Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Microstory 957: Driverless Vehicles

Humans suck. We’re terrible at nearly everything we do, and the only reason most people don’t think that’s true is because, historically, we’ve not had a lot of competition. Now a new lifeform is slowly being created. Automated systems are beginning to outperform people in an array of skills. They construct better buildings, they win every game, and they even drive cars. Driverless vehicles have been a staple of speculative fiction for decades. Even before understanding how they could possibly work, my predecessors predicted that they one day would. Most of them got their dates wrong, but that’s true of most fantastical predictions. While these stories have done their part in stimulating our imagination, they’ve usually been more of a footnote than a sign of one of the greatest developments in our history. The driverless car will not just change the way we get to places. They will completely transform how we live. A lot of people have given up their busy lives to travel the country in recreational vehicles, and I genuinely believe a lot more would do the same, if given the opportunity. It takes a lot of privilege to uproot your life like that, but if you were able to take your life with you, that would be a different story. Imagine finding the most perfect location for a new job without worrying about what you’ll be losing from wherever you live now. When your home is mobile, capable of drawing energy from the sun during the day, and the wind while at rest, you no longer have to be tied down. Shorter working hours will allow you time to return to friends and family on a whim, no matter where they live, as long as it’s on the same continent. (We could build a hyperloop network to make that even faster, by the way, but that’s a different story.) Hell, you could even work on the go, because you won’t have to worry about keeping your eyes on the road. When you can sleep on the way, you won’t have to maximize your time in bed—like I’m doing right now by rushing this story so I can shut down by 23:15—which means no more erratic drivers who should have left earlier. Experts predict that automated cars will save thousands of lives, and that number will only increase the more people who use them. Even a single one of these on any stretch of road will make a statistically evident impact on road safety. A lot of people are deeply concerned about a robot uprising, and you know what, that doesn’t make them crazy. It’s entirely possible that our version of Hal, Skynet, or whatsherface from I, Robot will decide that humans just have to go. But that’s not inevitable. Think about how many humans there are who hate their parents, or who have become estranged from them, because they no longer feel the need for help. Do those people commit parenticide? Yeah, some of them, but most don’t. People like Elon Musk want to put leashes on artificial intelligence, to keep our inorganic descendants from taking us over, but that can’t possibly end well. It may take decades, or even centuries, but those safeguards will wear down, or become otherwise obsolete. The only hope of protecting our species while dawning a new one lies in raising our digital offspring the same way we do our children now...through love and logic, and by example. No one has ever been killed by someone who truly respected them. Driverless cars are part of something immensely powerful, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

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