What Your Car Reveals About You

But these may soon become the good old days of simple driving. Nass thinks the car's surveillance system will soon broadcast its secrets to other users, some of whom want to keep tabs on us, and some of whom want to help us.

"There's clearly a positive side to this," said Nass, an upbeat sort of guy.

Some might say the last thing we need is more avenues for advertisers, he notes, but on the other hand, it could be convenient. Say you're driving into a new town and it's getting close to lunchtime.

"So, your car might say, 'Hey, I know you like Italian restaurants (because you stop there so often) so, if you would like to come to this restaurant, I could arrange a discount,'" Nass said.

That kind of advertising might appeal to the manufacturers of navigation equipment as a new source of revenue, and it might appeal to the car owner as a way to lower the cost of the equipment. So, we all get pulled in, because having a car that automatically senses your preferences, might simplify your life, even if it means letting in more hucksters.

Again, we're not there yet, but we may be getting closer. Some systems already broadcast an alert when the airbags are deployed. Many new cars are equipped with wireless technology.

"The black boxes in cars are getting more and more sophisticated," Nass said. "So, the information is already being gathered. Right now it's being gathered within the car for the car."

But it may not remain confidential much longer.

Nass thinks our machines will increasingly interact with us in many ways, including speech, learning our habits, solving some of our problems and creating others. We'll trade some of our privacy for convenience, and our cars will know as much about us as we know about them, and probably a lot more.

"There's value to be had," Nass said.

Easy for him to say. He's not exactly hooked on having the latest gizmo in his car, but he still thinks our cars speak volumes about our inner selves.

By the way, he drives an "old Volvo."

Lee Dye is a former science writer for the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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