If you own a new car, you already know how much technology can be crammed into an automobile these days. Bluetooth, heads-up displays, touchscreens, and even rear and side view cameras are found in most mid-range priced cars, such as Toyotas, Fords, and Hondas.
Now, though, the rise of self-parking cars, lane correction, and auto-braking features means that there is a clear trend toward cars that do more of the boring work, such as parking and cruising, for you. If you are willing to pay more than $60,000, you will find cars that all but drive themselves. Such vehicles are equipped with cameras and proximity sensors that can tell how far your vehicle is from the one in front of you. With the touch of a button, your sleek techmobile will use radar to link to the car ahead and remain a set distance from it, mimicking its speed and direction, regardless of the tech of the car ahead.
It is becoming rapidly evident that the age of the self-driving car is coming. Soon students will all collapse into our autonomous pods and speed 0ff to school, trusting their safety to algorithms and cameras. Traffic jams will be non existent due to synchronized traffic flow, according to a hypothesis by Virginia Tech engineering professor Hesham Rakha. Cars that we drive now will soon become a robotic taxi fleet. They will zip about, picking people up and dropping them off. Parking won’t even be an issue! With any luck, these cars will be powered by renewable sources and built efficiently and sustainably.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s visionary billionaire CEO, who espouses this vision, once said, “You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”
Well, Mr. Musk, I disagree. And don’t call my Saab a death machine.
There are two sides to this story. One is the endless stream of possible positives pouring from the foaming mouths of the starry-eyed idealists. The second is the stubborn sentiment of the die hard car lovers. I side with the latter, at least for now.
Firstly, I would point out that computers have their weaknesses. Just as your Gmail could be hacked into by phishing emails (thank God for Mr. Orlando), a computer in a car connected to a wireless network can be infiltrated. Although the hacking of your contacts from your phone is undoubtedly a large inconvenience, it isn’t exactly comparable to a total loss of control of your car, with you inside it.
The second fault in computers isn’t exactly a fault but a question of ethics. In the course of driving a car, the computer may find itself in an impossible decision situation. For example, say a car is going to crash with one of two things: an oncoming car or a pedestrian. The computer has run through the math, and there is no feasible way of stopping in time. Now, if it hits the oncoming car it is about to collide with, it will kill its own passenger but not the oncoming car’s. But if it avoids the collision with the car and instead hits a pedestrian, its passenger will be safe, but the pedestrian will be killed. What does the computer do?
Well, it does whatever it is programmed to do, and that is the core of the issue. There will be a large ethical debate about instances such as this. How do we program a computer to kill? It’s a chilling prospect. And remember, that computer can be hacked.
The third and final reason I am skeptical of the self-driving car is a rather personal one. I love cars, from the howling engine and deafening exhaust notes to the repulsive yet addicting smell of burning rubber and tortured brakes. I love the precision that comes with practice behind the wheel, the unity with the car.
I enjoy driving along the riverside listening to reggaeton with friends bumping to the beat alongside me. Nothing compares to speeding through the roads singing along to your favorite songs with your friends in the sunshine or to the rainy, pensive drive home after a tough day. I came to love the cars I grew up riding around in: a Saab 95, a Honda CR-V, a Dodge Intrepid. All of these “mediocre” vehicles are cars that I adore. I remember the first time I drove my cousin’s Lamborghini; the roar of a V10 engine and the rush all left a lasting impression on me.
Of course, this is a sentiment many can’t relate to, as most people do not think of their cars as their friends. However, as we slowly move into a world where we may no longer even own cars, it may be a good time to give a warm thank you and a heart-wrenching farewell to our beloved vehicles.