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Electric 4X4s

Electric 4X4s are coming, like it or not. Rivian, Atlis, Bollinger and others are working on it.

My work so far on electric 4X4s:

I have also driven a Hyundai Kona EV on an interstate trip, tow-tested with a Tesla Model X, and a Hyundai IONIQ5, and tested a Range Rover Sport PHEV offroad. And whilst I wish I could drive an EV 4X4 right now, sadly, as of 2023 the technology doesn’t allow me to replace my diesel 4×4 with an EV. This is why:

Of course, there’s a downside to technology, and the late, great Isaac Asimov was on the right lines…read this!

And a story….

It is January 10th, 2050. James Smith relaxes in his echair, letting the furniture wrap around his body, contouring itself for comfort and in accordance with the Cloud’s plans for musco-skeletal health.

James is just about to watch “4X4 Vehicles of the 20th Century”, a throwback to the late 1990s, many decades before James was born.

James’ room dims, and before him the documentary starts. Shapes of vehicles and people take place, high-definition three-dimensional holographic models created by unseen projectors. James loves these old cars; Toyota 200 Series, Jeep Wranglers, Nissan Patrol Y62, Land Rover Discoverys…all names from the past, the cars his grandfather knew and loved, each so very different, as they were before the Amalgamation. The rumbling noise from the cars seems odd to him and he marvels at how tiny explosions inside a complex engine was once used to propel vehicles.

While James watches, the Cloud is active. The Cloud is never not active. It is where James’ life is stored; every movement, communication, idea, vital health statistics are monitored and collected in real time. The Cloud knows it all, never forgets, and instantly cross-references its vast data store on James, people like James and his friends to calculate exactly what they all need to do next, predict moods, opinions and actions.

The Cloud is there to help, make life easy, make life safe, reduce the effort required to live, the BetterLife concept. It is easier for the Cloud now than in the past, as there’s just one Cloud. James’ long-dead great-grandfather used to talk of Facebook, Google, WhatsApp and many more…James thinks having to work with so many different clouds would have been confusing, and he’s happy there’s just one the Cloud these days. There’s just one of most things these days, and that saves time too.

James watches as a convoy of 4X4s stop, and the occupants get out and crouch beside the tyres. He can see that the reason is something about air pressure, but the documentary isn’t clear. James frowns at the screen and touches his chin — the Cloud notices, pauses the documentary, and attempts to explain.

“James, the people are reducing air pressure in the tyres for better performance offroad, increasing the surface area of the tyre for improved flotation”.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense to James, as the group is clearly heading into rocky terrain. Fortunately, James has his grandfather to explain. He simply asks, as if the old man were next to him.

“Grandad, what’s going on with the tyre pressures? Why do they need to reduce pressures for rocks?

Another hologram forms, and the head of James’ grandfather takes shape.

“Hello James. The lower air pressure in the tyre softens it, so it better moulds to the uneven surface of the rocks, and there’s less bouncing of the tyres so there’s less shock to the driveline. Here’s a photo of my friend driving his GU Patrol on rocks, see that front left tyre? All compressed and able to shape itself to the rock thanks to the lower air pressure.”

“Thanks Grandad! Kind of makes sense now.”

“Any time, kid. Love that you’re interested in the way we used to do things”.

The head fades, and the Cloud updates its simulation of James’ grandfather. The basic building blocks are its record of everything the man ever did online; every post on all the old platforms such as Facebook, all his searches on the early platforms such as Google, what he read, what he knew, even comments he started and then never actually posted, his fitness tracking data, his activity on dating apps like Tinder, what could be learned from even the way he moved – essentially, his entire digital life which means his entire life. It’s ironic, as the man was a staunch privacy activist in his day and would have done anything to tear down the society of 2050 – deep concerns born out of his work in leading-edge social media companies.

But the real power comes from the extrapolation of that recorded data to accurately simulate future moods, opinions, and reactions. With sufficient data and computational power, it has become possible to create a digital version of a human being, a eperson, their face, expressions, knowledge and personality, one that passes the Turing Test with ease, and continually update the eperson with new information. So, James’ grandfather may be physically dead, but to James, he’s as just as alive as his friends who also, for the most apart, appear to him on video projections.

James does not really make a distinction between someone who is ‘alive’ or ‘dead’; for practical terms of interactions, relationships and conversations, those terms are now blurred. But at this time, epersons must be summoned, they cannot appear of their own volition. No doubt that boundary will also blur and fade, along with everything else/

The Cloud is thinking about what it should do for James, in line with its plans for his well-being, and of course balancing that against the Greater Good – a complex algorithm indeed. The Cloud has noticed he isn’t very active of late, and seems a little depressed. Cross-referencing James’ emotional data against others, the Cloud decides James needs some recreation. Based on its databank of James’s life, the Cloud thinks that tomorrow might be a good day for some offroad driving. It checks the availability of James’ friends and suggests a location, having searched through recent tracklogs, social media postings and accounted for track closures.

The documentary finishes, and the Cloud presents its suggestion for tomorrow’s trip, projecting it onto the wall in James’ line of sight. James looks at the suggestion — it’s actually a fully-planned itinerary — and nods to accept. Swiping phones isn’t necessary these days, there’s enough cameras around the house for the Cloud to work out what’s needed from real-time analysis of body posture, let alone the sensors embedded into everyone’s body these days. The Cloud tends to just figure things out and do it…saves the time of involving the human. Just to make life easier.

The Cloud has calculated the time James needs to wake up, and worked back from that to figure out the time he needs to go to bed, based on his current physiological needs. James knows the dimming lights mean it’s time to turn in, but doesn’t consider it an order. It’s for the best, after all, and if he wanted to stay up, he could, he’s got free choice.

The following morning the Cloud knows what time to wake James, but it has a window. It waits until he comes out of REM sleep, and gently plays his favourite music until he awakes, then switches to the news, selecting what’s best for him, delivered using a voice he likes, or at least one that will create the required emotional reaction – this information will help him decide which way to vote in the forthcoming election. Everybody has their own favourite newsreader voice, and no two news deliveries are alike. That’s because the news isn’t read by error-prone humans any more, computers are more precise in speech and timing, and can customise each news delivery to each individual. This capability is worth a lot of money to some people, so fortunately there are laws around misuse.

The Cloud has also prepared James’ day; the shower water is pre-heated before it comes out of the head, and the coffee brewer has been activated. The cupboard quietly whirrs, cycling through clothes and the electronic hanger extends, knowing to offer his old jacket, bush boots and gloves. James moves to the kitchen, where the appliances have prepared a cut lunch and snack…all compliant with James’ personal energy plan, Cloud controlled. Supplies are low, but the necessary orders for the basics have been made, to be delivered by robot later on through the houses food hatch and stored ready to be converted to edible food when James’ body sensors indicate hunger.

James is ready, and he walks out the house’s door opens as he approaches. Likewise, his 4X4 vehicle senses James’ approach and opens its door, reconfiguring its settings to his preferred choices of music, seating and controls, adjusted based on the Cloud’s view of his current mood. The Cloud continues with current affairs, and after monitoring his reactions to the topics in the summary of the world news, has selected for him more detailed analysis of the stories that analysis of his body language indicated may hold his interest, or that the Cloud considers useful for James’ career, or perhaps to better inform James on topics he appears to hold opinions on which are perhaps not ideally aligned to the preferred social norms of the day.

James gets in the 4X4, and the route flashes up. It’s preset anyway, not really that interesting to him, he trusts the Cloud and simply murmurs “go”. The vehicle moves off, smoothly under electric power, charged overnight by simple proximity to the charge grid. There’s no cables to disconnect with proxcharging, so no need for actual, physical contact. It’s just easier.

James has nothing to do but look at the screen which shows him his progress, and that of his trip companions, Bob and Julie. James want to talk to Julie, so he inclines his head slightly towards Julie’s avatar, and the car’s cameras notice the gesture, establishing a high-definition camera link.

“Hi Julie. How are you?”

The question is redundant, because James won’t ever know how Julie is. The Cloud does, but it keeps its knowledge to itself, or more accurately, doesn’t share it with James. Privacy is important.

Julie is wearing a little makeup and her hair is tied back, but that would more than likely be a filter she’s applied over the video. She could instantly appear, entirely naturally, as fully made up, or not. James wonders, briefly, what she really looks like. James himself could dispense with his stubble, if he so wanted. Or delete his double-chin, give himself a haircut or change his eye colour. Would such changes matter? One would argue no, if you never met the other person except by hologram-link, who’d know or even care? Nobody James knows, and he reflects on the arguments people had against holoenhancement are the same as now being advanced against synthlimbs; objectively superior to what one was born with, but…

“Hi James! Great thanks! Looking forwards to the day’s trip, should be a good one!”

There’s no need to discuss the weather. They both have a detailed briefing from the Cloud.

“Good stuff. Hey, how about we try Winch Hill first, see how we go? See what we can see from the top of Mount Salkirk?”

That was one of three options the Cloud presented. Free choice is important.

“Why not. Looks doable, but should be a challenge!”

James casts his eyes over the 4X4’s status. Battery — still fully charged after twenty minutes of driving. The maintenance indicator glows green, and the car’s spotterdrones are ready. There’s nothing left to do. But there’s half an hour before the 4X4 leaves the autoroads and James will need to take control himself. Somewhat bored, he idly glances out the window but his attention is snapped back inside the vehicle.

“Hello again, James. This is unusual, but we must talk.”