According to Peter Stone, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Texas, life will be better when computers do the driving for us. He cites a few spectacular statistics:
- 95% of car crashes are caused by human error
- ¼ happen at intersections
- 1/3 of all accidents are fatal
- 48 hours a year lost in traffic jams
- $5 billion lost in fuel and productivity
Gee, it seems we just can’t be trusted behind the wheel and need computers to take control. Didn’t I see this in I-Robot?
Not so fast Peter
I wanted to know more about the statistics quoted by Stone, but couldn’t. His page at the University of Texas only lists a string of research papers dealing with robotics and robot soccer—not accident statistics. So I looked around on my own. I wonder if Stone considered that pedestrians and bicycles account for about 6% of fatal accidents or that you’re 3 times more likely to have an accident at an intersection with a flashing light than you are at a stop sign. And what about the intersections without signs or lights? I don’t believe the hype and I don’t believe the answer to anything will be found in taking away a person’s obligation to be responsible.
Symptom vs. Source
Car crashes are problems but they aren’t the problem. Perhaps finding solutions starts with a look at the reasons why people are irresponsible behind the wheel.
- Unable to delay gratification long enough to stop the car before texting.
- Can’t face the day without something to numb life so you were driving drunk.
- Fear of losing your job has you distracted and you carelessly step in front of a car.
- Can’t turn off the TV at night so you’re overly tired and nod off on the way to work.
- Stress and frustration have your emotions near the boiling point making road rage easily triggered.
Smartphones, smart cars, and smart technology won’t fix the underlying reasons for irresponsibility behind the wheel. In fact, I think all the smart technology may be reinforcing our addiction to victimhood. If I’m not held accountable for my actions, then I’m free to blame you if my life stinks. I can plausibly deny responsibility for not having the patience to delay gratification and to control myself and my choices. And, if I can deny responsibility for car crashes, how about my eating disorder, bullying, and cheating?
Unless we include solutions to the deeper issues underneath the problems, we’re going to need even more help from technology to keep our shield of deniability intact.
A Radical Idea
Rather than improving technology, how about we improve our ability to think for ourselves? It’s risky, I know because at first you might feel out of the loop—that is until thinking starts to catch on. Imagine the reduction in car crashes if drivers could control impulses, plan ahead, prioritize play, work, and rest, and make good choices. Stone just might have to go back to improving robot soccer.
Article first published as We Can't Be Trusted on Technorati.