QOTD: What Terrifies You About a Self-driving Future?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The Consumer Electronics Show, now known just as CES, is currently in full swing, with legions of auto journos mingling in ever greater numbers with fawning members of the tech press, eagerly awaiting the latest gadget designed to move the proverbial steering wheel further and further from your hands.

To some, especially self-described urbanists who take startup manufacturer predictions seriously, the words “autonomous” and “self-driving” herald a bright future filled with convenience and relaxation; to others, it’s a portent of a dystopian nanny state where human-driven vehicles have disappeared from the streets, all in the interest of safety and responsibility to your fellow man. A future where there’s ever more limitations on personal autonomy, with private car ownership singled out as a particularly problematic pastime.

You can guess on which side of the fence this author falls.

The advent of semi-autonomous technology has already made our lives more coccoonish. On-board systems can parallel park our cars, avoid collisions, brake for children and animals, navigate a highway lane, and alert us to obstacles and our own drowsy driving. With Level 2 or 3 autonomy along for the ride, a highway trip becomes safer and easier on the driver. What’s not to like?

Then there’s the practical aspects of full-on self-driving vehicles. A boon for the handicapped and elderly, a mobility solution for cities seeking transit and ride-sharing options — autonomous systems could indeed revolutionize how we get around, assuming those on-board systems are one day able to see through deep snow. The problem arises when you factor human drivers into the mix. We’ve already seen what happens when robot cars mingle on the roads with operators made of flesh and blood — fender-benders and headlines blaming the humans.

Right now, only police, doctors, insurers, and the judiciary can take away the personal freedom enjoyed while piloting one’s own vehicle, but many of us fear that could soon change. If proven safer than human-operated vehicles, what’s to stop cities, states, or even the feds from legislating autonomous vehicles in, and dangerous old-school cars and trucks out? We’ve discussed this before, and the argument — in my view — remains a relevant one.

When I think about the personal vehicle, I think of the lifestyle it affords. The ability to slip into the driver’s seat, crank the engine (or electric motor), and go wherever you damn well please at any hour of day or night. To be in complete control, with only time constraints and personal finances as your only nagging worries.

Some manufacturers claim there’ll be no loss of driving privileges in the heady, gee-whiz future — that they’ll always have a steering wheel on hand for gearheads to grasp. Despite this soothing sentiment, the mere fact that these companies are all pursuing driverless technology means the seeds of destruction are being sowed, whether automakers admit it or not.

This crystal ball’s a little hazy, but these are my fears when it comes to autonomous cars. Do you share them? Or is your take on the emerging technology a little less pessimistic? Sound off in the comments.

[Image: Toyota]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • NMGOM NMGOM on Jan 09, 2018

    TTAC: "QOTD: What Terrifies You About a Self-driving Future?" ANS: I would say that "terrify" is too strong a word, but I do have several real concerns: 1) This could be the beginning of a "slippery slope" of mandatory autonomous vehicles required for all drivers (loss of freedom); 2) The image analysis and software algorithms are very complex (was my profession), and "bugs",sensor failures/obscuration (e.g., sticking snow), and hardware crashes will abound to cause accidents in marginal conditions; 3) No current on-board computer/sensor system has the capability of handling marginal conditions (e.g. , rain + wind+ darkness; snow+ sleet + road ice; Intense high-speed, lane-changing traffic) as well as a skilled, well-trained driver; 4) Over-safe compensation, --- cars that stop for unknown "hazards" that are not preprogrammed into the data base (like a paper bag blowing across the road, causing a rear-end collision (yes, it already happened)); 5) Lack of Foresight /Judgment driving: a human operator, with skill and experience, knows when to slow down and/or change lanes; and /or leave the highway because "things" are getting "dicey". That has nor been demonstrated in autonomous vehicles. 6) Objects from above. No satisfactory solution for things falling, or are perceived (by a human) to be potentially falling. So, am I favor of some level of autonomous vehicles? Yes. The elderly and handicapped could benefit enormously, if their use occurs in daylight hours in near-ideal conditions. And for those taking a long trip on an interstate in low traffic and good conditions, it might be relaxing to let the car do the driving ,--- with the driver still ready to take over (^_^)... =======================

    • TMA1 TMA1 on Jan 10, 2018

      Does an AI have the ability to do a U-turn when road construction has the street down to one lane? Or can I just expect to sit there in traffic for half an hour?

  • Goatshadow Goatshadow on Jan 10, 2018

    Software quality. It's not there yet. Will likely never be. Also, AI isn't.

  • 28-Cars-Later Seville - LS400Bhp 295 250Ft-tq 280 260Reliable No Yes
  • 28-Cars-Later No, and none of you should be either.
  • Arthur Dailey No.
  • Arthur Dailey My father had multiple Northstar equipped vehicles. He got one of the first Northstar equipped STS's in Canada and continually drove STS's on one year leases for nearly a decade. One of them did 'crap out' on him. It went into 'limp' mode and he drove it to the nearest GM dealer. The vehicle was about half way through its lease, and he was in cottage country (Muskoka). GM arranged to have it flatbedded back to Toronto. He rented a vehicle, drove it home and then took delivery of a new STS within about 4 days. There were no negotiations regarding repairs, etc. The vehicle was simply replaced. Overall he was pleased with the performance of these vehicles and their engines. We also found them a pleasant environment to be in, with more than enough power.
  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.