Self-driving cars – soon driving themselves to a street near you
Welcome to the future – self-driving cars are here but the roadblocks are too. The debut of self driving vehicles is filled with controversy; why do we need self driving cars? Big start up investors have big plans. Some are not even sure if self-driving cars are technically feasible at all. In addition, people may never support cars without drivers because driving is a the fun of having cars.
Robots taking away our driving pleasure is something a few people are excited about. Legal and social implications are a big problem for self-driving and it could hit people hard – drivers, their jobs, and pedestrians I’m afraid. There are 4.1 million people who drive for a living and 3.5 million do it full time. Immediate concerns are:
why we are spending billions to develop this new safe self-driving car technology, when there are millions of people who could do a better job? There are more then one controversial issues when it comes to self-driving cars.
Why will people not give up driving
Cars are part of our life in more ways than we think. Nothing else spells freedom as driving and going places. The proof is the money. The average person will spend $335,000 dollars in cars in their lifetime. But driving is also fun. Our driving pleasure is what make people love their cars. Driving is a complex skill and requires not only our attention and creativity but our critical thinking.
Cars represent a leap in our social evolution. We went from using horses to having cars; and that was a troublesome change. Now we are at doorsteps of another leap, but this time instead of horses, there are robots offering a better world. We don’t have to worry for a while; the baby robots have a lot to learn. Even the worst driver today, outperform robotic self-driving cars – by a lot.
This might take a while
It is almost silly to think we can mimic the complexities of driving with algorithms. Driving is not just scanning objects and making sure you stop before you hit something – driving requires way more than that.
Driving is like thinking, something computers can’t do (at least not very well). To conduct a hunk of metal weighing around a ton is a dangerous task. Driving requires a continuous stream of decision making. A computer will face an overwhelming obstacles to come even close to a bad driver. In some technical aspects, self-driving cars might be better then humans, but one important aspect still is missing – human judgment.
A computer can only react to its programming. But the complexity of programming that can deliver that is mind boggling if not impossible. Let’s try to illustrate this from a programmer’s point of view: Most likely your programmer will tell the computer to stop at a red light and then go on when the light turns green; that’s is the easy part.
Let’s say there is a cop waving at the robot-car to pull over. How do you program your computer to respond? Now let’s say there are a pile of boxes blocking the street ahead; do you tell the program to go into incoming traffic and pass to the other side or you program it to just stop and wait? Wait for what? What if there is a poorly written sign saying – detour to Main Street? What do you tell your computer to do? What if there are nails on the road?
Will the computer be able to see it, and what do you tell the program to do? I could go on all night re creating a list of scenarios and we are not even talking about snow and rain or a myriad of unknown unknowns.
What programming is able to do now is only a small fraction of what is required in real driving. Keeping cars between lanes and preventing them from hitting each other and the objects around them is the easiest part. The hard part is how to interpret a chaotic, dangerous and fast changing environment, and navigate it safely.
Self-driving cars enthusiasts will argue that there are other technologies that will come to the rescue. GPS; communications from car to car; lanes created for self-driving cars; and changes to the urban landscape making it easier for the current technologies to complete the work.
Right now there is a race to the top. Billions are being spent. Google, Uber, Tesla, and Volvo are the front runners. A race for the benefit of humanity or just for profits?
Changing the world to accommodate robot drivers
Yes. If you give these new robot-cars a perfect and safe environment they might do quite well. Remove all obstacles, reduce the unknowns; make special lanes; create a robot-car only environment and now we are looking at a futuristic city where everyone is happy safe, and pollution free; not so fast.
We are talking about urban planning at its best. But there is a much simpler and cheap way to achieve city decongestion and safe spaces along with clean air: and it is called public transportation or mass transit. Someone already invented that.
So it all boil down to politics and lobbying which usually never favors public policy for the benefit of all. It is sad that we seem to always spend billions trying to make something wrong to work rather than spend millions to build something new that will work.
Are there any real use for these cars?
The question we have ask ourselves is: do we really need this technology? What is the cost benefit of building self-driving cars? A good application for self-driving cars are to provide independence to people who cannot drive for medical reasons. That would be one of them, and I’m sure there are others.
In other words, the only real reason we would need a self-driving car would be a lack of drivers, is this the case? No. There are many people that knows how to drive and are employed doing just that. People can be driving for blind people or people with handicaps.
So, ultimately what self-driving cars are accomplishing is farm out a job people could be doing, to a machine that can’t barely do the job. Usually machines are build to do just the opposite: to replace jobs that people cannot do for whatever reason. Such examples would be: robots that detonate bombs, usually a dangerous job people should not do. So is this technology at the service of people? And the answer is no. This technology will be hurting people.
Why mobilizing resources to build for self-driving cars is a bad ideal
Changing our urban environment is a good idea but let’s change it so it accommodates people and not more cars. creating spaces so people can meet each other and enjoy life should be the goal. Our cities are now filled cars and ruined by their noise, dust and the fear of being run over by one.
They now occupy all living spaces as if they were the central and most important part of city living. All they are accomplishing is moving a small number of people from one place to another. Public transportation does a far better job, is safer and cheaper leaving our living spaces untouched.
Now imagine a city with no cars. At least a downtown area that is car free. Imagine the streets filled with joy and laughter as people mingle in cafes and restaurants. Children run free without parents fearing for their lives. Musicians and artists perform freely and their art can be enjoyed in the quietness of our car free streets. Some of our cities are experimenting with that ideal as they open downtown areas spaces by re routing streets. It is a wonderful experience to be in one of these places.
So if we are willing to make huge changes to our urban areas let’s make changes that will improve the life for everyone. Investing in self-driving cars will not create this change. Self-driving cars will not work because they are not addressing the problem of lack of good public transportation. They are simply removing the driver from individual cars.
There are no prof they will be safer, effective or cheaper. Having a driver or not having one, only creates more unemployment. Can we invest money in something more productive? What do you think?
Image credit: flickr.com