Google’s Cute Cars And The Ugly End Of Driving – BuzzFeed News

Posted: Thursday, October 01, 2015

Yet this kicked-back experience is a single sentence in the longer story of why autonomous cars are better.

The first time I rode in a fully autonomous car, what really impressed me was when the car saw something that I could not. As I rode down a residential street in Mountain View, the car slowed, for no apparent reason. Yet in the front seat, a laptop showed everything the car could “see.” And up ahead, there was a man, in the street, standing behind a double-parked vehicle. He was concealed from my eyes, but the car detected him. And it slowed down, anticipating that he might step out unexpectedly.

It anticipated this because each and every one of Google robot cars has experienced the totality of everything all its siblings have experienced. Google’s cars have driven a total of 1.2 million miles on the roads. We tend to think of this as combined experience — an aggregate number. But what it really means, effectively, is that every single car has driven that distance, has experienced it. This is a machine that learns. And in addition to that on road time, the cars log, Google said yesterday, 3 million miles every day running scenarios.

This car is a better driver than me, or you, or any of us.

But like anything new, people are concerned about it. And so, a scowling, red-faced reporter from Australia, after explaining how much Australians love their cars (we know), bellowed at a Crocs-clad Sergey Brin: “How dare you mess with that relationship between the car lover and their car? And is the goal here a future without human drivers?”

People should, very much, be concerned. There are a lot of questions we should be asking about self-driving cars (Will they be privately or publicly owned? Both? Will non-autonomous vehicles be banned? When? How will we secure them from hacking and viruses and malware and plain old-fashioned bugs? How can we preserve our location privacy? How will they operate in disaster and evacuation scenarios? How will they be insured? And purely in terms of Google, if it isn’t getting into the manufacturing business, and given that it doesn’t operate purely altruistically, how does it intend to turn a profit off of this highly expensive research project it has embarked on? What will it track? What will it monitor? What will it do inside those cute little cars?), because autonomous vehicles will become a pervasive technology and we should always interrogate things that will transform our society before, rather than after, the fact.

But these two questions were both really dumb.

Cars are giant, inefficient, planet-and-people killing death machines. Self-driving cars — especially if they are operated as fleets and you only use one when you need it, summoning it Uber-style — would mean we could have fewer vehicles per person, less traffic congestion, less pollution, far fewer vehicles produced per year (thus lowering the environmental impact of production), and best of all, safer streets. The blind, people with epilepsy, quadriplegics, and all manner of others who today have difficulty ferrying themselves around as they go through the mundanities of an average day will be liberated. Eliminating the automobile’s need for a human pilot will be a positive thing for society.

So go fuck a tailpipe if you love cars so much. Your love for cars doesn’t supersede the lives of 1.2 million people who die in automobile accidents every year. It’s not more important than the energy savings we’ll get from not manufacturing 60 million or so vehicles every year that spend most of their time idle. Turned off. Parked.

New technology comes at us so quickly now, and with so much hype that it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s real and truly transformative. (Consider Google Glass or the Segway.) So this is what you should know about the technology behind self-driving, fully autonomous vehicles: It’s real. It’s transformative. It’s coming.

A future without human drivers is a long, long way off. But we’ll get there. No matter what you think. No matter what you hope. No matter how you feel about it. Because the efficient, unemotional, necessary logic of cars that operate without human error and instability is unquestionable.

But when a little self driving car does, at last, pull up at your door, whether it’s a Google car or an Uber car or an Apple car or a Ford, hopefully we’ll have asked the right questions of it before it gets there. Hopefully we’ll have properly interrogated it.

Because when you do get in, you’re going to be delighted, and you’re going to want to ride it again and again. There’s no stopping them.

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