A big announcement came this week from Silicon Valley. Elon Musk, the man who wants to colonize Mars, started a company which will put together experts and scientists to merge machines with our human brain. Musk thinks this is the only way to avoid an artificial intelligence disaster. But what all this has to do with motorcycles? Actually, it has a lot to do with us riders.
Motorcycles are mechanical devices, to slow down you have to pull the brake which is activated by your hand moved by your intention. If you bypass the mechanical action things might get a little tricky. But what if this technology will assist riding by removing the human error. Sure, road safety will increase but are there any downsides?
The Unerring Certainty of Machinery
In the 19th century, Charles Babbage designed the first calculator. Some sort of mechanical computer called the Difference Engine. This is when the “Unerring Certainty of Machinery” came into place. A perfect machine that limits human error is just a tool. But what if you have a 1971 Moto Guzzi V7? What if the engine will shake your soul but only if you give it enough attention and care? This would give your bike flaws and unique features stopping it from being a tool. Flaws are personal traits that make people unique and to accept them you need that kind of love. This is the only way we can explain that kind of connection.
Years ago, I built a racing bike with a friend on the base of a Ducati. I can’t remember a machine that let me in the pits with a silent engine more than that. Or the bruises after a mechanical failure. But I loved it more than the air I breathe.
Things that makes our lives easier also make us lazy
Back in the 90s, when I was a teenager and bikes were easier, my first real bike was 125cc NSR. For “easier” I mean to repair not to ride. It had a two-stroke engine and although it was easy to repair it was also easy to break. I was 80 miles away from home and I felt like my engine was about to give up. Since I was riding in a group on a twisty road at a pretty fast pace I put a finger on the clutch just to feel safe. You needed to develop that kind of sensitivity with the machine. You have to adapt to the machine.
The BMW GS goes completely in the other direction. They designed it around the rider. There is nothing it can’t do but the drawback is that you can’t improve as a rider on a GS because it’s much better than you. You can become a lazy rider.
Are we losing the character of a motorcycle by trying to make it perfect?
Do we have to choose between Safety and Fun?
Let me begin this section with the fact that nobody should risk his own life for a mistake or some oil on the road. And I think that technology will save many lives but we should also be able to learn from our mistakes. We develop a sense of responsibility only if we have a price to pay. A roller coaster is still exciting but there is no choice or room for improvement. I don’t know how a motorcycle will look like in 20 years from now but I remember a discussion about power at the end of the 80s. A group of people (obviously not motorcyclists) said that 100 HP was the maximum amount of power that a person could handle on the road and they propose to set a limit on every motorcycle. Now, I’m asking you, what is safer to ride? A Suzuki RG500 from the 80s or a GSXR1000 from 2017 with twice the power? So don’t freak out, relax, and enjoy the future which is coming pretty fast by the way.
Another way of riding
In MotoGP 20 years ago, there wasn’t much electronic, it was more a matter of being able to understand the machine. Now, with the same electronic for everyone you don’t see any dominator, which is better for the show in some cases, but not always. Now even a weaker team as its chance to go on the podium or even win. It sounds fair but racing is not about being fair. You might think that MotoGP got easier to ride than the old 500cc but it’s just different. The riders have to handle 260 HP and an insane amount of grip. You have to be incredibly fast to explore that traction and G-forces.
Bikes are changing adding every year more technology like the slipper clutch, quick shifter, traction control and they are still fun to ride. So I don’t have any worries about the motorcycle of the future. I’m just worried about losing my skills but probably they will make room for something else.
The endless possibilities
During a TED talk Maurice Conti defined the next era like the Augmented Age. He explained how AI could improve our life and how. Conti showed a sports car frame designed by a computer. It looked like nothing a human could have designed, more than a frame it looked like a skeleton and this is because it can calculate millions of possibilities at the same time.
One last question
There is still a question that pops into my mind: If we give more and more control to electronic assistants, at which point we’re not in charge anymore?