I would say, on average, I have 99 percent of driving figured out. But that one percent is proving pretty tricky. Small disturbances like construction crews, bicyclists, left turns, and pedestrians remain headaches, and I find driving in new cities particularly difficult. I also can’t handle rain, sleet, or snow. Other than that, I’m a great driver!
Haha, just kidding, that’s not me, that’s “self-driving” cars. The above paragraph is essentially a direct quote from that Bloomberg story, but replacing “computers” with “me” or “I.” Can you imagine a human saying “I can mostly drive just you know not when there are people around, left turns, or any place other than my home area?”
These companies are asking federal and state governments to change the legal framework so they can operate in more areas and there is a widespread consensus they are “the future.” This would be funny if it isn’t so scary. The problem with pre-ordaining a certain technology as “the future” is it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cars did not play nicely with society at first; we paved hundreds of thousands of miles of roads and changed laws and street designs and the role of the police to make them work. It is not difficult for me to imagine the same happening for self-driving cars. Just two years ago, some doofus in the automotive industry, who for some reason the paper granted anonynimity so he or she make their dumbass remarks without consequences, told the New York Times we’d need “gates at each corner” to trap pedestrians on the sidewalk so self-driving cars wouldn’t run them over.
It sounds ridiculous. But I could absolutely envision a scenario where, instead of self-driving cars learning how to deal with construction crews, pedestrians, cyclists, and left turns like every human driver, roads and laws are redesigned to eliminate the conflict altogether.
As I wrote a couple of months ago when I looked into the safety pros and cons of self-driving cars in cities, I don’t want to be biking next to self-driving cars any more than I want to be biking next to human-driving cars, and if a massive re-design of city roads means cyclists get true protected paths, that seems good.
But on the other hand, that doesn’t seem very likely. The easiest and most obvious path for lawmakers is going to be to ban cyclists from certain places and crack down on jaywalking. Or, to take the most traditional American approach, they will simply stop caring when people get run over by self-driving cars.
This seems the most likely future, one in which self-driving cars do not fulfill their oft-touted safety benefits, but simply reach a state of “good enough.” It is basically the utilitarian argument Tesla makes now, that its controversial Autopilot and Full Self Driving systems are, however flawed, still safer than humans and therefore good—there is no publicly available data to back up this claim—a far cry from the kind of “zero deaths” propaganda the industry was blurting out five or so years ago.
In other words, faced with a technological ceiling widely foreseen by actual transportation experts, but dismissed as yet another symptom of expert myopia by our Silicon Valley betters, tech companies are going to do what they always do: release the product anyways and accustom society to a gradually lowering bar.
If that future scares you, not to worry. Silicon Valley will soon invent a better one. Self-driving cars will be the past, and the flying cars will be the future, leaving terrestrial land use problems to the plebes. I hear the flying cars are only five years away, just like self-driving cars were, in the distant past of 2016.
I have just one book to mention this week, but it comes with the Very Good Half-Mile Of Kent Avenue Greenway Bike Lane Near The Navy Yard Gold Standard Urbababble Seal of Approval: The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York by Suleiman Osman. No book has helped me understand NIMBYs and late-20th Century New York City more than this nuanced, astute, and revealing work. It is now solidly in my top three So, You Want to Understand New York City books. Since you asked, the other two are The Power Broker and Fear City.
We must protect the Camperdown Kitties at all costs.