For a second, imagine yourself in an emergency situation, where a nuclear explosion goes off in the horizon next to your house... What's your first move? for most people it would be to get away from the blast site as quickly as possible I imagine... Or imagine (just as a scenario) that your wife was having a baby and you needed to transport her as quickly as you could to the hospital for emergency attention? I don't see any problems with exceeding the speed limit in that rare case of exception, as long as you don't hit me or anyone else in the process.
These scenarios haunt me every time I hear or read about self driving car technology. Sure the fact that they can help bad drivers enter a parking spot without giving everyone else bumper dings and dents is a good thing, but there are so many unforeseen worms in this can that haven't even begun to climb to the top in this discussion. It goes way beyond the dramatizations of Skynet taking over and killing us all, it connects to valid concerns about programming mistakes, mistakes from software and infrastructure updates, poor vehicle maintenance, legal ramifications, and so many other things that I hope all of this talk about subverting our rights as to where and when we can steer our own vehicles fades away like ideas about everyone piloting flying cars did after the 1920s.
A big issue that is not being discussed in our bold driver-less future is how these vehicles will be maintained... Right now there are plenty of drivers on our streets in cars with bald tires, bad brakes, and many other safety hazards. How will automated cars handle maintenance when some drivers simply can't afford to repair their cars in a timely manner? How will software account for a blown tire, or a dog running onto the freeway, or even worse, a deer on a dark back road at 40mph? I think these are some of the questions Tesla should ask before pushing the button to make all of it's cars driver-less by next year. It's seems that we're heading into this new era of automation with Titanic-Level speed, and not carefully evaluating the impacts and potential pitfalls of hitting that big road iceberg.
Now imagine yourself in your autonomous vehicle just after the Apple maps update fiasco of 2013, that pointed many people who chose the update to bridges in California that simply didn't exist, and think about how hacking an autonomous car could be manipulated to murder people, worse yet, if a self driving car cause an accident involving others, holding someone responsible would become a massive nightmare if you (as an individual) ever had to sue a huge/wealthy company like Apple or Google over negligence in your case of loss. If the maps that directed your car detailed the Brooklyn Bridge just 50 feet off point, you could well end up in the Hudson Bay without even knowing what happened. I think the scariest thing would be riding in a vehicle that veers off course without a steering wheel you could use to correct the situation, compounded greatly if you had your grandma or hamster family in a cage in the back seat of your Google Mobile...
I really hope we take a moment out to think about the implications of these technologies before diving head first into them. Even larger at stake in this discussion is the concept of personal freedom. Right now, most of us (Prius owners exempt of course) have a right to mash our gas pedal and feel the freedom of speed just before a speed camera goes off to send us a letter that costs us lots of money... We are allowed to speed when the cameras aren't watching, for example, when you hit that lonely stretch on route 66 and you want to feel alive... If this essence goes away, we lose a great part of what it is to be American, from the land of the muscle car... This will not be an easy loss of freedom, there are people who would never give that freedom up as well, and these people would be forced to drive among people who have given that freedom up, creating a volatile mix of even more angry and frustrated drivers than those on the road today. This is no easy thing to overcome. Also, as a part of surrendering rights to have a steering wheel, we may inherently surrender our rights to own a car entirely (if we're not careful) meaning no more custom paint jobs and design variations, or even that ability to drive roads less traveled. If the ever rising costs we have endured for years for public transportation are any indication of how the costs of self-driving vehicles will go, I'm very worried about the future of this technology, because eventually we may not have a choice of whether or not we can use it. Also with just a bit of legislative lobbying, non-autonomous vehicles may gain priority on roads, relegating independent vehicles into traffic laden "normal lanes" or specially designed toll roads until using them becomes tremendously overbearing, it's an easy way to facilitate the culture shift at freedom's expense.
Don't get me wrong, many planes are currently automated on flight paths that ensure safety and maximum fuel economy. I can also see a great benefit in automating public transit, package delivery (trucks), trains, and shipping in designated lanes on roadways and waterways. There would be a great benefit in separating this traffic from normal (free driving) vehicles at the expense of layoffs of many human workers. If we reduce the jobs as a result of these advancements, there will be high costs to pay, namely unemployment of skilled workers, but the safety benefits (perhaps) might outweigh the loss, for example, look into the case where a Wal-Mart truck driver who had been driving over his allowed limit caused a fatal accident involving famous comedian Tracy Morgan in 2014.
I'm a software developer myself, yet I cringe every time I go to CVS and I'm ushered towards the automated checkouts (because most no longer have cashiers) and I'm forced to swipe and bag my own groceries arbitrarily, which often turns my shopping experience into a soulless experience where I can't have simple talk with a cashier... This scares me about the future where (along with the zombie-ism that's already been created by cell phones in society) we'll eventually go all day without talking to a living being and wonder why we feel empty inside. If we add automated cars to this mix, we'll have even more unforeseen sanity issues due to a feeling of disconnection from real living beings. A good example of this type of experience can be found in the movie "Her" starring Scarlett Johannson, but that's a whole other discussion.
In summary, it's time that we start looking ahead of our bold ideas, and evaluating the impacts before huge investments in technology laden futures; DC invested heavily in the idea of arcane street cars, spent over 300 million on the idea over 8 years and found that society had changed so much that street cars proved to be a dated concept in the age of transit buses - Because a bus can steer around a double parked car, go figure... Google invested heavily in Google Glass, over much hype and fanfare including a referral only buying process, which made a crazy amount of people clamor to buy $2,500 paper weights (The company dropped the project in early 2015 and now purchasers don't wear them because it's generally going to cause consternation when worn in public due to failed aspirations.
I don't hope automation fails for cars, I just hope I'll never be forced to have to buy in in my driving-enabled life time. My freedom is essential to me, and there's nothing like doing a burn-out in a V8 (or if need be a 6 cylinder) Ford Mustang, and I think it's essential to everyone's understanding of life to gain at least one speeding ticket in their life time. Don't give that freedom away ever.
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