How do I turn this thing on?
February 22, 2017 § 11 Comments
Autonomous cars are coming. Conservative estimates believe that self-driving motor vehicles will be widespread as early as 2025. Some predictions have that year penned as early as 2021. For some, this revolution spells a new age of opportunity. For others, it heralds a job search. It also means that in four years, a large chunk of the teenage population will never learn to drive. In 25 years, that inability will apply to half the population.
From a broader economic standpoint, self-driving cars will likely be good for the economy in the long term. Reducing idle time spent commuting and traveling will likely spell higher productivity and efficiency. Commuters can now spend that time sleeping, working or eating. Of course, time spent in a moving car couldn’t possibly be as productive as the time a home or at a desk, but even if an hour in the car is worth 20% of a normal working hour, the US would save hundreds of billions of dollars a year. These numbers are rough and can be manipulated, but you see what I’m getting at.
Now, it would also cost the US anywhere between 3.5 and 5 million jobs. This wouldn’t be the first time a new piece of technology changed the job market. In the early 19th century, the textile mill dramatically increased the efficiency of cotton processing, forcing many workers out of a job. Temporarily, this caused an increase in unemployment, but the new efficient work model allowed more mills to open, creating new jobs. Similar results were observed with ATM’s and e-commerce sites like Amazon. Are there counter-arguments to this idea? Of course. Is it possible that the speed of technological advancement could outpace the labor market? Sure. I’m not particularly certain anyone knows exactly how autonomous cars will change the shape of the economy.
We can talk about the tangible benefits. Self-driving cars are pretty unequivocally safer than human-driven cars. About 35,000 people died in car crashes in 2015, 94% of which were from human error. Assuming self-driving cars could eliminate just half of those mistakes, they would save around 16,000 lives. Automated cars would reduce traffic and the overall number of vehicles on the road, limiting pollution.
However, people don’t like the idea of a machine controlling their life. Psychologically, we feel that we would rather another human be in control than a “mindless” device. Self-driving cars won’t be perfect. If (when) someone is killed by a self-driving vehicle, we’ll start to feel as though our lives are in the hands of some automated being that we can’t understand. At least when it was another human’s fault, we could sympathize or place blame.
This is just one example of how the emergence of different forms of AI will integrate into our lives. As we gain more potential, we also gradually lose perspective. We’ve spoken in class about the worker distancing himself/herself from his or her work. The self-driving car would provide another example of this phenomenon. This is because we’d lose connection with where we work or where we live. If getting there just requires climbing in a box and entering a location, how could we possibly feel connected to where were going? We won’t even know how to get there.
Driving is not the first task we’ve automated. We have washing machines, dishwashers, escalators and countless other devices designed to save time and effort. What does this say about AI in general? Does it simply take the part of something in your life, allowing you to use that energy for something else? What is lost in the process?
Walker, Alissa. “Will Self-driving Vehicles Really Make Cities Safer?” Curbed. Curbed, 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.
Knapman, Chris. “How Long until We Have Fully Driverless Cars?” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 19 May 2016. Web. 22 Feb. 2017.