Self-Driving Cars: Are we ready?

More and more auto manufacturers are introducing cars with autonomous technology. Tesla and Mercedes offer vehicles with full autonomy now, with BMW not far behind. Although currently restricted to luxury cars, economies of scale will see them trickle down into more affordable cars finding their way into the mass market. With such technology about to fall into the laps of consumers, we aim to investigate whether or not we as a society are ready for this fundamental change in transportation.

For Self-Driving Vehicles

Although it’s not clear as to what extent lives would be saved, it’s obvious that human driven cars come at a very high cost in terms of danger. In comparison to the myriad of human errors a driver might exhibit behind the wheel, a computer is actually an ideal motorist. Computers use intricate algorithms to determine appropriate stopping distance, distance from another vehicle and have no opportunities to be “distracted”, which is a leading cause of accidents in the United States at present. Since 81 percent of car crashes are the result of human error, computers would take a lot of danger out of the equation entirely. The U.S. Department of Transportation actually assigns a value to each human life: $9.2 million. Therefore, there would be significant cost savings in many different ways like insurance costs and healthcare costs associated with accident recovery alone.

As an article from Forbes points out, there are also cost savings associated with time. When a computer takes over the driving responsibilities, drivers can use that time to do other things without having to worry too much about road safety.

Larger cities are plagued with the problem of providing adequate public transportation. Many have a lack of appropriate infrastructure to support the needs of their residents, a void that could partially be filled by self-driving cars. Disabled individuals, who have to rely on public transportation or assistance from others to get around, could reap benefits of self-driving cars with new freedom and enhanced mobility, as suggested by the New York Times. Additionally, such self-driving cars could be effective in countries such as Saudi Arabia where religious beliefs deter women from driving as it “undermines social values”.

According to Eno Transportation, self-driving cars in large number participate in a behaviour known as platooning, which would significantly improve traffic conditions and congestion. This would reduce commute times and minimise gasoline usage. Many cars are already equipped with features in the first stage of “automatic” driving, like autonomous braking, self-parking, or sensors that clue a driver to nearby obstacles. Over time, higher speed limits might be considered as an option if more people are using self-driving cars. Since computers calculate vehicle operation, driving time could be reduced by faster allowable road speeds.

Police officer focus could also be shifted from writing traffic tickets and handling accidents to managing other, more serious crimes. In addition, drunken driving incidents should decrease, because there’s no designated driver needed when the car self-drives.

Companies are always interested in new product development and taking the industry forward by a step, as indicated by the seven companies who requested permits for self-driving car development in California alone. Autonomous cars would also allow for drivers not having to obtain a specialised driving license.

Against Self-Driving Vehicles

As important as the advancement of technology is, a critical question looms over engineers; “Just because we can, should we?” While self-driving cars do seem like the pathway to the future, it’s a road with blurry ethical lines.

If humans struggle with the ethical dilemma of killing one to save many, how much better would a system of 1s and 0s fare? Would the car prioritize saving the life of a younger or an elderly person, and how would different cultures mould the programming to make this decision?

No system will be 100% accident proof, as evidenced by the recent traffic collision caused by a Google autonomous vehicle. Based on the report filed to the DMV, the vehicle made an assumption that led to a collision. While a vehicle can perform the act of driving, it can’t anticipate or emulate human behaviour. Although human drivers may be forgiven for making poor split-second decisions, self-driving cars would not have that freedom as this decision-making ability is programmed into the car. Such autonomous cars would also revolutionize impact on family life in some cultures, where parents would no longer need to pick and drop their children, reducing family time. According to some sources, in countries such as Saudi Arabia, accidents which lead to killing require drivers to fast for 60 days consecutively. However, in this case, a punishment would be hard to determine under their religious law.

The functionality of autonomous vehicles is entwined with consumer privacy. As these devices may be connected using a V2V or V2I protocol, with the emergence of autonomous cars, there is a greater possibility of privacy infringement due to the personal information available. In order to protect the consumer’s rights, access to this information, even by the government, would need to be heavily regulated and only be made possible by the owners’ consent.

These devices are inherently susceptible to ‘cyber-carjacking’. Hackers can easily trick self-driving cars into perceiving obstacles, which can potentially cause it to undertake evasive action. Low-power laser hackers could trick the system into detecting echoes of fake objects. Moreover, there is a great possibility of a hacker using it for a criminal or terrorism act.

According to the Bureau of labour statistics, in the United States approximately 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years due to their direct dependence on motor vehicles. Moreover, millions of related jobs will get affected. There are other less obvious effects of autonomous technology. Knowledge of the crash-prevention systems of such vehicles may cause drivers to take more risks, for instance, by cutting in front of the vehicle. Before fully legalizing autonomous vehicles, governments would need to be able to absorb the newly unemployed back into the workforce in order to keep their economies stable.

67: Ali Riaz, Usman Sami Khan, Shoaib Rana, Alexander Fonderson

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12 thoughts on “Self-Driving Cars: Are we ready?

  1. Very interesting article. I think it presents both the advantages and disadvantages of something which is of particular interest to me, but should concern all of us. I am not sure to what extent we are ready for this huge change. In my opinion, one of the most important points you made was the reduction of pollution which will, eventually, end up killing many lives. So this would be a big, positive consequence. However, I don’t think we are ready for it globally. I think it will raise many ethical issues and I would personally feel uncomfortable to be left out from the decision-making process by… technology. And there are also many problems in the global economy so I am pretty sure people like drivers who earn a living from driving itself would be willing to give up on the traditional way. 🙂

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  2. There’s been a fair volume of racket around the self-driving cars scheme in the last decade or so. Point you’ve raised regarding the unemployment rates in the industry soaring up post introduction of this new technology is fair. But, in my view, this is more of an evolutionary process. Plus, newer avenues open up after such moves. The same happened with the cassette player segment as the industry moved on to more digital platforms.
    With regards to piracy issues, it is subject to how the masses react to such technology. From what I’ve observed, even with the recent case of the security agencies in the US and Apple, such concerns can be viewed as the downside risk of using such equipment. Which most individuals are agreeing to when they sign up for the licence agreements.
    What I am actually more interested in is the regulation that surrounds the injection of self-driving cars into the global economy. We all know from experience that corporate giants live by one rule: “Profit is king”. Companies can always portray the introduction of new products as being beneficial for everyone. But, the regulation that gives direction to how things would proceed in future is relatively more important. Regardless, we should see some significant moves in the global economy post introduction of this new project.

    Good read nonetheless!!

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  3. An interesting article to read and very informative on the new technology. I am not sure if I would be very comfortable if my car is completely self driven but instead I think a better idea would be if I would be able to interrupt the car in case I feel its going wrong. This can also help in damages caused by hackers.

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  4. This is a great read. A lot of lives will be saved. People who have been affected by accidents will truly understand the value of this shift to self-driving cars.
    However on the other hand, almost no driver attention to the road, bugs in the computer program and hacking will result in car crashes and loss of life.
    In my opinion, fully self-driving cars are going to be introduced globally whether we want it or not as it is money and evolving technology that will convince the decision makers that it is the right path. So it’s only a question of when this technology can be developed into cars such that it becomes affordable and safe for the consumer and profitable for the manufacturer.

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  5. I think with self-driven cars it is inevitable that they will come along and become commonplace. The same arguments were made about privacy when smartphones started becoming common, and around TV’s when they came along and started replacing bookshelves. Sure we still have the “good-old-days” folk who will moan about how much better it was back in the day when you had to drive your own car, but saving lives, driving efficiently, and empowering people (notwithstanding this article’s strange obsession with Saudi Arabia) is the way forward. Don’t look back!!!

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  6. Very interesting read. This will surely impact thousands of lives. Many people have been suffering the effect of these accidents will definitely value the shift to self-driving cars. The contrary argument can be that a rise is car crashes can occur as a result of lack of driver attention to roads. Eventually I believe the method of self-driving cars will be introduced globally regardless of the opposition as it is a sustainable technology. This leaves the question of when this technology will be fully implemented and launched, to develop affordable, safe and profitable solutions.

    I would also like to state that this article has impacted my life, I cannot help but stop dreaming about Shoaib Rana. I want to take this platform to propose to him. Shoaib Rana will you marry me please?

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    1. Hey Kelly, Back off. Shoaib is my love at first site and father of my going to-be child. He played my heart like a guitar and you should bass off from his muscular six pack body. Thanks for commenting though, I feel the future is bright for myself and self-driving cars.

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  7. This car would never accelerate beyond 60 kms per hour!! Imagine when so many of these cars are driving on the road!! Lol

    Also this would make drivers redundant and make them feel too sleepy as well!! Lol 😛

    A huge training programme would be required for upgrading engineers for these kinds of cars as well.

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  8. I think from this article it’s clear that the cons outweigh the pros for self-driven cars. I may be influenced by the fact that I just recently watched an episode of “The Good Wife” about a suit against a car manufacturer whose automatic driving technology was hacked, causing a crash…even so I just don’t see the need, and I do see serious potential issues, like the car’s inability to anticipate human behaviour or replicate human instinct, and dangerous the potential for hacking vehicles.

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  9. I liked the argument for self driving cars because it detailed a lot of why we need them, in this economy if our lives are being priced at 9.2mil it demonstrates a further need for the cars although the arguments against the self driving cars were strong I don’t think they are strong enough to convince me that we don’t need them. I wouldn’t say that it would have that much of an effect on family life, it’s more likely it would at least make family life stronger rather than weaker as implied by the article.

    A problem that we would face would be hacking. That is likely to be the number one cause in scaring those that want to drive albeit we can understand what hackers are like, we also have to understand that if we are saying self driving cars would be hacked it would also be saying all credit cards would be hacked which is hardly the case…there will be some protection and we can rest easy knowing this information

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  10. This was a very interesting read indeed. I agree that applying this technology in some countries would be difficult as it won’t be in line with their traditional or cultural values. There have been instances in the past where introduction of new technology has caused conflict with values of the society.

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