Big tech’s utopia may not be all its cracked up to be.

Self-driving cars? That’s nothing new — Leonardo da Vinci designed one in the 16th century. And the machine, which some call the world’s first robot, would have worked, historians and researchers later confirmed. In fact, a working model of the clockwork-driven mechanism is currently housed at the Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy.

We’re still fascinated by self-driving cars, and we’re almost there. We’re nearly to that utopian future of fewer fatalities on the road, reduced traffic congestion, enhanced mobility and, of course, the unthinkable boon to our productivity as we check emails and take meetings during our morning commutes.

Yet as Texans in major metropolitan areas are now learning, the technocrats of today seek a different kind of Utopia, one that is disruptive and anti-human in many respects. And it could cost us our autonomy.

The word utopia is a portmanteau of the Greek words ou (meaning not) and topos (meaning place). So, what’s not real (or, “not place” as the Greeks would put it), about a future with AI powering transportation that benefits humanity?

The tradeoff required to realize this future is to take away our individual autonomy in return for vehicular autonomy. This is no conspiracy theory — to major automobile companies investing substantially in full self-driving capabilities, supplanting human control over our vehicles is an obligatory feature, not a bug.

As the Big Tech life cycle teaches us, there’s the fluffy “user experience” goal, and then there’s the reality. Facebook’s goal was to connect us with loved ones up until it transformed into a tool to surveil us and track our data for massive profit. For self-driving cars, the utopia is traffic congestion reduction and safety, right up until it’s tracking our movements and limiting our mobility, becoming a dystopia.

A growing body of research shows that self-driving cars will only reduce traffic congestion if we all give up our steering wheels. Numerous simulations and studies confirm that traffic congestion might actually get worse when self-driving cars are on the road alongside human drivers, even if there is only one human driver to 100 self-driving cars. This is precisely why the largest automakers in the world are actively pushing for preferential treatment for vehicles they manufacture without steering wheels and brake pedals, and why engineers at companies like Tesla are being told to build vehicles without any features requiring human control. And now we can see the dystopian future.

If your vision is still foggy, consider that Amazon’s acquisition of smart devices was branded as a way to make your home a biome of technological convenience, until it colonized every square inch and allegedly locked one man out of his own home on false grounds of racism.

With self-driving vehicles, automobile manufacturers have silently completed the essential phase of the life cycle where they can now collect almost any form of information you can imagine — your purchasing history, philosophical beliefs, vehicle usage patterns, and even your sex life — while externally they sing the tune of safety and convenience.

This is already happening in China. “The government wants to know what people are up to at all times and react in the quickest way possible. There is zero protection against state surveillance.” Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AP News, “Tracking vehicles is one of the main focuses of their mass surveillance.”

This utopia might make sense to the manufacturers with a pecuniary interest in controlling your mobility, but not to the average American. As more self-driving vehicles debuted across the country in 2022, Americans’ fear of this technology jumped from 55% in 2022 to 68% in 2023. When you read between the utopian lines in search of reality, you come to understand the incentive tech companies and auto manufacturers have in rolling out this technology absent consumer demand.

There is something deeply and palpably American — and Texan — about driving one’s car. We love our cars (and trucks), and for all the headaches that come from traffic, we aren’t ready to give up our freedom to get in our vehicles whenever we want and go wherever we want.

In the spirit of 1836, our instinct ought to be a war cry to tell technocrats who want to take away our personal autonomy to come and take it.