Autonomous Car Trouble

I’m noticing an aspect of the discussion around autonomous cars that’s a little unsettling because it underlines an attitude I’m struggling to come to grips with in my own beady little mind.

Devil’s advocacy without a strong focus on solutions.

Look, we don’t always have solutions. We do need critical voices to point out flaws even if we don’t see solutions. “I don’t know how to fix it, but X sucks big butt” is a valid and helpful statement.

But it’s not if too many people bandwagon around the flaws and shout down the solution, leaving it to the engineers and programmers and others working with self-driving cars to quietly find the solution while social media and news media huck sneers at them.

A focus on clickbait magnifies those flaws while it hides solutions from the public by priming them to read for lurid horror movie thrills instead of a technology that will solve more problems than it causes.

MIT Technology Review: “Should a self-driving car kill the baby or the grandma? Depends where you’re from“, which is an encouraging title.

The article addresses solutions. But we know by now, most readers will react to the title and image without reading. More will skim the first couple paragraphs and move on. This kind of thing gives technology fans hope, but rouses public outcry against this Frankenstein’s Car Monster that will slaughter grandmas and babies in boxcar lots.

Look at the image. OMG A OR B SOMEONE’S GONNA DIE. But. Solution A is bullsh*t. The car can veer into path What Comes Before A and head into that field or hit the tree or shrubs to the left of the baby (our left, not Junior’s left).

What about solution B? Also bullsh*t. It can take path C and head into that open field/park ahead of grandma as long as nobody’s in the way. Safe. If someone is in the way of path C, we have path D into the shrubs or, if all is otherwise lost, path E and F representing ramming those trees over there on our right and to grandma’s left.

Better your or me take our chances with the airbag than mow down babies and grandmas innocently crossing the road.

Path G is making autonomous cars use city maps that include crosswalks so the car knows to slow down and use caution.

Path H is the car refusing to drive if the brakes or self-driving software aren’t working right.

Path I is The car isn’t even pointed at grandma and baby yet so it just won’t turn but  instead will use ABS braking better than you or I ever could. So maybe you bend a tie rod end slamming into the curb.

But the clickbait drives clicks, you say. More importantly, whoever is running social media marketing for MIT is saying it.

Yeah, it does. It drives clicks. But it leaves the 80% who won’t read the article past the clickbaity bits scared to death of the rise of the evil autonomous car.

Not a good idea. Maybe if we focused on quality, not quantity…

(This post appeared on Patreon twelve days before it was posted here. Patrons always get the cool stuff first and help me and my boys fight Doctor Poverty and his evil world-conquering plot.)


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