Driven

From an article in IEEE Spectrum, some excerpts on a future you might not have imagined:

Ford, Google, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, and Uber, among others, have all boldly declared that they will get fully autonomous cars and trucks on the road in the United States by 2021. At the end of last year the Uber-owned company Otto sent a Budweiser beer delivery from Fort Collins, Colo., to Colorado Springs by autonomous truck. Chinese Internet company Baidu, partnering with Foton Motor Group, introduced its sleek semi-autonomous Super Truck. Daimler tested a driverless truck platoon in Germany.

We humans are apparently just too slow to safely drive ourselves. Now, I’m an engineer, and no kind of technophobe or luddite. And my long years of working as an engineer have taught me to beware of such predictions of perfection. As in, there appears to be the expectation that driverless cars will perform faultlessly.  Just like my GPS sometimes sends me to vacant lots when I’ve put in an address for a building that has been there for years.

A prominent example? Computers. I’ve been programming and using DOS and Windows-based computers for over 40 years. Fantastic progress has been made, and we’ve now reached the nirvana of the Windows 10 OS (/sarc off). Nirvana and tech perfection? Not quite. Waiting for the next improvement in the OS to work out the bugs in the latest one is more like it. But these machines are a mature technology. And they usually do what we ask of them. Usually.

My point? The BSOD (Blue Screen of Death), or some variant thereof will always be with us. The good news for users of computers (that’s practically all of us these days) is that computers that lock up and need to be rebooted are (usually) an inconvenience. A driverless car that locks up? Somewhat more than an inconvenience. A potentially life-ending event.

The caution here? In the real world of constant roadwork, detours, signalmen, potholes, etc. etc., asking a machine to make the complex decisions needed when we actually drive is asking a machine to be able to learn and deal with constantly changing parameters. Possible? Yes. Something I’d risk my life on in the next three or four decades? No sir.

The push for driverless cars (and trucks, an even scarier thought) reminds me of the pie-in-the-sky projections of life in the future from the 1950s and 1960s. E.g. every salaryman using his own private airplane to commute to the office. Uh huh.

Me, I’m waiting for food replicators and transporters as seen on Star Trek…

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