The topic of smart cars came up the other day at work, while a co-worker was reading a story on them. I’m not sure if that’s the right term, smart car, but that’s about the best I can do to describe it. By this, I mean a car that is actively aware of it’s surroundings and speed that can take action to avoid potential car accidents by either slowing down or steering away from it. Maybe I’m getting to be one of those crotchety old men that’s afraid of technology but there are so many things about the thought of this that scares me, and I let that be known to my co-worker in an effort to check my thought process.
Problem number one, making a machine aware in anyway, even if just with it’s place in space, does not sound like a good idea to me. Make it so the machine is doing this constantly then give it a way to extrapolate potential outcomes from it’s awareness and it’s ten times worse. I mean, it’s one thing to have a car have sensors that keep you from backing over the neighbor kid in the driveway without looking, it’s quite another to have it feel that it’s best to apply the brakes at 70 mph because you might be going too fast for an oncoming turn, in it’s opinion.
I guess that’s problem two, giving the cars an opinion of what is and isn’t dangerous. If one car has an opinion about something that’s happening and it’s out on the road with a thousand other cars, all with their own opinions, well then something is bound to go wrong.
For example, two cars headed for each other. What happens there? What if both swerve but do so in a way that makes each individual action moot and still has an accident. What about the vehicles, people and everything else around the cars? How do they take those into consideration? Are they constantly aware of all that as well? If they are aware of all that, how far does their awareness go? A mile? Two miles? A hundred?
Third problem, how does the car (once it’s calculated a potential accident) calculate the the potential damage? Making cars little risk management workers who are trying to figure out which outcome is less damaging doesn’t seem feasible, not to mention adding in having them weigh the potential loss of life. At what point does a car not only figure that there are two people in one car and four in another so the one with two is less a loss?
Problem number four: Now this is just me playing the whole thing out in my mind but I can’t help but think millions of calculations of awareness by a machine will start having these cars calculating their own existence. Machine or not, there is only so many times you can get cut off in traffic before you start making judgments on which human beings are better moral characters than others. That only can lead to “Well that car has four people in it and the other two, but the one with two is more important to society and all around more stand up human beings, so the car with four loses in this accident”. That can only lead to, “Screw it, all these humans are assholes. What am I doing looking out for them. Smart car has to look out for one person, the smart car.”
In my option, that logically can only lead to cars who think that their sacrifice for the greater good is necessary for them to be better people…er cars, I mean.
Maybe it’s just me, but the thought of smart cars right away has me picturing cars swerving themselves, full of passengers, in front of oncoming trains from half a mile away because the loss of life of it’s driver and itself is so far more insignificant that the future accident it seems dreamed up in it’s head. I picture it patting itself on the back (metaphorically speaking) for being such a better being than everyone else for it’s sacrifice, dreaming of the awards and accolades it will receive posthumously for what a wonderful car it was.
What a pompous prick. Where does that car get off thinking he’s better than me? But, of course, I digress…
Maybe it’s just that I’m guilty of thinking too much. Just like the imaginary hero car of my daydreams.
I was reminded of something the other day while thinking of this smart car conundrum, electricity. My worry need not be there because of that. You see, there is this force of nature and science called electricity that is always there that man has been able to harness for work. It makes our life easier. Because of our dependence on electricity there is so much that we, people like me, are free to do.
Because of the power of electricity, we have lights to read by, machines to work for us and make us comfortable. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or how long it will be there. I don’t have to think about how it works, it does. I don’t have to even put it in place, the wires, switches and such are in place wherever I go. I don’t really even have to think about it ever going away. If it did, I would have much more problems that would come first. I depend on electricity.
It’s a weird concept I never really got when I wasn’t sober, the concept that someone other than me can run the minutia of my life and all that’s around me, my higher power. I don’t have to worry, concentrate on and control all of the details of people, places and things. I can just turn on the light-switch and let it run on it’s own. Before, freedom was having to call the shot on everything, every second of the day in my life. Now, it’s giving over the thoughts of highways filled with sentient cars and the logic of the whole thing to my higher power. It’s being able to know that not only do I not know all the answers, I don’t even have to consider what some of the questions are.
Still, there is part of me that wants to know what’s going to happen next, wants to play the tape forward as far as it can go. I’m learning though. I am learning the less I do that and the more I just enjoy the ride, the happier I am and more comfortable I am in my own skin.
So long as the ride I’m enjoying isn’t in a self aware, mentally unstable smart death car.