For the past year I have been doing contracting work that sees me at a new job site roughly every week. On average I spend an hour driving to work and an hour driving from work. Many weeks it is an hour and a half. So, on a given day I spend 2-3 hours just driving. Driving, that wonderful privilege we all could not wait for during our teenage years pre-sixteen. We swore we would never take it for granted and volunteered at the idea of having to go to the grocery store for our parents. But here I am, nine years later and dreading each and every morning that I know that I will have to sit in my vehicle for three hours often times not even moving. – A quick note to younger self; you do grow up and complain about sitting in traffic, sorry man. – After many talks and years of browsing the internet I have come to learn that these hour-plus long driving ventures are an issue thousands of American’s face every day.
In recent years I have become increasingly fascinated with people such as Elon Musk and his futuristic endeavors; Tesla and Space X. Ideas that radically disrupt and push the boundaries of efficiency and human achievement. However I have not always been so keen on all of these futuristic pursuits. You see I used to scoff and declare vehemently that I would never in my life allow myself to be stripped of my basic human right of, “free will.” I would not get into a motor vehicle, one of man’s greatest technological achievements and the greatest liberating force known to teenagers, and put my life into the hands, er, should I say components, of a computer. I swore I would never be for autonomous driving. Well, today I write this letter as a changed man.
Tesla recently set the mark of demonstrating a self-driven cross-country trip in 2017. In addition they have announced that as of October 20, 2016 all models of Tesla will come with full self-driving hardware demonstrated amazingly in this video.
When many people hear or see the words, “autonomous driving,” they imagine a future-world resembling that of, The Terminator, where robots become aware and attempt to wipe the entire human race out of the universe; or they, like younger me, envision a world where their right to drive and have their lives in their own hands is taken from them. To that first point, well we’ll have to see – I’m currently enjoying the wonderful new HBO series, Westworld, so robotic awareness is a relevant anxiety going around. In fact, Stephen Hawking has warned that robots will be the end of humanity – but to the second point I share the sympathies. I do not, for the time being and before I inevitably write a future post saying, “Uh, I was wrong again,” believe in owning a solely self-driving vehicle. I still want the option to drive as I image you do and what Tesla, at this moment, is offering to the market.
Another worry many have, and frankly it is a valid worry, is safety. It is scary to think about letting something transport oneself at high speeds off a predetermined and physical track, like a train. Ben Miller, of Car Magazine recently wrote a review of the new Tesla Model X that features the autonomous driving capability. In the article he expressed the same apprehension before slowly feeling the car was capable of driving itself in a safe manner to the point that he even began eating a barbecue sandwich while the car drove! Another interesting point made by the author was how much backlash the death of Joshua Brown, the only recorded fatality in a Tesla vehicle, seems to have slowed the autonomous vehicle momentum when in Texas that same year 1,545 people died in human-driven automobile related accidents.
In human history our pursuits to travel faster or more efficiently have always lent themselves to some level of considerable danger. Imagine how crazy the idea of sending people 30,000 feet into the air was at one time. But today we know, statistically, that flying is the safest mode of transportation. – A fact that while true still calmed my nerves quite little when it came time for me to take my first flight. – It seems that for now statistics are on the side of Tesla. It will be interesting to see what the statistics will be once the vehicles become more common on our roadways but I imagine that they will see the same injury growth that the airline industry has seen. Which means that even if there is an increase in autonomous driving fatalities it will still be substantially minute to that of human error automobile related accidents.
For me, I see autonomous driving as an option to regain the most important currency this life has to offer; time. It allows me to be a more productive person. Instead of having to focus solely on driving, which is something enough people have a hard time doing alone, it allows me to do. I can make more invested phone calls, I can answer e-mails, fill out resumes, research topics of interest, eat a meal, read a book, if I did I could apply make-up, or, like I most likely will do, it will allow me to browse my social apps and websites like Reddit.
I believe I will always want the ability to drive my own vehicle, to have the instant ability to change my route, or to have the feeling of maneuvering a car around turns and speeding down a long straight-away. But perhaps, by letting our technological advancements take the wheel, we can be more productive people, we can live in a world with significantly less vehicle fatalities, and just maybe, it will help break the drum of everyday tasked-driving to the point that when we do decide to take the wheel back in our hands we may feel that joy of driving a vehicle that we once did when we happily went to the market for our parents.