I’m a car fan. I love driving. And I’m all for driverless cars. Yet whenever I read about them, or talk to people about them I keep seeing and hearing the same “Argh! Robot! Pitchforks!” arguments against them, so I thought I’d chip in my 2c here.
#1 It's not "Skynet", stupid.
Driverless cars are not artificially intelligent machines. They’re smart, but they’re not sentient. They don’t need to be. They just see better than we can, react faster and make fewer mistakes than we do. Google’s self driving pod is only about as smart as a terrier, not the Terminator.
Many cite the “Runaway Trolley” ethical scenario, where the car has to decide whether to save one person, or ten people, at the cost of the first person’s life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem
The goal of driverless cars is to build a safe, smart system to avoid the trolley running away in the first place, not to make an ethical call on who lives or who dies. You can build safer cars, AND driverless cars. They’re not mutually exclusive.
More and more safety systems are bridging the gap between driver's aid and driver's replacement. Volvo's automated braking system, or any of the current lane departure warning systems.
#2 It's not "I, Robot" either
It’s interesting that the movie “I, Robot” is used over and over again as an example of AI gone wrong. Sure, it features shiny self driving Audis that get hacked and try to kill the protagonist. But that's where the useful comparison ends.
The film is (loosely) based on a collection of 1950s short stories by Isaac Asimov, and yet misses the point of them completely.
In nearly all his stories, wherever there’s a problem between humans and their robots, the root cause of the problem is down to the squishy meatbags, rather than their creations. Asimov's aim was to tell a different kind of story, where the robots were not the usual clanking monsters chanting "Death to Humans!" that had become popular in SciFi media of the day. Current driverless technology faces nearly the same fears and preconceptions as the robots in Asimov's work, where we create something then fear it because we don't understand it.
#3 It is a little bit "Total Recall"
Yes, I know, another Arnie movie reference, but I'm a child of the 90s. Remember Johnny Cab?
Who needs to buy their own car when they can hail an automated cab from their phone, relax on the journey, and not worry about parking when they arrive? Just don't try to skip the fare…
#4 It's a little bit "Minority Report" too.
Remember the broad automated motorways that took the Cruiser out of the city?
Will the availability of driverless cars affect whether we live rurally or in cities? Given the option of living in an urban area, and having a short automated commute, or enduring a longer commute from the countryside, which would you choose? Motoring for pleasure will be separated from commuting,
With our dispersed, one-off, road-frontage worshipping rural spread in Ireland, whether or not the car drives itself will be far less significant than say, whether I can decent broadband, or whether or not the fast food delivery can get here before it goes cold.
What next for human taxi drivers, delivery drivers and postal staff? Will they be consigned to history, with only a few left for nostalgia an tourism, like the jarveys in Killarney, or Tuk-tuk drivers in Thailand? One final note. My autocorrect doesn't recognise "driverless" as a word. I think it has a point. Hopefully in a few years (or less) the phrase "driverless car" will be as anachronistic as "horseless carraige".