Last night, I went to go see the newest Fast and Furious movie, The Fate of the Furious. It was fun! Vin Diesel did some capital-A Acting, the cars went boom and smash, and also, at one point, get hacked.
In one of the film’s many car sequences, the hacker Cipher commandeers every single car with driverless capability within a certain radius in Manhattan. That leads to a bonkers sequence in which psycho cars stampede through the streets in a giant wave of automotive distraction, like a zombie horde. They fall out of parking garages and go boom.
One detail that stuck out to me in this sequence is that I can tell you which specific brands of cars got hacked. There was definitely a Toyota Prius and a Chrysler, and in one part, the camera zooms right in on a Jeep Grand Cherokee logo as the car goes haywire.
Look, I’m not sure what product-placement deals were made behind the scenes, and I’m not really an ad wizard, but touting your new autonomous-driving systems in a sequence where they get hijacked by a cyberterrorist seems … misguided. If a Jeep dealer tried to sell me with, “This car’s got self-driving capability,” I will now immediately think, Ah, yes, the car that got hijacked and subsequently smashed to pieces in one of the biggest films of the year.
In case you think companies just don’t care enough, they do. Licensing cars for video games is occasionally difficult because manufacturers don’t want to show their vehicles getting damaged, which is what makes the clear branding throughout the sequence even more puzzling. And hacked cars are not some fantastical narrative creation: Remotely hijacking autonomous vehicles is a real threat, and one of the biggest issues with the technology, aside from the actual driving mechanisms. One of the foremost security experts on hacking cars, Charlie Miller, told Wired, “Autonomous vehicles are at the apex of all the terrible things that can go wrong.” As of now, cars with assisted-driving features can control a limited number of functions through their onboard computers. Driverless cars, however, feed nearly all of the functions through the computer. For companies, like Uber, that eventually want a driverless fleet constantly exchanging passengers, this poses a huge security risk.
Yet brands like Jeep and Chrysler seem to have no problem showing off their cool, new self-driving features, even in an instance when those features are compromised in order to cause maximum damage. I guess being in a Fast and Furious movie is worth the price.