Not Self-Driving Cars: Let’s Call Them What They Are

For the self-driven car industry to flourish, human-driven cars will have to be illegal. Are you ready to part with your right to drive? 

Not Self Driving Cars: Call Them What They Are

Driving home from a store tonight, I typed my home address into my phone, but my phone re-routed me to an adult care home several hours away. I had never heard of this “home,” never looked it up, and have no connection to it whatsoever, but every time I plugged in my home address my phone replaced it with this adult care home and began GPS to that location, 3 hours away. As I began the 15 minute drive to my house from memory, my phone continued overriding my attempts to go to my own home and instead fed me incorrect directions to a far away location. My phone and I continued fighting (me trying to manually plug in the address, the phone ignoring or over-riding what I was doing and re-routing me to this random location) until my phone finally died. I didn’t have a car charger with me so tried to create the route from memory, but quickly realized that I did not know the roads near the store very well and that I was at risk of getting lost. Within a few minutes, I realized my best course of action was to drive straight back to the store and ask for help. It was late at night and the store was mostly empty. I passed rows of automated check-out lines and found a living, breathing human at the Customer Service Center, whom I asked if I could please borrow a phone or look up directions. The woman let me use her computer to look up directions. I typed in my address… but the Google directions were, once again, wrong. They were missing streets that I knew I needed to take. I showed her how on the map how there were all sorts of additional streets that the directions were not including and that the directions made no real sense. She was perplexed. She printed out the map for me, gave me a hard copy of the map, and that’s how I finally got home.

If you’ve ever had a problem with GPS or your cell phone, I encourage you to take some time to think about your views on self-driving cars. It’s one thing to override/ignore a phone, but an entirely different thing to override/ignore a massive powerful automated 2,000 or 10,000 pound car which humans do not have physical power over. When self driven cars are officially rolled out to the public, manufacturers will promise they are equipped with an override/off button. But I’ve noticed that at times, my cell phone refuses to turn off. I try and try to turn off, it insists on staying on, and eventually I just give up, plug it in, and let it remain on. Have you ever woken up in the morning with the screen of your TV on after turning it off the night before? From time to time, our ROKU remote turns the TV on the middle of the night. Technology is not what it used to be; the new levels of complexity make it more dangerous. Our lives should not depend on it.

Self driving cars will never be as safe as a conscientious driver in the real world on real roads. The argument for the safety of self driving cars over the human brain cannot be won, only fabricated. Allowing manufacturers of self driving cars to test their products with computerized programs will offer a significant advantage to the self driving cars and a steep disadvantage to the human drivers. We have another situation of the fox guarding the chicken coop – does it really seem logical to allow the manufacturers of self-driven cars to tell us how safe they are? Self driven cars must be tested in the real world, on real courses, in unpredictable circumstances that the manufacturers did not create and are not privy to prior to tests. Manufacturers will make an argument that human drivers are not always conscientious and alert, that they are distracted by cell phones, etc. and perhaps slowly we will come to believe that self-driving cars need only be safer than a distracted driver. In a way, cell phones have paved the way for self driving cars. Cell phones have increased our comfort relying on GPS and they are an easy way for the self driving car auto industry and eventually the government to claim we are all too distracted/unfit to drive. With cell phone carriers and manufacturers and apps all tracking the activity of cell phone users, you can be sure that when they are ready to push self driving cars, there will be no shortage of studies showing how often humans use cell phones while driving. At our own expense, we are spiraling into a more automated world – a spiral that will continue until we vote against giving up our rights and freedoms in the name of technology.

The inner circles of real estate and commercial developers are already planning for a future where self driven cars rule the roads. Planners are being instructed to build larger parking lots in urban areas with the expectation that greater numbers of people will be commuting more often. Some experts are predicting a swing back to suburban and rural living as cities become overcrowded and people become more comfortable with self driving cars. It’s an easy sell: Just imagine the commute to work as a luxury in which you brew a latte and read the news in your personal self driven limo. But is it worth voting away your rights and freedoms?

For self driving cars to be even close to as safe as human directed modes of transportation (from walking to biking to driving to flying), self driving cars will have to communicate with each other just as humans communicate through their windshields with eye contact, a nod, a wave. Self driven cars will be part of an online or GPS communication grid of some sort and that will be part of the selling point – that self driven cars will “know” where other self driven cars are so that if one car glitches or takes a sudden turn, the other automated cars will receive an alert and slow down to avoid a collision. But how would a self driving car communicate in this way with a human driven car? It’s impossible. Human driven cars won’t be on the communication grid. As passengers get used to self driving cars silently communicating with each other in a way that seems more sophisticated than eye contact between drivers, waving, turn signals, etc. the passengers of self driven cars will lose faith in human driven cars. Those old methods of communication will all seem archaic.

And so self driven cars come with a caveat: For the self driven car industry to flourish, human driven cars will have to be illegal. If we are honest about this possible future – in which you lose your legal right to drive your personal car – we can think clearly and formulate our views before we are swept away by a narrative woven by manufacturers.

Today, when I read about self driving cars causing deaths (for example, the self driven car that ploughed into a semi truck, decapitating the driver of the self driven car and injuring the driver of the truck), I think, “Well, the self driving car should have stopped instead of ploughing into the semi truck.” We still feel confident demanding more from self driven cars. But in the future, the public will slowly be sold a story that makes them think instead, “How is the self driven car supposed to respond to unpredictable behavior like that? The human-driven car shouldn’t have turned in front of the self-driven car without warning.”

And then the self driving car industry will make a new argument – let’s end drunk driving, let’s end road rage, let’s end unpredictable driving, let’s end human error, let’s make it not only illegal but impossible. It will be an easy sell. Government officials will tell stories of children killed by human-driven cars and say things like, “We have to save our children. We have to protect our citizens.” The self driving car industry will parade statistics about saving the environment, about the efficiency of self driving cars causing less pollution.

And just like that, we will lose our RIGHT to drive on public roads because people, with the best of intentions, will vote it away. 

Keep in mind that even if self driving cars release less smog, for example, all of that pollution will simply be replaced by new forms of pollution that are equally if not more harmful to people – EMF radiation, for example, as 10,000 pound computers connected to the Internet fill the freeways.

If we had any privacy as citizens before this change, there will be none. No leaving your cell phone at home. You’ll be driving in a giant car that is a borrowed cell phone from Big Brother. If you want to go anywhere, your choice will be to:

(a) contact a self driven car and hope that the technology both understands and approves of your errand, and then takes you where you want to go

(b) walk, bike, or move in some alternative way; however, we should be aware that walking and biking will very likely become more dangerous, not less. A computer is not equipped to detect the group of oblivious adolescents I drove past tonight as they stood on the side of a narrow, dark road wearing dark clothing with a background of dark trees and bushes. Fortunately, I was alert and recognized their subtle shapes and movement in time. Will self-driven cars be equipped with heat sensors or some sort of technology that detects the heat of animals/people in advance? Perhaps. And will laws then be passed allowing increased speed limits for self driving cars as we the public are freshly convinced of their safety, once again impacting the safety of walkers and bikers?)

We are often encouraged to vote away our rights and freedoms for the sake of science, for the sake of technology, for the greater good. But is the loss of our rights and freedoms really for the best? Is a world in which our mode of transportation is fully tracked as if we are all suspected murderers really right?

First and foremost, as we embark on this debate as a society, let’s be fair and clear about the terms we use. We should all take issue with the term “self driving cars.” There is no “self” driving the car. You could more accurately call it an automated car or a computer-driven car. The term “self-driving car” is a PR strategy – it’s a way to humanize the automated car as if it has a “self,” a slogan to make the public more comfortable with this dangerous technology. Journalists should not be using this term.

Dear USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, NewsDay, New York Daily News, AM New York, Boston Globe, New Hampshire Gazette, Hartford Courant, Poughkeepsie Journal, Register Star, Augusta Chronicle, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Berkshire Eagle, Daily Mail, Recorder, Rutland Herald, Norwhich Bulletin, Keene Sentinel, Post and Courier, Press-Republican, Fayetteville Observer, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cherokee Phoenix, Ledger-Enquirer, Post-Standard, Philadelphia Inquirer, Barnstable Patriot, Boston Post, Observer-Dispatch, the many other publications whose intention is to inform our citizens, and all conscientious members of the media:

Why are you using the terms “self-driven cars” and “self-driving cars” to describe this technology? For the sake of impartiality, correctness, fair representation, accurate reporting, for the sake of not becoming a marketing arm for the manufacturers of these cars, to support the future wellness and equality of American citizens as we try to make informed decisions, please choose a description that is more fair to humans with selves. Let’s call them automated cars, computer-driven cars, computerized cars, Internet cars, driverless car, robotic car, or choose a new name altogether. 

But above all, let’s remember: 

A car does not have a self. A car driven by a human is a car driven by a self.

 

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