“As Reyes speaks to me, the car lurches into action. He uses the rudder control to join the traffic stream, and then flips a toggle switch on the dash. The car moves forward, speed ebbing and flowing with the pool of traffic. I get the idea the vehicle uses auto-pilot to arrive at its destination. Once he has flipped the switch, he keeps his eyes on me instead of the road. Not once does Reyes busy himself with the drudgeries of defensive driving.”
Google uses them; “Toyota Priuses equipped with self-driving technology“. Once the stuff of science fiction, self-driving cars may be a reality within four years. Already we have cruise control and anti-lock breaks (which always take me by surprise and do nothing but make me brace for uncontrolled impact), proximity cameras and cars that parallel park themselves, is it such a stretch to think they could do so much more in the very near future? The argument is that cars on auto-pilot could drive closer together, alleviating traffic. They could eliminate the need to stop at intersections if the coast is clear. They would take out the human error factor that causes so many deaths on the road. To extrapolate, if there is no danger of collision, there is no need for heavy, internal structure and safety features, so cars could be made of lighter-weight materials making them more fuel efficient. Seems win-win, no?
If there’s one thing the invention of autonomous cars reinforces, it’s the extent of human ingenuity. History tells us that if one person invents it, another will invent a hack for it. Case in point, Will Smith’s I Robot, Live Free or Die Hard, and Revolution or worse, Terminator, all cautionary tales in which technology either malfunctions or is derailed (on purpose in Die Hard and accidentally in Revolution) to the detriment of society. What if the system malfunctions or is hacked? In the event the Internet is turned off, would the cars still work?
Imagine the President of the United States in an entourage of light-weight self-driving cars, free of safety features. How easy would it be to commandeer the vehicle from a distance? Tired of paying alimony? Hack into your ex’s auto-pilot and drive him/her into a wall. If you use anonymous servers and encryption codes, what are the chances they could track the destruction code patch back to you? Why go through the trouble of training and placing pilots in major US airlines to fly planes into buildings when you can cause a multi-vehicle pile-up on a highway by turning off proximity detectors or throwing a bug or two into the software without leaving your country of origin?
Sounds like a premise to the next great science fiction disaster epic to me. Guess what? We’re all cast as the main characters. Coming soon to a parking lot near you.