Self-driving cars are coming to Manhattan. Will they be up to the challenge?

The robot apocalypse has begun in Manhattan.

The robot apocalypse has begun in Manhattan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement in a hostage video on Tuesday where the droid army must have been massed to his side.

The message: Testing of self-driving cars in lower Manhattan will likely begin in early 2018.

This is how it starts

Leave behind your driver’s license. Retreat to the woods of Inwood or Van Cortlandt Park and prepare for humanity’s last stand. Right now, it’s General Motors and Cruise Automation testing an unspecified number of cars in a five-square-mile stretch of Manhattan. Tomorrow, it’s The Terminator.

Our best hope is the state law requiring an engineer in the driver’s seat and a second passenger in the front, soldiers capable of disabling the hivemind.

The only other chance for humanity is the certain difficulty computers will have learning how to drive like New Yorkers.

How long will it take the software to understand that a yellow light is, of course, just an invitation to the races?

People in the crosswalk? Automated cars will have to learn to nuzzle their way in.

When fire trucks and NYPD cruisers blaze by, it takes a certain amount of experience to make use of the open lane and not get ensnared by petty human Vision Zero safety initiatives.

Neither will it be obvious to the artificial intelligentsia what’s the right thing to do when a fellow computer-driven-car is stuck behind a computer-driven box truck: Don’t let that sucker out into traffic. Are you out of your cloud mind?

Losing an art form

Speaking of which, it’s highly unlikely that machine learned trash talk will be up to snuff without a long study of human bars, basketball courts, street corners and corner offices where humans gather and curse each other out. The MTA will still be waiting for a signal upgrade into the next century, so maybe the computers can sample conversation down there.

Similarly, the algorithms will have a ways to go before being able to open a door on a cyclist, or honk on command/ad nauseam. It takes a real pro to be able to inch forward in Brooklyn Bridge traffic listening to the third hour of “Ebro in the Morning” without having passed Chambers Street — to do all that and not decide that the best route angles somewhat downward into the East River.

Who would’ve thought that the complex, brutish nature of our city driving selves would make good someday — if only to be complicated enough that the computers take a while to figure out what’s beneath the figurative hood. Here’s assuming the smart vehicles will have some work ahead of them. No chance they’ll be able to prevent the inevitable collisions between Cuomo, who gave the OK for the robot madness, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who will have to deal with it.

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