The Loh Down On Science

Car Talk

What's the best kind of talking car? One that matches your mood.

You say, unlike David Hasselhoff and Knight Rider, your car just doesn't understand you?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with "The Loh Down on Science"

And with a TV reference from the '80s, just 'cause.

Cars of the future won't have dashboards-- they'll simply TALK to us. How annoying will THAT be? Computer scientist Clifford Nass, from Stanford University, wondered, too.

So he built a TALKING driving simulator. While YOU'RE trying to avoid collisions, IT'S yakking away, in one of two tones of voice. To some drivers, it says things like:

"What do YOU think about when YOU'RE driving?"

To others, it sighs:

"What DO you THINK about when you're driving!"

Drivers were encouraged to reply to their "virtual passenger."

Whenever the tone used by the car didn't match the driver's current mood, accidents increased. Upbeat driver, downcast car? Major distraction. Depressed driver, chatty car? Road rage.

Safest combination: Happy drivers in chipper cars; sad sacks in gloom-mobiles.

Why? Communicating requires less attention when the car's mood matches the driver's

All the more reason to ignore our spouse's chatter when driving. It's 'cause we love them.

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