In the news: California to allow self-driving cars

Posted by Randy Shulman
September 30, 2012 1:34 PM |

Google self driving car photo

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that would allow self-driving cars on the state's roads. (These trends always start in California, haven't you noticed? First organic alfalfa, now this.) The very notion of a self-driving car personally makes me slightly nervous. Although it tends to give credence to the term "asleep at the wheel." Who wouldn't like a nap whilst stuck in traffic? And, frankly, I'll take all the help I can get parallel parking. The L.A. Times has a great story in today's edition, in part addressing safety concerns for those queasy about the forthcoming self-driving car revolution.

Despite the uneasiness, there is some evidence that the early autonomous driving functions are already improving safety.

Volvo's City Safety, a low-speed forward collision avoidance system, is one feature that has been shown to be effective. The system is designed to help avoid rear-ending another vehicle in slow-moving traffic.

New York City, are you listening?

Meanwhile, over at the Seattle Times, Leonard Pitts, Jr., had planned to rant against the self-driving car movement, only to give in to the idea's obvious benefits. Writes Pitts:

How do you rant against fewer traffic jams, greater mobility, less pollution and more safety?

The Guardian takes an even bleaker view on the trend.

So where did the jobs go? As you'd expect from economists, there are lots of theories. The most intriguing explanation, for my money, has been offered by two MIT academics, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, in their book Race Against the Machine. Crudely stated, their view is that advances in computing of the kind embodied by the Google self-driving car represent the next wave of job-eliminating technology. Many skills that were hitherto deemed secure (such as driving) may be devalued and might eventually become worthless, at least in the job market.

We'll have more to say on self-driving cars in a future Technocrat.

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