used to be. All those ridiculous contraptions could do was roll along on the ground. It was slow. It took forever to get places.

By the way, those self-driving cars, they drove me in the snow, while going uphill, and it was something like probably 50 miles to drive from home to school (I’m a bit hazy about the details). Honestly, I wouldn’t make that kind of thing up.

End of the tale.

And so the future awaits.

That’s the classic tale told by many grandparents when regaling their children and grandchildren about how tough things were in their day. You’ve undoubtedly heard such stories, plenty of times.


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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