STET – Toyota vs. Tesla

Today’s reading is STET, a short futuristic science-fiction story by Sarah Gailey that has been nominated for the 2019 Hugo Award. This story is written in the style of a literature analysis excerpt from a textbook, including references to articles and their corresponding footnotes. At first, when I opened up the website, I was very confused – I kept looking for the start of the short story and figured that there was an error in the website page. After taking some time to look over what was written on the page, I realized that the story was actually told through the footnotes, which are fictional articles about how AI has been used in autonomous cars.

What struck me the most about the article was the level of detail that Sarah Gailey included. As a story that is told in little more than a paragraph, every detail is important and it is evident that Gailey put a lot of thought into it. The author of the citation in footnote 11 is Elon Musk, who supposedly wrote the book Driven: A Memoir. This detail made me laugh, as I am sure it did for a lot of other people, because at the time that this story was written (2018), Musk and his Tesla cars are the most prominent figures in the area of autonomous cars. However, the car that Gailey uses in the story is a Toyota, not a Tesla. This initially struck me as odd, because Toyota does not seem anywhere near developing an autonomous car in the future. However, Toyotas are also a very relatable car and much more represent the type of car that an average American would own than Teslas do.

The reference that the fictional writer, Anna, uses in her article, however, seems a little bit more targeted towards Toyota than it just being an average/relatable car company as she writes that this textbook is “drier than a Toyota executive’s apology.” After doing a bit of research, I realized that about 10 years ago, some cars made by Toyota had flaws that led to fatal crashes, including one in particular in which a family of 4 died due to uncontrollable acceleration from the gas pedal being stuck to the floor (https://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/03/business/global/03toyota.html). Only after a few months of pressure did the Toyota executive make an apology, and described the incident as “extremely regrettable,” which in my opinion, seems pretty dry and not very empathetic. While the incident is unrelated to AI and autonomous cars, in both cases, the car was used as a killing machine due to lack of oversight by the company’s engineers. Thus, I have to wonder if Gailey also used Toyota due to this and the poor response by Toyota’s executive. Maybe by calling out Toyota, Gailey is illustrating that cars will not only be used to hurt people in the future, but that they are already doing it now.