How fast would a driverless car really go in no-risk mode? What control would we have?
Indulge me for a moment on three technology related rants:
- While using a self-checkout at a Wal-Mart last month, the station froze up twice because it kept sensing something amiss, accusing me via screen prompt of improperly placing an item on the bagging platform. All I did was scan the item and place it next to the bags. I had to twice flag down a clerk who entered a secret code to unfreeze the machine.
- Several times this year, my hotel card key signaled red when inserting into the door lock. I had to go down to the front desk each time to get rekeyed. In one instance, my smartphone had demagnetized the card key, while in other instances, I couldn’t find a reason.
- While trying to extend my metered paid parking, two of four touchscreen self-pay kiosk portals were out of order. Long lines ensued. We left and found parking elsewhere.
These episodes got me rethinking all the tingle-talk I’ve heard about the wonders of driverless cars. Recent polls show growing public skepticism, including among the social-media-tech-savvy Millennials. If more basic self-checkout machines, self-pay portals, and hotel key cards routinely malfunction because of over-sensitivity, then how will digitally complex driverless vehicles deal with uncertainty, risks and unexpected situations?
Governments will subject self-driving vehicles to stringent safety rules, and levy all types of I.T. requirements. Which means programmers must plan for every possible circumstance and allow no margin for error — no injuries or lawsuits. What about below situations that require human common sense?
Maybe technology will figure out all the unexpected obstacles based on real-time traffic monitoring and GPS-based re-routing. I’ve read all the optimistic predictions of driverless vehicles zipping through intersections inches apart in a constant flow sans traffic signals. We also may need fewer vehicles since they’ll be used more efficiently as travelers lease, rent, or own shared cars.
What concerns the public is the governmental quest for safety, which would snuff the human instict for control. People fear a regulatory structure with the default positions of wait, go slow, not now. Will we be able to override our mobile cubicles? Open the door and get out when we want? American culture has a long tradition of independence, mobility, and personal autonomy. Driverless cars go against our collective psyche just as on-demand consumer choices and expectations are killing off patience.
And if you think road rage is bad now, picture the multiplied stress levels among a slowly moving, safety-pampered public fuming at being boxed in, controlled, and wondering, “Why is my cubicle stopping again?” The government might have to mandate vandalism sensors in driverless cars to bust and fine us if we dare to rage against the ghosts in the machine.