Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Cars Come and Go Talking of Michelangelo

Will driving be akin to flying? Will you program your trajectory and contact the equivalent of air traffic control as you proceed to turn out of your driveway which will now be tantamount to a runway. In a recent Times piece (“Less Sexy, Better for Sex,” NYT, 7/5/14), Delia Ephron deals with the matter of Google’s “self-driving car” which was the subject of an interview with its inventor Sebastian Thrun,“Google’s Original X-Man,”  (Foreign Affairs, November/December 2013) ). In the Foreign Affairs piece Thrun comments,  If you look at the twentieth century 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 year 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.” But the issue is not only a matter of safety, it has to do with integrity. As Ephron points out the car is a symbol of autonomy, “In American middle-class life driving is independence. Remember your learner’s permit and that first venture out: you in the driver’s seat, Mom or Dad coaching? With the Google car, say goodbye to all that bonding as well as the psychological growth that the switch-around embodies.” However, independence as Ephron points out is also a matter of mastery and privacy. If Google does everything you no longer have to know how to drive, just like today no one really has to have the ability to write by hand or calculate since the computer will do it all for you. And yes if we look like our Interstate system as a gigantic airport, traffic flow will definitely be improved by the advent of a traffic controller and will you now simply be a cog in the wheel of Big Data. Ephron asks if Google can “eavesdrop on your car talk?” or “run you into a wall or over a cliff?" But it’s not just Google. Anyone who owns and Easy Pass has to realize that they’ve taken the first step in logging into the system.

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