I have been excited for a while, since I heard that Google was experimenting with self-driving cars. It seems that this technology is set to change our lives forever. But now I have just learned that these changes are potentially fraught with unseen, shocking threats. Apparently we do have real cause for concern. Read on:
Google’s Self-Driving Car Project is paving the way for a future of millions of cars driving passengers all around the world, without any of us controlling the vehicles. We will simply have to input our required destination, then the car will navigate its way, using its sensors to detect objects in its path, causing the car to modify its speed and direction in reaching its desired goal. It’s estimated that some 10 million models will be self-driving by 2020.
What are the benefits?
The principal benefit humankind will hopefully acquire from these technological wonders is safety. People make mistakes on the road frequently enough for there to be many unnecessary accidents, leading to horrific injuries and fatalities. Computers, however, are able to reach a pitch of almost-infallible proficiency, without any deadly tiredness, anger or drunkenness becoming a factor. Self-driving cars can interact and share data with each other, making collisions less likely. Pedestrians and passengers alike can rejoice in a future of greater road safety.
What are the risks?
The great human inventions are a testament to mankind's ingenuity, but they are also to man’s detriment. Every time some task is made easier by technological discoveries, we gradually lose, through lack of practice, our ability to do things for ourselves. How many people can start a fire using just natural materials? And how many can cook a family meal from scratch? Soon, we may be asking, ‘who can drive?’ This may matter in situations where technology fails, placing an untested driver at the wheel suddenly, face to face with a responsibility that technology has prevented them from preparing for. Our generation will be okay, but what about the next?
Like any computerized technology, things can wrong with self-driving cars. Software can become corrupted and hackers could take control of a vehicle, effectively kidnapping the ‘driver.’ Several cars could be remotely manipulated causing deliberate traffic jams for other devious purposes. The possibilities for crooks and terrorists could potentially be endless.
Another problem with self-driving cars is that ethical dilemmas are taken from the hands of humans and given to machines to resolve, posing some uncomfortable questions to arise. In crisis situations on the road, drivers are given split-second decisions to make about their own lives and others’. A driver may face five individuals in the road he can’t prevent hitting without swerving onto a pedestrian on the pavement. Would a computer be programmed to make such utilitarian decisions, choosing the greater number over the lesser? Is it right for a computer to make these life and death decisions for us?
Will such a car prefer females before males, children before the elderly? Would this mean the car accepts that death is sometimes necessary? These are all hard questions, and yet the programming work is already being done behind closed doors; we have no idea what instructions these cars contain. This should be of grave concern to all citizens.
In the near future, perhaps all our manifold devices – phones, watches and other unheard of things – will contain immeasurable data about our lives and our health. Will cars use this data to make judgments about whether we should be sacrificed for a superior person in a crisis situation? The possibility is alarmingly Orwellian. It’s enough to make me regret the advance of this particular piece of technology.
Watch this video that considers the case against self-driving cars
Watch this considered video that argues that self-driving cars are something for us to be afraid of. And remember that driving is a human skill to be cherished.