The Driverless Car Debate: A response to Time Magazine’s article by Matt Vella

As my third grandchild was being born at the West Chester Hospital recently I carefully read Matt Vella’s article in Time magazine on driverless cars and felt it was necessary to offer a few important observations to the debate which will evolve over the next decade.  As a driver, I am fantastic.  If I wasn’t so interested in global mythology, business management, literature, archaeology, and the western arts, I would have been a stunt man for Hollywood movies.  I love driving cars, and I like the role they play in a free society.  They are the center of American culture.  However, I’m not against the driverless car as many conservatives like me might be.  I don’t see them as a globalist’s takeover of our independence—although I’m sure there are treacherous personalities who fall into that category.  I see the driverless car as an evolution of our species, but I don’t wish to see complete domination of non-thinking cars taking over our society.

When it comes to highway driving, I am 100% on board.  If I’m in a car for three to nine hours at a time—I would rather be sleeping, or working on something else instead of wasting my time driving.  In that respect I am quite excited about a driverless car.  As I’ve also said, I enjoy very much the idea of skycars which obviously would have to run automatically—so I fully support cars along the same lines.  Automatic driving is a more useful way to travel because it takes away the dead time in transit.  If I’ve been up all night working and I have a meeting in Chicago at 11 AM, it would be wonderful to leave and take a nap along the way.  I could arrive refreshed and maybe have time to get a review of a proposal finished before the actual meeting which would be a big step in human evolution.

However, companies making driverless cars will likely lobby to get rid of independent driving completely and that would be a mistake.  I would not want to lose the ability to make independent decisions with my car—for instance, to drive off-road or to take evasive action that no computer program could simulate.  There are times that I want to turn off the automated braking systems and take complete control of my vehicle—and I would not want to lose that.  There is something very important in the skills humans have nurtured to drive a car and the decision-making process it evokes is important to our continued development.

The technology should evolve along the lines of convenience for the driver not to protect the insurance industry from collision payouts.  Without question the insurance industry is salivating at the prospect of Vella’s Time article, because it would greatly minimize the accidents that are imposed on insurance companies each year by taking away human error. However, humans need to think and they should not automate their lives to the point where they no longer make decisions to survive.  It’s one thing to make decisions for a career, it’s another to stay sharp enough to make decisions that are life and death and driving a car forces humans to stay close to that ultimate responsibility.  If you make a mistake you could kill people and I think psychologically, that is an important distinction that our species needs for its furtherance.  What good is safety on the roadways if you lose the soul of our species?

We already see the effects on our society now.  My brother is a diver and he had to attend a safety class recently where an orange triangle sinker was thrown into the water.  They were questioned what if there is an active shooter above the water and the orange triangle was to signal the divers to stay underwater for their own safety.  Many of the guys in this class were Special Forces guys and their first reaction was dismay.  Their instinct was to surface then shoot whoever the antagonist was—yet here was some government pin-head trying to dull the instincts of the special forces guys into a safety compliance priority that preserved their life in a physical aspect but slowly destroyed it intellectually.  That is the problem with driverless cars—the life and death aspect of it is actually beneficial to the value we all have for each other as a species.

While turning onto a road in an industrial park this past week there was some road construction and the lanes had been narrowed to just wide enough for a tractor-trailer to drive between.  There was one tractor-trailer trying to turn left and another turning left across the lane of traffic of the other truck.  For about five minutes I watched some of the most amazing driving as the two trucks worked together to navigate to their intended destinations in opposite directions with literally no room to spare.  No computer will ever be invented that could perform that task and we should not have a society which diminishes that skill set.  Outside of those trucks the drivers were probably not very sophisticated people, but behind those big wheels, they were modern Mozarts of driving.  We should not have a society that destroys the skills which makes those types of people.

Safety is not the first priority if it destroys thinking in the process.  The value of a human life is not defined by its years lived, but by the quality that it lives—and driving a car or a truck enhances that quality immensely.  As this technology develops it needs to evolve around the randomness of human error and not the perfection of an automatic society where everyone is passive participants to the machines.  We should not dumb ourselves down to make it easier for Google or Tesla to put their driverless cars on the roads fulfilling the utterances of Matt Vella’s Time article. We should not surrender our liberty to insurance companies who will obviously support that automatic quest offered by the driverless car.  It should be optional not mandatory to drive a car that drives itself.  People should still retain the ability to take over the controls if they so desire.

On a highway I can certainly see the need, but in roads around town, automatic cars would just slow everything down.  Human beings move faster because they can account for the randomness of other human involvement, where machines never can be intuitive enough to compensate for random calculations.  Just last week I had someone come completely over into my lane of traffic.  If I had not jumped over into their original lane it would have been a head on collision at about 50 MPH.  My decision had to be split second and no computer program would have told my car to do the exact opposite in that situation that any logical decision gate would have provided.  Yet I made the decision quickly and as soon as the danger passed I was back in my lane and headed where I was going alive and well.  To celebrate being alive, I stopped by McDonald’s and grabbed a Sausage and Egg McMuffin—that is life in America centered around the car and the independence it offers.  I would rather have that randomness than the safety of automation.  So if it comes down to the machines won’t work unless human randomness is removed from the equation, then I’d say the technology isn’t worth the loss to intellect.  But if the two could work hand in hand—then I’d be a fan.    I would be one of the first to sign up for highway travel.  In that respect, it would be a tremendous benefit.  But giving up that ability to drive on everything but the highway—it would slow our society down too much—and that wouldn’t be worth it just to have the diminished car wrecks that occur as a result.  Such a thing should never be made mandatory—it should remain and evolve around voluntary participation.  And if the technology cannot be kept voluntary—then it shouldn’t become a reality in the first place.

Rich Hoffman

 CLIFFHANGER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

Sign up for Second Call Defense here:  http://www.secondcalldefense.org/?affiliate=20707  Use my name to get added benefits.

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