The slippery slope of accepting casualties caused by self-driving cars

Last week’s first ever deadly accident with a self-driving car was tragic for the victim. It was also inevitable. No sane person would expect the technology already to be perfect. In fact, probably few would expect the technology to ever be so perfect that the number of (fatal) accidents could be reduced to zero.

It’s also clear that more severe accidents involving autonomous cars will follow. This reality might sound harsh when put into words, but everybody today participating in traffic (whether as driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian) is silently acknowledging the existing risk in the same way: We know that an accident could happen, but we consider the upside of mobility being much bigger than the risk of a crash. And rightly so.

There is a peculiarity with accidents involving autonomous cars though: The question of responsibility beyond the legal liability. As outlined in this piece, from a legal point of view, the emerging scenarios could probably be solved. But another issue remains: It is a basic rule of modern human civilization (outside of war zones) that if one person is harmed, then this person or his/her relatives and friends crave to see a face of someone who caused or was in some way participating in the harm – regardless of whether this person will be deemed legally responsible. Continue Reading

Driving a car lost its magic

Here you can read this article in German.

I don’t own a car. A few days ago I went on a little road trip with a rental car, and it opened my eyes.

Two things were different than in the past: Firstly, there has been massive progress within the field of self-driving and intelligent cars over the past years and months. I have never been reading and learning as much about the advancements as during recent times, simply because the topic is ubiquitous nowadays.

My trip has taught me that the frequent occupation with the question of self-driving cars has actually shaped me a lot: I was looking much more critical on my own driving as well as on the driving of other road users. I was seeing the role of the human factor in driving through a totally different perspective: the risky passing maneuvers on roads with only one lane per direction. The aggressiveness of certain drivers. The driving mistakes which fortunately did not ended up ugly. All of a sudden it felt completely anachronistic to me to see how humans try to control these heavy, many dozens of horse powers-powered metal cages on wheels with such a confidence. A misplaced confidence of course. We all know how many accidents happen every day, leading to injured and casualties. Continue Reading

Once Uber’s self-driving cars arrive, what will be left to hate about the company?

Uber

Uber is one of the most controversial and most hated companies in tech. It is also beloved by many of its regular customers. But a seemingly never-ending series of scandals, hyper aggressive tactics and questionable business practices have brought the San Francisco-based company critics all over the world, from taxi drivers, competitors and journalists to politicians, union leaders and activists.

Most of the criticism involves aspects related to the human drivers of Uber. But Uber plans to abandon its drivers. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has made it clear in the past that his long-term vision is to make use of self-driving cars. A few days ago a report confirmed that the company is already actively testing the potential of autonomous cars.

Today no one knows when Uber’s self-driving cars will become reality and actually hit the streets, ready for passenger pickup. But assuming that not all experts are mistaken, self-driving cars will become reality, and Uber will use them.

That leads to an interesting question: What will be left to hate about Uber once its drivers are gone? Continue Reading