The Glaucomic Google Car

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Old people tend not to drive fast. Or even the speed limit.old coot lead

They sometimes drive into things, too.

This is understandable. They are, after all, old.

One day – if we’re lucky – we’ll all be old.

What grates is the deliberate obliviousness of some older drivers. Nothing like getting caught behind an old coot in an ’87 Buick doing 27 on a road posted 55 … slowing for the curves. Who won’t pull over, ever – no matter how many other cars are stacked up behind him.   

Why? Is it Old People’s Revenge?

Well, now imagine what’s going to happen when the Google Car takes the wheel – and drives these decrepit oldsters around.

They’ll go just as slowly.

Because the cars will be programmed to drive at a senior citizen pace. Walking-speed “acceleration” when the light goes green. Slowing to an almost-stop even if the light is green (you never know, it might change at any moment!).google car accident

And forget about passing anyone.

Ever.   

None of that is new. It’s what old people do.

Only now – courtesy of Google – there’ll be lots of glaucomic old farts out there gumming up the works instead of just the occasional one in his ’87 Buick. We will be trapped behind them, forced to operate at their Metamucil-addled level.

Google – rightly – sees the old as a natural market for its self-driving cars. There are 43 million people 65 and older in the U.S. – and millions of them no longer drive (thank god) but need to get places, just like the rest of us.

Just more slowly.

They are not in a hurry. Why should you be?coot 3

They hate “speeders” – and (most of all) have no interest in being involved in the act of driving. They just want to get from the Senior Center to the doctor’s office and from there to Applebees in time for the senior citizen discount.

They are used to going slow, to getting there… eventually.

The Google car will fill this need – and by doing so, make driving another notch less worth doing for the rest of us. It already sucks. It’s about to get much worse.

The octopus of everything trotted out 94-year-old Florence Swanson as its new spokeswoman/cheerleader. “You haven’t lived until you get in one of those cars,” she said.  “It felt completely safe.”

Felt safe? Certainly. But actually?

Well, no. Unless you believe computers never make mistakes, are infallible and (unlike people) don’t get old and wear out.

Except of course, they do.

What happens then?old coot 1

Just this week, we got a demonstration. An Alzheimerian Google car smashed into a bus because the computer controlling the car expected the bus to yield.

It didn’t.

So far, there have been at least a dozen such “accidents” involving Google cars in California.

This kind of thing happens every day – and will continue to happen – whether it’s a human behind the wheel or a computer.

And the less-than-perfect Google cars that are out there crumpling fenders are each hand-built and closely monitored by a team of engineers. What happens when these cars are mass produced – and monitored by… no one?

With a glaucomic/arthritic/otherwise-no-longer-functional senior behind the wheel (if these cars even have wheels; why would they?) who gave up even trying to drive back when there was still a Soviet Union.

Imagine: The computer goes all late-stage Ronald Reagan one day and decides to accelerate when it ought to have applied the brakes… or maybe doesn’t notice the light just turned red.

Welllllllllllll!

It sounds like all kinds of fun.    google car wreck 2

While Google is working on autonomous cars – guaranteed to he dumbed down to the least common denominator – whether he’s 30 or 80 – Ford is actually designing cars for the enfeebled using (I am not making this up) an “age suit” that includes glasses that deliberately impair the wearer’s vision and gloves that reduce finger control and strength.

Why not design a car for young drunks while we’re at it? They need to get places, too.

It makes my teeth ache.

“For the first time in history, older people are going to be the lifestyle leaders of a new technology,” says Joseph Coughlin of MIT’s AgeLab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Yes, indeed.

Pity them.

And the rest of us, too.

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Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia.

27 COMMENTS

  1. So, I go to the grocery store the other day, and when it’s time to leave, even in my huge 4×4 Excursion, I couldn’t see over the vehicle next to me. I had to inch back, gradually, out into the lane, listening very carefully for the sound of an approaching car; a horn; etc. Looking for the first sign of anything coming, until I was far enough out to get a view. What would a self-driving car do in such a circumstance? Either it ain’t going anywhere, or it’s going to “take a chance” and likely cause an accident.

    It’s insanity!

  2. Nope, once again my fairly lengthy reply did NOT appear. Unfortunately I did not think to keep a copy of it to try posting it again, and we way I type (with two fingers) it’s just too much trouble to try to recreate it from scratch. Too bad, because I think I had a valid point or two.

  3. What if robots are just incompatible with human drivers? What if robots do fine as long as all the drivers on the road are also robots? Do you suppose they might outlaw humans?

    WePod claims to actually have vehicles running very slowly.

    http://wepods.com/

  4. Eric,
    I was at the dentist’s yesterday. Flipping through the magazines and BAM!!! the march 7th issue was practically devoted to driverless cars and lauded a day when humans would no longer be at the wheel. Really heinous stuff. The cover piece was entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Be allowed to Drive”. Good lord what a bunch of frickin’ Nazis…Save for the fact that the Nazis were all about getting the volk behind the wheel. Worse than Nazis I guess.

    http://time.com/4236980/against-human-driving/

    Sir Lord Baltimore

  5. Ummm, if the bus didn’t yield, then it’s the BUS that’s at fault here. The bus driver expected the car to wait for them even though the bus should have waited according to the signs.

    The driver expected a HUMAN to just allow him to cut him off. The computer simply expected the bus to follow the rules of the road. Where did their computer make it’s mistake, by not default assuming that humans are reckless rule-breakers? It hasn’t been taught to think that little of us that much yet…but give it time, it’ll learn how messed up we are.

    Why are people saying that the CAR is at fault here? If anything, this story shows why we need to remove the humans.

    • The point is a human is not a slave to “the law.” Regardless of the got-damned law, an accident would have been avoided by a human (assuming competence and paying attention).

      The law is idiotic, too.

      Hence, rigidly obeying it will result in an insufferable driving experience.

      No more “speeding.” Nor more passing slowpokes. Just a cruise-controlled Cloverific conga line.

      Fuck that. And feed it fish heads.

    • According to the way I read the article, the car was changing lanes, and expected the bus to yield. So did the gunvermin mandated (in this test scenario) ‘override driver.’
      SFB

    • “Where did their computer make it’s mistake, by not default assuming that humans are reckless rule-breakers?”

      The computer made no mistake. The programmer failed to enter the assumption that a city government employee driving a bus was likely to refuse to yield. The programmer may have entered a default assumption that cops will deliberately ram an inoffensive driver while ignoring the fact that a bus driver could be counted on to do the same as a cop.

      The point here is that automobile driving is every bit as resistant to central control as an economy is, due to its complexity. As to “how messed up we are”, naturally a central planner will want a computer model which defaults to that basic assumption.

      ” If anything, this story shows why we need to remove the humans.” Are ‘we’ also going to remove humans from the process of programming computer systems to control automobiles? Logical consistency would require that, you know.

      • Ed, I read today that BMW has virtually doubled-down on autonomy. The CEO said it was the future and they’re building their future cars with this in mind.

        I can see this of other auto companies but BMW, who USED to sell performance and handling is evidently not going to continue with that type of car.

        So, BMW, how do you continue to build fast cars, cars that handle well above the norm……specifically for drivers, drivers hopefully above the rest of the cut?

        If my car some day(that day hell freezes over)won’t allow me to drive and merely be a passenger, why in hell would I want to spend twice the money for a Bimmer over a Ford or Chevy? I’ll simply drive an old pickup or I’ll buy a big rig tractor I can get for less than a used GM pickup and avoid the mandated autonomy. When we reach the point of no allowances for older vehicles or vehicles of a certain type or weight class, then I’ll just drive what I want and laws be damned. I have lost strength as I age as well as vigor……but my aim is still true.

        • I know what you mean, 8. As the kids say, “that’s fucked up”. I guess that status symbol brands of cars are going to become a modern version of the private railroad cars of the late 19th/early 20th century.

          The little town I grew up in was the home base of Springs Mills, a cotton mill empire. The owner/CEO’s private railroad car was parked on an overgrown rail siding and I went there to look it over as a kid. It was a glimpse into the time when there were few private autos and very few passable roads for those cars that did exist.

          The modern global elite seems to want a return to those days, when their ilk could travel in comfort wherever they liked while everyone else had to ride in common passenger cars with their fellow travelers.

          • Ed, there was a car at a nearby town a few decades ago that was a RR company car. It looked to be opulent from the outside but it sat on a siding overgrown with weeds. Someone probably bought it cheap and had a nice “dining car” or such at their house.

            I am going to check to see if a big rig can be registered with RV tags since I often see custom rigs that have been turned into a rolling RV but never noticed the tag. Now the clincher would be insurance, $3500-4500/quarter would be a deal breaker but if registered as an RV, it could be a fraction of that.

            A couple weeks ago a friend called and said he missed buying a nice ’08 Pete with low mileage(800,000) by ten minutes. My wife was quizzing me about the call and asked what it went for. $25K said I. Shit, that’s half what we priced an ’08 GMC Duramax last year. Yep, that’s what I’ve been telling you for years.

            And I did tell her a few years ago I’d found a great deal on a nice Freightliner with a fresh Cat in it much cheaper than the pickups I’d looked at. She said it had better have a nice sleeper cause I’d be using it. Fine with me I replied. I can use that sleeper anywhere, like parked outside the Gallo Rojo with alcohol fueled senoritas wanting to see my “big rig”. Ayyooo!

    • The law (at least in Illinois and likely most states) recognizes lines of traffic. It is the operator of the vehicle changing from one line of traffic to another that needs to yield. It is the automated car in this instance that was crossing into another line of traffic and thus the one who should have yielded. However the programming was set up in the manner I predicted, with backassward notions. In this case that people can jam their way into a traffic flow and those in the flow must yield.

      • Note though, that it wasn’t just the programmer that expected the bus to yield. The human ‘override’ driver made the same assumption. And we all know how to spell assume.

  6. The self-driving car will also log where you go, and how long you stay there. Although with their black boxes, I guess current new cars also have that capability.

  7. The inevitable crashes will be the REASON why self driving cars will go slowly. The regulators will react the same way they do with human drivers. They go too “fast” they will say.

    Computers are far from perfect, you are likely viewing at least one website today where the computer is displaying the site improperly. So if it can’t do that simple task correctly, it will do it when driving too. It will misinterpret something and mess up. Or it will need to be rebooted on a regular basis like a desktop, laptop or smart phone. And when it needs rebooting it will probably sit like a paperweight, refusing to move, even if its in the middle of an interstate. It’s not like it doesn’t happen with other computer controlled machines, I worked at a publishing firm that had a million dollar press that sat still when its computer was on the fritz. Which was quite often, it seemed. It’s IT support was based in Israel, so they often didn’t answer the phone, because it would the middle of the night there during our workday.

    Like Eric has often said, it will lead to the banning of,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,human drivers. It will be the answer, just like every problem created by government can only be “solved”,,,,,,,,,,by more government.

    Even after the human drivers are banned, they won’t increase the speed, even though one of the biggest reasons for self driving cars is faster travel times.

    They don’t want us going faster. There is a saying in real estate, drive towards affordability (generally suburbs further from the center). As in keep driving from your job (located in a place you can’t afford to actually live) to the place you can afford. In many major cities, that drive is getting pretty long. Most people just bear it, knowing they have their own place instead of some little crappy dump or a rental. So that 45 minute drive becomes an hour and a half at the actual speed limits. Putting your place out of range.

    Note that employers moving “back” to city centers for the “younger” employees never say anything about affordability. Their younger employees may like the idea of city living, but they sure can’t afford it. They never talk about locating in places where COL is low.

  8. I live at ground zero for self driving cars, with lots of them going around my house all day long. They drive the speed limit, yield when they’re supposed to, and take right of way when they’re supposed to. They drive slow because of stupid local laws – the road where this accident happened has a 35mph speed limit, but self driving cars are limited by law to 25mph.

    This particular kind of accident happens all the time. We have massive right lanes and people split them to turn right. The Google car was doing that, but noticed sand bags over a drainage grate and pulled back into traffic, as many people do. The VTA bus drivers around here are complete assholes who never yield for anything, and the car assumed it was a normal driver who would yield. It still drives more safely than most people, and it would drive at normal speed if not for stupid laws. Google is now adjusting the car to assume VTA vehicles will never yield. This is part of their effort to make the cars drive more like humans. If we judge humans by the same standard we apply to self driving cars, most humans shouldn’t be allowed to drive either.

    Anyhow, the market isn’t old people. The market is on-demand transit and and reduced vehicle ownership. You won’t own a self-driving car, but you might summon one when the single family car is out on an errand and you need to get somewhere else. Like other automation, this is going to make our cost of living lower by automating away the need to own multiple cars and it will be cheaper than Uber because you have the one time capital cost of the self driving system rather than the recurring cost of the driver.

    I’m the sort of person who wrenches on cars on the weekends, and you’ll have to pry my completely non-automated car from my cold, dead hands, but I look forward to summoning a self driving car when I simply need to run an errand, especially if I can read a book or surf the web while it gets me where I’m going – all this assuming the technology is good enough to do that safely and quickly.

    • Self driving cars are going to centralize things even further. Less freedom and perpetual payments.

      On another note I knew they would be programmed in all manner of american backwards notions of courtesy like expecting through traffic to yield.

      • But for most living in urban or suburban areas, summoning a self-driving car when needed will allow them to cut down to one vehicle/household, which will save real money on an annual basis.

        • Then big brother gets to decide when you may travel and where you may travel. It will save money the way electric cars save money, it won’t but people will feel it does. The goal is to extract more wealth from people not less. The establishment would have crushed automated cars by now if they didn’t help it.

          • You ain’t joking…
            We have ZipCar membership here.
            We used it to rent a van for cleaning out the storage unit in New Hampshire. We’re in Boston… Van was in Cambridge.
            Annual membership with Zip? $60/person. Two of us.
            Rental was $60 before we extended it a few hours.
            Parking for my car (we couldn’t park in the lot, it’s Cambridge – no parking. And no bus to get there that I know of. Anyway…) $7. Gas to get to that lot, plus find a new place to park, at a lose almost 45 minutes of the allotted time, cost unknown – maybe a gallon’s worth, maybe more. Plus time walking to the Zip Car.

            Cost of a U-haul, probably in the range of $80 all told, including the fuel.
            But Zip is “So Easy!”

            Wish I could chop her up as chum some days…. She won’t let it go.

            • So, you are saying that the Zip car memebership costs $60 a year and your rental van cost $7.00? I don’t know how they are making money on that especially if they don’t rent the van for at least 5 hours a day. That may or may not happen.

              • Read a little closer Swamp. Membership $60 (each), rental $60, parking for the car he drove to pick up the van, $7.

            • If ‘on-demand’ cars become a thing I suspect that the rate will be higher than average lease ownership costs. Typical monthly car lease payment plus maintenance plus overhead costs of the on-demand system plus margin.

    • The summoned car will have to burn fuel as it drives to you on top of the fuel you burn to get somewhere, then the summoned vehicle will have to burn fuel to go park somewhere. The car you own doesn’t have to burn all that extra fuel. The lions share of demand for the self-driving cars will be twice daily during rush hours, which will last even longer as those cars drive to their customers. The companies that lease those cars will understandably want to make a profit from those cars on top of having you pay for the increased fuel usage, tire wear, and other expenses.
      This is “progress” that I can live without.

      • I am of course assuming that most such cars in the near future will end up burning fuel because e-vehicles are so damn expensive to buy, and by extension; rent. But lets say that I am wrong, and the cars are electric. Are we going to have a small number of massive parking lots for those cars to park at and to recharge? Or, are we going to have a whole bunch of smaller ones so that the car can get to its customer more quickly and use less battery power? Both options have obvious drawbacks.

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