According to Sebastian Thrun, the engineer behind Google’s driverless car project, up to one million lives could be saved in the United States each year if we just left the driving to sensor equipped, computer controlled pods. Humans, it seems, aren’t very good at mastering the complex processes (like paying attention to traffic ahead, or yielding the left lane) required to operate a motor vehicle in today’s fast-paced society. Keeping in constant contact with our peers via Twitter and instant messaging has become more important than mastering the skills required to drive a car proficiently, so one or the other has to go. Thrun insists that driverless cars would not only save lives, but would ensure quicker and more efficient transportation, reduce fuel consumption (and hence, pollution) and eliminate traffic jams. His ideas were presented at the recent TED Talks conference, and were backed up by data accumulated over 140,00 miles of autonomous, robot driving.
Come to think of it, how many lives could be saved each year if we banned saturated fat, red meat and alcohol? While we’re at it, cigarettes have to go and so does anything with a high sodium content. Since skin cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths, we should probably ban all outside activities as well, unless the participants wear SPF 80 sunscreen, reapplied at federally-mandated 15 minute intervals. Do you like the brave new world we’re headed for, where all your decisions are made for you as society strives to protect citizens from all dangers, both real and perceived? Do you really want to live in a world without tire-shredding burnouts, speed-limit-be-damned runs up your favorite canyon or the ability to drive a car without robot guidance? Couldn’t a similar number of lives be saved if we actually embraced driver training in this country instead of largely ignoring it? How can we hand down a passion for driving and motorsports to the next generation if the closest they get to driving a real car is on a video game console? I’m not sure there’s a place for me in Thrun’s vision of a perfect society, and that’s more than a little frightening.