Why self-driving cars are a waste of money, and improvement of public transport should get these funds

Taking away people’s driving privileges and handing it out to robots will not be an easy sell. Legal and social implications also plague the project. These cars will hit jobs, drivers and pedestrians to I’m afraid. If one of these strange vehicles hit a person, which they might, big legal trouble is to come. There are 4.1 million people who drive for a living and 3.5 million do it full-time. Do we need to take away jobs from people who desperately need them? It all boils down to this:

Why we are spending billions to develop technology, when there are millions of people who could do a better job for a fraction of the price?

People will not give up driving

Cars are part of our lives in more ways than we think. Nothing else spells freedom like driving and going places. The proof is in the money. The average person will spend $335,000 dollars on cars in their lifetime. Our driving pleasure is a big part of why we love cars. But driving has other deep historical significance.

Cars represent a leap in our social evolution. We went from using horses to driving cars; this was an important change. Now we are at the doorsteps of another leap, but this time instead of cars, there are robots. We don’t have to worry for a while because baby robots have a lot to learn. Even the worst driver today, outperform robotic self-driving cars — by a lot.

This might take a while

It is almost silly to think we can mimic the complexities of driving with algorithms. Driving is not just scanning objects and making sure you stop before you hit something — driving requires way more than that.

Driving is like thinking, something computers can’t do (at least not very well for now). To safely conduct a hunk of metal weighing around a ton is a dangerous task. Driving requires a continuous stream of decision-making. A computer will face overwhelming obstacles. In some technical aspects, self-driving cars might do better than humans, but one important aspect still is missing — judgment.

A computer can only react to its programming. But the complexity of programming needed is mind-boggling if not impossible. Let’s try to illustrate this from a programmer’s point of view: Most likely your programmer will tell the computer to stop at a red light and then go on when the light turns green; that is the easy part.

Let’s say there is a cop waving at the robot car to pull over. How do you program your computer to respond? Now let’s say there is a pile of boxes blocking the street ahead; do you tell the program to go into oncoming traffic and pass to the other side, or do you tell it to just stop and wait? Wait for what? What if there is a poorly written sign saying — detour to Main Street? What do you tell your computer to do? What if there are nails on the road?

Will the computer be able to see it, and what do you tell the program to do? I could go on all night re-creating a list of scenarios and we are not even talking about snow and rain and a myriad of unknown unknowns.

What programming is able to do now is only a fraction of what real driving requires. Keeping cars between lanes and preventing them from hitting each other, and other objects is the easiest part. It Hard is to interpret a chaotic, dangerous, and fast-changing environment, and navigate it safely.

Self-driving car enthusiasts will argue that there are other technologies that will come to the rescue. GPS; communications from car to car; lanes created for self-driving cars; and changes to the urban landscape making it easier for the current technologies to complete the work.

Right now there is a race to the top. Billions are being spent. Google, Uber, Tesla, and Volvo are the front-runners. A race for the benefit of humanity or just for profits?

Changing the world to accommodate robot drivers

Yes. If you give these new robot cars a perfect and safe environment they might do quite well. Remove all obstacles, reduce the unknowns; make special lanes; create a robot-car-only environment. Now we are looking at a futuristic city where everyone is happy safe and pollution-free; not so fast.

There is a much simpler and cheap way to achieve city de congestion and safe spaces along with clean air: and it is called public transportation or mass transit. Someone already invented that.

So it all boils down to politics and lobbying, and profits. Items that usually never favors public policy in benefit of all. It is sad we seem to always spend billions trying to make something wrong, rather than spend millions to build something new that will work.

Are they any worthwhile uses?

The question we have ask ourselves is: do we really need this technology? What is the cost benefit of building self-driving cars? A good application for self-driving cars are to provide independence to people who cannot drive for medical reasons. That would be one of them, and I’m sure there are others.

Another reason we would need a self-driving car would be the lack of drivers, is this the case? No. There are many people who knows how to drive and are employed doing just that. People can be driving for blind people or people with handicaps.

So, ultimately what self-driving cars are accomplishing is to farm out a job people could be doing, to a machine that can’t barely do the job. Usually machines are built to do just the opposite: to replace jobs that people cannot do for whatever reason. Such examples would be: robots that detonate bombs, usually a dangerous job people should not do. So is this technology at the service of people? And the answer is no. This technology will be hurting people.

Do we need more cars?

Changing our urban environment is a good idea but let’s change it so it accommodates people and not more cars. creating spaces so people can meet each other and enjoy life should be the goal. Our cities are now filled cars and ruined by their noise, dust and the fear of being run over by one.

They now occupy all living spaces as if they were the central and most important part of city living. The can only move a small number of people from one place to another. Public transportation does a far better job, is safer and cheaper leaving our living spaces untouched.

Now imagine a city with no cars. At least a downtown area that is car free. Imagine the streets filled with people enjoying and hanging out in cafes and restaurants. Children run free without parents fearing for their lives. Musicians and artists perform freely in the quietness of our car free streets. Some of our cities are experimenting with that ideal as they open downtown areas spaces by re routing streets. It is a wonderful experience to be in one of these places.

It is sad we seem to always spend billions trying to make something wrong, rather than spend millions to build something new that will work

Conclusion

Investing in self-driving cars will not create this changes. Self-driving cars will not work because they are not addressing the problem of lack of good public transportation. They are simply removing the driver from individual cars, that’s all.

There are no prof they will be safer, effective or cheaper. Having a driver or not having one, only creates more unemployment. Can we invest money in something more productive? What do you think?

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Leonardo Del Toro

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