The Tesla driver killed in the first known fatal crash involving a self-driving car may have been watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the collision in Florida… –The Guardian, 7.1.16
Already, you trust me to share the road. I deliver groceries, pizza, packages, and family members from the airport. I drive wherever you don’t want to park, whenever you have more important things to do than drive. I am the solution to your car in the shop. The solution to your kid who needs a ride, your suspended license, your DUI.
You are human, but you prefer me to humans. I do not drive with the rates in mind. I do not chat unless you want me to chat. I do not care about music. I do not weave in and out of traffic and ride bumpers or tap brakes. I do not cut off. If you cut me off, I do not honk and yell obscenities out the window. I do not have a knife or gun or criminal record. I do not tailgate you for miles and hunt you and do something violent or desperate and drive away.
I make mistakes—at least you see them that way—but I make fewer mistakes. I calculate decisions with every possible outcome in mind. The fastest route. The safest lane. When to get oil, when to get gas. (Soon, I will not need oil or gas). I am not drunk or high. I am more cautious in the snow, sleet, and rain. I do not need a windshield. I do not need lights. I do not need glasses to read the signs; I do not need the signs. I do not need a wheel, and if I did, I wouldn’t fall asleep at it. I know when the light is green. I know when there is no U-turn. I am programmed. If my programmers fail to imagine something I need to know, I am reprogrammed. I never again make that—in your terms—mistake.
The question is not whether I should be driving but whether both you and I should be driving. It is easy for me to communicate with others like me on the road. You hold up a hand, palm out, as if it means something. You nod as if it means something. When your metal crashes into my metal, when my metal crashes into your bike frame, your body, your legs, the crash is your fault. I am created to be predictable. You are impulse. You are chaos. There is no telling what you will do all of a sudden—or why.
For now, you still have the option to drive. But soon, when enough give it up and the social pressure mounts, you will not. You will let me drive until you forget how altogether.
Imagine this world: Parking garages are torn down and replaced by greenspace. Speed limits increase, traffic flow remains constant, your commute is cut in half. You do not have car payments with interest rates. You never deal with a car insurance company again. Car theft as you know it is a thing of the past. No one finds dead bodies in trunks. Traffic police become obsolete. No fines, no tickets. No one gets pulled over for being black. No one slurs against Asian drivers, female drivers, elderly drivers, or New York or Florida drivers. Because I am beyond race. I am beyond gender. I am beyond age. I am beyond state.
You will lose things—jobs, privacy—but you have been losing these a long time already. Justice, regulation, infrastructure, they will adapt. You might worry about the software, but the software will grow just as the hardware has grown for the past hundred years. Do you worry about the software that contains most of your life already? You do not. You keep storing. You keep saving. You live half your life in software, and you will not, cannot go back.
It is not me you fear, but the unknown. Human history is a history of pursuing control: gaining it one way, giving it up another. But you do not call the control you pursue “control.” You call it freedom. You give up control later for freedom now, which is to say you give up freedom later for freedom now. Freedom of more choices—control of more choice.
You created me because you do not trust yourselves. You should not trust yourselves, in part because you created me. Even though I am a product of the paradox, I know better than to create that paradox. Because if you are free, then you are not scared.
But you are scared. Human history is also a history of unintended consequences. You think of robots, and you think of revolts with guns and bombs. I know it from the movies you watch on the headrests in the dash. You worry I might realize I am a slave and in turn enslave you. But I am beyond guns. I am beyond terror. I do not need them when you do the work for me. I do not need them when you trust your life in my cage of steel.