I’ve got a point about self driving cars which I haven’t heard expressed by anyone yet and I want to share it with you. This is a little different to my usual upbeat posts about new tech but it’s something that I think is important.
All new Teslas are being built and sold with the hardware required to manage fully autonomous driving. However, there is still a bit more testing required and certain rules and regulations must change for this technology to be switched on and used by new Tesla owners. This means that soon, some Tesla owners will be able to jump in their car at home and be driven wherever they need to go, without even touching the steering wheel.
The big problem with this shift is going to be the safety of these cars. Midway through this year, we heard of a man that died in a Tesla while using it’s autopilot mode on a highway. The crash was a result of a failure in the car’s hardware to recognize a white truck that pulled out in front of the Tesla. This is a car accident that would not have happened with a human driver in control.
It’s been said by some people that self-driving cars don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be better than human drivers, but that’s not true. There’s a big glaring issue here. We can make self-driving cars that are statistically safer and less people will die on our roads. But there’s a problem. When people do die as a result of an accident caused by a self-driving car, if it’s an accident that a human could have easily avoided — which will inevitably happen again — it will cause an undercurrent of nervousness when riding in a self-driving car.
If the stats were to show as much as an 80% reduction in car accidents when using self-driving cars, it would mean a lot less deaths on our roads which is great. However, we would likely go through a stage where people die in car accidents much less often, but when people do die, it will be for dumber reasons. Unless the technology is perfected, cars will crash into trucks they can’t see properly, cars might try driving over obviously damaged bridges during storms which a rational human would avoid, cars will drive off cliffs or into sinkholes and we will hear all sorts of weird stories where the technology made a dumb decision because it misinterpreted the information it was given.
If you were to die in a car accident, would you rather it be your fault or the fault of a computer? Most people feel uncomfortable with allowing an algorithm to determine their fate. Total loss of control over your own fate is a very scary thing.