When I learnt of this news, I felt like a piece of shit.
Then I googled, only to learn that over 3000 people die of car accidents every single day.
Now I feel even more like a piece of shit, because someone I knew had to die, before I’d care enough about this problem.
A first question is: can we solve this problem? To which, the short answer is ‘yes’. Driverless cars have been around for just a couple of years now; but I believe that if we had employed as much energy behind this research as we probably did for developing weapons, then we could’ve had easily been there a long while ago.
In short, technology isn’t the biggest challenge in solving this problem. It hasn’t been for a while; and isn’t so, even now. The real challenge is a socio-economic and culture one.
Hence, a more important question is: Are we as a society, poised in a way that makes us even want to solve this problem?
The fact of the matter is: We live in a society where consumerism keeps fueling the whole economic machinery to keep running in the first place. It has much more importance and value than the lives of a few people.
One may see why wars could be considered good for the economy: because someone can then ‘create wealth’, as economists may put it, by manufacturing weapons and rebuilding infrastructure. Why would car accidents be any different?
I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the fact is: we as an economy, benefit more due to car crashes, than we probably may by preventing them:
Auto repair in the US alone is an industry worth 60 billion dollars, and employs more than half a million people there. ( http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=1689 )
As many as 50 million people get injured each year (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB124509433747116067 ). They are a source of livelihood for countless people in the medical establishment.
There’s the entire traffic police system, traffic signal manufacturers.. road maintainence firms..
Then there’s accident insurance policy agents, as well as for car insurance. I’ll now have to google up their stats as well.. but you get the point.
Driverless cars could totally solve the problem of car crashes, but they would also instantly make all the above jobs redundant. How insane of us to not think about all those people, and the source of their livelihood!
Isn’t it clear as daylight, that we as a society are battling inherently conflicting interests? It’s like trying to smash a car into itself.
So long as we live in a socio-economic model in which the importance of consumerism is so deeply rooted (over and above life itself); we’re never going to prevent wars, or car crashes. (Not willingly, anyway). And we’ll keep losing dear friends, and countless strangers.
The obstacle presented by technology is not the biggest one. It’s only made to appear big by those who are unwilling to face the real hurdles: the socio-economic ones; and the cultural ones.