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COLUMN: Driverless Cars? At Our Peril!

Ryan Lengsfeld

As a teen the fantastical technology of Star Trek riveted me. The phaser weapon, universal translator, hand held computer and medical tricorder all found an 'if only' niche in my imagination.  A half century later my 'if only' has come closer to reality than I could ever have imagined.  Laser pointers and battleship mounted laser weaponry exist.  Universal translators can be accessed on almost any computer.  I-phones and ultra sound easily cover the last two examples.

What Star Trek did not cover was the downside of these technologies.  My cat's sheer  physical exhaustion after chasing the pointer light for 6 hours is certainly one.  I am certain that we will read in the Darwin Awards the story of some poor soul's demise while attempting to suntan in front of the battle laser.  The negative effect of handheld computers is underlined with each and every person who walks into a wall or pole while texting.  The universal translator has its limitations as well.  I had no idea that 'Your mother has a smooth forehead' is considered a vile insult in Klingon.

As reports of driverless cars surface with increasing regularity I am as excited as I was when I first watched a phaser being fired.  A little wiser now, I am more apt to search out the possible downside of these new technologies.

The unavoidable accident that will occur opens the question of liability. With driverless cars will that liability fall on the owner, the manufacturer, the wifi provider or the software developer who typed left instead of right into the operating system?

Breakdowns will also occur. Will I be able to reboot the system on a lonely backroad when I have only a single bar of reception showing in the dashboard? That begs a second question... Where is the dashboard located and if the car is driverless why do I need it?

The stress of not having a steering wheel worries me. Giving up control has never been easy for me. Who will pay the therapist bill after I climb into my driverless car, lock myself in and hear "Welcome Ryan, sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong... can go wrong... can go wrong...".

As the research moves forward in other areas I foresee a large upswing. I can see driverless bikes clogging up the bike paths... pilotless planes landing in Vancouver Washington rather than Vancouver Canada... driverless demolition bulldozers destroying a house and a half... and a driverless garbage truck unloading in my front yard.

Scientific progress is inevitable. As the Borg so aptly put it, "Resistance is futile..." . That however does not preclude examining the potential problems that might arise. Failing an open minded examination can as easily lead to Star Wreck as to a continuation of Star Trek.

Thank you for your mindful consideration of our future and as my Klingon friend so kindly added, "not chaw' veQ juHqo'!'. (This garbage would never be allowed on the home world!)