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Someone Take the Wheel
Townhall.com ^ | March 9, 2012 | Jonah Goldberg

Posted on 03/09/2012 4:02:56 AM PST by Kaslin

There's a great scene in the movie "The Right Stuff" where the original Mercury astronauts are checking out the capsule for their first trips to space. They're horrified to discover that the German scientists in charge of the program see the astronauts as nothing more than living props.

There is no window, the scientists explain. There's no emergency hatch or even controls for the astronauts to use. It's all automated. "We want a window," the astronauts demand.

The white-frocked experts reluctantly agree to give the astronauts a window and piloting controls because they know the American people would hate to see the nation's greatest pilots treated like lab monkeys with no say in their fate.

I can't help but wonder whether in 20 years the American people will have the right stuff to demand a steering wheel in their cars.

If you haven't heard, we -- and by "we," I mean the guys in the lab coats in Detroit and Silicon Valley -- are very close to having a completely automated automobile ready for the market. Driverless cars have been tested in numerous conditions. Audi even sent a four-wheeled robot to the top of Pikes Peak. Volvo has one that can let the "driver" read the newspaper on the way to work, even in busy city traffic. After a successful lobbying campaign by Google (which has logged thousands of hours with its self-driving cars), Nevada recently passed a sweeping robot-friendly law.

According to press reports, robots are already far safer than human drivers. Reaction times are better. Radar and GPS technology gives the robots a 360-degree view. Robots don't get drowsy, and they don't suddenly cross the yellow line when they spill a hot latte in their laps.

But let's assume the technology will -- as technology invariably does -- get much, much better, and Americans will be able to sit back and play with their iPad 7s as their cars take them to work. What next?

Some consequences are pretty obvious and desirable. Traffic fatalities will plummet. In 2010, there were 32,885 U.S. traffic fatalities -- the lowest total since 1949, but still disturbingly high. Computerized driving could remedy that.

Automated cars could also be an enormous boon to the physically disabled. Insurance rates would crater, traffic would be more efficient, speeding tickets could become a thing of the past (possibly bankrupting highwayman fiefdoms like Washington, D.C.). And -- hooray! -- we could all have martinis before dinner again because an embryonic version of Skynet will be our designated driver.

So far, so good. On the other hand, automated autos would undoubtedly put countless Americans who make a living driving cars, buses and trucks out of work, at least in the short run. I'm no Luddite. Capitalism is supposed to destroy unproductive jobs to make room for productive ones. Still, in the short term, the turmoil could be brutal, economically and politically.

But let's leave professional drivers out of it. Besides, truck and bus drivers do more than simply drive, and they might keep their increasingly redefined jobs for a good while longer.

What I find most disturbing to contemplate is what this would mean for American liberty.

Health and safety -- particularly for "the children" -- have become all-purpose writs for social meddling. The list of dangerous substances and activities we need to be protected from grows by the day. With the help of a media establishment that turns anecdotes into epidemics in a heartbeat, the state ceaselessly empowers itself to constrain our freedoms for what the experts tell us is for our own good.

Let's be fair: The experts aren't always wrong, and even when they're wrong, their arguments aren't necessarily unreasonable given their assumptions. But if you follow the logic of mandatory seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, red-light cameras and anti-texting laws to their natural conclusion, it's easy to imagine that some bureaucrats will want to co-author your car's software.

And then what? Will you ever be allowed to go over the speed limit again? Police are already drooling to see our GPS data. Will that become automatic too? Will the cops have the power to tell your car to stop whether you want it to or not? Will authorities be able to tell your car to take a detour to alleviate traffic? Make it turn around when it gets too close to certain off-limit areas?

I don't know, and neither does anyone else. But I would like to imagine that when these debates come -- and they will -- a sufficient number of Americans will have enough of the right stuff to say, "We want a steering wheel."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: driverlesscars; nannystate; policestate

1 posted on 03/09/2012 4:03:01 AM PST by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

We won’t be able to keep our older cars. They will raise the registration prices and insurance prices to force you into a new robot.


2 posted on 03/09/2012 4:13:08 AM PST by sam_paine (X .................................)
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To: Kaslin

” Health and safety — particularly for “the children” — have become all-purpose writs for social meddling. The list of dangerous substances and activities we need to be protected from grows by the day. With the help of a media establishment that turns anecdotes into epidemics in a heartbeat, the state ceaselessly empowers itself to constrain our freedoms for what the experts tell us is for our own good. “

‘Nuff said....


3 posted on 03/09/2012 4:15:48 AM PST by Uncle Ike (Rope is cheap, and there are lots of trees...)
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To: Kaslin

Metaphor for life under Obama and the democrats: forget about a steering wheel - we’ll decide what kind of healthcare you get, what kind of car you drive, what kind of education your kids get, what kind of food they’ll eat, etc, etc.


4 posted on 03/09/2012 4:19:59 AM PST by Stosh
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To: sam_paine

I read an article recently on the automatic car business, and there’s one interesting hurdle in the way- lawyers. Assuming such things do get deployed, you end up with difficult questions of liability. Say there’s an accident- who is at fault? Is it the owner? The manufacturer? The programmer? Considering the tort nightmare this country is at the moment, this is a pretty damned big hurdle. I think car makers are pretty skittish about the legal exposure.


5 posted on 03/09/2012 4:23:34 AM PST by drbuzzard (different league)
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To: Kaslin

Robots will be restricted to Interstate like roads where cruise speed is uniform and traffic types can be segregated.

Control will revert to the driver when the robot reaches the destination exit


6 posted on 03/09/2012 4:28:15 AM PST by bert (K.E. N.P. +12 ..... Crucifixion is coming)
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To: Kaslin

Car Computer: “Destination?”
Man: “Tea Party meeting”
Computer: “Destination unacceptable.”


7 posted on 03/09/2012 4:28:21 AM PST by COBOL2Java (Mitt Romney is SEVERELY conservative - and I'm SEVERELY against giving him my vote!)
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To: Kaslin

We are all children, and the Liberals in charge know what’s best for us.
Hail, Chairman O


8 posted on 03/09/2012 4:35:23 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: bert

I hope they’re awake at the time.


9 posted on 03/09/2012 4:40:11 AM PST by Celerity
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To: nuconvert
Those of us that did not have velcro closed shoes/sneakers but actually learned to tie a decent knot ... those of us that had to memorize multiplication tables (Some to 9, some to 12) and not have a calculator, and those that learned to answer word questions in a coherant sentence, properly spelled .....



Will never buy one of these.

10 posted on 03/09/2012 4:51:10 AM PST by knarf (I say things that are true ... I have no proof ... but they're true)
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To: Celerity

———I hope they’re awake——

Not to worry......

If control does not revert, the robot will shunt the vehicle to the off ramp holding lane, the shoulder, until positive control is asserted.


11 posted on 03/09/2012 4:51:22 AM PST by bert (K.E. N.P. +12 ..... Crucifixion is coming)
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To: knarf

We’ll probably be too old or dead before the mandate banning all other cars except these.

I guess that’s a good thing


12 posted on 03/09/2012 4:56:10 AM PST by nuconvert ( Khomeini promised change too // Hail, Chairman O)
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To: Kaslin
Not much worry as under Obama’s plan the price of gasoline and the cost of automobiles will be raised to levels that only the privileged elites will be able to afford cars and the rest of us can stand in line for our government bus. The freedom for us to go where and when we want will be taken away.
13 posted on 03/09/2012 4:58:06 AM PST by The Great RJ ("The problem with socialism is that pretty soon you run out of other people's money" M. Thatcher)
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To: Kaslin

I drive a five year old base model Toyota, and that car has Stability Control, which takes over command of braking and throttle in order to prevent wheel slip. There are cars out there that do a heck of a lot more than that.

We are already two steps down the road to robotic cars. Taking control of steering is next.


14 posted on 03/09/2012 5:20:08 AM PST by Haiku Guy ("The problem with Internet Quotes is that you never know if they are real" -- Abraham Lincoln)
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To: Kaslin

I just think of the scene in I, Robot where they need to capture the hero, so they electronically take over the car and pull him aside to arrest him.

Scary world.

Can I ask, though, if they’re doing this, why can’t they design a computer system for airports to land planes instead of using human flight controllers? I would think that something like that would have been in place by now.


15 posted on 03/09/2012 5:36:41 AM PST by Thorliveshere
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To: Thorliveshere

Can I ask, though, if they’re doing this, why can’t they design a computer system for airports to land planes instead of using human flight controllers? I would think that something like that would have been in place by now.

_____________________________

I think this already happens.


16 posted on 03/09/2012 5:50:24 AM PST by Chickensoup (In the 20th century 200 million people were killed by their own governments.)
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To: COBOL2Java
Car Computer: “Destination?”
Man: “Tea Party meeting”
Computer: “Destination unacceptable.”

How about this?:

Car Computer: "Destination?"
Human Owner: "Gun store."
Computer: COMMAND OVERIDE. LOCK DOORS. REROUTE TO POLICE STATION.

17 posted on 03/09/2012 6:06:23 AM PST by DCBryan1 ("Forget the lawyers, FIRST kill the journalists!"- Die Ritter, die "nee" sagen)
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To: DCBryan1

Oh man, haven’t had a raucously cynical laugh in a long time! Good one!


18 posted on 03/09/2012 6:29:54 AM PST by COBOL2Java (Mitt Romney is SEVERELY conservative - and I'm SEVERELY against giving him my vote!)
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To: DCBryan1

In that case, it’ll just be “Party meeting” and “High-pressure-engineered implements store”.


19 posted on 03/09/2012 7:55:02 AM PST by M1903A1 ("We shed all that is good and virtuous for that which is shoddy and sleazy... and call it progress")
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To: Thorliveshere
Can I ask, though, if they’re doing this, why can’t they design a computer system for airports to land planes instead of using human flight controllers? I would think that something like that would have been in place by now.

They've had auto-land systems on airliners since the 1960s. The 747 was the first to have it.

20 posted on 03/09/2012 11:48:35 AM PST by Ol' Dan Tucker (People should not be afraid of the government. Government should be afraid of the people)
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To: Ol' Dan Tucker

So why do we need humans anymore?


21 posted on 03/09/2012 4:08:59 PM PST by Thorliveshere
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To: Thorliveshere; Kaslin
"So why do we need humans anymore?"

Please don't say that so loud.

22 posted on 03/10/2012 7:31:19 PM PST by NicknamedBob (If "everybody's different" then two of them have to be the same. It's the only way to be different.)
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To: drbuzzard
Say there’s an accident- who is at fault? Is it the owner? The manufacturer? The programmer? Considering the tort nightmare this country is at the moment, this is a pretty damned big hurdle. I think car makers are pretty skittish about the legal exposure.

Spot on perfect analysis. Perhaps the lawyers will provide a positive service to society yet!

23 posted on 03/12/2012 9:15:32 AM PDT by sam_paine (X .................................)
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