Hybrid Driver? Gimme a brake…

Photo © VanderWolf Images/stock.adobe.com

I hate to admit it, but I’m driving a hybrid, aka a PHEV. I dislike the concept for a number of reasons – including an unconvincing, probably negative climate footprint. But there are other factors to consider, such as economy. The car is effectively subsidised by the government – in itself a questionable practice, but that’s a different story. In this context the point is that hybrid is all over the place – and it’s killing us.

The name is a giveaway, we’re just ignoring it: ‘Hybrid’ means it’s a mix – in most cases between old and new, history and future, bad and good, possible and desirable. Like – we want or need the ‘good’ or ‘new’, but it’s beyond reach for some reason, so we settle for an in-between solution. Or – and this happens all the time on professional settings – we don’t want change, but something or someone is forcing our hand, so we procrastinate: Pretend to be going with the new while protecting the old.

Actually, we’ve become really good at creating metrics that make hybrid look great. In business we can tell the board that ‘yes, we’ve started the change’ to whatever the goal is. “It will take som time, but we’re moving.” Objective metrics tell a different story. Not only that the change is being intentionally delayed, but also that the hybrid approach costs more, delays important changes, increases pollution and climate footprint (if that’s part of the metric), complicates processes,  etc. 

In the PHEV case it’s obviously good to be emission-free part of the time. But if we sum up the real cost (sans subsidies) and climate footprint of towing around the heavy battery, the extra (electric) engine, the bigger transmission, the battery origin footprint etc., the sum is always negative.

In an entirely different setting, IT-departments have used all kinds of hybrid ‘tricks’ to delay the inevitable transition to cloud solutions and services for more than 10 years. The ‘benefit’ has been delaying necessary changes to the IT-department, effectively keeping it on extended (and expensive) life support. While the cost should be obvious: Delayed introduction of new solutions, services and opportunities, lack of flexibility and ability to deliver up-to-date, top class services to an organization with rapidly changing requirements, thus effectively blocking the ability to keep up with competitors who embrace and take advantage of new technology, services and ways of thinking (see Digital Transformation Now? No Way …). The ‘hybrid’ in this setting is a smorgasbord of cloud services and equipment that may alleviate acute problems, but in many cases serve more as ‘makeup’ covering old stuff and old problems than elements of progress. With exactly the same consequences as in the PHEV case.

In most cases, the hybrid choice is the easy way out, often more like not making a choice at all: Add the new, keep the old. In both examples above it’s a long term killer. The first case in a climate sense, the second case for business. Tens of thousands of businesses have folded because IT didn’t keep up with changes in markets, technology, services, etc. An active, forward-looking, creative IT-department/technology section could have saved most of them.

So – whenever the term ‘hybrid’ pops up, it’s a warning sign: ‘Be careful, this may look/sound good, but most likely isn’t.’ Like the one popping up in the news-media the other day: ‘Hybrid driver’. That’s you, it’s the same old story – and it’s dangerous.

Autonomous cars have been around for a while. They’ve become pretty good at driving – on highways and in cities. Actually, their accident rate is extremely low, but the media is telling a different story. They’re blowing any accident out of proportion because it’s a great click bait, and they are misrepresenting the statistics badly. The fact of the matter is that autonomous ‘drivers’ when used in the environment they we were created for, have been safer than human drivers for a long time. The problem is – we don’t like that, ‘we’ being you and me, people, human drivers. It may sound bizarre, but this is the truth: We prefer human killers over machines, even if the price is more lives. Apparently we need someone, not something to blame when there is an accident. And to top it off, and underscoring that this is about attitude, not facts or reality, most of us actually think we’re better than average drivers, so it will not happen to ‘me’ anyway.

Thus the proliferation of autonomous cars has been delayed indefinitely. We’re refusing the future, clinging to the past – forcing the car manufactures to come up with something else, like ‘semi-autonomous’ or ‘driver-assisted’ in order to get a foot in the door, so to speak. And mind you, suddenly ‘autonomous’ is acceptable – even something we’re willing to pay extra for. The wheel isn’t going away, you can still call yourself (and feel like) a driver …

This is bizarre, nonsensical. Not the technology, not the marketing, but the attitude and the way we react. Now that the technology is no longer threatening to replace us, but rather assist us, it’s suddenly good. While many, maybe most of the accidents – some fatal, some not – with semi-autonomous cars over the past few years have been caused by drivers not paying attention.  Hybrid drivers.

If you think ‘that’s the way it always has been’, you’re right. But here’s the thing: The new assistants make it worse, not better. It has been proven again and again (and by the way, it’s obvious to most of us) that the driving assistants ‘dilute’ our attention to what’s going on on the road. Alerting us that ‘manual intervention’ is needed, is useless because it takes too long for us to ‘recover’, get attention back and understand the picture. This is not rocket science. 

Still, the car manufacturers recently introduced ‘hybrid driver’ as a new concept – with big fanfare.  Tesla has been at it for some time, recently with FSD, Full Self Driving. Ford and GM recently started pushing their Super Cruise and Blue-Cruise technologies and want us to believe that it’s a) safe, b) helpful, c) worth a ton of extra money. 

It’s not. Hybrid driver is another killer, and a much more immediate one than most other examples. Columnist Larry Magid in The San Jose Mercury News didn’t go that far when discussing the new kids on the block and the incumbent (Tesla), but points out that these ‘helpers’ actually need more attention from you than regular driving. Which is not happening. Most people acquiring this technology will expect assistance, and practice thusly.

About Tesla’s new FSD, Magid writes:

Truth be told, using FSD requires more concentration than regular driving. Not only do you have to worry about mistakes from other drivers and yourself, you also have to anticipates and correct for mistakes the car’s software makes.

I love the idea of autonomous cars. Getting people out of the equation is good for everybody. The autopilot doesn’t have ‘bad hair days’, does’t get distracted by the kids in the back, by Twitter or Tik-Tok, important phone calls or beautiful scenery, doesn’t get intoxicated or suicidal.

But hybrid drivers? I’ll pass, and I sincerely hope you will too! It’s really ‘no wheel’ or ‘no deal’.

1 Comment on Hybrid Driver? Gimme a brake…

  1. olejacobsen2014 | August 13, 2022 at 3:45 pm | Reply

    On the other hand… Completely abandoning the old, and often simpler, solutions does come with its own set of problems. The new versus the old telephone network might be an example to look at. My one remaining line powered telephone rang the other day to tell us that power had been cut (well, we knew that obviously), and that crews were in the process of restoring power with an estimated completion time of X. The automatic call also gave us the number of other affected customers, I guess that’s supposed to make us feel better 🙂

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