Saturday, July 02, 2016

Safety First

Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir. I have tried in my way to be free.
-Leonard Cohen-

Here's a nightmare for you: Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty seeking America in a self-driving, air conditioned, Japanese safety capsule with no windows but with blue tooth and WiFi.  

Self driving cars: the urge to produce them mystifies me since being able to drive is an essential and precious freedom in my book. for over a hundred years it's been what America was about and I wonder what has done as much, rightly or wrongly - for personal liberty in America as the automobile.

I understand that the "millennials" are now the center of all marketing targets.  I understand the "millennials" aren't quite as keen on the fading American car culture that defined my own youth. They seem to prefer staring at those little black boxes and perhaps having a self-driving vehicle will allow their undivided attention to games and TV and playlists while shopping and texting their 19,642 Facebook Friends -- who knows?  

But robot cars are being touted as an important safety measure and safety in our country is seen as paramount, with all other rights and privileges pertaining to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness being secondary to the needs of absolute safety and the demands of an entertainment addiction.

You'll gather that  I'm mostly against these things, and I am, but not only for the threat of  restrictive "car control" regulations but for the firm belief that no machine can possibly predict the actions of another driver nor read the pavement to predict adhesion nor even distinguish a paper bag in the road from a cement block -- or someone's cat.   That opinion seems not to be so technophobic after May 7th when a Florida Tesla driver, cruising along on "autopilot" watching Harry Potter, found his Tesla not quite so good at discriminating between an 18 wheeler and a cloud and refrained from taking evasive action or hitting the brakes and putting the driver into another and safer vehicle: his coffin.

But it's "potentially life saving" and as anyone knows, even if one life is saved, all is justified.  Safety First, as everyone knows.

Now autopilots on airplanes are dependable and probably safer than requiring a pilot's concentration of great lengths of time. My former yacht had one and it worked amazingly well but the law and common sense demand that someone be at the helm watching out and able to take over command with the push of a big, red, button.  Cars?  Not so much as the popular phrase suggests.  Sure, pass a law so you can give out a ticket after a couple of carloads worth of people get killed. Great idea.

Of course highway safety has increased steadily, decade after decade and hasn't been much affected by speed limits or stop light cameras or $3000 speeding fines. So why are we ever more demanding of safety gadgets that pretend to be better than a trained and practiced human?   Is the day getting closer when we spend our lives sealed in a safety capsule, experiencing the real world only second hand via virtual reality coming soon?  Probably not. Nothing in history is linear, but that general trend makes reality so much more precious. Exercizing a skill, relying on it for your own safety, Being part of the enviornment first hand is worth it, but everywhere I see black boxes in the hands of people sitting in black boxes with blacked out windows and not looking out of them as they go about their connected days, oblivious.

So maybe this is a good morning to take the Schwinn out for a ride, while I still can ride it without body armor, back up cameras and padded pavement.

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