Autonomous Cars and the Future
Driving can be exhilarating, with the windows down, music cranked up, and no one but yourself in control of the direction and speed. However, it can also be extremely tedious especially coming back from a class and sitting in traffic for three hours, thinking about all the homework that needs to be completed and movies that need to be watched. As discussed in an article from The Economist there is a difference between autonomous cars and self-driving cars.
CARS are set to change more in the next couple of decades than in the 130 years since Karl Benz fitted a small four…www.economist.com
The first allows for the driver to have limited control and the second demotes the driver to a passenger position. If I was simply examining my own personal wishes, I would lean towards the increased production of autonomous cars in the future, so that I would still ultimately be in command of the vehicle, but there are other issues that need to be brought into the picture such as safety.
If the universal use of self-driving cars creates a safer environment for transportation, then shouldn’t we all compromise on our personal preferences and move towards this direction?
No, I don’t think we should. As it usually happens with any introduction of new technology, a series of compromises and questions must be made. In the use of autonomous vehicles, we must ask ourselves the question: are we ready to subvert control of our own lives to machines easily capable of causing us harm? This question might be seen as a typical Luddite response; however, there is reasonable suspicion to be wary of cars that cannot be controlled by their own passengers. Already, New York Times reports (nearly 5 years ago) that cars can be controlled remotely — against the will of its driver. Two years later, the death of Michael Hastings brought about many conspiracies suggesting that he was a victim of cyber car attack. Whether or not this theory is correct, it brings forward the reality of a future with self driving, internet connected vehicles. Anytime a device connects to a network it has already opened itself to vulnerabilities. If we decide to only have autonomous vehicles on the road, we open ourselves to a new world of potential security disasters.
Unfortunately, the allure of convenience will undoubtedly overpower the fear of insecurity. No entity can stop the coming proliferation of self driving cars, but we can put forth regulations that will allow drivers to retain ultimate physical control of their cars. Similarly, in a world where a computer makes decisions in lieu of its passenger, how will a car handle ethical issues while driving? Will it swerve out of the way of a jaywalking pedestrian, risking the life of its occupants? Or will it hit the pedestrian, essentially choosing one human life over the other?
That certainly is a valid argument, time and time again we’ve seen humanity rush to explore new technological and scientific ventures lead down a rather self-destructive path; from the discovery of nuclear power to the scare around GMO’s humanity as a whole has a tendency to rush down a path headfirst so to speak, only looking into the repercussions of their actions as a second thought. That being said I think that there is certainly an opportunity to be had with the introduction of cars such as these, and the problems that are emerging right now are certainly not impossible to patch or remedy. I might not be completely for the introduction of a fully autonomous network of cars, I simply think the scope and logistical nightmare that an endeavor like that entails at this time is a bit impractical but on the other side there are certain benefits that we can certainly look into aside from convenience. The potential for the near removal of traffic is certainly a promising one for sure, and with the development of technologies in this field in the near future, autonomous cars in the future could potentially function seamlessly alongside manual drivers, as can already be seen by the reports google has made about its cars currently in development. As can be seen here, https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en//selfdrivingcar/files/reports/report-0515.pdf out of the near 1.8 million miles of driving, both manual and autonomous, only 12 accidents have occurred, none of which being the fault of google’s car.
The prospect sure is daunting, as with the creation of the internet, it’s early stages can frankly be quite vulnerable and in this day and age people are unfortunately very quick to take advantage of said weaknesses. But with consistency comes improvement, from security to safety, these systems like the automobile will adapt over time. As it is known seatbelt laws weren’t enforced in California until 1986, which certainly isn’t very far off, but now look at its prevalence around the world. While it might not be entirely feasible at this current day and time, this system can be implemented in a non-obtrusive way with just a bit of dedication and persistence
It is true that the idea of completely self-driving cars is extremely far fetched at this point in time, and that perfecting it will take a lot of time and money. However, in order to eliminate all possible safety and security issues will require years of just seeing what happens when the product is released to the public. Using your example, people drove cars for years until the seat belt was deemed necessary. Car manufacturers didn’t know about the importance of the seat belt before many, avoidable, deaths occurred. And even after years — maybe decades — of unsafe testing, it will still be near impossible to make it perfectly safe and dependable. Yes, after the self-driving car is made safe, it will be a very convenient thing to have, but it comes at the risk of the people who use it before it is honed and refined. Is the advancement of technology worth the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people?
A fully autonomous car network could be very hard to introduce. A network like this would require large scale infrastructure across the USA. This would no doubt prevent hundreds of accidents daily, as there would be no human error on the road. Preventing this type of wide scale loss of life (1.3 million people die a year on the road) would be Nobel Prize worthy. But it seems that these days every advance comes with a caveat. Every time we make a technological advance that saves lives it seems to harm them also. If a network of cars was created, it, like any other piece of modern tech, would be vulnerable to cyber attacks or hacking. There is also the constant fear, after Edward Snowden, that the NSA could tap into this web of vehicles and pinpoint the location of anyone, at any time, if they were driving or even just where they parked. I’m definitely not a conspiracy theorist, but now that it is known that the US Government endorses programs like PRISM, I am much more skeptical about what information they do and do not collect. There is also the problem of software failure. If a highway full of cars suddenly lost connection with each other, there could be widespread collisions and destruction. This is definitely a worst-case-scenario but it is a possibility. If a company as large as Tesla came under a cyber attack, the repercussions would be very large. No system starts and immediately runs smoothly. These types of security breaches and technical difficulties will definitely be a part of the new system of driving, whether it’s partially or fully integrated autonomous driving, and it will take some time for the software to be comparable to human abilities.
As can be seen, there’s a bit of a conflict of interests and practicality when approaching this subject. Too many times the people of the world have been put at risk because of the headstrong pursuit of technology, though it can also be argued that the very same amount of good has been divined from this pursuit as well. Suffice it to say there’s no clear answer to this divide at this time, partly due to the formative nature of this topic, and the practicality of an endeavor as large as this. Time will tell how the rest of the world reacts to this in the years to come.