Johnnycab (Automation Paradox, pt. 2)

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
In 1956 General Motors hosted a car expo called Motorama. As with all car expos, Motorama was a chance to show off concept cars and other kinds of long-shot projects that they hoped would revolutionize the auto industry.

Sam Greenspan:
One of the most forward-looking things on display wasn’t a car but a movie.

Roman Mars:
That’s forward-looking producer, Sam Greenspan.

Sam Greenspan:
The film was called ‘Key to the Future’. In it, we see a family of four cruising along a desert highway in a beautiful futuristic GM Firebird. It’s got aerodynamic fins, gas turbine engines, an all-glass passenger cabin.

Roman Mars:
It looks like a car from the Jetsons, only it’s not flying. It’s driving on a highway.

Sam Greenspan:
But this car is actually just the set dressing for what GM really wants to show us: their vision for a self-driving vehicle.

Firebird Ad:
“This is Firebird 2304. We’re heading for Chicago. Please route us through. Over.”

Firebird Ad:
“Roger, Firebird 2. You’re now under automatic control. Hands-off steering.”

Roman Mars:
After being put on automatic control, the dad, who’s driving the car, pushes the steering wheel out of the way.

Firebird Ad:
“Ah, this is the life. Safe, cool, comfortable. Mind if I smoke a cigar?”

Sam Greenspan:
No longer tethered to the steering wheel, dad uses both hands to light his cigar. The car zooms along unimpeded.

Roman Mars:
For nearly as long as there’s been an auto industry, there have been dreams of a car that drives on its own, a car where people could enjoy all the freedom that cars offer, but without the annoyances or the dangers of driving oneself.

Sam Greenspan:
I can’t speak to what specifically inspired GM to dream up the self-driving car we see in this film, but it’s very possible that it had to do with safety. The film is only nine minutes long, but they can’t stop commenting on how darn safe this automatic driving is.

Firebird Ad:
“The safe, easy way to make a turn.”

Sam Greenspan:
The year that this film was shown that Motorama, 1956, that year alone, there were nearly 38,000 vehicle-related deaths in the United States. Ever since the 1950s, there has never been a year with fewer than 30,000 people killed in car accidents.

Roman Mars:
Vehicle-related accidents are the number one cause of death in the United States for people between the ages of five and 34.

Sam Greenspan:
And, more than 90% of all automobile accidents are attributable to one thing: human error. So for some industry people, a fully-automated car is a kind of holy grail.

Roman Mars:
The thing about automation, though, is that as it solves problems, it inevitably creates new ones.

Sam Greenspan:
As automation makes our lives easier and safer, it also creates more complex systems and fewer humans who understand those systems, which means when problems do arise, people can be left ill-equipped to deal with them. Human factors engineers call this “the automation paradox”.

Roman Mars:
Last week in our story about automation in aviation, we heard about various ways people are trying to deal with the paradox in that industry. For one, pilots are being encouraged to practice manually flying their planes to keep their skills polished, and engineers are also trying to make smarter, more collaborative automation that doesn’t strip skills from pilots, but instead works with them to complete tasks.

Nadine Sarter:
The position I would adopt is one that has been termed human-centered automation, where we see what you need to do is make the automation a team player.

Sam Greenspan:
That’s Nadine Sarter, a human factors engineer who believes human pilots still have a crucial role to play in flight.

Nadine Sarter:
I don’t think the answer to it is to say, let’s just get rid of the human and let’s fully automate the vehicle.

Chris Urmson:
You know, I do feel comforted by the fact there’s a pilot up there.

Sam Greenspan:
And that is Chris Urmson.

Chris Urmson:
I’m Chris Urmson. I lead the self-driving car project here at Google.

Sam Greenspan:
Chris may be glad that there are pilots in planes, but he’s got a very different vision for cars. He believes the way to solve the automation paradox for cars is to take humans out of the operation entirely.

Chris Urmson:
If you have a steering wheel there, there’s kind of an implicit expectation that you’re going to do something with it.

Sam Greenspan:
Where Nadine Sarter thinks that allowing for human intervention is best-

Nadine Sarter:
Yes, you still, I think, need a driver who is in the vehicle and who has the opportunity at least to intervene when necessary.

Sam Greenspan:
Chris Urmson’s goal is to make a car that is safe because no human is driving it.

Chris Urmson:
You get to sidestep all of these kind of control confusion potential challenges by taking that out of the way. You get to remove a part of the system that you can’t design.

Sam Greenspan:
No human drivers, just human passengers. We are about to enter uncharted territory for automation.

Roman Mars:
Automation has been appearing in cars almost since they hit the market. Antilock brakes, automatic transmission, power steering, cruise control, GPS, cars that can parallel park themselves. The fully autonomous self-driving car has been a long time coming.

Sam Greenspan:
There have been a few players developing self-driving car technologies, the most visible among them being Google. In 2009, Google began retrofitting Toyota and Lexus cars with new technologies, allowing the car to drive on its own.

Roman Mars:
The cars can accelerate, stop at traffic signals, make turns, merge onto freeways, and avoid pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars, all with little or no intervention from anyone inside the car.

Sam Greenspan:
And then in 2014, Google started manufacturing cars of their own design. Cute little two-seaters with no gas pedal, brake or steering wheel. They’re designed for the user to input a destination and just sit back and let the car do everything else.

Roman Mars:
Google has videos that show blind people and children sitting in what we normally think of as the driver’s seat as the car scoots around a test track.

Chris Urmson:
Well, the intent is that you shouldn’t have to have any training. You should be able to get in them, tell them where you want to go, tell them you changed your mind and you want to go somewhere else, and then get out.

Sam Greenspan:
Google wouldn’t show me the cars, but Chris did show them to Planet Money’s Steve Henn.

Steve Henn:
“So do you want to open it up and show me the inside?”

Chris Urmson:
“Sure. So this is one of our early prototypes, well actually it’s our fifth-generation prototype. This vehicle is one of the ones that will start to be testing on the roads in Mountain View in the next, over the summer.”

Roman Mars:
We talked to Steve about what it was like afterwards.

Sam Greenspan:
When you get inside, there’s no dashboard, there’s no steering column. So I’m about six feet tall and the seat is all the way against the back window of the car and I can stick my legs straight out in front of me because there’s nothing there.

Roman Mars:
Well, almost nothing.

Chris Urmson:
“What you can see in the center here, so this is a steering wheel, breaking gas pedals, and these are for our test drivers to use, but they’re removable.”

Roman Mars:
California law allows autonomous cars on the roadways, but only if they can be driven by a human.

Sam Greenspan:
But the design of this car is to have none of that, right? And so there are very, very few user controls inside. There are buttons to lower the windows. There’s a button to pull over to the side of the road and stop.

Roman Mars:
You know, if you suddenly see a yard sale you want to check out or a friend you want to pull over and talk to, but there’s also an emergency stop button, a button that halts the car in its tracks.

Chris Urmson:
Kind of like on an elevator. You know how there’s the big red button? Well, there’s still a, you know, I really need to get out now. There’s something very wrong here. I’ve never pressed the red button on an elevator, but it’s kind of comforting to know it’s there.

Roman Mars:
The cars look kind of endearing and goofy. There’s small and round. Steve refers to them as bubble cars, not that they would let him ride in one.

Steve Henn:
Yeah, so they didn’t let me ride around in the bubble car and in fact, the bubble car hadn’t hit the streets of Mountain View.

Roman Mars:
But he was able to get inside one of their older models.

Steve Henn:
It was a retrofitted Lexus SUV.

Steve Henn:
“Okay, should I jump in the front or the back?”

Google Employee:
“You should, yeah, probably this back left corner right here.”

Steve Henn:
I think the most remarkable thing for me was how quickly the experience became just kind of boring.

Steve Henn:
“It came to a full and complete stop at the stop sign.”

Google Employee:
“Definitely. So the car follows the law very closely.”

Roman Mars:
To Steve as a passenger, the car’s driving was more or less indistinguishable from a human driver. Well, a human driver that always follows the rules of the road.

Steve Henn:
We were driving through a residential neighborhood in Mountain View, including through streets that were under construction. So it was navigating streetscapes that were changing, you know, lanes were blocked off, lanes were closed.

Roman Mars:
And at one point on their drive, a construction worker was directing traffic and Steve was chatting with the other person in the car.

Steve Henn:
We were both sort of distracted.

Roman Mars:
And suddenly, all on its own-

Self-Driving Car:
“Temporary stop sign.”

Steve Henn:
“Wow.”

Roman Mars:
The car slammed on the brakes. It was startling.

Google Employee:
“So that was quite interesting.”

Roman Mars:
Steve and the Google employees hadn’t seen it, but the construction worker had flipped his handheld sign from slow to stop.

Steve Henn:
The machine had noticed that handheld stop sign when all of us had missed it, and it actually kind of scared all of us because we didn’t see it.

Roman Mars:
Even the Google employees hadn’t seen that before. The autonomous car was working better than they had expected.

Sam Greenspan:
Maybe these things can react faster than humans, but sensors will fail. Navigation will get screwy. Onboard computers will brake. Car owners barely know how to fix their own vehicles as it is now. So will people be able to fix the kinds of complicated problems that come with a self-driving car?

Chris Urmson:
It really depends on how they end up being used in the market. Right?

Sam Greenspan:
Chris imagines that if a self-driving car breaks while it’s on the road, it will pull over and another car will come fetch the passengers, leaving the broken one for technicians to fix, which means Google doesn’t want to just change how we relate to our cars. Google wants to change how cars relate to society.

Chris Urmson:
If you look at the car that you own today, it’s kind of sat parked somewhere 95% of the time, and that’s kind of poorly using both your kind of financial resources that went into it, but also the environmental resources, the material, and energy we put into making that vehicle. So if we can use that more efficiently by sharing it, that sounds fantastic.

Sam Greenspan:
Maybe eventually, instead of owning these cars, you would hail them from off the street and when you get out, the car would drive off and pick up someone else.

Roman Mars:
In other words, it’s possible that these cars could enable a world in which no one owns a car and all of us just get around by robot taxi.

Costa Samaras:
Well, so the great thing about predicting the future is that you’re always wrong. My name is Costa Samaras. I’m an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University.

Sam Greenspan:
Costa Samaras has thought a lot about how self-driving cars will change society. He is the coauthor of…

Costa Samaras:
A report called ‘Autonomous Vehicle Technology: a Guide for Policymakers’.

Sam Greenspan:
So Costa, like Chris Urmson and pretty much everyone else I met working on autonomous vehicles, he thinks that these things hold a lot of promise.

Costa Samaras:
So reducing crashes is the first way that automation will help society.

Sam Greenspan:
But that’s really only the starting point. After all, the vast majority of American cities are built around cars, and so transforming the car means transforming the city. Starting with parking lots.

Costa Samaras:
We can get rid of a lot of the parking garage space and put in housing or commercial development.

Sam Greenspan:
Because if all or most cars are taxis, we don’t need to clear out spaces in congested downtowns just so cars can have a place to sit idle. Get out of the robot taxi and it’s off to give a ride to someone else.

Roman Mars:
Urban cores get denser, downtowns getting more walkable.

Sam Greenspan:
And roads that we do have can be used more efficiently.

Costa Samaras:
All the things we learned in driver’s ed, staying a certain amount of seconds behind a speeding car, those things will now be taken over by self-driving vehicles and they will make the determination of how far it’s to be from the car in front of us in order for everybody to be safe.

Sam Greenspan:
This would allow cars to get closer together. And not just bumper to bumper, side to side. The department of transportation requires that highway lanes be at least 12 feet wide. That’s about twice as wide as the average car. So suddenly a three lane highway can accommodate six lanes without any new construction.

Roman Mars:
Less space between cars means more cars can get where they’re going faster, but these cars could also reorganize cities for the worse.

Costa Samaras:
Right now I have a cost of driving and that cost is running my vehicle and also the time that I’m in it.

Roman Mars:
And if one could read or sleep or write emails in a robot car, people might feel just fine about living far outside the city and commuting a long way in.

Costa Samaras:
In that type of scenario, we would see lots more vehicle-miles traveled, lots more sprawl into the deep excerpts and into the country.

Roman Mars:
And of course, the inside of the car can become another place for advertising. Your route data could be for sale.

Costa Samaras:
Maybe it knows I hadn’t had coffee because it’s connected to my refrigerator and my coffee maker at home and it says, “He hasn’t had coffee yet. Let’s make the slow route next to the coffee place.”

Roman Mars:
Or the route data could even become a matter of national security.

Costa Samaras:
Bad actors could take control of your car or a fleet of cars and stop every car that’s on the Bay bridge at one time for malicious intent.

Sam Greenspan:
Clearly, there are still a lot of details to work out, but I wonder, once the science is done and the policy is carefully considered, will people even want these things? Is America ready to give up the steering wheel? I mean, will people still go on road trips and tailgate in the stadium parking lot? Will you still be able to get in your car and go on an aimless contemplative drive?

Chris Urmson:
I guess we haven’t really thought about that.

Sam Greenspan:
That’s Chris Urmson from Google again.

Chris Urmson:
My assumption is you would give it a destination and say where you want to go, but you’ll always be able to change it. Right? So I don’t do a whole lot of contemplative driving, but when I do, you start heading somewhere and then you’re like, “Oh, maybe I’ll go this way afterwards.”

Sam Greenspan:
But you know, sometimes you really just need to get in your car and go. Like, say, if you’re getting chased by gun-toting corporate goons trying to stop you from eating Martian colonist rebels. You know, like Arnold Schwarzenegger did in Total Recall.

Johnnycab:
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cab. Where can I take you tonight?”

Arnold Schwarzenegger:
“Drive. Drive!”

Johnnycab:
“Would you please repeat the destination?”

Arnold Schwarzenegger:
“Anywhere. Just go! Go!”

Johnnycab:
“I’m not familiar with that address. Would you please repeat?”

Sam Greenspan:
At which point Arnold rips the robot driver out of the car and pilots it himself. It’s funny because as fantastical as the sci-fi world is, we can recognize the same kinds of user we have here in the present.

Roman Mars:
And we can see Arnold as heroic because he can do the things the machines can’t.

Sam Greenspan:
And think about Star Wars when Luke Skywalker is on his way to blow up the Death Star. For one, his robot copilot gets fried.

Luke Skywalker:
“I lost R2!”

Sam Greenspan:
And he turns off his onboard automation.

Command Center:
“Luke, you switched off your targeting computer. What’s wrong?”

Luke Skywalker:
“Nothing. I’m all right.”

Roman Mars:
Because automation is not as good as what Luke can do on his own.

Obi-Wan Kenobi:
“Use the Force, Luke.”

Sam Greenspan:
As much as we love building things that make our lives easier, it seems like we never get tired of seeing someone cast the robots aside. We love seeing people do things by hand. It’s like we all have this anxiety about if we lose the ability to do something ourselves, are we losing a piece of ourselves or something? We are going to have to answer these existential questions about our cars kind of soon.

Roman Mars:
Chris Urmson has said that his personal goal is to get the Google self-driving car done by 2020 so that his two sons, the oldest of whom is 11, will never need to get a driver’s license.

Raj Rajkumar:
I would definitely think that when his son reaches 16 or 17, he would have to get a driver’s license.

Sam Greenspan:
Raj Rajkumar is friends with Chris. They used to work together at Carnegie Mellon University before Chris went over to Google. Raj is co-director of CMU’s Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab. The university has been working on automated cars since the 1980s.

Raj Rajkumar:
About six months back we literally celebrated the 30th birthday of actually working on self-driving vehicles.

Roman Mars:
Raj is also the CEO of a company called Ottomatika, which has a prototype vehicle that has already driven itself from San Francisco to New York. But Raj doesn’t plan on taking the steering wheel out just yet.

Sam Greenspan:
In fact, his car actually monitors the person in the driver’s seat and beeps at him or her if the driver’s eyes wander from the road.

Self-Driving Car:
“Hey, you. Eyes on the road.”

Sam Greenspan:
Raj is not in a rush to have us 100% dependent on his autonomous technology. The way he sees it unfolding is with incremental advances over time. Just like right now, pretty much all cars have cruise control and some cars have adaptive cruise control, which calibrates speed.

Raj Rajkumar:
The next generation of this technology, I guess, would be you do not have to control the steering wheel either. You get onto the highway, pick a lane, and then engage the supercruise control and it’ll likely steer itself, brake itself and accelerate itself.

Roman Mars:
Raj also imagines an automatic mode for when you’re stuck in a traffic jam.

Raj Rajkumar:
And then the number of scenarios that are automatable will increase over time, and one fine day the vehicle is able to control itself completely, but that last step will be a relatively minor incremental step and one would barely notice that this actually happened. So to me, it will take anywhere between 10 to 20 years.

Roman Mars:
So while Raj does see humans as having an important role to play as we transition toward fully automated vehicles, his goal, like Chris Urmson’s, to eventually get human drivers out of the process entirely.

Sam Greenspan:
But even when that day finally comes and we don’t need steering wheels and don’t even notice that they’re gone, there will still be accidents.

Raj Rajkumar:
There will always be some edge cases where things do go wrong. They are beyond anybody’s control. This is kind of the nightmare scenario for all of us researchers. If somebody deploys something prematurely and then it turns out that it ends up killing a child, God forbid.

Roman Mars:
If and when people do get hurt in autonomous cars, there may be circumstances in which the passengers wouldn’t have been injured had there been a human at the wheel. These cases will be hard to reckon with, but we’ll have to keep in mind that there were 30,000 Americans dying every year in human-driven cars. If autonomous vehicles lead to fewer car accidents, then as with planes, we’re going to need to accept edge cases and periodic failures as the cost of living in this safer world.

Sam Greenspan:
But I don’t want to be an edge case. I don’t want to give up total control of something when being in control might save my life. And yet while I was reporting this story, I almost caused a terrible car accident. It was early. The sun was in my eyes and I wasn’t really paying attention as I had made a left through a crosswalk and I nearly struck a pedestrian. I got so close that the guy could have reached out and slammed his fist on the hood of my car, which he didn’t do, though I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had. And this terrifies me. I want automation to save me and everyone else from myself, and I want automation to protect me from everyone else. And so when the time finally comes, I will probably roll the dice on autonomous cars. I think we all will eventually. Maybe one day I will be an old man bouncing grandkids on my knees saying, “You know, when I was a young man, we drove cars ourselves. You move them around with foot pedals and a thing called a steering wheel.” And they’ll say, “Well, that sounds amazing.” And I’ll say, “Eh, it was all right.”

  1. bostonjed

    I loved the podcast, but it left me having a really hard time knowing where to come down on the automation related to automobiles. 27,000 deaths resulting from human error is completely unacceptable. I couldn’t help but think that if we were to just put down the phones, and take responsibility for our safety, and the safety of others, we would not be having this conversation. We as a culture have become so distracted and distractible that we’re hurting each other, and I think that’s really sad!

    1. samgreenspan

      We could all benefit from people putting down their phones while driving, but the cell phone is hardly the lone culprit. There have been outrageous numbers of automobile-related deaths ever since cars hit the market. It was especially bad in the late 1960s/early 1970s (upwards of 50,000 deaths annually from 1966-73)—so at least we’re not there anymore. Also, the number of traffic fatalities per 100M has steadily declined over the years, so the problem now is actually not as bad as it had been prior to the cell phone era (though this might not be true outside the United States; worldwide, about 1.2 million people suffer car-related deaths ever year).

      Even with distracted driving, your odds of getting into a fatal car crash in the US are the lowest now than they have ever been since the government began keeping records in 1921. (This is probably due to safer cars, and education campaigns around wearing your seatbelt and not drinking under the influence, but I haven’t researched this thoroughly.)

      At any rate, there does seem to be a floor to the number of vehicle-related deaths that we just can’t get below as long as humans are drivers. We are the weakest link when in comes to staying safe on the road. Which is one reason that people such as Chris Urmson and Raj Rajkumar and their research teams are working on automating our automobiles.

      -sg

      Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year (It’s a wikipedia page, but the raw data comes from government figures); http://www.who.int/gho/road_safety/mortality/en/

  2. Travis Swenson

    You can take my steering wheel, when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers. There will ALWAYS be driveable cars on the road, unless the Nanny State steps in and outlaws them on public roads or highways. Good luck with that, Google.

    1. junesix

      I think you’re missing the point. Google is providing a better way, not the only way. Keep driving your car. But don’t be surprised in the future with self driving cars that your insurance goes way up. If your risk of injuring someone is 10x greater than sitting in a self driving car, would you be willing to pay 10x insurance for that privilege?

  3. Betty Gay

    Transforming the car doesn’t *just* mean transforming our cities. It means transforming the culture, too. I live in Modesto, CA and I have to say the people in this city LOVE their cars. They have a classic car parade every summer (air quality be damned) and murals of cars downtown. There are car clubs for every make and model you can image and car shows seemingly every weekend in the summer. It’s so deeply ingrained in the culture here that I can’t possibly imagine it changing. I’m sure 50 years from now I’ll be eating my words but I know car culture will always be out there.

  4. Daniel

    Interesting episode but it left one big question hanging in the air. In order to get all the efficiency of autonomous driving on a mass scale, you need to outlaw human driven vehicles as they become the “variable” incapable of prediction. I think more people would cling to their cars than to guns in this country.

  5. Will

    This is such a crazy Pandora’s box – really cool to think about the future of cities and cars. I personally have already survived two car accidents, which is more than I care to have for the rest of my life. If we can’t have better trains or hyperloops, then lets self-driving cars-it! Also, would a child be able to travel solo in a self-driving car? Could you send packages in them?

  6. Benhm

    Wonderful episode, but so frustrating to hear you continue the silly memes. We must stop perpetuating the Hollywood Plots as possible, let alone probable. The Johnny Cab scene, or t-rex in the mirror are devices that writers use to forward their story, not even close to any reality. (Why would the Johnny Cab have anthro-centric controls?)

    You also missed a whole audience of users that have vast experience using automation at the edge-cases. Military pilots are trained to collaborate with various auto systems, as well as override them when it makes sense. I’d suggest that older pilots of the V-22 and F-22 (coincidence, I assure you), and any astronaut would have a lot to say about working WITH as well as around automation. I’m one to scream that we shouldn’t fetishize the military, but you wanna talk to smart people who’ve been through this? They’re the ones.

    Automation won’t de- anything us, it will free-up us from dying because of our limitations.

    Thanks for a thought provoking show, even if my teeth have ground down a bit from this one.

  7. Thank you for this very thoughtful extended advertisement for Google. Please continue informing us about upcoming Google products. As for those too lazy to drive or who want less traffic on the road, might I point them to a local bus stop. For those who are looking to shake up city planning with different transportation or who are looking for a hands-off way of travelling long distances, how about bringing back trains? The concept of self driving cars worried me before this episode, and it continues to worry me. I have no enthusiasm for this new Google product, only dread.

    1. monique

      Ditto! Why not use innovation to improve upon existing societal systems and structures? Bottom up, instead of top down?

    2. Rik

      Sorry for the necro, just discovering 100% invisible. I would _love_ for the US to rediscover mass transit and start plunking down rail and bus infrastructure, but I doubt it’s ever going to happen. Meanwhile, as a broke person with limited visual acuity, I still live here, and I’m constrained to the four or five cities in the US with decent transit (all increasingly expensive) – and the already inadequate transit seems to be always first in line for a budget cut when state coffers run low.

      So please, roll on the self-driving cars and Cars as a Service. It sucks but it’s better than having a two hour, two transfer bus commute from where I can afford housing to where I can find a job, or being at the mercy of a flaky carpool. Would I prefer sensible transit policy? Yeah, sure. I’d also like to ride a unicorn.

  8. emily

    I would like to point out that Luke does not do it “on his own” as stated in this episode (at roughly 15:00). He uses the force, which is very, very different than doing it on his own–You even have the clip of Obi-wan telling him to do so! Other than that, I’ve loved these episodes on automation.

  9. Merlin

    Yet another wonderful episode from my favorite podcasters. Thanks guys!

    When this one was over, a scenario pieced itself together in my head. Went a little something like this:

    Saturday morning, the local smart-car depot, and I’m on morning shift. Cars are coming in thick and fast for cleaning, and yup, I’m one of the janitorial staff. Hey, it’s a job, I’m providing for my family, and the benefits are good.

    Hoo, here’s a doozy: vomit on the left seat, McDonald’s wrappers strews all over the floor and … whoa, is that what I think it is ground into the floor mats?

    “Hey Tom, get over here and get a load of this!” My Supervisor comes over, takes one look inside, shakes his head quietly and says: “Better get your kit on mate.”

    So: gloves, respirator, and a well-honed gag-reflex control, and to work I go!

    Like I say, it’s a job and most of the time, it’s all right. Saturday morning shift is often tough. Good to sign up for though, as I’ve heard it greases the wheels of moving on up. So is Thursday morning as that follows Welfare Wednesday.

    And it’s a lot better than 30,000 deaths per year, like in the crazy old days. Now it’s down to, what, 10,000 or so? Stuff still goes a bit wrong once in a while. A guy once said “out of my cold, dead hand”. I think he meant “out of my cold, dead ribcage.” But whatever. People are still people.

  10. the US driver ranks as the fifth worst in the world. People are allowed on the road who can’t use a stick shift. Don’t know why you’d want one. It’s called control. Car control. It’s taught in driving school.. Driving school ? Yeah… that is were the rest of the world send people who want to learn to drive. >> And “speed Kills”… that BS. If it were true Duitsland would have the highest highway mortality of any country. They don’t . >> Most people drive scared… and based on their skill level… they should.
    Thanks for listening
    Stephn J Lewis

  11. eleanorio

    After listening to the previous show and to this one, I have come to the conclusion that driverless cars are not a good idea. As we become more and more modernized in a technological world, we lose the skills that brought us to this point. Pilots are being told to practise the skills they learned in flight school by occasionally taking their planes off autopilot and driving them manually. If we leave all the driving up the cars themselves, we further cripple ourselves. As her college graduating class valedictorian, my daughter’s address celebrated the deadly sin of Sloth. Why? Because it is mankind’s inherent laziness which has caused his greatest technological discoveries, all so that a machine can do his work and he can relax. We are forgetting how to live, how to forage, how to build a dwelling and a fire over which to cook the food we hunted or gathered. We are dependent on some conveyance driven by someone or something else to get us from point A to point B. This can’t be a good thing.

  12. Jim

    As great as the series often is, this episode raises more issues than it’s prepared to handle – even as a two-part series – and veers distressingly into the techno-triumphalist ideology of Google et al. The most glaring omission is the other side of the history of automation in the twentieth century, i.e., that the technology’s first and most immediate function is to eliminate somebody’s job. Manually driven cars are unlikely to become obsolete in our lifetime, but taxi drivers and truck drivers are very much in danger of that (it’s already a sad loss of skill and knowledge that so many cabbies rely on GPS, but that’s another story). So yet another sector of the economy gets absorbed by the “do no evil” corporation, reaping obvious benefits for them and ambiguous results (at best, to the extent that anybody has bothered to really ponder them) for the rest of us. The other problem is that all these uncertainties, and our responsibility in deciding them, are kind of swept under the rug of inevitability. “Whether we like it or not, this is the future…” That’s a fallacious approach to history*, and a dismal perspective on life.

    *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_determinism

    and why not: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

  13. Jose

    What about cars being hacked for nefarious reasons? The latest Wikileaks revelations about the CIA’s hacking programs are beginning to raise doubts about the official story on Michael Hasting’s accident.

  14. Archie Dunbar

    Automation also brings us new ways to die. People told not to rely on the Tesla automation that die doing so. Pilots who use the automation and technology to put themselves into situations they cannot handle when the automation breaks or is inadequate.

  15. Claire Ceruti

    “Maybe instead of owning these cars you would hail them from off the street. And when you get out it would drive off and pick up someone else”. Doh. We already have these. They’re called buses, trains and trams – which *already* use roads much more efficiently than cars. Google, thinking in the box again… eye roll.

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