Recently read a very interesting feature article in Wired: Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future Is Here
The story covered the improvements of self-driving cars since Google developed the first fleet in 2010. Apparently, progress has been rapid. Scary.
“Ensconced in the buttery leather driver’s seat, I am reminded of Emerson: “Things are in the saddle,” he wrote, “and ride mankind.” The truth is we have gradually been distancing our level of active engagement with the process of operating a car. We automated the shifting of gears. We went from manual steering to power steering and then finally to “drive-by-wire,” in which the mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the tires was replaced by a series of electrical impulses. We gave up paper maps for digital navigation systems. The hazards of parallel parking have been ironed out by ultrasonic sensors. This year, electronic stability control is standard on vehicles sold in the US for the same reason antilock brakes are standard in Europe: Its algorithms can perform better than humans in emergency maneuvering.
Each of these developments generated a brief period of resistance, which faded quickly as the new system began to seem natural. We do not feel as if we have lost something essential. On the contrary, in the same way that it would now feel strange to be in an elevator run by a human operator, it’s the absence of technology that begins to feel uncomfortable. Incrementally, more of the things that we think are innate to the driving experience—steering, braking, accelerating—will be out of our hands.”
I remember having a similar conversation with a friend a month ago about how humans react to disruptive changes in technology and media. Just look at how people looked down on novels when they were first introduced.
Now I like to consider myself a driving purist, whatever that means. So naturally, my gut reaction upon reading this article was unease. We already give up so much control these days to the car, what would be the point of the human if we’re taken out of the driving equation?
But then I thought about it some more, and looked back to the excerpt. It’s true. While people may be uneasy at first, I can see humans gradually adapting to this technology and integrating it into their daily lives. The convenience factor would be just too great.
But if and when it happens, I hope that there will still be people who aren’t too busy to go on weekend drives in mountain roads. Just them and the car, no electronics. There are certain things that machines can never perfectly emulate, and I believe the ethereal connection of a person driving is one of them.
Sleep and drive at randomtidbitsofthought.wordpress.com.