Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How will you feel in a driverless car?

Did you hear that Google's driverless car was involved in a five-car accident?

There's some question over whether this particular accident is the fault of the car's computer or the human who may have been attempting to drive; and in all this excitement, I hope we don't miss the priceless information that this crash involved three Priuses and two Accords.

I don't think this incident will become a rallying point for anti-driverless car activity, if only because the driverless car isn't too visible at the moment. (Now, if that driverless car started reading your emails and mining your personal data, that would be a different story.) I also assume that the future could include driverless cars that our descendants live with peacefully--descendants for whom the notion of "driver" seems a little archaic. ("Isn't that the software that runs my 3D printer?")
But I am looking forward to the convulsions between now and then, when people who are used to driving are confronted with the loss of that experience. (Will we lose that experience? If human-driving turns out to be less safe than computer-driving, then insurance rates will be higher for human drivers, and only the rich will afford to drive themselves. That seems as or more likely than laws against human driving, but we end in the same place: average Joe will take a computer to work.)

What will that be like, to be cargo in the vehicle that has come to be synonymous with self-determination and independence? I'd like to think that a lot of the bad behavior we see on buses and planes has to do with crowding; but part of me wonders if some that bad behavior comes from panic over one's own agency.

So, will driverless cars increase or decrease road rage? My guess: increase, unless we figure out some way to make "driving time" a lot more like "leisure time."

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