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