By Michael Bartner
Baby boomers often scoff at millennials for not knowing how to operate vehicles with a manual transmission. Imagine what we’ll hear when the next generation doesn’t have to learn to drive at all. A world with self-driving cars is becoming more of a reality day by day. Elon Musk confidently predicts that these autonomous cars will begin conquering the roads by 2021 (Lambert). Obviously, the powerful technology embedded in these vehicles will drastically alter the structure of our society, hopefully for the better.
Thinking idealistically, autonomous cars will diminish the many hazards of human driving linked to causing over one million deaths worldwide each year (ASIRT). Supplementing that statistic, 90% of accidents are a result of a driver error (Isidore). Autonomous cars triumph over human capabilities by sensing the environment all around them and concurrently processing that information almost instantly. On top of that, they drive the speed limit and follow every rule of the road, some of which their human counterparts are unaware of. With these features, there will be increased road safety, less traffic, and more human productivity as your car will turn long commutes into an opportunity to get ahead on the day’s work.
Still, the conveniences it will provide to society come with a degree of risk, no matter how much testing is done in the lab. First, all algorithms are prone to human error. Especially at scale, it is next to impossible to test every single possible event these cars experience. Even with multiple levels of security and fault prevention, there can always be bugs that slip through the cracks. Moreover, machines can only sense what they are programmed to detect. If a pedestrian is looking at their phone and their posture suggests they’re about to walk into the street, a computer is incapable of making the assumption a human driver would. This could lead to injuries and deaths in unusual situations that were otherwise not as serious.
Ultimately, this innovation will undoubtedly advance global society, though it might come with a price.