After Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it slowly but surely crept its way into households around the country. Electricity was to the 1870s like the Internet is to today — new, exciting, attracting young inventors and smart minds . . . but it was also feared by a major portion of society (just like the Internet has been for many in modern times).
Of course, in this day and age we can’t fathom the idea of someone who doesn’t even own a cell phone, keeping the revolutionized technology on their person at all times. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of U.S. adults own a cell phone.
This is one of many examples throughout all of human history in which a new technology was invented and, after concerns and wariness, eventually became common in every-day use.
The same pattern can be applied to autonomous cars. In fact, numerous experts — such as Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Vint Cerf, among others — have predicted self-driving cars to be utilized by the general population in less than a decade.
Musk says he expects fully autonomous cars to make widespread appearances in about two or three years, though he expects the biggest hurdle to be the regulations, which could take anywhere from an additional one to five years to get through.
Tesla introduced the Autopilot feature in October, allowing drivers to engage in a semi-autonomous driving mode in which the car can steer, change lanes, park itself, maintain a distance between itself and the car ahead and give warnings and alerts about potential collisions. Though it’s still in the early stages, and Musk insists drivers still keep their hands on the wheel for safety, the autopilot feature can improve itself by collecting data and, essentially, learning.
“In the distant future, people may outlaw driven cars because it’s too dangerous,” Musk said at a conference. “You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”
It’s human nature to fear the unknown and a lack of control. That is very likely why so many people are so uncomfortable with the idea of self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. But what if that technology could potentially create a safer world?
Many in the opposition claim that self-driving cars could have a glitch and end up seriously harming — or even killing — its passengers… never mind the countless number of fatal mistakes made by humans themselves. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, there were 30,057 fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2013 in the U.S., leading to a death rate of 10.3 crash-related deaths per 100,000 people.
“I, for one, welcome our self-driving automobile overlords,” says Howard Rheingold, a pioneering Internet sociologist and self-employed writer. “How could they possibly do a worse job than the selfish, drugged, drunk, and distracted humans who have turned our roads into bloodbaths for decades?”
When it comes down to it, humans are not perfect. Robots aren’t either, but they also aren’t plagued by the same distractions, emotions and other conflicts that humans are.
In a human-driven car, a number of things can go wrong — the driver could fall asleep, be intoxicated, texting, speeding, running stop signs or red lights, looking for something in the back seat, etc. A self-driving car will essentially be a computer — programmed to do as it is told. For now, it’s just a matter of improving the technology.
Self-driving cars are inevitable. So, like the many technologies that have come before it, it’s time for people to stop resisting the inevitable and embrace one of the biggest innovations in the automotive industry.