By Robert A. Vella
Time marches on. Technology makes us better. Right?
If I’ve learned anything during this bizarre experience we call life, it’s that we humans do what we do for a host of various reasons and only some of which are intended to make us – individually or collectively – better. The advance of technology, for example, is just as likely, or more so, to be driven by the belligerence of war or the greed of self-interest than by altruistic motive. Furthermore, how new technologies are used often has nothing at all to do with why it was developed. The microwave oven, which provides us more convenience and flexibility in the kitchen, originated from the advance of radar in World War II. Similarly, nuclear medicine evolved from the development of the atomic bomb. While the application of nuclear physics in the medical field can be attributed to more altruistic motives, the microwave oven was created solely because of the profit motive. Both radar and the atomic bomb were created to destroy.
Speaking of driving, we might not be doing that much longer. Just as the microwave oven appealed to our desire to save time and effort, self-driving cars now appeal to our desire to do absolutely nothing for ourselves. Road safety laws have been passed in recent years making driving while texting (i.e. cell phone use) a punishable offense, and for good reason. But, this put an uncomfortable crimp in our cultural style; so, opportunistic entrepreneurs devised a solution. Why not make a car that drives itself! Then, consumer-obsessed Millennials can talk and text all they want while sitting in their vehicles sipping on highly sugared caffè lattes. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, technology can and does go wrong (see: Uber suspends self-driving car program after Arizona crash). I’m not saying that this specific technology couldn’t work eventually. What I am saying is that the very idea of a self-driving car is absurd on many levels. The technology necessary is overly complex, and there are bound to be costly and deadly problems. In this era of catastrophic climate change looming over our heads, we need less cars on the road not more. Mass transit is a better and much more efficient solution. And, we as a society desperately need to find other ways to motivate people than simply trying to appeal to their baser instincts.
I can hear the backlash now:
“Only a control freak would oppose self-driving cars, and only an old fossilized curmudgeon would oppose the advance of technology.”
Perhaps, but I’d rather be that than a self-indulgent sloth. End of rant.