Second, they are very resistant to change, even when that change will prevent millions of deaths. In the U.S. alone, we get into roughly 5.5 million crashes a year, at an estimated cost of $450 billion. The last year that fewer than 30,000 people died on American roads was 1945.
Here are two things we know about human beings: First, they are nowhere near as good at driving as they like to think. Second, they are very resistant to change, even when that change will prevent millions of deaths.
Compared to the rest of the world, however, America is the little old lady doing 20 miles per hour in the slow lane of death. Only about 12 people per 100,000 residents die each year in car accidents. In India, that number is 20. Thailand, Libya, the Dominican Republic and Eritrea are the “winners” — if you can call it that — of this grisly game with around 40 deaths per 100,000 people each year.
The good news is that the technology already exists to alleviate this problem. We can stop the slaughter in an incredibly civilized way that will let us get wherever we want to go with a virtual chauffeur. We won’t lose our freedom; we’ll gain new freedoms, such as the freedom to not have to worry about parking. Who cares about finding a spot when the car can do just that? We can be out in our vehicle in the evening, and every occupant of the car can drink to their heart’s content.
The number of miles now driven by all car companies involved in this driverless race now exceeds 1 million. Tesla is sending autonomous cars between San Francisco and Seattle almost constantly. And how many accidents, how many fatalities, how many pedestrians have fallen victim to these rampaging robots? The number still rests at zero.
One of the biggest problems Google now must overcome, according to chairman Eric Schmidt, is regulatory: Driverless cars have to stick to speed limits, because it would be illegal to program them otherwise. But practically no one on the road sticks to the speed limit, so the Google car is stuck in the slow lane. And if you thought the average driver’s ego is hard to overcome, try working with a state government to raise the speed limit for robots.
But a smart car covers itself in unblinking cameras. It can use sonar to detect other cars and obstacles. It never gets tired or bored; its reaction time and judgment are never diminished. It can quite literally multitask. And that can save, in theory, more than 1.25 million lives around the planet every year — the rough equivalent of wiping out AIDS or tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization.
Chances are that insurance companies, which tend to be driven more by data than emotion, will spot this first, and drive premiums up for human drivers. Long-haul trucking companies won’t be far behind, since it makes much more sense to have a system that doesn’t need to take breaks in truck stops. Read more…