6.2 Self Driving Cars

I’m skeptical. 

Real World: Driving from where I live in Houston to, let’s say, Costco, involves pulling up to an intersection with no stop sign and turning onto a narrow street with no lane markings that often has cars parked on both sides. The route to busy Westheimer Avenue is a short drive over speed bumps, and around recessed manhole covers and delivery trucks that are often blocking one lane. Once on the busy street, there is a bumpy railroad crossing that must be carefully negotiated. Part of the route is subject to standing water when it rains. Just driving a mile or two to Costso takes quite a bit of brain power. 

IT World: This morning I tried to use the Air France Play app on my iPad Mini and it crashed. 

Real World: We spend quite a bit of time in Upper Michigan. Deer are very common–some seem to understand not to jump in front of cars, some don’t, and some just stand in the road oblivious to danger. Obviously snow covers the road quite regularly, as does ice. Now and again a tree falls across a road. And don’t get me going on the potholes, and the sub-zero temperatures. 

IT World: A while back some water splashed onto my wife’s iPhone. It could make calls but no one could hear my wife when she spoke. 

Real World: Exit signs in many areas of the country are confusing, so perhaps a self-driving car would have access to better data. 

IT World: Now and again our Google maps navigator tells us to enter the freeway when we are already on the freeway. Usually this is because we are in a construction zone or a new section of highway that is apparently unknown to the map software. 

Real World: Now and again we go off-road. 

IT World: Many off-road areas have no cell service and poor maps. 

Real World: Recently I updated my profile on a company’s website. Later when I mentioned what I did to a customer service rep, she indicated that that customer system does not update their main system. I had to give her the same info over the phone. 

IT World: Every city, state, county, auto company, toll road operator, railroad, government agency, ISP, cell phone company, and emergency responder has its own secure computer system and databases–which probably do not communicate well with each other. 

Real World Today: People drive. 

IT World of Tomorrow: People write self-driving software software. 

People remain the variable. One idiot today is one bad driver. One idiot tomorrow is a lot of badly driven cars. So I’m skeptical. Technology is great. I am excited about making driving safer by helping drivers who are polishing their nails, reading the paper, texting, or nodding off. But until the evidence supports the idea that the IT world is better equipped to handle life and death situations on a massive scale than it currently handles unimportant things, I am skeptical. 

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