I have an hour commute to Stony Brook each way. This is my first semester commuting (and my last semester at Stony Brook) so I don’t know how long other students have to drive to make it to campus, but the drive is both pleasant and stressful. On one hand, I have an hour of free time to listen to podcasts or music or to just think. On the other hand, any traffic on the Southern State and I’m going to be late for class.
But there’s so much more I would be able to do if I didn’t have to actively drive. Coffee snob that I am, my first fantasy is that of a hot water urn built in so I can brew some French-pressed coffee and read ahead of my 100 book goal or do homework for class. Imagine installing a monitor to watch all of Monty Python. I would gain two hours a day back to waste on Facebook because I’m too lazy to delete it.
Driverless cars just make sense. Besides the time saved by not driving, I save even more when I don’t have to park – I can have my car search for spots while I relax and when I need it later, I can have it pick me up. On highways, my car would be able to communicate with others to drive faster with less traffic and more safety.
On Sunday, March 18, one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona. And as is always the case when a new technology does something horrible, people started a lot of important conversations.
As with all new technologies, the regulations regarding self-driving cars aren’t where they should be yet. That makes sense. As the United States continues to regulate safety, motor-vehicle related deaths per million vehicle miles driven have plummeted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are philosophical issues like whether a car should protect the passengers or pedestrians at all costs and how to program the car morally. While I would argue that it is impossible to teach a car morality, it should be possible to make the decisions beforehand and have the vehicles execute them when those situations arise. What do we consider important? The chances of survival? The age of those involved? The fame?
I had a conversation about a Rabbi who argued that the act of driving cars should not be permissible. He posited that there was a certain number of deaths by vehicles every year, so by driving, you tacitly agreed to be part of a system that gets you places faster at the expense of those deaths. But then you can get into the discussion of how many people are saved by cars because they are driven to hospitals. And then you can get into the discussion of public versus private transportation and nuances like the space parking lots take up and the cost of maintaining the subway.
At its core though, all of these conversations stem from the same place. Progress can be scary, is full of bugs and mistakes and puts us in an ever more complicated system. But progress is generally good. Yes, my generation loses some level of patience because we don’t have to navigate Encyclopedia Britannica, but Googling information is great. Yes we’re addicted to our devices — I spent 43 hours and 9 minutes on my phone last week — but we’re still productive.
We live in the future. We have flying cars and boat-cars that we’ve decided we don’t want. We’re worried about our space garbage falling back down on us. Technology is progressing quickly. But how many people have died in human vehicle crashes since the self-driving incident last week? And how many more lives will automated driving save in the future? It’s up to us to perfect the system and move forward.