Self-driving cars do not interest me. Or to be precise, I have no desire to own or be in a self-driving car. I have dealt with Otto-Pilot and all its charms and quirks. Reading some of the “awkward owner” stories about cars with self-driving features, and some of the technical problems said cars have, put me right off owning a car with self-driving features. I prefer to be in as much control of my vehicle as possible.
[Before I go farther – “self-driving” cars, at this point in time, are not really autonomous. One problem is that people who use the vehicles act as if the cars are indeed self-driving, and tune out. Several crashes have happened with the purported driver in the back seat of the vehicle. The cars are not airplanes on auto-pilot, 5,000 feet above traffic, trees, and bridge abutments. But people call them self-driving, so I’ll call them self-driving.]
This applies to a lot of other things in life as well. Yes, I’m on the “control freak” side of the personality line. If I’m going to be using a piece of equipment, a tool, an appliance, I want to know how to default it down to the least amount of automation possible. There are times when it is better to watch technology do its thing, and times when human intervention and manual operation is better. But I want to be the one to make that call, not the device and its software package. As I said, I’ve worked with aviation autopilots. They are great devices – if you use them properly and when they work properly. They can reduce workload. They can also send it skyrocketing at the wrong moment. I want the default to be “me in charge.”
Again, control. And with control comes responsibility. How long before “self-driving” technology reaches the point where the human on board says, “I didn’t do anything, Officer, it was the car!” In a sense we’ve seen that already, with the fatal “self driving” car and pedestrian accident in Arizona. “It wasn’t me, it was the software.” “The gun just went off.” “The table saw just turned on,” (notwithstanding the fact that SOMEONE was leaning against the switch, talking to a second party.)
Responsibility. I think that’s what’s been bothering me a lot in the past years with all the automation in cars, and with legislation and some people’s Grand Plans. They all seek to remove control and responsibility from people. With responsibility comes maturity. I am responsible for my own protection. That means I have to be aware of my surroundings, check to see that the doors are locked, be prepared to run, hide, or fight as appropriate for the situation. I also have to be smart and responsible enough to avoid situations where there’s a high risk of having to run/hide/fight. It’s what adults are supposed to do, like paying the bills on time and showing up when and where we are required to, in order to get paid.
Lots and lots of the ideas floating down from the ivory tower and other rarified heights go the other way. “We’ll protect you from being offended.” “Teach men that it’s wrong to [bad thing] and all women will be able to go wherever and do whatever without fear.” “If only experts were in charge of [thing], no one could go wrong/the planet would heal/we’d all hold hands ans sing ‘Kumbyah’.” So very many of these wonderful ideas involve removing responsibility and control from John Q Public. That alone makes me twitch, all else aside.
If I’m not in control of myself, of my well-being and safety, who is? The courts in the US have ruled on several occasions that it is not the police. Their duty is to society, not to the individual. If they are able to help, great. If not, that’s not their job. I suspect that if/when the lawsuits about “self-driving” cars start, the courts will insist that responsibility remains with the human on board, unless there is a vehicle with no, zero, possibility of passenger involvement. Then it would be . . . The software designer? The programmer? The person who designed the road that confused the car’s sensors? The deity that sent the rain that messed up the stuff on the road that confused the car’s sensors? Likewise when people insist that “society is to blame for assaults/poverty/pollution from China affecting the air at the Grand Canyon/what have you. What society? Who in society? Who is in control of society?
People without control or responsibility for anything at all in their lives are called children, or the severely mentally retarded or insane. They cannot have responsibility, for reasons far outside their control. That should change over time for children as they grow older and are given more duties and privileges. Granted, small children don’t always want to accept responsibility. “The cat broke the lamp,” says the toddler who pulled the lamp off the table and is still holding the cord in her hands. “Society made me burn the store down/beat my girlfriend/slash her for disrespecting me.”
I want to be in control. This is not always possible, which is why I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I need to be flexible when the world ignores my pleas for order and predictability. But being in control means accepting responsibility. Responsibility is hard some times. It means working so that I understand aircraft systems, or how some gizmo on my pickup works, or how to kill the power to a table saw or router (carpentry type) if things go all Dade County. It means being willing and able to defend myself if I’m not able to avoid trouble.
It means I will be very, very far down the list of buyers for “self-driving” cars.