With a teleological orientation towards the hiring of software chauffeurs, the safety of our children, grandparents and lovers will be in the hands of data scientists and statisticians. The "track record" for reducing a human life to a dollar was already made apparent in cases like the Ford Motor Co. and Its Rollover-prone SUV, Chrysler and Its Gen3 Seatbelt, and to mention Toyota and Its Weak Roof. Let’s see if we can change that.
Under federal law, car manufacturers and auto part suppliers are liable for injuries, damages, and deaths caused by defective cars and dangerous auto parts. Surviving relatives and victims of defective cars can file product-related lawsuits against manufacturers who failed to provide safe vehicles to their consumers.
I want to encourage healthy conversations and debunk some dangerous assumptions. Anyone that has driven a vehicle must think about what it means to relinquish control. Conversations on this transition from the automobile to the driverless-car are so important, cultural in fact. In fiction, the narratives that the open road takes remind me of Grapes of Wrath, Thelma and Louise, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, each representing a degree of exodus from the confines of individual predictability. The road less travelled and absence of A to B monotony will soon fall under moment-to-movement dictates of algorithms and statistical averages. Now is the time for ethical and moral evaluations. More than a gesture of empty appreciation there is justification in my words of thanks. This conversation is about control and the relinquishment of said control. For-me, this blog is an opportunity to voice this concern and for all of us to forme new cultural norms built on the lessons learned from the past. The present is our future, a gift if you pause and think about the irony.
Let's consider the concept of autonomy and what control means to the individual. What is at stake when we give up this control? Some of our basic intuitions are correct. For example, rates of pedestrian deaths spike during the holiday season as well as during the seemingly sweet days of summer. Holiday season deaths could be partially attributed to weather but the tightly banded spike during the holidays is heart-wrenching to consider, especially if we imagine the same outcome in our own lives or what horror a motor vehicle death means to these individual families with a lost loved one. In 2016, there were almost 38,000 deaths as a result of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. This number is rising. Armchair social science speculators attribute the rise to device distracted driver (DDD). Remnants of an alcohol-preserved society reduced alcohol-related fatalities with a designated driver, socially accepted, the outliers to the lawful compliance find themselves violating the designated driver (DD) social norm. Straying from this norm gives all intoxicated operators licence to murder and has been recognized by our justice systems as such an act of volition if the autonomous agent gets behind the wheel.
Bent earthward we are like heliotropic plants, tethered to our data exhaust and deterministic devices. More than less (more-or-less) drivers are distracted by not only by the devices we worship but also the increase in, and legalization of, marijuana. I am not saying that more pot smokers are driving vehicles but the societal perception of its consumption is changing, the effects of which will manifest in a multitude of ways. We are looking at a moving target of safety with lives hanging in the balance.
Let's talk about the predictions. Once the complete and full adoption of self-driving cars is realized, it is estimated that out of the almost 38,000 deaths[1:1] this could be reduced by a factor of 10 once the complete and full adoption of self-driving cars is realized. Scrutinizing this data, and predictions of this variety are not the scope of my perspective. Important as this work is, the starting point should be a substantial reduction of vehicle-related fatalities and this is a realistic outcome to the transition at hand. Anything less should be a non sequitur (non-starter). The problem, as I see it, has to do with the isolation of the individual. If we were biologically built in such a way (psychologically) where 80,000 deaths were 80 thousand times painful to experience then our moral systems would be vastly different and resemble a collective consortium of utilitarian ethics and policy. Fortunately for the individual, libertarian ethics straddle the divide between Stuart Mill materialism and the very real outcries of a family living through at the other side of the door when the state trooper knocks on your door.
"Excuse me ma'am, I hate to bother you this evening, but I have terrible news for you, there was a fatal accident this evening..."
Hearts should sink while reading the above quote. The problems with a ten-fold reduction in motor vehicle-related fatalities is that individually the individual will know no difference and feel no difference between one death and 80,000 deaths unless the death is someone they know or worse; love. The level of pain you should feel must not be overlooked when considering policy, enforcement and acceptance. Saying to a grieving family that their son or daughter died in an accident at the hands of an algorithm and a self-driving car will hold no consolation if you follow with a statistic about a 10 fold reduction in lives saved.
From what I can determine, industry advocates are passionately aware of the precious nature of our nature where society is transitioning into a brave new world of auto pilotry. However useful it may appear, tinkering is required. Uber, Lyft and BlaBlaCaz are examples of ride-share companies pioneering the exploding need for vehicle communism. Communism in this context should not alarm you but I assure you it is appropriately and intentionally chosen to emphasize the point of a collective distribution of the risk, reducing death is only the beginning. Economically we need to pause and remember that the typical Uber driver gleefully entered the market as a freelancing "free" "agent". She is working within a profession that she knows to be temporary and fleeting. My utopian vote would be to continue to pay these drivers as time drives them out of a job, mandated by the governments the cradle-to-grave concept of compensation should be the ethically right thing to do for the infantry of our elite. Economies of scale dictate that the timing for payment is not realistically now. Compensation should happen at the tipping point of the Pareto realization (ie. 80/20 rule) as realized by municipality (ie. major city), which is when 80 percent of the vehicles on the road are self-driving cars. Soon to be unemployed drives, private and public, would reap financial benefits of recurring revenue models, bridging the gap between shareholders and seat sitters would only happen at the time when the drivers are all but an extinct species of self-employed taxis. At such time the market price to the consumer should be captured, indexed and held firm. Let's say that it costs the average family $1 a mile (or $1 per kilometre for the rest of us), which would be indexed against the average per capita income or something similar. At that point and moving forward, 32% of the revenue must go back to the then unemployed drivers or you as a user. This is substantial, the money would empower the individuals that pioneered this industry with and provide you with a "vehicle" for further self-improvement. Compensation would be ongoing but the sustainable and responsible reaction would be for everyone to have skin in the game. This type of regulation will not be won easily, more than likely the way of the world will push the market and the families that support the markets into a market free-for-all. This may be close enough to fair enough and perhaps it's the best we've got. So be it. Democracies have a way of working these things out.