Picture this: fourth block ends on Friday, you toss all your homework assignments in the back seat and head out to the parking lot to go home. You hop in your car, punch your home address into the GPS, and… start watching Netflix.
While you might be tempted to pull this off in the present, you would probably end up dead. But within several years, self-driving cars could make Netflix on the ride home a non-suicidal possibility.
Several weeks ago, at the Detroit Motor Show, various car industry companies brought innovation in autonomous cars to the forefront of the event coverage. With as much focus as autonomous cars are receiving in modern development, it is likely they will be a very real possibility in less than a decade or two.
So, since a current BT student might be buying an autonomous car a couple years after college, what are the benefits, and what might be the downsides to the elimination of human drivers?
In general, computers are better than humans at brute-force, algorithmic operations. If some function can be simplified down to its basic functions, it can be built from the ground up for a computer to do it faster than a human brain. In addition, it will make fewer errors.
The same principle applies to computerized cars. When the car drives itself, it prevents a human driver from wrecking it. Quite possibly the biggest bonus of a self-driving car is the decrease in accidents. Car accidents kill over 30,000 people every year in the U.S. alone. Autonomous cars would drastically cut this rate.
This leads to another issue however. Anyone who has used a computer will tell you they do not always work as they are designed. To extrapolate, cars will probably not be perfect either. So, when an autonomous car does crash, who is liable? That is a big question that has yet to be answered.
Another pro/con scenario is the tradeoff between speed and control. As mentioned before, self-driving cars have the capability to be more accurate, less error-ridden, and safer than human drivers. Safe speed limits could presumably increase proportionately. What used to be an hour ride to school might soon be 20 minutes long.
The problem with this is that people like driving. There is a sense of control when one directly controls (or at least through power steering) controls their car’s movement. Computer-driven cars take away the control factor, and while they may fail much more infrequently, their failure would be no fault of the occupant. This proposes the interesting dilemma of whether remaining in control is worth a higher risk or vice versa.
In the end, autonomous cars are still quite a ways away. These issues may very well have extremely clever solutions far before they become an issue. They may not. However, in the end, it is up to the consumers. Would you ride in an auto-automobile?