“Companies are Making a Wrong Turn by Pursuing Driverless Cars”

Humans are fascinated by uncertainties, progress and the future. Throughout history society has attempted to imagine or predict the future- evidenced by the sheer number of films and books depicting future civilizations. Companies like Google plan on catapulting us into the future with their inventions like that of the autonomous vehicle. However, as the world moves closer to implementing these cars in everyday life, much controversy arises regarding whether they will have a positive or a negative effect. Companies continuously find ways to replace humans with technology and often hype up the pros and underplay the cons. This may be the case for Google’s driverless cars. While these cars may seem beneficial at first glance, they also pose some serious risks that should not be overlooked. Given the realistic threats to our economy, safety, privacy, and morals it is recommended that companies, government, and consumers oppose these vehicles until a deep understanding of these issues and any necessary standards is achieved.

With recent convoys of driverless trucks making their way across Europe successfully, it is likely this technology may soon be upon us. The cost benefits of driverless vehicles in the truck industry alone appear to be highly appealing, but the overall economic impact may be underestimated. Driverless trucks could travel continuously and bypass regulations on the number of hours the driver can operate without a rest period. This, along with greater fuel efficiencies, would surmount to enormous cost savings. However, the trucking industry represents approximately 1% of all jobs and the loss of those jobs would greatly impact the economy. Taxi drivers, limo drivers and delivery drivers would also take a huge hit (Felton). Aside from the economic impact related to career drivers, many suspect the “adverse consequences won’t end there. Gas stations, highway diners, rest stops, motels and other businesses catering to drivers will struggle to survive without them” (Petersen). Unforeseen economic losses could also trickle down into other industries such as auto industry and the insurance industry (Hayes). While these may seem obvious, how far-reaching the impact goes may not yet be clear. For instance, radios stations may struggle in ratings and attracting advertising dollars if commuters can choose from an array of options during the daily commute (Felton). The total impact on the economy is likely greater than anticipated and must be fully considered before driverless cars are put on the roads.

Another often discussed benefit of driverless vehicles is improved safety through the elimination of human error which accounts for most accidents. But according to experts there currently exists “no software in laptops, phones or other modern devices that is designed to operate for extended periods without freezing, crashing or dropping a call — and similar errors would be deadly in a car” (Ghose). Google cars have already been involved in 11 accidents suggesting the technology is not advanced enough to put these cars on the road yet. In fact, the technology isn’t even advanced enough to handle different weather and road conditions such as fog, floods, snow or ice (Felton). In addition, many scholars and historians believe technology can offer a reduction in human workload and errors leading to greater safety on the roads, but human involvement cannot be completely eliminated. In fact, historically all space and water crafts designed to be unmanned and fully autonomous ultimately required a human component for optimal operation in the end to make critical real-time decisions (Dizikes). Our human brains still have a greater ability to make quick, tough decisions. It has not been shown that algorithms can be created for every scenario a moving vehicle may face (Boudette). The hacking and hijacking of such vehicles also poses serious dangers, and in fact, “the FBI has gone so far as to caution that driverless cars could be turned into weapons” (Hayes). Hackers, natural disasters and acts of terrorism could disrupt the major networks controlling the navigation resulting in disastrous consequences (Felton). Therefore, the serious safety and security question must be answered before we allow these cars.

Autonomous vehicles will not perform as expected due to the limitations of our current infrastructure. Our roads and signs are designed for human drivers and not software and sensors. Changes in the conditions of the roads could cause issues because “many of these new-generation cars require smooth roads, with clearly painted lines, to safely position themselves. Potholes, worn paint and other irregularities” could prove hazardous (Boudette). Since massive changes to our infrastructure seem necessary for these vehicles to work properly, the question is how will hundreds of billions of dollars be raised to accomplish it (Felton). Until it is clear whether we can afford the costs of redoing the infrastructure to support the optimal performance of these vehicles, they should remain off the roads.

Driverless cars present both privacy and ethical dilemmas. Vehicles relying solely on navigation systems will create a record of date, time and destination of the vehicle. Therefore, it is impossible not to be tracked. How this personal data can be used, and by who, is a big concern. Ethical decisions are also a huge challenge. For example, in the event that an accident is unavoidable, the moral question is will cars be programmed to follow an “intervention that sacrifices one person for the group or protects the individual at the expense of the group?” The other question is whether data related to unexpected situations can be calculated fast enough to avoid a disaster (Greenemeier). Experts warn that regulations that impose “standards that are uniform and mandatory” are necessary to address these important challenges (LaFrance). Regulations should be in place prior to allowing these vehicles on the road.

The risks and consequences of autonomous vehicles pose some serious negative threats to our society. Advancements in technology should be meant to enhance and support humans to make certain aspects of life safer and easier. However, driverless cars essentially replace the human while maintaining high risks. Many companies are pushing to quickly get autonomous cars on the road, yet there are many dangers that have yet to be fully explored or figured out. Companies, government officials, agencies and Americans should be cautious and deeply explore the pros and cons of buying into the dash towards autonomous vehicles. We must insist that the magnitude of issues and concerns be thoroughly examined and appropriate protocols and regulations are implemented before driverless cars become fully available. It would be foolish not to take a stand on this matter.