August 18, 2016
Self-driving cars have been the talk of the transportation industry for a number of years. Whether it’s because automotive accidents are still one of the top killers in this country, or because Will Smith’s 2004 classic I, Robot made them look so cool, the world seemed on board with a self-driving car. But with news that Uber will have their autonomous vehicles on the road in a few short weeks, social media warriors have gone into a panic about the future of transportation. The reason? Uber is moving too fast!
Uber made the announcement barely three months after beginning testing for their self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. After choosing the Pennsylvania city for its confusing traffic patterns and unpredictable weather, the ride-sharing company has decided that 90 days is more than enough time to glean all the information they need to keep passengers safe on the road without a driver.
While tests may have gone well, the speed at which Uber has transitioned from “wouldn’t this technology be cool” to “we’re getting rid of drivers” has a lot of people scared. Whether it’s because robots are taking our jobs or because people just flat out don’t trust automation programs, people have commented, trolled, and tweeted that Uber is making the future a frightening place for us mere mortals. This was made evident by the comment thread on the Los Angeles Times story pertaining to the news.
Orwellian concerns were not the only problems that citizens have found with Uber’s self-driving car. While many took to the internet to boast their personal fears, many worried about the future of the world when it comes to transportation. As many cities lack a comprehensive public transportation system, people are worried that this focus on self-driving technology will sway cities away from investing in more practical ways of getting around. Particularly when Forbes penned an article condemning the news as a public-transit-killing innovation.
One significant issue that many posters and tweeters have let elude their attention is the fact that, while Uber has been testing this technology for three months, their self-driving cars have little to no experience in the icy tundra of a Pittsburgh winter. Between May and August, the Uber self-driving car has been soaking up the sun and driving easily on roads not covered in snow. But when passengers start hailing these driver-less cabs in a few months, they’ll be treated to a frigid hellscape filled with spin-outs and snow drifts.
In all honesty, this self-driving car is likely much safer than any human-driven vehicle. Human error accounts for a staggering number of automotive deaths in this country and, even if these cars experience a few fatalities, they will still pale in comparison to the disaster we’ve created by driving ourselves around. But in the world of technology, that’s not how people see it. Having a non-human program to blame makes perfection a necessity. And with one of the world’s most valuable unicorns behind the innovation, people will be itching to throw a fit when anything goes wrong.
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