Rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The Driverless Car
photo: Steve Jurvelson
In an interview in Foreign
Affairs, Google’s Sebastian Thrun talks about driverless cars,(“Google’s Original X Man,” November/December
2013)“If you look at the twentieth
century Thrun says, “the car has transformed society more than pretty much any
other invention. But cars today are vastly unsafe. It’s estimated that more
than a million people die every years because of traffic accidents. And driving
cars consumes immense amounts of time…if the car could drive itself, you could
be much safer…cars could come to you when you need them; you wouldn’t have to have private car ownership.” Of course the car is like Manifest Destiny. It’s the
symbol both of individualization and of the American dream. One’s first car is a
rite of passage. The concept of the driverless car is a quid pro quo in which
individuality is traded in for expediency. Highways are turned into the
equivalent of tarmacs with cars transformed into pods whose movement is
dictated by the equivalent of air traffic control. Traffic jams are non-existent since the thermodynamics of viscosity would constantly be mediated by a computer. Of course, along with individuality, privacy would also
be sacrificed, since each car or pod would now be a
piece of data whose movements were constantly tracked.The driverless car is a
concept in robotics. And the real subject is the kind of advanced artificial
intelligence that can produce a robot which not only regurgitates the data
that’s programmed into it, but which, according to Thrun, can also learn. But the implications are
vast. Computers have already proven their superiority to men in everything from
math to chess. And when a computer takes on a task and proves its superiority, it leads to the attrition of the concomitant faculty in the human, whether it's long
division or writing or even reading. However, what happens when cybernetics intrudes into
even higher level thought? What’s the difference between governing a country
and driving acar? The computer will have the cards stacked in
its favor. It will know how to push everyone’s buttons since it installed at least the technologically created ones.
And what about the integrity of the self in this mix? Human life might be
spared by the driverless car, but what ultimately is the destiny of the solitary mind in a world in which the objects of man’s creation rule him by way of
a world wide web.
Francis Levy's debut novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was released in August 2008 by Two Dollar Radio.
His short stories, criticism, humor, and poetry have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The East Hampton Star, The Quarterly, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, TV Guide, The Journal of Irreproducible Results, and other publications. One of his Voice humor pieces was anthologized in The Big Book of New American Humor (HarperCollins). He is presently the Co-Director of The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination (philoctetes.org), where he supervises roundtable discussions on topics as varied as “The Psychology of the Modern Nation State” and “Modern Traffic Theory, Behavior, and Imagination”.