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Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars are rapidly becoming a reality. Not too long ago these vehicles were considered part of a utopian future to hopefully be achieved sometime within the century. Now they will inevitably be a part of our generation and we will be responsible for integrating them with our society. Companies from auto manufacturers to ride-sharing apps are conducting their own testing with hopes of being the first to breakthrough in the pursuit of the perfect self-driving car. Just last month, Tesla announced “All Tesla Cars Being Produced Now Have Full Self-Driving Hardware”. As autonomous vehicles quickly become a part of our world we must be informed in order to keep ourselves safe.

I believe that a world full of majority autonomous vehicles could lead to a world that is simultaneously much safer yet much more at risk. The streets would be safer because all cars would essentially be operating in sync. In a world with only a few autonomous vehicles we have seen accidents between manned and unmanned cars simply because human drivers have trouble interacting with AI vehicles. This is due to the reasoning given by Ryan Beene in the Seattle Times – robot drivers are odd and that’s why they get hit. He also argues that smoothing out the interaction between drivers and robots is one of the biggest challenges, but I believe it isn’t an obstacle we must overcome at all. If we instead completely remove human drivers from the equation we will see a massive reduction in accidents for self-driving cars, seeing as the majority of their accidents are due to human drivers. Once all cars are autonomous they will essentially all be operating on the same grid. A robot car will be able to drive perfectly in a world full of exclusively robot cars. However that is precisely where the risk is introduced. If every car is on such a grid and controlled by its operating software, then it is liable to be hacked. I fear a situation where a significant number, if not all vehicles suffer a security breach that will cost the lives of hundreds of passengers. We must be careful to put our safety completely in the hands of these self-driving cars, and should be wary to ever give up 100% control of the wheel. The human in the car will still have a responsibility to be alert to their surroundings regardless of who is the primary driver. Additionally, the government has decided to step in and guide the adoption of self-driving cars. The Department of Transportation has introduced a 15-point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles. According to Cecilia Kang in the New York Times, the regulations “sent a clear signal to automakers that the door was wide open for driverless cars”. She adds that the government’s endorsement will speed up the rollout of autonomous cars, and it is important that they are aware and involved from an early stage. With the proper safety and security measures in place, autonomous cars could save hundreds of lives on the road and in the words of Lyft president John Zimmer, be “the third transportation revolution”.

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