As undoubtedly planned, Google is getting huge ideological and marketing mileage from its Self-Driving Car Project.
The idea being peddled is that Google is going to figure out how to have computers take over all the tasks involved in driving automobiles, so that “a self-driving car that can shoulder this burden for us.” The main promise of such an outcome seems to be a big jump in the safety and convenience of riding in personal automobiles.
To promote this promise, Google not only downplays the collective-choice dilemma it faces — who will own a self-driving car unless and until everybody else does? — but tells only half the technical story. Drivers make mistakes and do stupid (heavily sponsored) things while behind the wheel, Google reports.
What Google does not report, meanwhile, is the profound complexity of automobile driving, both in terms of the environmental conditions and mental processes involved. As Google knows all too well, there are huge numbers of ways to generate big failures in dealing with such complexities.
Of course, Google also never mentions an even bigger elephant in it’s technogasm: the one great catastrophe that would undoubtedly result from the success of its Project.
Here is how Google frames the ultimate question, under pictures of giggling, hand-holding, rejoicing passengers enjoying robo-rides:
Why self-driving cars matter
Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, regardless of their ability to drive.
Yes, by all means, do imagine this!
What would the triumph of Google Cars mean for the ongoing reign of the automobile as the main mode of personal travel in the world’s richest societies? It would deepen and extend that reign, would it not? And what, dear Google, you supposed pursuer of reason and science and true human interests, is THAT likely to mean for us humans?
Of course, Google is just about as genuinely interested in human welfare and the deployment of science for social betterment as are other capitalists, which is to say: not bloody much.
Anybody who actually cares about these things has to face up to the radical unsustainability of cars-first transportation.
Google, meanwhile, is busy polishing its brand and positioning itself to sell hundreds of millions of automotive navigation systems.
Our grandchildren, should they somehow inherit the ability to sustain print-literate societies, will not look kindly on Google Cars.