Will a self-driving car make my inner city commute and out of town driving a better experience? Time will tell, but before I ditch the family car for one that does not require a licensed driver behind the wheel (assuming there is a wheel), I have a few questions I’d like to ask of Google and Apple (and any other company with a PowerPoint that includes a bullet point for • Self-driving Car).
Ask, Ye Shall Maybe Receive
Why Google vs. Apple? It’s fun to compare the companies. Both are working on cars; Google displays their self-driving car in public, while Apple, still secretive as ever, does not, but it’s Apple that delivers products that people can actually buy.
Self-driving Sells – You’ve seen Google’s self-driving car on the news and YouTube, and other manufacturers are working on similar models, including Tesla and all the major auto makers except Chrysler which desperately wants to be bought out. Humans have been driving hundreds of millions of cars on millions of miles of roads for a hundred years so the very novelty of a self-driving car of the future catches eyeballs.
But is the sell a future reality?
Who’s In Control? – That’s a good question to ask. Google would like to dispense with the steering wheel altogether. That just doesn’t seem right. My iPhone is a wonderfully predictable device but sometimes it just doesn’t work. If the driverless car decides to stop driving, then who is in control? And without a steering wheel does it matter?
Who Writes The Laws? – A self-driving car is a robot. Mechanisms and computers and algorithms and sensors combine to get the car from here to there, and, ostensibly back again, or somewhere else. What principles guide the robot car?
The Three Laws Of Robotics from Isaac Asimov:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws
Will Apple’s iMobile follow those laws?
Where Did I Go? – Google’s business model is to track you, your whereabouts, and your personal information wherever possible. The company does that by giving away software to use for free, but in exchange for tracking you, sniffing through your email, and culling personal data to be sold to the highest bidder. Apple does business the old fashioned way. It makes a product you can buy and use for a price.
Will Google’s self-driving cars track where I go? Will Google’s self-driving car watch what I read along the way? Will it read my lips like the HAL 9000 and decide to lock me out when it overhears a conversation where I decided to trade in my Googlematic for an Apple iMobile?
Accountability, My Dear Watson – Finally, who is accountable when a self-driving car commits a sin and crashes? Will insurance rates go up? Or, go down for self-driving car owners and users? Am I liable because Google screwed up and drove the car into a schoolyard crowded with children because that’s where Google Maps said the freeway on ramp was located?
Wait. There’s more!
What sort of ongoing maintenance is required to ensure my iMobile or Googlematic can be used? The cars will be riddled with sensors and likely to have problems parking and driving and turning when it rains, snows, or suddenly finds itself stuck in a dust storm. See? Lots of questions and I haven’t even taken a ride in a self-driving car, but I suspect the sales pitch and the presentation bullet points won’t have the answers I want.