The Autonomous Nightmare

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Humans don’t really like robots and certainly not robots that look like us – unless they’re in a movie or TV show. If they look like machines – like in factories and warehouses, they’re OK – unless they threaten our job. Then they’re bad regardless. The ‘robots’ driving our bus, train, ferry or whatever are fine if we don’t see them. If they are unthreatening and (directly) helpful – mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house, cleaning the windows or the car – they’re good. Here’s the thing: We don’t like competition, in particular from machines.

Fortunately, our perception of competition is evolving. If not we wouldn’t have a single robot in operation. Also, and possibly even more important, our laziness is increasing. We accept ‘helpers’ where we just a couple of decennia ago would shrug them off as completely unnecessary, treating the idea of such help more like an insult than anything else.

We change, but unfortunately we’re changing much slower than technology evolves. In fact, we’re outdated in many ways. And while we complain – rightfully so – about robots’ lacking intelligence, our own (presumed) intelligence seems to be hibernating in many contexts. That’s why we need lots of detailed scripts, rules, regulations, laws etc. telling us what to do, how to behave, what our responsibilities are, etc. at work and in everyday life. Much more so than just a generation ago. The unwritten rules, respect and dignity that created society seem lost. Somehow, common sense evaporated, respect and understanding faded and put ourselves on an expressway to becoming self-centred zombies governed by scripts and rules. How’s that different from a robot full of smart technology?

However tempting, let’s not go down that road, at least not this time. But I’m sure you are seeing the same pattern as me these days: Many – maybe most – people seem to be so busy participating in the ‘whining choir’ complaining about anything and everything that they forget to participate in life …

Anyway, back to the robots: Cars. Autonomous cars, self driving cars. Do you wonder where they are, what happened to them? They were supposedly just around the corner 5 years ago.

The truth is they’re all over the place, but not to the extent we expected. And it’s not because they failed, it’s because we did. More to the point – it turned out we didn’t want them, for two reasons: Everybody believe they are above average drivers, and nobody wants to be hit by a driverless car. 

If that sounds reasonable, look again. It isn’t – and it should be obvious. We cannot all be above average, and certainly not all the time. And if human drivers were removed from all cars, the chances of being hit by one would go drastically down. It’s not like it would be zero, because even with machines, shit (errors, bugs, technical problems, whatever) happens. But unlike us they’re predictable – and their failure rate is a lot lower than ours.

So we’re heading towards autonomous driving anyway, because it makes sense. But because we’re such slow adapters, the change is sloooow, so slow that the big vendors had to do something: They came up with this new concept of a ‘hybrid driver’, and let me tell you this: Whenever you hear or see the word hybrid, stop, check again, think. It may look good and sound easy, but is most likely the opposite: Expensive, dangerous and slow.

Read more about ‘hybrid challenges’ in Hybrid Driver? Gimme a brake… here on mindset3.org.

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