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Deep Learning Technology: Helpful or Harmful (Part 2)


Part 2: Adios Cruise Control. Hello Self-Driving Cars!

By Sophia Fiat

It’s unlikely that any of you have ever been in a car with me but two things about driving really grind my gears – distracted drivers and traffic.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 94 percent of accidents in the U.S. are caused by driver error. The first week I acquired my learners permit, a driver pulling into a parking lot too fast didn’t see me and collided with my car – the driver was distracted and didn’t slow down in time. Luckily there was no damage but with self-driving cars, that accident likely would never have happened. According to a Washington Post article, if 50 percent of cars on U.S. roadways were self-driving, there would be some phenomenal improvements to our daily commutes (and wallets), such as:

  • 1,880,000 fewer crashes and 9,600 lives saved on average per year
  • 1,680 million hours of travel time and 224 million gallons of fuel saved per year
  • Road capacity and speed limits would greatly increase
  • There would be -23.7% less vehicles on the road per year
  • The economy would save $48.8 billion per year
  • Transportation would become more accessible to people with disabilities

With any innovation, there are disadvantages, like the estimated $100,000 price tag per vehicle, along with many unanswered questions, as there is not yet a legal precedent for self-driving cars. In the event of an accident, who’s responsible? If the owner of the vehicle isn’t driving but the car crashes, do we blame the car, or the driver for failing to take over and react fast enough? Last year, Google confirmed that one of its self-driving vehicles was damaged after a commercial van ran a red light and struck the Google vehicle. The passenger (or is it “driver?”) in Google’s car anticipated what was going to happen but couldn’t react in time, failed to take control of the vehicle and ultimately prevent the crash. In these situations, who is at fault? The answer remains hotly debated.

There’s also the issue of privacy, as cars in autonomous mode rely on collecting and sharing user location data. Who can access this wealth of information and for what purpose? And let’s not forget about hackers. Many cars already can be remotely disabled but what else could happen?

Another factor to consider is the technology barrier. Self-driving vehicles currently use roof-mounted laser sensors and multiple mounted 3-D cameras. Heavy rain and snow can interfere with both, making it difficult for the car to operate autonomously. For those of us living in Florida, we are all too familiar with heavy rain. If I’m going to pay $100,000+ for a self-driving car, I would want it to properly function, rain or shine! Some self-driving cars may be able to detect severe weather and pull over if it thinks its human driver can’t see clearly, but I sure as hell don’t want a car to make that decision for me – I may enjoy a self-driving car, but I’d still like to think that I am capable of making my own safe-driving decisions.

So far, only California, Florida, Nevada, Washington D.C., and Michigan allow testing of these vehicles. Many more years of testing is needed in order to come to a solid conclusion on whether this technology is helpful or harmful to drivers everywhere.

As for me, I’m still waiting for my flying Jetson’s car!


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