Imagine you’re cruising up some famous American street—Hollywood Boulevard, Michigan Avenue, Lombard Street. Although you’re in your car, and no one else is accompanying you, you’re not driving. You’re the single passenger, tucked comfortably in a reclined seat of a driverless car. You look out the angular window and spot a ‘57 Ford Thunderbird, or a passel of men dressed handsomely with bowler hats, bulky coats draped over their arms. Or, maybe, up ahead you see a horse-drawn carriage bounding across an intersection.

Such oneiric instances might not be too far off, at least according to the musings of The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance, in an article, “How to Turn Your Self-Driving Car Into a Time Machine.” The article invites us with a facetious wink to consider the entertaining and exhilarating possibilities afforded to us with a future of driverless cars. Since these automated vehicles would require a robust and extremely sophisticated system for mapping data—from the proximity, speed, and size of nearby objects to precise location and destination coordinates—they could, at least in theory, use such information for the good of entertainment and education: by “combining augmented reality with super-precise location data and real archival video and audio footage (plus a mix of actor reenactments and CGI),” we could recreate the past. In other words, we could drive along a modern street, flip a switch next to the cup holder, and view that same street as it was in the 1950s, or 40s, or 20s.

This would no doubt offer a perk for driverless cars. However, on the other and less whimsical hand, the article suggests that such technology could make for “ethereal billboards that appear only to individual car passengers . . . essentially location-specific, ultra-targeted pop-up ads.” Still, while trips redolent of a Disneyland attraction during a work commute may seem a bit far fetched, the digital, location-based billboards? Not so much. Continue reading

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