EDITORS NOTE

I'll drive, thanks

I think that the concept of vehicle autonomy needs a lot more discussion. The way forward, for now, should focus on merging the technology better with humans, rather than fully replacing us.

The notion of having cars that entirely drive themselves sharing the roads with us has always frightened me a bit. Call me old-fashioned, but I find it comforting looking across while stopped at a red light, and seeing a human of some description sitting in a position of control behind the steering wheel. (Sure, these days, about 80 per cent of t...
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I'll drive, thanks

I think that the concept of vehicle autonomy needs a lot more discussion. The way forward, for now, should focus on merging the technology better with humans, rather than fully replacing us.

The notion of having cars that entirely drive themselves sharing the roads with us has always frightened me a bit. Call me old-fashioned, but I find it comforting looking across while stopped at a red light, and seeing a human of some description sitting in a position of control behind the steering wheel. (Sure, these days, about 80 per cent of the time that person is staring down at their cellphone, but that’s another story altogether.)

While I acknowledge that untold hours of research and development have gone into the technology that governs self-driving cars, until every vehicle in a specific motoring ecosystem is being operated by a machine with a collective intelligence, where every car essentially knows what every other car is doing and going to do, we’re going to have problems, mishaps, and accidents. Even Captain Jonathan McCarthy, who we spoke to for our story on being a ship captain (page 48) touched on this, when the topic of autonomous vessels cruising the world’s oceans came up. There’s just a level of variables an independently operated machine cannot fully factor in. Not yet, at least.

I experienced this recently while test-driving a brand of car that’s crammed full of industry-leading accident avoidance technology. While tootling along slowly in traffic, a person cautiously, but briskly, walked across the road in front of me. Behind the wheel I assessed that it was all safe. I was ever-so-slowly still inching forward, and as the person stepped up on to the sidewalk and totally out of harm’s way, the vehicle – I can only assume – detected his trailing foot. Suddenly, unprompted and without warning, the car performed a full emergency braking manoeuvre, which nearly yanked my head off my neck, and certainly startled the people in the car behind me. Until that point, all had been well and calm in the traffic, but my car wasn’t able to discern that what was happening up ahead wasn’t actually an accident about to happen. It’s a small example that turned out to be harmless in the end, but it definitely got me thinking a bit deeper about all this technological advancement.

So, that’s my argument against autonomous cars. Or, I just love driving and hope it doesn’t go away during my lifetime.show less