The Future of Driving

By Annie Zeng

Would you buy a car that drives itself so you can catch some much needed rest during your daily commute? Would you place full trust in your car to bring you to your destination safely and efficiently? Autonomous car technology has been growing over the recent years and while it may seem innovative and exciting, the technology also poses increasing controversy regarding safety and driver dependence. Companies like Tesla, Uber, Ford, and General Motors have announced plans to bring self-driving cars onto the market with launch dates from 2017 to 2021. Although companies developing these cars list safety as their primary motivation, there is an ongoing debate about ethical concerns and how safe this technology actually is.

The benefits of autonomous vehicles include increased accessibility for the physically impaired or disabled and a decrease in human error. The concept promotes safety by asserting that there will be less car accidents as drivers do not have to choose between focusing on their phones and focusing on the road. Many of these cars will also be more fuel efficient and cleaner than their manual counterparts. US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a survey in 2008 that indicated human error accounts for 93% of crashes. Looking at it this way, semi-autonomous and autonomous cars would cut human error and promote road safety dramatically.

However, as many point out, the underlying issue seems to be that there needs to be more condemnation and education directed towards multitasking while driving. In addition, the autonomous vehicles operate on a moral algorithm that poses numerous ethical and safety concerns. Some of these include the programming of the vehicle to minimize the loss of life, even if it means sacrificing the people in the car, and determining how the vehicle should act in the case of an emergency. A critical concern of consumers and companies is that hackers could potentially take control of the car by hacking into the software and its security systems. These hackers would then be able to access and steal personal owner data as well as control the vehicle, posing immense risks to driver and passenger safety. The MIT Technology Review indicates that the current alert system in autonomous vehicles might not be enough to enable drivers to retain full control of their own vehicles in the event of emergencies or unexpected situations. Potential autonomous car drivers are turned off by the fact that they may potentially be sacrificing their own lives one day for lives of others because their car acted in the best interests of the majority. Evidently, autonomous car technology is still a futuristic and intimidating concept for some as well as an innovative and exciting one for others.

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