Cars With Brains

November 25, 2013
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Remember those driverless car highways from Minority Report? Well, those are now actually happening, at least in certain technological and market phases. Google, in an effort to install as much of their software into cars and develop partnerships with auto manufacturers, must have thought to themselves, “Hot damn! Robot cars!” It’s not the worst idea in the world, but for it to work, I’d wager man and machine would have to decide which would stay on the road. I have an inkling that autonomous cars and hummers with regular folks at the wheel would not get along swimmingly on the road.

So far, autonomous vehicles have had a fair amount of success on public roads, one specific vehicle even shepherding about a blind person to various destinations without incident. In these cases, the routes have had to be seriously well-planned, and destinations pinpointed exactly. I must say this is an achievement, one that outshines Google Glass and other commercial ventures. But it’s damn scary as well, when you imagine fleets and fleets of robot cars driving about. It’s not really frightening, though, because of the whole robot overlord thing, but because of the human factor. Cars are still extremely dangerous, and what happens when a carefully planned route gets interrupted by some Jag careening about drunk in search of Burger King? Although I’m usually opposed to more mechanical automation in our society, this change could be a good thing.

In a recent faux news article, Ryan Lawler, a tech writer, posted as if from 2023 reporting on the “current” success of Google and car manufacturers. The site TechCrunch still has yet to erase what is by definition satire, making commenters around the Internet type in fury. The news almost got me too; it’s hard to notice the 2023 time stamp on the article because the content itself was exciting to read. But alas, it’s faux hackery at its mightiest.

One thing that is true, though, is Lawler’s analysis of how autonomous cars would make drivers unhappy, especially those folks employed as professional drivers. Here’s one job we didn’t think robots would take over so soon. Mass production is far in the future because of the massive expense, but the idea is there, and conventional car companies and driving agencies should kinda watch it.

Again, whether or not the mass realization of Google’s and other company’s dreams of robot cars comes any time soon, the concept is one I weirdly agree with. The only danger in Minority Report, to inject more fiction into this wacky news, was what happened outside the vehicles themselves. Self-driving vehicles operating in the same arena as other autonomous cars simply have to rely on math and algorithms, where a highway of regular drivers has to contend with all the other technologies (and the negligence that comes with them). As much as I distrust robots in general, I would rather them driving than almost any human among humans any day.

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