Self driving cars aren’t coming; they’re already here!
Much of the technology has been around for years and many features are available on new cars today. Experts agree fully autonomous vehicles will soon be ubiquitous and they will significantly disrupt many industries and change where and how we live.
Road trips, drive-throughs, shopping malls, freeways, car chases, road rage; cars changed the world in all sorts of unforeseen ways. They granted enormous personal freedom, but in return, they imposed heavy costs. People working on self driving vehicles generally see their main benefits as mitigating those costs, notably road accidents, pollution and congestion.
State of driverless cars today
Testing continues in several parts of the world. Recently the U.K. government has announced it’s working on a process to support so-called “advanced trials” of autonomous vehicles, which are trials without human safety drivers. Although the authorities gave the green light for hands-free testing of driverless cars back in 2015, it still requires a backup driver at the wheel.
Furthermore, self-driving cars come as a blessing for humans, as car accidents have become a major problem. There is a need to reduce them somehow. In particular, autonomous cars could bring down the number of fatalities and injuries from road accidents.
The need for computer-assisted driving
Globally, around 1.25m people die in road accidents each year, according to the WHO. It is the leading cause of death among those aged 15-29. Another 20m-50m people are injured. Most accidents occur in developing countries, where the arrival of autonomous vehicles is still some way off.
If the transition to autonomous driving is brought back by even a year, that will result in one and a quarter million less deaths worldwide. In recent decades, cars have become much safer thanks to features such as seat belts and airbags, but in America road deaths have risen since 2014.
Distraction by smartphones is seen to be a leading cause. Self-driving cars would let riders’ text (or drink) to their heart’s content without endangering anyone.
Apart from all the goodness it has to offer, there are obviously some strings attached to it. Like all computer systems, autonomous cars would be programmed to run a certain way, but with all AI-controlled systems there is always a risk of the computer being hacked or crashing due to a glitch or error.
Why self-driving cars are making some people unhappy
No system is unbreachable and if a hacker was able to get into the car’s software, they could potentially reprogram the car to do a number of things. In addition to that, there are some people that are dreading the takeover of autonomous vehicles. This includes those that make their living operating transport vehicles.
Replacing human-controlled driving will see these people in need of new employment. People who drive taxis and Ubers or who work as delivery drivers for fast food industries would all be affected. Truck drivers transporting goods cross-country will also have their livelihood impacted by the coming changes.
What does all this mean?
At the end of the day, self-driving cars and their benefits far outweigh the vested interests of a few people around the globe. However, manufacturers have to consider the possibility of remote takeovers through hacks because that could lead to catastrophic consequences.