Monday, July 04, 2016

"If you've had any experience at all with computers, would you really want one driving your car??"

That's a question posed by Annie Gottlieb over on Facebook as she linked to this article about self-driving Tesla involved in a fatal accident. My answer is, "Yes, when you're talking about the right computer."
My experience with PCs has been horrible: They'r unreliable, prone to crashing and early deaths. 
But my experience with Apple products has been amazing. So, if Microsoft were to produce a self-driving car, I would be wary. But if Apple perfects their self-driving car for the market, I would immediately put it on my wish list. 
I love to ride in cars, but I don't care much for driving. Even before there were computers, I remember as a kid fantasizing about having a car that I could enter and simply tell it where to take me. On the trip, I could read and write and think and pray and play music at an incredible volume. 
So, yep I want a self-driving car!
[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

[UPDATE: Writer and editor Annie Gottlieb and I have continued our little dialog on self-driving cars over on Facebook. She responded to what I posted above:

Mark Daniels -- what you are describing already exists in large part. It's called a "train" ... ;))
Smart aleck! :)

She goes on:
I love to drive -- maybe because for a female it was so empowering when little else was (sign o' the times: I dated a couple of guys who wouldn't let me drive their cars), or maybe it's just genetic -- my father and his mother loved to drive (though she had no sense of direction and once left Chicago for New York, only to be surprised when she arrived at the Mississippi River). I also once had the (empowering) experience of minimizing an accident with my driving reflexes. So driving is how I like to be in a car ... though it is also a strain, which us why I also like ... the train.
Annie makes some good points. I responded:
In some places, trains can take you where you need to go--such as if you're a commuter in places like New York, Philly, San Francisco, or Chicago. If I lived in places like that, I'd take the train.

But the train won't work for most of my transportation needs. And even when a train will do (or a plane or a ship), i still need something like a car to get me to the station, airport, or dock.

Now about how you like to "be" in a car: Whenever we travel together by car, my wife drives. She's a self-confessed control freak. Some years ago, a friend loaned us the use of a new house she'd built on a mountain outside of Durango, Colorado. We decided to drive in order to see parts of the country we really hadn't seen before. We took our kids and my mother-in-law. Five licensed drivers in the car...and my wife drove every mile there and back. While we razzed her about that, I didn't mind--I'd describe myself as a confident, if unenthusiastic, driver.

But, here's the thing. In addition to being a control freak, my wife also claims to get carsick if she has to be a rider for long. She HAS to drive, she claims. It seems like a rationalization to me. But this is one manifestation of her control issues I don't mind. It's led to some good trips.

Because my kids were prone to carsickness too--and I never have been--it led to one of the best, most enduring traditions of our longer car rides: I read to my just my wife.

When we took the kids to Disneyworld over twenty years ago, I read all seven volumes of The Chronicles of Narnia on the way to and from Florida. The practice continues. Right now, on our weekly forays to see our parents I'm reading Jon Meacham's new bio of George H.W. Bush. Yes, there are audio books, but I prefer reading to listening...and maybe that's my way of being a control freak. And I seriously doubt that fellow passengers of the Amtrak would much like hearing me read out loud during their trips.
With all of that said, I think that Brit motor racing enthusiast and one time pub owner--a man with a great name--Mark Daniels, plays the trump card on whether we should worry about riding in a computer-driven car in his comment to this post. He says this to the wary:
And yet most people get on board a plane without realising that it's a computer that's in charge of pretty much the whole flight...


Mark Daniels said...

And yet most people get on board a plane without realising that it's a computer that's in charge of pretty much the whole flight...

Mark Daniels said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Daniels said...

Good point, Mark.

Mark Daniels said...

I read yesterday that the Tesla driver may have been watching a movie while letting the car drive itself. While autonomous cars take some of the stress out of the daily drive, they aren't intended to replace the driver completely. Drivers need to maintain alertness and awareness of what is happening on the roads around them.

The reasons planes still have actual pilots is so that there is human thought as well, somebody who can recognise something that isn't normal, especially during the most dangerous parts of flight: take off and landing.

My car (A Ford Mondeo (or Fusion if you're in the US...)) has 'autonomous' functions. It can adapt its speed to the car in front and has lane keep assist and will emergency brake and I use these features a lot as I spend a lot of time on the road. But they exist to help me keep safe, not take away my ability to drive, and the car will scream at me if it thinks I'm not paying attention; there are times when you know the car hasn't recognised another vehicle is about to pull in to the lane ahead of you so right at the last minute it brakes aggressively, causing a problem for the driver behind (and waking me up...) so I will often override the features.