The website Freakonomics.com is fascinating with its offbeat and sometimes jarring view of economics and technology. I’m still a Post-It note guy in a digital world and it took me a minute to wrap my head around Eric Morris’ article on how driverless cars will benefit us.
He makes the point that humans were not built to drive 70 miles per hour. We were much more comfortable at 3 mph riding horses as basic transportation for millennia. Says Morris:
Mother Nature never conceived of us going faster than maybe 20, even when chasing the juiciest of gazelles. Our perception is poor and our reaction times slow. For this reason, we have to leave a large cushion between ourselves and the car in front of us, and we respond sluggishly when it’s time to brake or accelerate.
Computer technology now works much faster than the human brain and so why not allow it to help us drive our cars? I’m fine with that, so far.
With cars driven by microprocessor instead of synapse, superior perception and reaction times mean vehicles could be spaced much more closely together and could better coordinate their movements, for example at intersections.
I still like to drive. I still remember the enormous sense of freedom when I turned 17 and got my driver’s license in New Jersey. I also remember getting my first ticket on the way home from the motor vehicle bureau (with my mother in the car) for running a red light!
Bartlett thinks the technology will allow us to turn complete control over to computers, and consequently turn the dashboard into an office so we can get some work done while waiting in traffic:
When you do get caught in traffic, driverless cars will ameliorate your lot. Many urgent pursuits like looking up song lyrics or mastering Angry Birds could replace time otherwise wasted staring at the road. Who knows, the design of the car interior itself might turn into something resembling a little office or sitting room. Just being freed from having to stare out the window and read the annoying attempts at humor affixed to the bumper in front of you will make driverless cars worthwhile.
There would be other benefits as well: taxi fares would drop sharply as taxis would be driverless (I told you it takes a minute to get your brain around this) and old folks wouldn’t have to give up driving, or depending on others to take them places.
Driverless cars will save many lives. By maneuvering with robotic precision, they have the potential to vastly reduce the number of accidents, 90 percent of which are due to human error. This will save us fantastic amounts of grief and expense. Tens of thousands of deaths and millions of hospital visits may be avoided each year.
He reviews other benefits, but you get the idea. Technology has been changing our lives for years (I just got Mary an iPad 2 for Christmas!) so why would we expect our cars to be exempt?
But I still get that wonderful sense of freedom. I wonder if technology will still allow me to have some of that as well?