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Autonomous vehicles: Who the hell wants one, needs one or will buy one?

Written By | Apr 14, 2018
autonomous vehicles

Waymo, Chrysler Pacifica experimental autonomous vehicle, Los Altos, Calif., 2017. (Via Wikipedia entry on autonomous vehicles, CC 3.0 license)

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2018: Autonomous cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars, self driving anything. Every week, we’re assaulted by articles, videos and testimonials praising the absolute brilliance and total desirability of these mostly mythical vehicles whose promised availability is always sometime in the near future.

But amid the endless hype extolling the virtues of autonomous vehicles (that don’t yet exist), a more important question might be: Who the hell wants, needs or might even consider buying one?

Follow-up: Exactly why might an autonomous vehicle be so desirable?

Truth: Despite the endless promotions behind this largely non-existent product, there’s still no demonstrable demand for such a vehicle. And it’s not only skeptical American car buyers who wonder what all the hoopla is about. Our friends to the north aren’t exactly positive about autonomous cars either:

“Depending on where you live, you either can’t wait for the autonomous revolution, or you don’t trust it at all. Apparently, no country is more skeptical than Canada.

“A survey of Canadians over the age of 18 by polling firm Ipsos shows that no other country is less enthused at the prospect of turning over the steering wheel to a mass of sensors and a computer that knows best. In terms of outright opposition to the idea, only Germany, home of the Autobahn and birthplace of the car, ranks higher.

“The U.S. matches Canada’s tally of people who hate the idea, but ranks above it in terms of people who ‘can’t wait to use one.’”

Below, we’ve slightly enlarged a bar chart based on the Ipsos survey cited. Notably, it shows that the U.S. isn’t far behind Canada in its autonomous vehicle skepticism. The least skeptical countries, interestingly enough, appear at the top of the chart and include India and China among others.

(We’ve enlarged this graphic slightly, but it may still be a bit difficult to read.)

Canadians, at least, don’t want autonomous vehicles

Steph Willems, the author of this interesting critique, which appeared on April 14 in TTAC (The Truth About Cars), follows up on the polling data by explaining the likely rationale behind the apparently negative Canadian reaction to autonomous cars et. al.

“Could it be that Canadians are hip to the concerns we’ve stated for so long — that less-than-ideal infrastructure and bad weather poses a greater threat to the proliferation of autonomous driving than companies and tech websites suggest? Are Canadians more likely to recognize the hurdles standing in the way of this technology?

“Just think of a snowy commute home to your house in rural Anytown, Canada. (North Dakota or Minnesota work, too.) The lane markers are blanketed and completely obscured by many inches of snow. Forward facing cameras and proximity sensors have accumulated a nice crust of dirty slush or, if it’s colder, pure ice. Yes, that AV [autonomous vehicle] you’re riding in will really hold that lane. Is that your exit up ahead, or a farmer’s field? Looks the same from here.”

Willems’ article echoes our own skepticism about autonomous anything in general. Prototypes have already caused at least a few deaths and/or serious injuries here in the U.S. Who’s to say that even sales-ready autonomous cars won’t cause at least the occasional death. So why does that make them superior to today’s non-autonomous cars that cause at least the occasional death?

Read also: Engaging in New California dreaming: Two paths to California secession

Who really benefits from autonomous vehicle technologies?

Willems elaborates on the issue and makes a telling point:

“A great number of us here at TTAC distrust autonomous vehicles, the predictions surrounding them, and — for reasons that become clearer with every reported mishap — most of the companies peddling this technology as a way of making our roads death- and traffic-free about 48 minutes from now. Or is it two years? These predictions come and go.

“If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s that some companies place greater trust in their fledgling technology than they should, and that citizens would be right to take their forward-thinking claims with a heaping of salt.

Above italics are mine.

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to allow social fascist governments to restrict our freedom of movement

With regard to autonomous vehicles, I have an additional grave concern that I’ve never seen before  in print or video.

Autonomous cars of the future will place current and future car and vehicle technologies under the control of an under-the-hood sensor-fed computer. Such computer systems can be reprogrammed, redirected and even hacked wirelessly. Observe today official Washington’s obvious contempt for American citizens. Clearly, it’s just a matter of time before these budding government fascists move in. The aim: To take over the remote controllability of autonomous cars. The goal: To limit the permissible destinations of citizens they don’t like.

In other words, we may end up driving “fake autonomous” vehicles of the future that the government effectively controls. The government could use its ability to control these “autonomous” vehicles to limit the mobility of certain citizen classes. The Feds could use that control to create virtual gulags. They could then prohibit individuals and groups who commit “thoughtcrimes” from visiting or communicating with anyone else outside their immediate neighborhoods.

.No one talks about this very real possibility, and I think it’s high time someone brought up the issue. It’s something we all need to think about long and hard. Given the Federal government’s increasingly autocratic behavior, direct government control of who we are and where we go is a looming threat. We need to guard against this kind of Federal overreach if autonomous cars – and AI technologies – begin to take hold.

So, who wants an autonomous vehicle?

Willems wraps his article with a pair of sensible car-guy questions.

“Either [the Ipsos pollsters] contacted a group of well-camouflaged Luddites strategically sprinkled around the country, or the sentiment towards AVs is legitimately more negative than this author would have assumed. Who knew Canada would top the U.S. on the driving freedom index?

“[Are] these Canucks onto something? Has the hype surrounding the capabilities of autonomous vehicles hoodwinked too many people into believing it’s a viable near-term technology for the masses?”

To which we’d add: Is anyone anywhere worried that the world’s increasingly remote and autocratic governments will use AV and AI [artificial intelligence] technologies to keep tabs on us, track us, and limit who we can be and where we can go based on the level of our subservience to an increasingly tyrannical government? #

Headline photo: Waymo, Chrysler Pacifica experimental autonomous vehicle, Los Altos, Calif., 2017. (Via Wikipedia entry on autonomous vehicles, CC 3.0 license)


Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17