Self-Driving Cars And The Technology Trap


Image from Scania via Quartz

Over the weekend, as reported in Re/Code, Ford announced a successful test of an autonomous car driving in the dark- that is, without some of its equipment working. The car was driving without its camera, relying mainly on laser directions (lidar). Basically, it was like a human having to drive after their headlights went out, on a black moonless night. Or a bright one, where it was still hard to see. You know, just night, basically. Anyway, you and I would be in trouble, but the Ford car wasn’t. This is a big breakthrough.

I’m a passionate advocate of self-driving cars. Not professionally, because who the hell cares what I have to say about it, but personally. It makes me sick and angry to think that one moment of distraction by myself or another driver can kill someone I love or ruin their life forever, that a split second of indecision or mistake can have such a shattering impact. I think we’re going to look back at the era of human-driven cars as a time of unimaginable barbarism, where tens of thousands of people a year were killed and tens of thousands more maimed driving these glass and steel bullets at breakneck speeds. Self-driving cars will also be much better for fuel economy– there will be less driving around confused, less sudden braking, and fewer incidences of inefficient driving, the biggest cause of fuel waste.

There are drawbacks of course- system safety (imagine if a hacker breaks in and messes with V2V or V2I communications), a lack of autonomy, massive disruptions to the insurance industry, etc. There are huge political obstacles, as well as cultural ones. There is also the immediate problem that it will could cause huge layoffs in vulnerable sectors while immediately benefitting corporations. That’s a drawback, and one with unsettling human and political ramifications.

Continue reading