What questions do self-driving cars create?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, I’m wondering what questions are created by self-driving cars.

[We often wonder what questions are created by, say, Richard Dawkins’ latest book - but I think the questions created by new cultural artifacts are often far more important. As Os Guinness puts it:

The clock has been described as the most important invention in the West, and a central secret of the power of the West. Reinforced and accelerated today by the computer and by nanotechnology, today’s fast-life includes turbo-capitalism, business at the speed of light and war at warp speed. Accelerated time is one of the primary shapers of our modern world and far more influential than any individual modern thinker.


I know that “self-driving cars” sounds like a science fiction idea, but they appear to be arriving in the near future. Here’s some reasons for that:

  1. Apple is releasing research on self-driving cars (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-apple-autos/apple-scientists-disclose-self-driving-car-research-idUSKBN1DM08H).
  2. Lyft has filed to test self-driving cars in California (https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/22/16690148/lyft-self-driving-cars-california-dmv).
  3. Uber has signed a contract with Volvo to buy 24,000 self-driving cars from 2019 to 2012 (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-20/uber-steps-up-driverless-cars-push-with-deal-for-24-000-volvos).
  4. Waymo (Google) has filed over 2,000 patents related to the technology (https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/310500/waymo-takes-big-lead-in-self-driving-car-patents.html) and you can see their self-driving cars working in Arizona neighborhoods (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=aaOB-ErYq6Y).
  5. Tesla just released news of its electric semi trucks - and Walmart is a customer (https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/17/wal-mart-says-its-planning-to-test-teslas-new-electric-trucks.html). Their self-driving car demos are pretty amazing. This one is a year old: https://www.tesla.com/videos/autopilot-self-driving-hardware-neighborhood-long

My questions:

  1. What do you think are the social or cultural implications of self-driving cars?
  2. How will they change people’s desires and thinking?
  3. What questions will this raise about the legitimacy and the value of following Jesus wholeheartedly?

For me, optimistically, it could be that people repurpose their cars into prayer closets and have quiet times on the way to/from work, school, etc. But I imagine the main interest will be in the car as an entertainment center.

(SeanO) #2
  1. Increased productivity in the long-term, fear and self-driving car wreck headline news / job loss news in the short-term
  2. The dissemination of information created the DIY culture - do it yourself - a video somewhere will tell you how to do it. Self-driving cars may be the first stage in the “build a machine to do it” era.
  3. A false view of salvation of mankind that is very ancient and yet contextualized in a new way. Mankind will progress into a new technological utopia. Or, on the other hand, increased distraction by technology / entertainment that further hardens people against deep reflection on their own lives.

(Keldon Scott) #3
  1. I think in a sense there will be more available time to busy ourselves. The email, text message, and 24/7 availability will just become more so. We will not even have the leisurely ride to work for many. The expectations from employers and clients may very well impose that particularized time for their benefit and not our own.

  2. Churches, however might benefit from buses and vans that pickup in all sorts of areas in the geographical location of the church to bring many to service, groups and events. The volunteer time may be multiplied.

  3. As to our faith journey and commitment to Christ I see little additional challenge with this technology. The challenge always Remains the Same. What is most important to the individual will be sought without regard to the technology, entertainment, or other distraction that might distract.

Great topic inquiry and Ponder.

(Helen Tan) #4

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer

For me, there are ethical issues which are yet to be resolved with self-driving cars. When we relinquish human judgment and control, we are depending on someone else to program responses in different scenarios. For example, does the car sacrifice its passenger(s) instead of ploughing into a crowd? What if a child dashes on to the street suddenly?

Here’s an article which talks about this:

The other concern is the possibility of someone hacking into the controls. What happens then? What about responsibility – who will be held accountable in the event of an accident or death? How do we program the value of each human life into the equation?

(A S FLINT) #5

Sorry I do not have these numbered…

Whomever is creating these cars will make a lot of money. Always follow the money. Yes possible crashes, maybe some “on purpose” to those who do not agree with this agenda (?)

I think about the old movie Minority Report. And also the Christian movie 6.

The driver less car in Minority Report became a way to control the driver. Track the driver, profile the driver & IT knew everything it could about the person and it was “programming” the person through ads or other information. The driver was a “captured” audience. It even misread a police officer to be evil (or criminal…

In the Christian movie SIX while people were driving, the radio in all cars, was constantly reminding them of who they should serve (in every aspect of life - especially their spiritually). The Christians became the “communities” target and were captured and imprisoned for their beliefs.

The way technology appears to be heading that old film SIX was not far off… Even possibly in these SELF driving cars. WHO is the master minds behind this? What is their ultimate goal?

Who is programming the radio in the cars? And what are the beliefs of the cars “creators”.Is its purpose to take away a person freedom of driving? Or even thinking?

It seems to be more control and surveillance while pumping us with some information. What if they add the new sound technology where you “feel” what is being said, a type of escapism and passivity or addiction… what is being injected slowly.

What if the people are judged in these cars. What if there is a supernatural factor/ forces behind these cars just like there appears to be in computers now that have a form of “knowing” or “channeling” through beings or AI and nanotech.

What if the good people become the “criminals” or have no rights in the end?

Will we still be able to play preachers, the Bible or praise music? Would we be able to pray with constant input from the machines? Or will it be net neutrality (which is not very neutral at all for Believers and our free speech is stripped as we type.

I recently went to the airport everyone was looking at their machines… people were not having a relationship nor talking.

I had a dream following this of a person I met at a christian conference where there was a wonderful interaction. I followed this person on line and felt as if I knew them personally because they shared their lives. While this is good, in the dream I felt I knew them more personally and their family. I awake & discerned that my feeling close to them was not a reality. And I spoke out loud “THIS FEELING AND IMAGINATION IS NOT A REAL”. Yet it felt so real…

I wrote this to my self…“one cannot have a real relationship only in a virtual world, friends meet up and talk don’t miss your chance at reality”.

This Christian life is all about loving GOD ourselves and others… the very opposite of a SELF centered life. I say this because other than church on Sunday I live in a national forest and had been rather isolated. I recognized I needed to meet with people, get out and attend like minded groups & did.

What if all this technology is a form of narcissism. Like Satan’s very kingdom.

Just thinking.

(Carson Weitnauer) #6

Hi @Helen_Tan, those are good questions! One question I wonder about:
Is it ethical to give human beings “human-driven cars”? On the basis of a relatively simple test, various governments pass out driver’s licenses to hundreds of millions of people. But we don’t ask them about their ethical perspective on what to do in case of an accident or ensure that they are reliably able to make an ethical decision on a split-second basis. Likewise, we don’t have any controls in place that would keep a burglar from hijacking a car and using it for trouble (e.g., the recent truck in a crowd massacres).

To bring it down to one question, I’m wondering what makes these ethical situations different? It seems like it could be possible for a self-driving car to make more ethical decisions because they have been deeply reflected on, could even be legislated, and we might be able to rely on the programs to make them on a more consistent basis than we could ask of human drivers.

(Carson Weitnauer) #7

Hi Flint, interesting questions and points! I think you are speaking to at least two anxieties related to self-driving cars: privacy and control.

In many ways, the automobile was the birth of autonomy. It was a private place you controlled - and you could use that control to go to other private places. For a teenager, to have a car is to have the capacity to do as you please without the oversight of your parents.

So culturally and psychologically, there is a great loss on the horizon if self-driving cars become surveillance devices for marketers, governments, etc. I suppose it is possible that the entertainment choices available will be restricted, in some formats or areas. A very secular country and a very Muslim country might have very different entertainment options allowed within a self-driving car fleet. At the same time, my best guess it that you’ll also be able to ride in silence and watch what you want on your iPad - or read a book.

I think for self-driving cars to be widely adopted, the companies will have to speak to the privacy and security rights of the passengers before people will trust them and be willing to use them.

(A S FLINT) #8

Great points!

More reason to share Jesus with everyone.

I attended the Summit on Islam and was brought to tears hearing the hearts of each person and their knowledge. I asked brother Nabeel, who I truly miss, to pray with me for my friend Ismael, my former bow.

Thanks for your response.

(A S FLINT) #9

Interesting, the inventors of driver-less cars could be using people as pawns, who may be unaware that their actions or beliefs, allowing greater fear, may lead to an even more controlled agenda for all.


(Carson Weitnauer) #10

That’s possible. But, a huge part of technology is what we choose to do with it. The internet can be used for evangelism or… illegal drug transactions. I don’t know that we should say that the internet is responsible for the drug trade; rather, the drug trade used this tool for their own purposes.

Likewise, with self-driving cars, one scenario is greater control of people through control of their transportation. But another scenario is greater autonomy, as people are enabled to go wherever they want without having to focus on driving. A road trip to see friends is a lot easier if you can sleep for eight hours as your car drives you there overnight.

All that to say, it is not at all clear to me that these new inventions will have the effect of using people as pawns.

(Helen Tan) #11

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer, thank you for your question. In making those comments, I was not dismissing the advantages of self-driving cars. I can see them making safe decisions under a lot of conditions, releasing time for passengers to do more productive things than driving and providing transport for those unable to drive. I agree that the ethical issues are not taught in driving school either. I am guessing that the primary ethic in human driving by default is self-preservation. It then backs up to whether the programmer/company behind the cars are brought up with the “right ethics”. In fact, what are the right ethics? Would they be driven by profitability, subject to human frailty and error, etc? Are we better subjecting ourselves to their control in deciding who should be spared and who should be sacrificed in difficult situations and are we comfortable that the overall impact is that more will be kept safe while the few are ‘sacrificed’? Does the choice as to who this minority will be matter?

While thinking about this, the thought which came to me was this: I’m approaching this subject as someone who’s inching (I hope slowly) towards the ‘to be sacrificed’ category in comparison to a younger person who presumably would be more useful to society. Would the ethics of self-driving cars be driven by a sense of utilitarianism, sacrificing the old and less robust for the young and more productive sector of society? What if my grandmother is ‘sacrificed’ by a decision made by my car? Can I live with that? Is human judgment (and frailty) more organic and something we can live with better? Will the wealthy be able to have cars programmed so that they would always be kept safe? I don’t know. These are things which came to mind about technological advancement which will bring both the good and bad, but are less organic and negotiable than human beings. I guess the point is that we do have to voice our concerns as the march continues so that the powers that be are drawn into a more ethical and humane approach. I guess too that I’m rather old school in feeling freaked out even in having my car park itself :scream:.

(Carson Weitnauer) #12

Hi @Helen_Tan, I’m grateful as always for your thoughtful comments!

I just read another article on self-drivings cars. This one in the New York Times on GM’s progress:

A key section of the article:

So far, the partnership between G.M. and Cruise has produced about 180 autonomous Bolts, which are constantly being tested in San Francisco, as well as in Arizona and Michigan. The company plans to begin tests in Manhattan early next year.

Mr. Vogt is keen to prove that self-driving models can navigate complex urban environments such as downtown San Francisco, rather than just highways and suburban streets.

On Tuesday, journalists from news organizations including The New York Times were given rides in the demonstration models.

For 20 minutes, the self-driving Bolts traversed the hilly, narrow and congested streets of the city’s Dogpatch neighborhood — stopping for pedestrians, slowing to pass double-parked vehicles, navigating gently away from bicycles.

A Cruise employee was behind the steering wheel, ready to assume control of the car if it misjudged traffic or was headed for a collision. But during a reporter’s ride, no driver intervention was required.

The car traveled more slowly than driver-operated vehicles on the road, and seemed to exercise extreme caution rounding corners or avoiding obstacles. Yet it covered more than two miles without a hitch, despite encountering what its onboard computer said were 265 people, 49 bicycles and 489 cars.

Mr. Ammann beamed when details of the test ride were shared, declaring, “This technology is coming along faster than anyone thinks.”

In reading this, it seems to me like self-driving cars are being designed with an obsessive focus on safety. Driving slower, taking precautions, moving carefully around obstacles.

I wonder if that design choice will, in itself, reduce the importance of these other trade-offs. In other words, if all self-driving cars have “do no harm” as their first principle, and avoid getting into dangerous situations in the first place by following absolute best practices for safe driving, perhaps the risk of fatal or injury-causing collisions goes way, way down.

Right now, humans make all kind of risky maneuvers in order to get somewhere faster. But if all the cars were self-driving, even if one car somehow made a risky choice, all the other cars would still be making safe choices with margins of error built in.

The other factor is that if self-driving cars had to share their data (anonymized, securely) into some kind of database, then all self-driving cars could learn from all other self-driving cars. This would enable very rapid learning about all the possible ways that cars can get into accidents and the best responses to avoid those accidents. This could drive the error rate down even lower and make it even less likely that a self-driving car causes harm.

In other words, I’m wondering if the ethical rule is this: drive so safely and cautiously as to maximally reduce the risk of harming someone. For the first few years, this would mean the cars drive quite slowly and cautiously. But then, as the computers get more powerful, the sensors more advanced, the algorithms more intelligent, the database more comprehensive, the speed can safely go up without introducing any additional risk.

Discuss: Should We Fear Artificial Intelligence? #TrendingQuestions
(Helen Tan) #13

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer, it’s reassuring to read that. I just have a smile on my face thinking about all the driverless cars moving ever so slowly and cautiously in the slow lane while the self-driving cars are zooming past them, being annoyed by their slowness. This transitional period could be challenging.

The other thing which came to mind is that this could be an interesting conversation starter to seamlessly move towards a deeper discussion on the value of human life and what determines that in encounters with unbelievers.

(Melvin Greene) #14

I continue to be amazed at the wonderful and creative conversations that are created by seemingly innocuous questions. I love it! Thanks again @CarsonWeitnauer for this question. I also thank everyone who has participated in this discussion, for making me think in different ways. I used the term “innocuous” only to describe my initial thoughts when I first read the question. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was thinking what does self-driving cars have to do with the “deeper things” of life. But, reading through all your posts started me to think about this in deeper ways.

I want to preface my comments by first saying that I am all for technological advances to improve the quality of life in society. I’m not anti-tech by any means. I agree with those of you who have articulated the benefits of self-driving cars. I remember when I was a truck driver often thinking how great it would be to have a self-driving truck. I could be taking a nap in the sleeper, or preparing a meal. I can’t say that I would be reading or watching a movie, because (and I’m sure there is a joke in here somewhere) I’m prone to motion sickness. However, I can see some unintended consequences from this developing technology.

For one thing, I’m just uncomfortable in relinquishing control of the vehicle to a computer. I realize that already happens when using a commercial airliner, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t like to fly. I’m part of the baby boomer generation, and I think it’s hard for me to give up the old ways.

One thing that I’ve noticed as technology continues to advance is how more and more isolated we are becoming. I observe people in public, and I see the majority with their face stuck in their smart phones. I think we are losing ability to communicate face to face. I can’t help but see how fractured our society is becoming. Of course, there are other reasons for this, but I think the advancement of certain technologies is a driving force. However, I can see an advantage to self-driving cars during family vacations. All the family members could participate in games and other activities. Which brings another question to my mind. I wonder if the computer driving the car would be program like my dad. When we took family vacations, he never wanted to stop for restroom break. I can see the computer saying, when asked to pull over for a restroom break, “No, we are only stopping for gas.” Sorry, I digress.

I believe that staying physically engaged in certain activities keeps our minds sharp and alert. Think of all the things that go on in your brain in operating a vehicle. Your brain has to constantly monitor your surroundings by keeping track of your speed, knowing when to apply the brake, turning, watching out for other vehicles and pedestrians. A lot goes on that we don’t think about. Our brains are like muscles. The more we use it, the stronger it becomes.

Another trend I see in the U.S. that makes me uneasy is how people are so willing to give up more and more autonomy and personal liberties for the sake of convenience or safety. What I mean is that by having self-driving cars, we are giving up control to a more centralized entity. We are entrusting our freedom to move around when and where we want to some high tech conglomerate. Looking at past trends, I can foresee the government controlling the whole system. I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial, but I remember reading something written by one of our founding fathers that expressed the idea of having a healthy amount of distrust in government.

Anyway, I hope I didn’t ramble too much. Thanks again for such a stimulating conversation!

(Carson Weitnauer) #15

I went into a Tesla showroom yesterday. I asked the salesperson when the cars would be able to fully drive themselves anywhere. The guy said, “They can already do this. We have the videos on our website. The only reason they don’t is current government regulations.” I found that amazing. Self driving cars may be here far sooner than we realize.

(SeanO) #16

Know the thread is old, but this popped up in the news:

(Melvin Greene) #17

Thanks for sharing that article, @Sean_Oesch. I hadn’t realized thatTesla had developed the technology for electric semi-trucks, yet. I’m wondering if the infrastructure for these vehicles have been set up yet.

(SeanO) #18

@Melvin_Greene I had a similar question. Hard to say if it will live up to its builders claims, but the unveiling video below gives some more details and the article on what it means for truckers is interesting.

Here is the unveiling:

(SeanO) #19

Saw this and felt it was too funny not to post

(Katherine A Hooks) #20

It has occurred to me that eventually all human driven vehicles will be prohibited since they will be deemed “unsafe”. Humans might be considered too distractable, too prone to be suddenly incapacitated by sickness or even death to be allowed to be on the road with programmed vehicles. In general, I wonder if robotics will work against the free will and freedoms which human beings value so highly and which God, in His wisdom and mercy, has extended to the human race.