If the last big revolution was replacing muscle power with machines, the next one is automating and augmenting more mental tasks. Henry Ford and compatriots replaced the horse, now Google is working to replace the driver.
According to John Markoff in the New York Times, their self-driving cars have now logged over 140,000 miles on California roads, including highway 1 between L.A. and San Francisco. They are now lobbying Nevada to allow these cars on public roads.
The project leader, Dr. Sebastian Thrun has argued that robotic vehicles would increase energy efficiency, reduce road injuries and deaths, and cut the number of cars needed in the United States in half.
“What if I could take out my phone and say, ‘Zipcar, come here,’ ” he asked an industry conference last year, “and a moment later the Zipcar came around the
I suspect the biggest barrier to the adoption of self-driving cars is not technological —these videos show how the systems are rapidly progressing. Instead, the impediments will be regulatory and cultural. There are about 40,000 deaths on the America’s roads each year with our human drivers. But suppose the robotic cars were 100 times safer. That would still be 400 deaths per year. Can you imagine the public outcry, no to mention the legal judgments, that would follow the first time a human was killed due to an error by a robotic car? Will they have to be 100% perfect before the are adopted?