You’re in traffic, and just up ahead on your right there’s a driveway, a McDonald’s exit say, or a gas station on the corner. There’s a car there, and the driver is waiting to come out. Waiting, in other words, for someone to let him into traffic.
Normally, you could bestow favor upon him if you chose. You could gesture over your dash, the other driver would wave a thank you (or not) and slowly pull out in front of you. On this occasion there’s one problem: You’re not driving. You’re not even paying attention. You are in the driver’s seat of a driverless car, doing the daily jumble (HNITK) — a delightful mental exercise you never had opportunity for until you got this car.
So, can you let the other car in? We’re heading like Thelma and Louise straight for a driverless future with obvious questions yet to be answered: How will your driverless car let someone into traffic ahead of you? More worrisome: Who will your driverless car let into traffic ahead of you?
Who we let into traffic defines who we are
We’re told that in the glorious future, there won’t even be steering wheels and thus no other drivers, meaning this dilemma won’t exist. Everybody will be sitting there doing the jumble. Until then, the control is still yours.
Theoretically, you could switch to manual mode to do your good deed, but only if you have been monitoring the traffic, which defeats the purpose of having a driverless car in the first place.
It’s more likely that most people will lamely hand over this responsibility of civic engagement to our friends in Silicon Valley. What criteria will they use in their algorithms? Will they treat this responsibility with the reverence and awe it deserves?
Because as everyone knows, you don’t let just anyone into traffic ahead of you. You make considered judgments, using a complex algorithm of your own constantly operating in the background in your head that you’ve fine-tuned over many years of real-world use.
For example, when you meet a driver nudging forward to wedge his way in as if the spot ahead of you is his natural birthright, his inheritance, like Daddy said so in his will, you might wonder gee, what time is it, he wants in, those people behind you sort of look like they’re in a hurry but — oh well darn, now he doesn’t have room to get in anyway.
Re-imagine ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ 30 years later, now with autonomous cars
Driverless cars can transform lives — if we change the rules and let them
Another time you’ll come upon someone peering over her steering wheel like a baby possum in her poor little Fiesta, evidently waiting for rush hour to be over when she won’t bother anyone, and it’s all you can do to keep from crying, the world is just so unfair, and you gesture to the gap in front of you before she even asks for it, wishing there were more you could give that driver.
Who we let into traffic ahead of us, and why, is an important element in our engagement with the outside world, a valuable outlet for the deployment of our sense of justice when all our normal outlets are backed up like a sewer. It defines who we are, as individuals and as a species, just like what you do when your neighbor on the plane hogs the entire armrest, or falls asleep on your shoulder.
Programmers will no doubt devise efficient ways to meet many of the roadway challenges that autonomous vehicles will face. But what about this one, which requires actual human sympathy to navigate?
Maybe their algorithms will simply let no one in ahead of you. That would be unfortunate. Like me, you probably know some driveways that let onto busy roads where a person could pay off his college loans waiting to get into traffic were it not for the kindness of strangers.
Or maybe the algorithms will let anyone and everyone in ahead of you, basically the system elevator doors use, in which case you’ll never get home. Indeed, drivers behind you will probably figure out it’s faster to drive in the McDonald’s entrance, go through the McDonald’s drive-through, order a Big Mac and large fries then come out the McDonald’s exit just to get ahead of you in traffic.
Alexa might as well decide if we give to charity
Maybe the cars will have some sort of “pay it forward” setting on the dashboard, one through 10, which your car broadcasts to those in the vicinity, and whether your car lets in another car depends on comparing your setting to theirs. Some bugs to work out there.
The more I think about this, the more I question whether we really want to hand over this awesome responsibility to the same crowd that stuck us with emoticons and “like” buttons. We might as well let Siri and Alexa decide whether we should give to charity. They’ll say no; the money can be put to better use making impulsive online purchases.
When we get behind the wheel, we are as gods, and have already gotten good at it. Why are we letting Silicon Valley take away our divinity?
Come to think of it, the algorithms in our heads that we’re using will need some tweaking. The new first criteria on whether to let a vehicle into traffic ahead of you: Does it have a driver? If not, well gee they just — here if I — oh well darn, now there’s not enough room for them to get in anyway.
Paul Morin is a writer and teacher in North Carolina.
Source: Read Full Article