As self-driving cars inch their way closer and closer to reality, drivers are forced to step back and contemplate how they would actually affect our lives on the road. Industry consultancy firm IHS carried out a study in January that predicts self-driving cars will hit the consumer market by 2025.
Will they solve all the problems of safety and traffic law compliance currently caused by human error? Driverless technology is touted as the answer to fallible drivers, but will the technology really deliver on its big promises?
Furthermore, what will happen when a driverless car does run amok? After all, it’s inevitable that self-driving cars will be subject to the same principles that cause error in other modern technologies (Murphy’s Law, anyone?). Who will bear responsibility for these inevitable infractions? The “driver,” the manufacturer, or a ghost in the machine?
And these aren’t the only questions in drivers’ minds. Driverless cars represent one most notable, if not the biggest, advancements in transportation technology since the first automobile. But when they finally hit the road, what kind of impact will they have on our lives?
Who will be responsible for malfunctions?
When’s the last time you questioned the rights of robots? Wait, what? Robots aren’t people. They can’t have rights. Basic logic leads us to question how a machine could ever be held responsible for actions or given rights, but legal professionals are saying that such a designation of rights and responsibilities may be mandatory if we’re ever to implement self-driving technology.
Attorney John Frank Weaver, author of Robots Are People, Too, discusses this very issue in a post at Slate.
“If we are dealing with robots like they are real people [e.g. if they’re driving autonomously], the law should recognize that those interactions are like our interactions with real people,” Weaver writes. “In some cases, that will require recognizing that the robots are insurable entities like real people or corporations and that a robot’s liability is self-contained.”
As it stands today, nobody knows who would be held liable for accidents and malfunctions incurred by self-driving cars. The technology just hasn’t gotten far enough yet. One thing is for sure though: the future for the liability of driverless tech is murky.
Will autonomous cars act intuitively and ethically?
Picture this: you’re rolling merrily along in your shiny new self-driving car when a deer jumps into the road. Your self-driving car finds itself in a real pickle, because it has to choose between colliding with an animal, which is potentially dangerous, and swerving into the opposing lane to miss it, which is definitely dangerous.
How will self-driving cars make these kinds of split-second decisions, the kinds of decisions that could mean the difference between life and death?
Driverless cars will presumably be programmed to take as much external input into consideration as possible, but there will always be a disconnect between the calculations of an automated reaction and the intuition of human intervention.
This may be an area in which driverless technology will have to bow out and allow for human intervention. After all, the technology is still in its infancy. The first self-driving cars we see on the roads may be more like semi-driverless cars than completely autonomous machines.
Are they even legal?
Self-driving cars are so cutting edge that they have yet to be properly classified in federal, state, and local legislation. As of today, California and Nevada have granted permits allowing driverless cars to cruise their state roadways, but the rest of the 48 are remaining silent.
Should the technology generate even a small amount of controversy, we could start seeing state legislators dig in their heels to keep driverless cars off their roads. Like any groundbreaking advancement, fear is always a factor, and political polarization can present serious setbacks.
Who will be able to actually afford a self-driving car?
The persistent narrative of self-driving car technology is that it will reduce emissions, empower the everyman, and change the way we drive for good. But the benefits might be relegated to the 1% whenever they become available.
Google’s modified, self-driving Toyota Prius – promoted so whimsically by a popular YouTube video demonstrating its use by a visually impaired passenger picking up his dry cleaning and eating tacos whilst being chauffeured through suburban California – has an estimated cost of over $300,000 (taking into consideration all of the necessary sensory detection and GPS equipment it requires to operate).
Granted, new technologies can drop in price as they become more prevalent and mass-produced, however, it appears that self-driving cars will have to drop significantly in price in order to become financially feasible for the average American.
All things considered, self-driving cars represent an exciting, yet uncertain, technology. Despite the fact that we can’t know exactly what life will be like when they get here, we may see self-driving cars on the road sooner than you’d think!
Have you ever wondered how self-driving cars could change our daily lives?
Image courtesy of L&L Automotive: How Self-Driving Cars will Change our Lives