August 17, 2015
Are Autonomous Vehicles A Threat To Human Agency?

Norman Lewis attempts to argue that misanthropy is at the base of the push for driverless cars.

The quest for robotic cars is underwritten by a suspicion of humanity.

Suspicion? A suspicion is where you think something is true but you aren't certain. By contrast, I'm quite certain that drunk drivers kill people every day. I am also quite certain that there are people watching their cell phone messages when they ought to be watching the road. I know this because I've seen them doing it. Recently I was in a left turn lane at the light and while the left turn light stayed red the main light turned green. The guy next to me stayed still even though he had the green because he was holding his cell phone and his head was turned down to look at it. People behind him started beeping. I saw another guy go thru a red light coasting while he watched his cell phone and only avoided an accident because no other cars were coming thru the green.

So people are dangerous. Drivers kill pedestrians, motorcyclists they do not see, and people in their own vehicles and other vehicles and themselves. They maim others. These results are not surprising because we did not evolve to drive cars. We do not have all the cognitive abilities (or sensors) needed for optimal vehicle operation. So when Lewis asks what problems driverless cars are trying to solve it seems obvious: the mismatch between our capabilities and the technologies we've created.

But just because such technology exists, or appears to exist, that doesn’t mean we should stop questioning the driverless car and its implications for the future. A legitimate starting point is to ask: what problem is it trying to solve?

Lewis then goes on to describe some of the obvious problems which autonomous are aimed to solve such as impaired driving and just basic mistakes causing death and injury and expensive vehicle damage. So he gets the benefits. But he's worried about the loss of free will or machines developing their own free will.

By contrast, I'm more worried about the dangerous people on the road. Sleep-deprived, drunk, high, distracted, addicted to their cell phones. The road is full of human menaces. We need to let computers perform our most dangerous tasks for our own sake.

Update: Traffic fatalities are up 14% so far in 2015. 2200 more deaths than in the first half of 2014. Autonomous vehicles would have prevented that rise and they will eventually save tens of thousands of lives year while preventing brain damage and other permanent damage in survivors of car crashes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2015 August 17 03:32 PM 

AbelardLindsey said at August 17, 2015 4:57 PM:


You need to post your comment, word for word, in the comments section to Lewis's article.

Dan said at August 20, 2015 8:16 AM:

I bought a new 2014 Mazda, and I specifically sought a manual transmission because I like to be in control of the car.

It seems to me when I watch automotive ads that much of what sells is the driving experience and automotive performance. Automotive performance is almost totally irrelevant in a self-driving car scenario. If cars were like elevators or subways, they would lose a huge part of their consumer appeal. Presumably your Hyundai and my Lamborghini would basically drive the same. How dull!

Ronald Brak said at August 21, 2015 9:13 PM:

Dan, I think Lamborghinis will definitely come with self driving capacity in the future because they are way expensive. Also, if the owner is to buy another Lamborghini, they have to be alive to do that. So I imagine you'll be able to drive one yourself all you like, but if you get into danger the collision avoidance system will take over. And then if there are times when you'd rather not drive, say you are tired or drunk or want to check your email, the car will be able to do drive for you.

Wolf-Dog said at August 23, 2015 2:05 PM:

Autonomous vehicles are not the problem, but they will almost certainly be connected to the cloud and those who have power (governments and big corporations) will know where you are going, and what you are doing.

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