“Horseless carriages” will become driverless, too
ON THE CUTTING EDGE: If you think it’s amazing that a car can parallel park by itself, just wait: In a few years cars will be able to take you from Point A to Point B and then park, The Wall Street Journal reports:
Radar-based cruise control will stop cars from hitting each other, with cars by 2025 driving themselves in tight formations … cutting congestion as the space between cars is reduced safely.
The car is driven by a computer that steers, starts and stops itself. A 360 degrees laser scanner on top of the car, a GPS system and other sensors monitor the surrounding traffic. …
Self-driving cars developed by Google are becoming a regular sight around Silicon Valley. Google engineers describe automating driving as just another information problem: With enough sensors and detailed digital maps of roads, algorithms should be able to make computer-driven cars safer than human-driven cars. …
For technology to advance, the legal and regulatory system will need to accept that driverless cars sound risky only compared with cars driven by error-prone humans. Among looming questions certain to be relished by plaintiff lawyers: If people aren't driving, who will be liable for accidents? Car makers? Manufacturers of GPS hardware? Software companies?
These issues need to be resolved quickly. To its credit, Google has been testing self-driving cars without any legal protections. Google lawyers recently helped draft the first state law dealing with self-driving cars, in Nevada. It allows self-driving cars after they've been tested for 10,000 miles on private roads. Companies put up bonds and have to pledge that two people will be in the vehicles just in case. Cars need to have "black boxes" so accidents can be reverse engineered.
In a Washington Times op-ed, Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online, acknowledges the benefits of self-driving cars (“Traffic fatalities will plummet … Automated cars also could be an enormous boon to the physically disabled. Insurance rates would crater, traffic would be more efficient, speeding tickets could become a thing of the past … we all could have martinis before dinner again”) but wonders what freedom we will give up in exchange for all this technological fabulousness:
What I find most disturbing to contemplate is what this would mean for American liberty.
Health and safety - particularly for "the children" - have become all-purpose writs for social meddling. …
[I]f you follow the logic of mandatory seat belts and motorcycle helmets, red-light cameras and anti-texting laws to their natural conclusion, it's easy to imagine that some bureaucrats will want to co-author your car's software.
Then what? Will you ever be allowed to go over the speed limit again? Police already are drooling to see our GPS data. Will that become automatic, too? Will the cops have the power to tell your car to stop whether you want it to or not? Will authorities be able to tell your car to take a detour to alleviate traffic? Make it turn around when it gets too close to certain off-limit areas?
I don't know, and neither does anyone else. But I would like to imagine that when these debates come - and they will - a sufficient number of Americans will have enough of the right stuff to say, "We want a steering wheel."