Primal Numbers – Home, James

The next time You’re stuck in traffic, frustrated by gridlock, imagine this: the cars around you flowing smoothly?not a blocked intersection in sight?as you relax behind the wheel and sip your morning coffee. That little piece of auto heaven is closer than you think as driverless cars and self-guided delivery drones move closer to the mainstream. The only question is who’s to blame if things take a wrong turn?

The idea of self-driving cars goes back at least a half century, to the golden age of the American automobile, when Bel Airs and Bonnevilles cruised the roads. As this LiveScience article notes, autonomous cars were being tested on an ?electronic highway? in the 1950s by General Motors, RCA, and others. Back then, a lot of the testing involved adding technology to the roads. Today, the technical wizardry is built right into the cars, and It’s already common to see features like Active Parking Assist for parallel parking?not to mention new technology that will let your car park itself without you being inside.

Besides being just plain cool to play with, this type of technology holds real potential for easing traffic, lowering emissions, preventing accidents, and allowing some drivers to maintain their independence. But it raises a lot of questions, too.

Suppose, for instance, that You’re cruising along in your driverless car. The computer’s in charge, traffic is flowing, and you’ve just about cracked the morning Sudoku. But then a glitch in the system takes the car off auto pilot and, before you can take control, You’re crunching fenders with the driver ahead of you. Who’s responsible?

Is it you, the driver, even though your car’s computer was supposed to be in control? Or is it the software maker, whose latest OS upgrade caused the digital hiccup?

Driverless cars won’t be at dealerships for a few years yet, but the same questions apply to existing technology. Who shoulders the blame if the parallel parking system in your car goes haywire and ends up scratching that BMW behind you? As if insurance policies aren’t obscure enough as it is, they’ll become positively labyrinthine once underwriters start adding clauses about misbehaving drones and current software upgrades.

Not, of course, that human driver error doesn’t cause countless accidents, big and small, every single day. But vehicle safety recalls are already remarkably common, and That’s without the gadgetry of self-driving cars. In Canada alone, a search of the Transport Canada recall database turned up over 1,800 safety recalls for all makes and models during 2012?2013.

Are driverless cars a good idea? Absolutely, especially with planned safety features like sensors that will stop a vehicle before it hits a pedestrian or other vehicle. But should we put our absolute trust in a machine that will hurtle us along the highway with only a computer at the helm? Until they’re a proven entity, it will probably be a good idea not to assume we can take a snooze behind the wheel.

In the meantime?home, James.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.

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