That Google car

As most of us probably know, a recent press release gave details of Google’s licence to operate its driverless car on public roads in the US state of Nevada. The vehicle is clearly a prototype, but it seems to work well enough for a demo so inevitably there has been speculation as to what, if anything, this implies for our car-driving future.

Presumably the system will become more proficient and cheaper now it has progressed this far. There will inevitably be more technical hurdles and maybe some limitations such as the fact that it uses Google Street View. If it causes a series of accident the project will run into problems – if it causes a death it may be dead in the water itself. A Google car has been involved in one accident, but Google says the car was being driven manually at the time.

But apart from these obvious hurdles, what happens if Google or some other major technology company makes this thing drive better than humans and cheap enough to be mass produced? Legislators will be faced with driverless car technology which is both ready to go technically and a better driver than humans are ever likely to be. Because you and I know that in this context, better only means safer – nothing else. What then?

Some would welcome it, those who don’t much like driving anyway and those who can’t drive because of a disability.

But of course that isn’t all there is to it. The control lobby would be all over it like the proverbial rash. Safer, slower and possibly more fuel-efficient, so what’s not to like? The first thing they will do, assuming it hasn’t been done already, will be to invent a name such as SafeCar. What next?

  • Young drivers may find only SafeCar insurance is affordable.
  • Fake government-funded charities will promote SafeCar.
  • Non-SafeCar drivers will be subtly denigrated by the BBC.
  • Celebrities will be found to endorse the safe, green credentials of SafeCar.
  • And so on.

All speculation of course, but Google hasn’t taken it this far without a reason. In particular, it hasn’t taken it this far without making political soundings. Many people will see Google’s vision as the way to go with cars, trucks and possibly even buses. Others will be more concerned about the personal freedom angles and where else the technology might be leading us.

But maybe it’s too late to rehearse the arguments. Maybe it’s like many other aspects of modern life – it’s coming anyway.

12 comments for “That Google car

  1. SteveW
    May 12, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Interesting read AK, although I must take issue with “Non-SafeCar drivers will be subtly denigrated by the BBC.” – the chances of it being either subtle or restricted to the BBC are very slim indeed.

    • May 12, 2012 at 7:46 pm


      • Greg Tingey
        May 13, 2012 at 8:31 am

        False denigrating assumption.
        Anti-BBC bials for no reason I can see

  2. May 12, 2012 at 10:20 am

    It said somewhere that it only drives roads that have been surveyed by Google. One wonders how it deals with unforseen situations, like diversions, floods etc, any driver will attest that there are such things.

    • May 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      I think this must be a significant problem. Presumably a manual override is still required.

      • Greg Tingey
        May 13, 2012 at 8:32 am

        YES it must be so, I think.

        In the same way that aircraft still have pilots and trains have drivers or controllers.
        It is the extension of existing transport technology ( Air / Rail ) to another sphere – roads.

        What’s the problem?

  3. May 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Not that worried that a pile of transistors is going to take over driving for us any time soon. Computers might be good at predicting, providing of course that they have every single scrap of information, but they can’t anticipate worth a damn. You know how after you’ve been driving a few years you can often tell someone’s going to do something before they do? Maybe they guy in the side road ahead of you doesn’t make eye contact and you think he hasn’t seen you and lift off the gas just as he pulls out in front of you, or maybe there’s something about a car on the freeway that tips you off that they’re going to change lanes half a second before the indicator comes on. Actually a lot of the time an experienced driver can anticipate what another driver will do just by putting themselves in that position for a moment (e.g. he’s getting close to that truck so he’ll probably want to change lanes and overtake in a moment). Even if all that was rendered unnecessary because everyone was in Google’s Johnny Cab there’s still a need to anticipate what all the other road users – all the pedestrians (especially the ones listening to music or reading a paper or otherwise not paying attention), all the cyclists, all the horse riders and wild animals – are going to do on a moment by moment basis. I’m not a betting man but pit an average driver against a computer controlled car for a 100,000km and I’d back the human to have the first insurance claim, which would be for a low speed bingle when parking or something, but the computer to be first to kill or cripple a ped or cyclist because it’s no good at spotting someone with chronic smartphone neck or logos all over the arse of their expensive cycling shorts and anticipating that they might do something unpredictable.

    • Lord T
      May 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      So drivers will be OK but pedestrians and cyclists will be wiped out.

      Must be worth a trial in London before we just give up.

      • May 12, 2012 at 7:49 pm


      • May 13, 2012 at 5:23 am

        Bahahahahahahahaha! 😆

    • Greg Tingey
      May 13, 2012 at 8:34 am

      All these arguments have already been rehearsed – over 100 years ago – on the railways concerning automatic or semi-automatic safety systems.
      Looking at the road death-and-injury toll compared with the railways tells you which way to go, does it not?

  4. Dave_G
    May 12, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    It would be easier for Google to control the PEOPLE rather than the vehicle – they seem to have made good progress so far…..

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