A Look on the Lighter Side: To automate, or not? That is the question

So now it’s happened: an automated car has killed its owner. 

I am not happy about it. On the contrary, I am just wondering: which of us is next?

What did Tesla Motors have to say about this tragedy? They blamed the victim, of course:

“Autopilot is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” said their press release about the incident. The car itself reminds the driver, they said, to always keep hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over at any time.


They expect you to pay all that money for a “self-driving car,” but you still have to drive it, anyway?  

Who would do that? 

Besides — no matter what the fancy lawyers say, the executives had to know that their customers would do all kinds of goofy things in a self-driving car — eating pizza; putting on make-up; solving the Sunday Times crossword puzzle — not least because we already do them, while driving!

It’s just like all that glarp you zoom through and “agree” to every time you buy a new app on your iPhone …except this software can kill you… and blame you afterwards, at your funeral. 

And everywhere you look, it seems, they’re inventing more and more robots.  

I just heard a radio interview with someone who’s teaching robots how to figure out people’s feelings from their facial expressions. 

You know what would be even more useful?  Teaching humans to do that! 

Why are they rushing to automate all these jobs, anyway?  

Speaking as the parent of one college graduate and someday hopefully two, we need to create more jobs for humans, not fewer. 

They’re making robot lawyers; robot butlers; even robot surgeons!  

I have a question:  When the robot surgeon screws up and kills its patient, and a robot lawyer sues it — who wins? 

Come to think of it, when a Tesla, Google, or other automated car hits you, maybe you’d better get one of those robot lawyers.  

Otherwise, what recourse do you have?  

Are you interested in taking an automotive giant to court?  Me neither. 

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle have a different question.  

They ask:  if a 16-year-old needs a driver’s license, shouldn’t a self-driving car?

I can see it now:

“This is a driving test.  State your name and birthdate.”

“I have no name. I am a Tesla Model S Self-driving Car, Serial # APB0123XYZ, and I was purchased yesterday.” 

“I guess that will have to do.  I’ll call you Tesla.”

“That is not my name. That is the name of the Serbian-American inventor, engineer, physicist and  futurist, born in 1856, died in 1943, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electrical supply system — citation, Wikipedia.” 

“So — did he invent electric cars, or something? Never mind. Just proceed to that stop sign up ahead, and turn right.”

Car navigates into traffic lane, but without activating the turn signal (they can’t do that, apparently). Tester silently makes several marks on the form on his clipboard. 

Car stops at sign, waits several seconds, then turns right — again without signaling.  More marks. 

“Proceed to the traffic light ahead.”

Car moves forward, directly into an enormous pothole. Clipboard almost flies out of tester’s hands. 

“Jeez — what was that?”

“My sensors do not pick up potholes.” 

“Well, they ought to. Keep on going,” says the tester, in a tone of resignation. 

Car begins to veer to the left, into oncoming traffic. Tester grabs the wheel and yells, “Just go straight!”

“There are no painted lane markings here, and the dribble of tar down the middle of the opposite lane fooled my sensors. Correcting now.”

Tester mops his face with handkerchief. Car drives straight through the traffic light, which is red. 

“Tesla, didn’t you see that light?  It was red!”

“We are not programmed to look for traffic lights.”

“Then what good are you? This test is over. Head back to the starting point. Slowly!”

“Don’t you want to see me parallel park?  I am wonderful at that.” 

“There’s no point — you failed already when you forgot to check your mirrors or use the turn signal. Now, who do I hand this failed test paper to?”

“My mirrors are perfectly adjusted.  You will be hearing from my lawyer, DARROWLLP123.”

No matter who — or what — you are, it’s a bad idea to argue back to the test official.  In our house, we have a name for it:  Auto-fail. 

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