Saturday, January 21, 2017

yet another unnecessary improvement

So what do you think about self driving cars? In my humble opinion, unless every vehicle was self driving on well maintained roads, I feel we'd be just as well off as Crow was the day he went for a ride with Mr. Toad at the wheel.

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
~ George Carlin

Every time I read about some miraculous new development that's bound to make our lives perfect my first reaction is suspicion. Perhaps I've become a little too cynical about technology, but if so, that's only because I've never had to look far to find proof for my misgivings.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

For one thing 'self driving' is in actuality a misnomer when it pertains to cars even more so than the auto-pilot systems used by commercial airline pilots. After all, an airplane flying at thirty thousand feet is unlikely to be sharing the sky with cyclists or ten tonne trucks making lane changes.

"Even from the greatest of horrors, irony is seldom absent."
~ H.P. Lovecraft

First, let’s get this out of the way: Tesla’s Autopilot is not meant to be a self-driving technology. It’s a 'driver assist' function only, and the driver is intended to be in control of the car at all times, holding tight to the steering wheel and continually second-guessing the machine despite its apparently flawless driving ability.

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong”
~ H. L. Mencken

And that’s where it goes wrong. The human brain is pretty quick to draw conclusions, and very bad at estimating low-probability events. If you drove on Autopilot five hundred times over a year, and nothing bad happened, you’d be excused for thinking the system was safe. You’d get complacent and take your hands off the wheel to do something else, like reading a book or watching a movie. Then you get an emergency signal from the confused computer.

“Death is the last enemy: once we’ve got past that I think everything will be alright”
~ Alice Thomas Ellis

Self driving cars only work on paved roads with clearly defined line markers. Admittedly, while so far there haven't been too many accidents, the thing to remember is there haven't been many of them on the roads yet. Automobile safety wasn’t invented yesterday. There are protocols and standards based on meeting established reliability and safety measures that can't possibly have been met by self driving cars.

"If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked
~ Steven Wright

So far I prefer Mr. Toad.. and he really enjoys teasing self driving cars.
The little devil. No wonder Crow likes him.


  1. Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.
    Thor Heyerdahl, Fatu-hiva, 1974

    1. Thanks for the Thor Heyerdahl quote, Sean. When
      she was a child my friend Inger had a cat whose
      mother was crew on Kon-Tiki.

      I still have all his books in old editions.

  2. I think about them the same as I do about delivery drones: daft and unworkable in terms of large-scale adoption. (But I am often wrong).

    1. I don't believe you're wrong, Andrew. The thing about
      the guys coming up with these bizarre ideas is that
      they've spent more time daydreaming at their computers
      than dealing with harsh reality.

  3. Hi Susan,
    I too understand that Kenneth Graham's last farewell words to Crow was Toad so relished his freedom he would have hated self-driving options.
    Whether slow off the mark Google taxi’s, whose search criteria is notoriously slow and gets confused easily,or the up-market sleek chauffeur-less limo thrillers such as Maserati’s, it seems certain it wouldn’t matter a frogs croak to Toad. That’s because he only wanted to go anywhere under his own steam in the roaring twenties. I don’t think we humans are any different.
    Its one thing to be told by the pilot he’s making an instrument landing, but quite another for a recorded voice to try and reassure you, when conditions like fog mean that’s the only option.I don’t even like being shunted around Heathrow to collect my luggage, after a long flight, in a driverless mini train.
    Splendid picture.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Lindsay, Yes, it's certainly true that Kenneth Graham hated modernity with a passion that Crow relates to as well. Not that there's anything wrong with progress so long as it takes into account the well being of all creatures is the caveat Crow has declared. One that makes sense to me too.
      I agree that knowing a pilot is using all the tools at his disposal to land a plane safely in dangerous conditions is comforting. Knowing there's nobody up front who cares if he himself lives or dies is frightening.
      Glad you like the picture - a favourite.
      All the best

  4. so much time and money spent on things that, while interesting in themselves, aren't actually needed... like food, water, over population of the planet...

    1. I agree, Claire. With so much wealth and ingenuity you'd think we could do better.