It all sounds so futuristic and exciting, this concept of driverless cars, but the reality is, our society may not be nearly as ready for it as other people in other lands may be. That’s because if there is one thing Americans are infatuated with, it is the automobile.
And yet, the technology is here and it is getting better every year. So we may have little choice about whether or not we want our vehicle to do the driving for us in the near future.
Indeed, the technology has even advanced to the point where media and technology giant Google has given them a “greenlight” for business, The New York Times reported recently.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced earlier this month that driverless technology was ready to be commercialized. The company said it would be spinning off the autonomous vehicle technology from its research lab X and will be opening a stand-alone company under the name of Waymo.
But are we ready for this technology?
We don’t know what we don’t know about this technology
For the past 10 years, the Times noted, several industries including car makers, technology, telecom and e-commerce have been feeding and stoking the public’s increasing desire to live in a wireless world. During that time tech companies have been working at a breakneck pace to bring the telephone and Internet into the driving environment. That’s largely been a success; hands-free Bluetooth technology allows drivers to answer the phone without letting go of the wheel and talk in a less distracting way, while emergency roadside and location services have led to advances in that realm.
But the thing is, this rapidly advancing meld of Internet and automobile has never been voted on by the general public nor debated much in Congress or state legislatures along the way. And even when the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation brought in industry leaders to the nation’s capital in the spring for a hearing, lawmakers basically wanted to hear how government could assist in the ushering in of the new driverless technology.
It appeared as though the committee’s assumption was that the outcome had already been decided—the world would have to accept it as the [emerging] new normal.
Now, precisely what are the selling points of driverless technology? The usual—reduction in accidents, lives saved, congestion eased, energy consumption declines, less harmful emissions, none of which there exists any evidence, only supposition and baseless claims. And how having no driver will cut emissions and ease congestion, of course, makes no sense whatsoever, given that the same vehicles will be on the road, just without a human driver.
So, even if there is stipulation that at least some of those claims pan out, “the near- and midterm picture from a public-interest perspective is not the same favorable one that industry sees,” the Times noted. “Legitimate areas of question and concern remain.”
What will happen to all those jobs involving driving a vehicle?
For one, what about the proposed “safety” benefits of self-driving cars and trucks that says we’ll avoid tens of thousands of highway accidents and deaths each year—is that valid? Who knows? There, of course, is no legitimate data on that at all, so to make the claim that “driver deaths will decrease” is blatantly absurd and nonsensical. Can’t even use anecdotal evidence to support such a claim, because it doesn’t exist. So that’s misleading at best.
Plus, the kind of accidents we may see with self-driving cars may be different; they could be much more horrific, and lead to greater loss of life. We just don’t know. What we can surmise, however, is that a lot of people traveling at high speed trying to get to the same place is going to result in accidents, even if no human is actually doing the driving.
Another aspect of creating driverless cars is the “human” aspect, so to speak. Yes, the driverless car industry will create jobs, but it will also destroy jobs—millions of them. Cab drivers will go the way of the dodo bird, along with new start-ups like Uber. What about truck drivers? A thing of the past. And because of the hit employment will take, that could lead to fewer people buying fewer cars altogether, which will result in even less employment.
There are a lot of things to consider shifting to a driverless automobile that, frankly, the country has yet to consider and debate through their elected representatives. Before we “green light” this technology, we sure ought to have a much more thorough discussion about it.