Tuesday 19 March 2019

Driverless cars put us on the road to ruin

Driverless cars
Driverless cars
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Well, it was nice while it lasted. I am, of course, talking about the Anthropocene Period, when humans ruled the roost.

This week saw a new report from the OECD which estimates that as many as 66 million people are in danger of being replaced by robots in the coming years.

Okay, when I say replaced by robots, it would be more accurate to say that their jobs will be done by robotic technology rather than being, y'know, actually replaced. Although if the current craze for life-like, automated sex dolls continues apace, humanity will eventually disappear as half the population fall in love with a piece of voice-activated plastic.

Most of these jobs that are under threat are done in the developing world, where automation has managed to make most human input either irrelevant or too expensive, but this isn't just something which will affect poor factory workers in poor countries.

One of the great mistakes of the Trump campaign, for instance, was telling all those people in the Rust Belt that he could bring back their jobs. While it is true that he has forced some companies to keep their plants open in the States rather than relocate to Mexico, the die has already been cast.

Who would you hire for a difficult, dirty job - a person who may get sick, who may not turn up, who may sue you, or a piece of machinery which doesn't require health insurance or a pay packet and - hopefully for all our sake - won't become militant and insist on forming or joining a trade union?

It's right about now, however, that we should all be concerned about where the drive for automation is leading us.

We've already seen one fatality involving a driverless car - and that was only a test run. This week also saw scientists and ethicists in South Korea condemn a university's plan to develop something which could become an independent, hunter-killer drone. But that's too little, too late because once the technical theory has been cracked, the reality won't be far behind.

Driverless cars, however, are a fascinating idea, in the sense that it's fascinating that anyone ever thought they'd be a good idea.

There was a time when necessity was the mother of invention, but I can't remember a time when people said they really needed to drive, but could do without the hassle of actually driving.

Here's an interesting teaser - if a driverless car is confronted by a pram, or a human, suddenly appearing in the road, does it just run the new obstacle down, or does it risk the safety of its own occupants by veering off course? Does it cut out instead? Can they be hacked?

We're in for some interesting times - and by 'interesting' I mean bloody terrifying.

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