An end to all disease, hoverboards, personalized trips to the moon, holographic television, and similar benefits of living in the “future” were all promised to us decades ago. Such future tech was supposed to be here by now. However, despite our hopes and noblest scientific efforts, few of these promises have yet been fulfilled. Still, there is one shining beacon in the promised land of tomorrow for those who might be losing hope. Driverless cars are soon to be here.
Semi-autonomous cars are already on the open roads, allowing people to rely completely on computers for parking and other small tasks. Human transport will be dramatically altered when fully-automated vehicles finally hit the road en mass. Life on the roads will change, and the following are thoughts that might make it easier to grasp the full impact of the revolution.
One obvious threat that science fiction writers have made their bread and butter for years; the car may be programmed to kill you at some point. This threat is actually very real. Vehicular traffic can present situations in which you could – if given the opportunity – take action to save yourself or injure and potentially kill another party. When such decisions are left to a computer, self-interest may not always be the deciding factor. Computer software could be programmed to minimize the damage to the public at large, not necessarily sparing your life in the process.
Engineers, and those concerned with the ethics of the emerging technology, have publicly stated that there is no easy answer when it comes to working with such control factors on these types of vehicles. One suggestion is placing emphasis on complete transparency by the manufacturers regarding such situations so drivers can know exactly what to expect under such conditions.
Cars being operated strictly by computers could also significantly increase the world’s population. Fewer accidents on the roads means more people still living on the planet. If computers are saving the lives of the 1.2 million people who would otherwise die in traffic accidents, then there could be a serious problem. There are also economic concerns for drivers who own these cars. The more complex machinery is likely to make repairs to the vehicle dramatically more expensive. However, accidents will still happen and natural disasters will still strike.
There are definite repercussions for lawmakers. Currently, legislative considerations are on the table in at least 10 states. It is also likely that these laws will vary from state to state, according to the vehicle. Automation does not necessarily dissolve personal responsibility and drivers will still be held responsible for the actions of their vehicle in the vast majority of cases. Civil suits and criminal liability over accidents will still be in place.
It is predicted that fewer individuals will own fully-automated cars. Projections deem it likely that a considerable number of vehicles will be owned by groups of people and businesses in order to fight the depreciation that occurs when normal cars are sitting still, which most cars currently do more than 90 percent of the time. Smaller numbers of cars on the road will also lead to cleaner air and less congestion.
Privacy advocates are concerned that these cars will inevitably create a comprehensive history of the destinations to which you have traveled as well as other personal information. Because these cars will undoubtedly be networked, the potential for unauthorized access is high. Any car operating based on an internet connection opens itself up to tampering and hacking. Protecting the software from possible security breaches from cellphones and blue tooth devices are still, like the cars themselves, a work in progress.
The future is (almost) here.