Automated cars

I expect to see fully automated and intercommunicating cars in my lifetime. Cars that not only can navigate a sea of bad drivers but eventually be full of only robotic cars that can orchestrate a complex choreography for the most efficient traffic patterns. Or at least, I wouldn't be surprised to see this since a lot of progress towards a goal like this has been made already. Not only could a computer respond to sensory perceptions better than a human (your car does this to some extent already), it could let several cars behave more like a train and avoid leaving large spaces between individual cars that we have to leave due to our (correctly acknowledged) lack of information about the other drivers and our own reaction times. This post isn't really about the technology behind this and how it could improve efficiency though, but rather the political and emotional responses I worry would inevitably take place.

There would likely still be accidents because the algorithms would need to be continually improved and there may be some things that just aren't controllable or realized. Sometimes there will be isolated reports of horrendous accidents that everyone at the water cooler agrees could not have happened without this new automated system. People are scared because of a perceived lack of control and long to go back to the state where they had it. This system is not perfect so perhaps it should be dropped to go back to the drawing board.

This is what I fear happening (and expect, but hopefully it's a minority) but it's a fallacious argument because it ignores the alternative. First, let's assume that the system is not objectively worse than what we currently have (if the number of accidents increased by this system would be a pretty obvious decision that the proposed algorithms and sensors were not good enough and we should drop this). Even if you had a relative drop in accidents of 80% you could still have cases where the algorithm wasn't quite right or did not or could not account for something and there is an accident. Still, an 80% reduction is a <biden>big fucking deal</biden>. The person in the previous paragraph who is scared to have a lack of control is correct that he doesn't fully control his environment, but how much control did he actually have before? How much control did he have over the drunk or tired or bad driver, his own poor driving skills, or any events in which limited human perception and reaction were inferior to that of a computer? If this system generated a handful of ghastly accidents cannot we sympathize with the victims while still realizing that it is statistically better than many handfuls of ghastly accidents caused by other means?

I think you'd also have claims that a lot of the problems this would solve (although not the traffic efficiency) could already be handled if people did the right thing. You can try to cut down on drunk driving by instituting a number of programs, penalties, and education to address the concerns. These may be philosophically valid arguments, but there is still a problem of efficacy. This automated system would cut down on drunk driving related incidents alone tremendously. Personally, if it means a loved one doesn't die I don't care if it's because the actor simply did not drive drunk or because the actor was drunk but the car was driving for him. Is it really that bad that the issue would be improved by technology rather than a morally righteous social justice?

A system of fully automated and choreographed cars doesn't need to be perfect and 100% safe to be the appropriate solution - it needs to be better than that alternatives. (And yes, this can be used as an allegory for many things).