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.