The strange stories of the driverless car and the ship that was piloted by rats

Admiral has a special interest in things that go missing – and things appearing again.  Not missing from our storage facility, I hasten to add, but missing from the range of property owned by our customers.  Not that our clients are more forgetful than anyone else, it is just that they know they have something, but can’t find it, and then wonder if they stored it at Admiral at some stage.

Normally they didn’t, but of course they are always fully entitled to come and have a look.

As a result I often get talking to our customers about things that go missing, things have have been found, and occasionally things that were never there in the first place.

And indeed, it was while discussing this with one of my customers that he pointed out to me that for several years we have been told that drivers were soon to go missing from cars.

Now there’s nothing new in this, but in fact the story of the driverless car is rather interesting because it is just about the only story I have ever come across which focuses over and over on something that is about to go missing but which actually never does.

The whole thing started with a clarion call in Extreme Tech – a website that claims it is the Web’s top destination for news and analysis of emerging science and technology trends, bringing us the latest on software, hardware, and gadgets.  So it ought to know about what is about to happen, and in 2012 it told us that Ford would have driverless cars in showrooms by 2017 – this year in fact.  I went out a-looking just to check, but nope, I couldn’t find any.

This prediction looked a little foolhardy when in the same year Time told us that it was going to be 2019 not 2017.  So maybe we just have to wait.

Although it appears that in 2013 CNN jumped in on the act and told us that Nissan would have driverless cars for sales by 2020.  Of course we ain’t got there yet so I can’t validate that one.

The next report came from the car and tech comparison website Recombu in 2013 which proudly announced that everyone had got it utterly wrong and that it was not a case of 2017, but of 2014.  And it would not be Ford or Nissan but Volvo that would launch driverless cars that year.  I might have missed it, but I don’t think I’ve seen any.

TechRadar (“the source for tech buying advice”) then came along in 2014 and told us that Audi promised the driverless car in 2016.  But it seems we were let down again.

Of course, what we obviously needed was not a load of “aren’t we clever” hi tech whizz kids making predictions, but a group of people who are really, really in the know about such things, and have a long history of accurate future predictions.

So step forward The Sun (always good on astrology) which in 2016 gave us the prediction that all Tesla cars would be self-driving by 2018.  They might still have got it right.

Maybe, but I have got a little sceptical on this future prediction lark and had confined the issue to my dustbin when I was suddenly reminded of the tale of MV Lyubov Orlova, reported in the esteemed magazine New Scientist (although reported I must add with a lot of tongue in cheek).  This ship was seemingly on automatic pilot heading for a ship breaker’s yard, and without any crew on board when it vanisheed in 2013.

Since then various news outlets in the UK (or should I say “newspapers that tend to make things up because real live journalists are just too expensive these days”) reported it had been spotted occasionally, only to disappear again.  One of the tales is that the ship has now been overrun by cannibalistic rats.

So, any sighting of such a vessel is something that one might need to be rather wary of, especially since the rats in charge of the ship now not only eat each other but appear to have learned navigation skills to such a degree that they have navigated the north-west passage.

Now as you may recall from geography lessons at school, the North West Passage takes ships just south of Greenland and then around the islands to dot the northern coast of Canada, just missing the arctic ice, and finally down the western coast of Canada and into the warmer climes of the Pacific waters off the western United States and south to California.

This requires some pretty good navigational skills even for humans, I am sure you will agree, but for rats it is something else.  But no less a service than the Science Channel in the United States clearly identified the ship as the missing liner, and were waiting for expeditions to go out and make contact with the obviously rapidly evolving rats.

And yes indeed when people looked there was a ship there.  Although unfortunately it was, New Scientist tells us, the SS Monte Carlo which was one of a number of boats that ran casinos and sold alcohol during Prohibition in the US.  This ship has been resting on the sea bed since 1937, and so it looks like the US West Coast guard will no longer be facing some difficult questions as to how it failed to notice the rat ship making its way along the coastline from Alaska, south.  Geneticists too will not be questioned on how rats could evolve into pilots while eating each other, which must be a relief.

So where do all these stories come from?

The most likely explanation is that tourism out to see the partially submerged wreck of the old casino ship has been in decline for a few years, so renaming the casino ship a cannibal intelligent rat ship seemed like a good idea to someone.

A bit like thinking up the date of the first driverless car.  Unless, of course, those rats have got the hang of how to shoot up the M1 without being noticed.