Are we slowly sucking the fun out of life? I refer of course to the news that Google has been given the go ahead to launch a self driven car in Nevada. That’s right. A car that drives itself without the need for human intervention. Why? Because everyone knows that cars driven by humans are not safe – there is always the possibility of an accident because of human error. Not so with a computer though. They can never be distracted. Can never fall asleep. Can never misjudge a distance or ignore the speed limit for that matter. In fact given that commuting is such a painful experience these days we should be welcoming the advent of this new technology. It will be like having a personal taxi driver without the fare, attitude, awful jokes and overpowering smell of a pine odour eater! Just like catching a train for example or a plane or any other form of passive travel that we engage in every day of our lives.
So why am I so cautious about this news? Well there are a number of reasons.
Driving at one level is all about personal freedom. Don’t you remember the first drive after passing your test? That sense of freedom. To go anywhere you wanted. No longer beholden to parents or friends to take you. It was a very liberating feeling and has continued in one form or another all my life. Being able to take a road trip to nowhere. To go exploring. Stopping where and when you wanted. It was all very romantic and now a computer is going to take all the fun out of it. Travel will be predictable. In fact, boring -even if you are able to work or relax or catch a few minutes nap on your forty five minute commute into work.
But hang on. If a computer can drive us then they can drive taxis. Drive lorries. Drive vans. That’s a whole load of people who shortly won’t have a job. Which is of course the nature of progress. Jobs become obsolete as technology and innovation advance but I suspect we are on the frontier of a computing revolution that will render many existing jobs completely obsolete over the next few decades. If a computer can be taught to drive a car. They can pilot a ship. Fly a plane. Run a production line. Or a delivery service. Very quickly all but the most valuable jobs will be automated. In effect computers will commoditize work with the resultant disenfranchisement that goes with it.
Its a scary prospect. Only the most valuable jobs will be performed by humans. Ones that are not easily replaced. Teachers perhaps? I wonder. You read of online e-learning applications that can bespoke teaching to the speed of each specific child in the context of their learning approach. I don’t know of many teachers that can do that. Maybe nurses. Or home carers. Well a computer never gets tired. Make diagnostic errors. It doesn’t need to go home and no doubt one day will have the physicality of a person. What old person or patient wouldn’t prefer that type of care?
Can you think of anything that will be safe?