Would You Get in a Self-Driving Car?

Google have a lot to answer for. Of course, they’re revolutionising technology: Google Glass – basically, smart technology in eyewear form – was hailed as one of the best inventions of 2012, and let’s not forget what the phrase “Google it” symbolises. But there’s no doubt some of their inventions are subject to controversy. Driverless cars – or Google Chauffeurs, as they may well be known – are one such invention I’m pretty content not to trust as far as I can throw them – which, of course, is not very far…or at all, really.

google self driving car

The concept behind driverless cars is pretty self-explanatory, though not exactly simplistic. Cars are fitted with lasers that assemble a detailed, three-dimensional map of the surrounding environment, which is then combined with high-resolution world maps to produce (in theory) a smooth and accurate drive. The implication is that most, if not all, manual intervention would no longer be required.

I may be dramatic, but I’ve seen Terminator. Either a computer is, as most technology has proven, brilliant until it starts glitching, or so intricately programmed you wonder at what point it starts making up its own mind. If my car is self-driven, what’s to stop it from malfunctioning, locking me inside, and then barrelling off the road? Are the window functions included as part of the no-hands-needed deal? If so, how can I guarantee my pets won’t be asphyxiated while I go into the shops for some milk? Will the batteries swell up like they do in computers, causing erratic steering wheel movements?

I have this disturbing image in my head (paying homage to Terminator, naturally) of saying, “I’ll be back” to my loved ones, only to then hop in the car and watch it pull out of the driveway and wonder if I will be back with the groceries. I understand there’s inherent risk in driving regular cars – but is it worse knowing you can’t resort to manual intervention as a last-ditch attempt to save your life in an accident? I certainly believe so.

If driverless cars (and, on a related note, complete technological dominance by Google) are the way of the future, then I’d rather be stuck in the past. Sure, horse-and-carts are slow, but at least you can feed the horse a sugar cube if he gets temperamental. Try feeding a sugar cube to a car that’s careening off a cliff.

“I’ll be back”, indeed.