Sunday, July 19, 2015

Let's hear it for humin eror!

Hey, so some idiot rear-ended a Google self-driving car which was stopped at an intersection. There were minor injuries, so understand that when I say 'some idiot,' it's not because I'm trying to be insensitive, it's because the driver doing the rear-ending not only hit a stationary object, but one with cameras, infrared sensors and the ability to email an insurance claim before anyone even gets out of their cars.
Pictured: The gleaming white SUV with roof-mounted sensor array that the driver
of the other vehicle failed to notice. In broad daylight. Like, right in front of them.
In fairness, they do have a lot to answer for.
Google's been testing about twenty prototype self-driving cars in Mountainview, CA as part of the prelude to a robot uprising and in six years there've been eleven accidents like this one. Eleven. Like, I'm no mathmaticist...mathemagician? Math guy, but eleven seems like kind of a lot. Twenty cars, eleven accidents? Google points out that in none of these incidents were their cars at fault, but at some point you have to wonder if people aren't deliberately slamming into these things because they really just hate Google.

Note: I said 'probably.'
The point of self-driving cars is both to eliminate human error and make it easier for us check Facebook while on the road and these are laudable goals, they really are. I mean, we are, on the whole, terrible at driving. We speed, we text, and nobody understands the blindingly obvious mechanics of the zipper merge (spoiler alert: you take goddamn turns). Self driving cars have no such problems. They'll drive defensively, they can't get distracted and they'll probably never achieve sentience and try to murder us.

"You say 'robot uprising' like it's a bad thing."
-Self-aware Murderbot
The only way we're going to cope with the increasing numbers of cars on the road and mounting distractions is to take human decision making out of the mix and turn our fates over to the cold, rational logic of the machines. So what's the massive glaring flaw in Google's plan? Other than the aforementioned robot uprising? It's that every other non-robot car on the road is still driven by squishy, easily distracted, emotional hew-mons. The self-driving cars are only as safe as the other vehicles on the road which is to say not very.

So either we all sign up for robo-cars or none of us do. And since Google once had the audacity to charge $1,500 a pop for the privilege of strapping the internet to our faces, I don't think many of us will be prepared for the ridiculous asking price of a technology that lets us screw around on Pintrest while watching House of Cards on the way to work.
Although Pixar has prophesied just that, so what do I know?

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