Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Robot Servant

Tyler Cowen's got a good column up arguing in favor of seeing driverless cars on the road. Taking a wider view, he says that regulations and the way our society works will hinder adoption of this technology in the interests of "safety", even if widespread adoption of driverless cars means many lives spared.

In a related blog post, he adds:

1. I couldn’t fit it in the column, but it is an interesting question why there is no popular movement to encourage driverless cars. Commuting costs are very high and borne by many people. (Here is Annie Lowery on just how bad commutes can be.) You can get people to hate plastic bags, or worry about a birth certificate, but they won’t send a “pro-driverless car” postcard to their representatives. The political movement has many potential beneficiaries but few natural constituencies. (Why? Does it fail to connect to an us vs. them struggle?) This is an underrated source of bias in political outcomes.

Well, bear in mind that 99% of the populace has no idea this technology exists yet. I didn't realize it myself until just three months or so ago, when stories about recent technological advances began appearing online. And if you're still unfamiliar with this technology, this short (4-minute) presentation by Sebastian Thrun at TED is a decent introduction:

Make people aware of these cars first. Then start worrying about why people don't seem to care.

2. In the longer run a lot of driverless cars would be very small. Imagine your little mini-car zipping out and bringing you back some Sichuan braised fish, piping hot.

Excellent. At that point they cross the line in people's consciousness from "driverless car" to "robot servant". I would like to request that by the time I am in my 40s they be widely available and the price of a high-end mp3 player today. Cowen's got a good point that the line between "driverless car" and "robot servant" is entirely arbitrary and invented by humans.

1 comment:

blobOfNeurons said...

I'm pretty sure the unpopularity of driver-less cars can be broken down to two reasons:

1. People like having control of the car. Not just because of the (false) perception of safety, but also because it's a powerful feeling. Why would you give that up?

2. It's hard to understand why a driver-less car would be substantially better than a good driver. Remember that most people think of themselves as good drivers. Accidents happen, but only because the other driver was being an idiot, right, right?