Autonomous Vehicles: Building Utopias (Reading 12)

My father and his closest friend from work periodically latch on to some radical new technology and make major changes to introduce it. Adapting to new technologies is a form of recreation for them. They were the first people I know to abandon standard phone lines in their homes for google fi, and they seem to be competing for how many bluetooth devices they can carry on their person. Partly their interest in technology stems from their careers, both overseeing some R&D portion of a technology company. They have a vested interest in the next big innovation in tech. However, speculating about technology predominates most of their conversations, not just ones dealing with business. They get the same kind of thrill two likeminded people might have in discussing politics or gossip. In the modern day technology is not just changing the structure of the factory, and solving some common household problems with new appliances. Software technology has reached every aspect of our daily life, and we can all witness how quickly it is developing. We feel that a new piece of software might not just change how we work but completely restructure the way our society functions. That’s why I see technology moguls like Elon Musk almost becoming celebrity status, so we don’t just want to buy their products but celebrate or criticize their vision of the future.

The latest fascination between my dad and his friend has been the utopia of self-driving cars. This latest vision accompanies a mid-life crisis oriented around luxurious, long-term purchases. Sharing the same vision as the president of Lyft, John Zimmer, they believe all cars will be autonomous and shared amongst everyone. Therefore, they’ve convinced themselves that the next car they buy will be the last they’ll actually own, so, of course, they’re planning for a big purchase of a sports car, or some luxury car they can keep in a garage as a testament to the lost era of privately-owned, fancy cars. Despite the momentary satisfaction such a large purchase gives them, they couldn’t be more excited for this new utopia of all self-driving cars. Just thinking about it for a bit, I too am, admittedly, a bit enthralled. Just imagine never having the responsibility of driving, probably the main source of concern in daily social activities. If we consider a world where all vehicles are autonomous, it almost seems that humans never should have been entrusted with that activity, which is still a cause of so many deaths a year. Still, even if there would be statistically far fewer crashes with autonomous cars, stories like the fatal from the New York Times still terrify us. It sounds horrifying to be in a car you realize is not stopping for something you would have definitely anticipated. No one would want to be in that vehicle, but many would rather replace all unsafe drivers with an autonomous system. The Gizmodo article touches on this issue. We all want the self-driving cars to avoid pedestrians whenever possible, but nobody within the car would want it to sacrifice the driver to safe pedestrians outside. Still, that might be the type of programming we decide upon if we implement autonomous vehicles universally. This technology is not just a new set of products, some enjoyable commodity like the luxury car my father wants to buy. It will radically alter how we go about our daily lives and social activities.