By Vincent Tan
Google is bringing the world into the new age, setting the final “auto” in the commercial automobile like a precious jewel. Now on top of power steering, automatic transmission and GPS, you may soon be able to sit back and let their new self-driving cars take you safely all the way to your destination.
A young technology, still in its prototype stage, Google’s fleet of fully autonomous cars recently reached their first milestone of adolescence – their first crash. A Google car was directed by its software to avoid a sandbag, turned into a bus lane and mistakenly expected the human bus driver to yield. The minor ding was heard around the media world, leading to further improvements in Google’s software.
While we all look forward with bated breath towards automated cars like those in Total Recall or Tomorrowland, (and Hollywood worries how long they can keep over-the-top car crashes believable), we all look forward to a time when road rage, drunk driving, falling asleep at the wheel and other driving-related problems become a thing of the past. Roads would cease to be a euphemism for widow(er)-maker and street pizza oven, becoming what they were meant to be: a safe, efficient means of getting from A to B.
Unfortunately, when cars can work as reliably as the MRT (hopefully without the breakdowns), totally free from human input, we may also stop viewing them as extensions of ourselves. After all who self-identifies with our MRT trains? Simply put, our roads might lose some individual personality even as they gain more collective safety.
Still the expected benefits clearly outweigh the costs, when we consider the lives saved, the reduced traffic through computerised efficiency, and possibly a drop in air pollution too. Given all the pluses, should this universal transit to autopilot work out, we can all breathe easier.