After a disappointing 2018, several key technology firms are making a comeback this year. With the advent of the digitalization era, computers and smart devices have impacted our daily lives in ways previously unimaginable. However, automated technologies also suffer an underappreciated dark side.
According to a recent New York Times article by Dr. Vatsal G. Thakkar, he experienced a sort of epiphany while backing his wife’s car out of their driveway. Having grown accustomed to modern safety features, Dr. Thakkar instinctively waited for the audible proximity alerts to guide him.
The problem? Dr. Thakkar’s wife drives an older model vehicle. Therefore, the alerts never came because they simply didn’t exist. Fortunately, he came to his sense before he backed himself into a serious accident. But this near-miss instantly reminded him that automated technologies enable carelessness into our society.
Dr. Thakkar has a radical solution: bring back the manual transmission. At a time when automated technologies are taking more of our tasks away from us, Thakkar urges the opposite response. Rather than rely on ever-increasing safety measures, companies can “force” compliance. Take away automation, and you’ll instead instill responsibility among drivers.
Although significant data on the topic isn’t available, Thakkar notes that drivers with ADHD perform better with manual transmissions. And automation doesn’t stop on the road. Worryingly, from hospitals to airplanes, reliance on tech has produced tragically devastating results.
None is probably more raw than last year’s autonomous Uber incident.
Automated Technologies Softens Our Instincts
As you’re aware, Uber induced a paradigm-shift in the transportation sector. Thanks to a relatively simple but innovative design, Uber upended the taxi industry. Today, people don’t have to buy an expensive license to make money as a ride-sharing driver.
Logically, Uber began testing the upper limits of automated technologies. Their ultimate goal? Take away the human element altogether. On various controlled-testing requirements, the company performed well. Irreversibly, though, that condition changed last March on a Tempe, Arizona roadway.
During the nighttime hours, an Uber-operated autonomous vehicle struck a pedestrian who was walking her bicycle across the road. Although a human passenger was sitting in the driver’s seat, he was not paying any attention until the fatal moment. Even more damning, the driver didn’t have his hands on the controls throughout the incident. He depended entirely on the automated technologies that Uber installed.
Shortly after the accident, I remember reading blogs and social-media commentary that the mainstream media didn’t have the right context. In this situation, the woman “jumped” out in front of the car at the last second. The victim committed suicide, and an Uber AV happened to be the perfect platform.
Technology’s Darker Side
Except that’s not what happened at all. Having seen the actual dashcam footage of the accident, I can assure you: this was no suicide. The pedestrian was walking away from the Uber AV when she was struck. Of course, she had no business walking on a roadway at night. It was a stupid thing to do. Nevertheless, the AI system did not pick up her presence, contributing significantly to the fatal accident.
Moreover, the car’s programming had ample time to at least make one corrective maneuver. Even a human driver could have swerved out of the way. At 40 mph, enough time existed to acknowledge the situation and react.
Instead, the AV plowed into the pedestrian, ironically proving one thing: malfunctioning automated technologies are just as effective, if not more so, than a distracted driver.