Saturday, April 28, 2018

Autonomous Vehicles and Smart Highways: Author Bennecke's Fictional Vision Sorts Out the Worst—And Best—Possible Futures

Especially after a wave of tragic incidents, opinions of self-driving cars and other automated transportation technologies are, to say the least, ambivalent.

This holds true not only at the U.S. level, but also globally. According to survey findings from BCG and the World Economic Forum, as summarized by Statista,  half of survey participants from ten countries say they would not feel safe in a self-driving car. Forty-five percent said, further, that they want to be in control at all times when driving.

The ambivalence at the individual and societal level is affecting creative works as well. And Civil Terror: Gridlock (Jaytech Publishing, March 2018), the first installment in a new series of novels by civil engineer turned fiction author J. Luke Bennecke, is one of the latest examples.

What if traffic jams were not only a nuisance but also an actual source of danger?

With self-driving cars being tested across the world and computer systems at the helm, this possibility is not as far-fetched as it might have once seemed. Bennecke uses his wealth of knowledge on the subject to take a fictional dive head first into the question of what might happen if we, as a society, fail to account for the risks associated with the technological advancements of autonomous vehicles in his new novel.

Kicking off what will eventually be a four-book series, Civil Terror: Gridlock centers on Civil Engineer Jake Bendel. Far from the usual genre hero, Bendel works for the federal government where he has designed and implemented a national self-driving network. For three months fatal accidents and traffic congestion across the U.S. become all but obsolete.

But when a terrorist cell weaponizes Jake’s system, suddenly the technology that was his success story is putting many lives on the line. Bendel and his unlikely partner, a rogue FBI agent named Jose Cavanaugh, must play a deadly game of strategy with a terrorist organization to try and head them off at the pass. When the terrorists’ activities threaten the life of Bendel’s adult daughter, the game becomes even more serpentine, and he must make an impossible decision to save her life or save millions of American lives at risk on freeways everywhere.

While Civil Terror: Gridlock is pure entertainment, it is also rooted in the reality of the technology and current events of 2018, seeming truly plausible. Part of what makes the book so immersive and convincing is the real-life knowledge Bennecke brings to the table—he is a licensed professional civil engineer with nearly thirty years of experience.

“Civil engineering permeates the bedrock of our society,” says Bennecke. “The self-driving revolution is looming, and if we proceed with caution, and rely on smart people with transportation engineering experience, the changes could truly be great. Traffic congestion and the 30,000-plus annual fatalities associated with cars could all go the way of the 8-track player.”

Bennecke’s experience is evident in his handling of, and commentary on, the technology and infrastructure challenges in the book. But he infuses the story with just enough fun and adventure that it never seems heavy. Fans of smart, fast-paced thrillers, like those by Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy, will gravitate towards Civil Terror: Gridlock.

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