walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Self-Driving Cars

I just blogged about someone who asserted an equivalency between error free books and self-driving cars. I feel like we could probably improve the quality of some ebooks out there now (either by throwing more manual labor at it, a la websites in the mid 1990s, or improved tools, a la websites in the 2000s), but error free is unlikely unless you're using some technical definition of error free (no one can find the remaining errors, unless they are (a) trained professionals or equivalently skilled and motivated amateurs and (b) consuming the book in an effort to find the errors, not to actually read the book. That's a hypothetical technical definition of error free which I might accept as attainable.).

I also feel like we already _have_ a prototype self-driving car (that google thing) and also? Check out this coverage:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57367893-71/a-self-driving-car-but-thankfully-a-bmw/

Not as snotty as the headline. Here, a bit of a rah rah piece:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-57367893-71/a-self-driving-car-but-thankfully-a-bmw/

And at the NYT, of course, they get into the legal issues:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/technology/googles-autonomous-vehicles-draw-skepticism-at-legal-symposium.html

The third article is referred to by the second article. These are arbitrarily selected examples of very recent coverage: every gadget blog in existence appears to have covered this in the wake of CES and many of them are pointed at by the second article mentioned above.

I'm working on a theory about "legal issues". I think "legal issues" exist for two reasons, the first of which is obvious and offensive to mention (no, not for the lawyers' benefit; that's just a nice side benefit of preserving that portion of the status quo which has not completely petrified in place). The second is to create an uncertain environment in which eager, aggressive entrepreneurs and early adopters can play around and maybe come up with something compelling for the rest of us. It needs to be uncertain, so that if what they come up with is dangerous, scary or too disruptive, we can shut it down and require a do-over. But it needs to exist in some form, or we would all just petrify in place (and the disruption that eventually ensued would be really bad).

Once the entrepreneurs/early adopters have demonstrated both that the new thing could work, is desirable, and won't be horribly disruptive, legal issues are resolved somehow and then we're all stuck with quality issues to make it palatable to the mass market. Which is where we are with e-books.

This is my theory, anyway, as to the public policy purpose of "legal issues" as a standard delay in innovation.

Support from the NYT article for this theory:

“Why would you even put money into developing it?” he asked. “I see this as a huge barrier to this technology unless there are some policy ways around it” — though he noted that there were precedents for Congress adopting such policies."

"Legal issues" force people to answer questions like, "Hey yeah it'd be cool, but how are you gonna make money/get people to let you use it IRL/etc."

I do think some of the issues raised in the article are just _begging_ for mockery. If we were all really that worried about tons of metal hurtling towards each other, there are all kinds of things we could do to address that problem (mandatory interlocks on vehicles to ensure the operator at least had access to someone with no or no-alcohol breath and a valid license, speed governors on all cars, lower speed limits, lighter cars, separation of trucks from passenger vehicles, jersey barriers or medians separating high speed traffic everywhere, more frequent (or any) vehicle checks to insure they are in good working order, etc.) that we don't do because we've decided the current tradeoff is better than those changes.

Super cool that Brad Templeton got a funny into the NYT! The world has become nerdly wonderful.

ETA: A reasonably obvious next step:

http://www.hybridcarblog.com/the-self-driving-electric-car-is-here/

Self-driving, electric, oriented towards delivering packages.
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