When Will The Feds Ban Human Drivers?

Interesting speculation running rampant online - will the federal government be driven to put a stop to humans driving vehicles? Here's a conservative view.

This, I’m afraid, is an inevitability. It is inexorably heading our way. The dot sits now on the horizon. As is common, the measure will be sold in the name of public health. “Now that robots can do the work,” its bloodless advocates will explain, “there’s no need for human involvement.” And from then: On, the snowball will roll.

Each time there’s a bad accident, the utilitarians will squeal: about the stupidity of the American people; about the enormity of theretofore innocuous groups — “F*** AAA!”; about the antediluvian “fetish” that is costing American lives. “In Sweden,” they will gripe, “they already . . . ” Besides, we regulate trains and airplanes. Why can’t we outlaw the driver’s license? Our debate will rest largely upon charts. The American Medical Association will find “no compelling reason to permit the citizenry to drive,” and Vox will quote it daily. Concurring in this assessment will be The New England Journal of Medicine, the Center for American Progress, and the newly rechristened Mothers against Dangerous Driving, for which outfits “dangerous” will have become a lazily supplied synonym for “human.

As usual, the opponents of prohibition will be correct. Indeed, the threat to individual freedom that the driverless car is set to pose is at this stage hard to comprehend. For a century, the automobile has been a bastion of liberty, freeing up almost everybody from the tyranny of other people’s schedules. Trains, planes, and even taxis are run to their owners’ clocks: I cannot tell Amtrak to pick me up at 9; Delta won’t stop in Fayetteville if I ask nicely; yellow taxis have a habit of disappearing in the rain. But the car — oh, the car. The car is mine. I can get in my car when I want, and get out when I want. I can oversleep or undersleep, and still it sits there waiting, as might a Labrador or a loyal slipper. My car has no luggage restrictions, and I know exactly what it’ll fit. In my car, I may play what I want on the radio. And, best of all, I may choose the other passengers.

Regardless, everyone will suffer from the catastrophic loss of privacy. Any network of self-driving cars would, by definition, necessitate total and unceasing tracking of their occupants. I may know how to get to the local liquor store without a map, but my car most certainly does not. To make it there in a driverless model, I’d first have to tell it where I was going, and then it would have to ask the Internet, and the satellites, and, probably, my credit card. To the existing framework we would thus be adding a planet-wrapping exoskeleton with a perfect digital memory. The car, far from serving as a liberator, would become a telescreen on wheels — an FBI-approved bug, to be slipped beneath the chassis in plain sight of the surveilled.

As far as I know, the first really explicit reference to this idea may be found in the short story Sally by the incomparable Isaac Asimov.

Good old Matthew. He stayed in the garage most of the day now, but then he was the granddaddy of all positronic-motored cars. Those were the days when blind war veterans, paraplegics and heads of state were the only ones who drove automatics. But Samson Harridge was my boss and he was rich enough to be able to get one. I was his chauffeur at the time.

The thought makes me feel old. I can remember when there wasn't an automobile in the world with brains enough to find its own way home. I chauffeured dead lumps of machines that needed a man's hand at their controls every minute. Every year machines like that used to kill tens of thousands of people...

We take it for granted now, but I remember when the first laws came out forcing the old machines off the highways and limiting travel to automatics. Lord, what a fuss. They called it everything from communism to fascism, but it emptied the highways and stopped the killing...

Via National Review.

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