When I get hit by a self-driving car, I’m suing everyone in sight for 8 trillion dollars

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If I survive, that is. At the end of the day I won’t be unreasonable though and would probably settle for $500 billion-ish.

Not that litigiousness is a good thing. I roll my eyes like everyone does at the stories about millionaires being created by dumping hot coffee in their laps, or slipping on ice, and whatever other schemes can be milked. But there is something very weird and inexplicable about this ferocious drive to get these vehicles on the road, something that smells really bad. There are so many worthwhile things that could be developed that it defies logic to see this frenzy.

The auto industry, in conjunction with governments, could be pursuing all kinds of things that would benefit themselves and every single human being that comes in contact with an automobile. For example, safety and environmental standards – including things like light size, colour, crash test requirements, airbags, etc. – could be standardized on a global basis. This would enable the free flow of vehicles globally, and would reduce insurance costs by a staggering sum. Most parts are never seen by a consumer, so they wouldn’t care. Imagine the manufacturing and insurance savings that would result from having standardized airbags, or air conditioner compressors, or headlight bulbs, or window lift motors, or whatever. Imagine also how reliable they would be, with tens of millions of the same thing being continuously refined and improved, and as long as they meet the basic size and connectivity they could be interchangeable forever, like a standard battery size…

But no, instead we have this bizarre rush to get automated vehicles on the road. No one in the history of automobiles has ever said gee, I wish I had a car that I didn’t have to drive myself – because that’s called a taxi.

And no one has ever said gee, I wish I had a machine doing this instead of a human, because that’s just crazy. Humans may be imperfect, but for many of the functions we live by, they are the best option by far. Especially in extreme situations, which is when they are most valuable. These are the times when auto-pilot vehicles are most useless, when road markings are invisible, or strange objects are flying around, or a human appears on the highway outside a crosswalk. Can’t be a human, the Volvo SUV apparently said to itself as it mowed down the woman, because it’s not in a crosswalk, and me and my sensors know our crosswalks.

Almost no one wants these things. Most consumers don’t, and of the few that do, most are likely only thinking selfishly about what they can get up to when they don’t have to have both hands on the wheel – are they considering what things will be like when no one else does either? And while their life is in the hands of a few sensors on an oncoming vehicle that may or may not have dust or a dead dragonfly on one of those key sensors?

A few businesses may want them, but surely would recognize the value of them only in certain specific limited instances, like trucks shuffling stuff around for short distances. The range of circumstances where these things would be a disaster is incalculable. Think of any situation, like a loaded semi heading across empty prairie with no driver. All it would take would be an only-slightly industrious thief to slow a vehicle in front of the semi until it halted, then – voila, free stuff! Times one million. And talk about a hackers dream, to infiltrate these things, or anyone’s e-car. Does that seem unlikely to you? Do you think the average $30,000 car would be more secure than a modern corporation’s IT systems, which get hacked routinely?

Speaking of cars, consider that Volvo a few years ago announced a target – to have no human fatalities in its vehicles by the year 2020. No other companies followed suit or want to even talk that way. Yet it’s a noble, sensible goal that all should be pursuing – and none are. At the same time, all are placing the lives of everyone around them in a handful of sensors. Even planes don’t do that – and why not fully automate a cargo plane, if it works that well? So what if a shipload of Amazon’s crap falls in the ocean? Imagine how much cheaper it would be to build and fly planes that didn’t have to deal with pesky humans – no air conditioning, no air requirements at all, no toilets, no food, no whining…and that’s not done. So why is it so necessary that Uber be able to pilot a Volvo SUV across Phoenix that a woman’s life was lost?

Valuing life is a funny thing, and health care systems have to do it all the time. Do you commit $100,000 on surgery to a 90 year old to extend life by a few months? How about a 70 year old? How about $500,000 on a 60 year old? We default to doing it regardless, because no one wants to put a hard dollar value on it.

Here, with self-driving cars, we seem to say the price of potentially taking a human life is extremely low – I don’t even know what it is, because the benefits of having a self-driving car do not seem readily apparent to me. There might be a benefit for the driver, but nothing but downside for everyone else. So bring on the trillion dollar lawsuits.

 

 

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