Policymakers and enthusiasts in support of self-driving vehicles echo the promise from autonomous vehicle lobbyists that these self-driving cars will make our roads safer and more efficient. Supporters contend that technology could make those car accident deaths a misfortune of the past.
However, technology is not without its shortcomings and potentially fatal consequences.
As society, we understand human limitations because we live with them daily, while the same cannot be said of machines. Our capacity to accept flaws and errors in technology is harder to understand and empathize with machines than it may be with human failure. It boils down to whether society is willing to trust the data in support of self-driving cars. Professor Calestous Juma at Harvard University compares self-driving cars to the introduction of refrigerators, reference public concern that it could start a fire or leak toxic gases made the public weary at first, but that Americans eventually adopted the household appliance.
Congress is beginning to consider legislation that would enable the broader adoption of self-driving technology without compromising safety, grappling with question of whether machines need only drive better than humans to prove this point.
Meanwhile, Embark, a new self-driving truck startup out of San Francisco, recently began testing a self-driving 18-wheeler truck. Embark has chosen to focus its efforts on trucking due to a shortage of long haul drivers. In this effort, Embark is piggybacking on Uber-owned Otto’s vision of “exit-to-exit” highway driving, attempting to claim the best position in the multi-billion-industry that is the trucking industry amid the potential autonomous car revolution.
How safe is safe enough for this self-driving vehicle to be deployed? The answer to that question may come down to how much we trust self-driving cars, regardless of how many lives they might be able to save.