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Let the Car Drive Part 3: Sci-Fi and policies
February 28, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
“Asimov’s Laws of Robotics,” Jerry shouted at his brother Bob.
It was breakfast the morning after Jerry had driven for nearly six hours across the state to get to his brother’s home, a drive that would have taken a little more than four hours had Jerry been using an automated, driverless car that was permitted to use the Interstates and freeways and go as fast as the datatrains, as the interlinked intelligent cars were called when they formed packs on the highways, would allow.
“Agh, Asimov. Science fiction,” drubbed Bob.
Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics upon which many great sci-fi (and perhaps real) robotic notions state the robot must: 1. Never injure a human or allow a human to come to injury through inaction. 2. Obey all orders from humans except when the order would violate the first law. 3. Protect its own existence so long as that would not conflict with the first and second laws.
“You tell me the guys who programmed these cars to haul us around didn’t have all that in mind. So the car has to protect me, listen to me and protect itself,” said Jerry.
Bob answered, “Yes, that seems right. My Chevy does all of that. Not a scratch on her, or me, in a year that I’ve owned her.”
Jerry sniffed. “Her. You still give that machine a human characteristic. It’s got no soul.”
Bob glared back. “And your old 300 does?”
Jerry replied, “Yes. I interact with it. It interacts with me. I know what to expect of it. It doesn’t really have a mind of its own. And it’s not sentient. You heard of what those robot cars are doing, right? How they cannot ever violate a traffic law? How they can be programmed to head for the nearest police station when the police suspect the car was used in a crime? How there are new models coming out that detect the condition of the operator? What if I came down with the flu at work and the car decided I was stoned and took me to the nearest police station instead of home? It was, after all, protecting me from harm, obeying orders from humans that wouldn’t conflict letting me come to harm and it was protecting itself, too, right?”
Bob smiled. they’d had this argument every time the topic of self-guided cars came up following the announcement back in 2015 of the first Nissan self-driver.
And it was true that the car could, theoretically, be given government orders to take the occupants to a government-designated place at a specific time. But, it also was true that traffic deaths in automated vehicles were below 7,500 a year and generally were found to involve collisions with analog cars. The injury rate for those 7,500 or so digital cars was less per event than what was found in the 15,000 or so analog car wrecks that still occurred a year. The injuries were less severe, too. That data gathered as the digital car fleet grew and the analog fleet lessened led to the actuaries making huge discounts available for digital car owners. It truly took only a programming error on the nav system or a failure of the car to slow down and pull over if contact with the national traffic database grid was lost to cause a digital car wreck now.
That database was one of the things Jerry hated.
“Sure the feds just need another way to track me, to keep tabs on my information, to know where I have been or where I will go,” Jerry said.
Bob held up his NewScreen, the paper-thin sheet that he held folded in his pocket. It was the replacement for tablet, laptop and smartphone when it came out a few years ago, and it was the lifeblood for many Americans. But it, too, allowed, just like smartphones had for years, the ability for the government to know where people were, so Bob thought the argument was moot.
“Look, Jerry, I know you still like to drive. But face it. We’re in our late 60s. We still have to work. We still have places to go. And, unlike you, I know my reaction times have slowed and my night vision isn’t what it used to be. I know that my car can maintain itself by keeping track of its own maintenance schedules and notifying me when it wants to go to the garage for a checkup. .It’s convenient and safe and fast. And, despite the rumors, I get to go where I want when I want,” he said.
Jerry sighed. Next, Bob would try again to have him use one of the shared intercity car rental agencies so he would feel safer about Jerry going home. Of course that would leave Jerry’s old Chrysler at Bob’s for a few weeks, when surely Bob would try to have it retrofitted with automation.
The conversation ended.
But the automated Chevy sat gleaming in the driveway next to the fading old Chrysler, whose days were numbered by age, insurance costs and federal use permissions. Jerry understood that. But he just didn’t want to let go of the wheel.
(A few more serious points that are lingering in my head about the digital vs. analog car, which we’ll touch Sunday. Thanks for sharing the ride so far.)
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