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