As I get back in from the cold, I am thankful for my personal automobile. I am thankful that I do not have to brave the cold like those shmucks slumming it on transit because they want to “save the environment.” I am thankful that I don’t ride a bicycle and freeze my face off. Those hippies with their macha green teas and fixie bikes can get frostbite. I’ll sit in my personalized seat, warm and cozy, taking me directly to my restaurant.
Now, obviously for those of you who read the blog regularly (and that’s all of a 2 of you), you will know that the above was written with a little tounge-in-cheek, but it does outline a point that I think is not touched much in the discussion on autonomous vehicles. Human nature will cause unintended consequences from human nature that will inevitably drive (pun intended) us from a utopian-style paradise to more of the same transportation system we see today.
A look back in history
On to the title of this post: Beware the Horse Dung Folly. I chose this as I happened upon a very interesting article a few months back*. The article in the Economist, as linked to here, outlines some compelling arguments and interesting history to the clean energy movement.
In the early 20th century, prior to Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T, people got around by horses. The fuel to run these horses creates a biproduct. This biproduct created havoc for local cities. People would let their horse defecate anywhere. They would leave this for city workers to clean up, which would never happen. Citizens, and local Biffs everywhere, eventually were getting miffed.
Then the Model T came around. Petrol went in with no nasty biproduct. “Hey,” they thought, “what a clean vehicle. Now our city streets will be cleaner and free of debris.” How silly it is to look at this 100 years later and not shake those stodgy men out of their knickers, “Don’t you know what you are doing! By solving one problem, you forgot about number two!”
We all know how this panned out. Our cities are no longer walkable. The environment is being negatively affected by oil extraction and use. People reliant on vehicles for primary transportation are heavier and more unhealthy. I could go on and on, but essentially the point is clear: the perceived benefit was not realized due to unfounded optimism.
So what can we learn?
First and foremost, I believe it is important to be skeptical when the world is promised to us. Autonomous vehicles is being sold to us as a way to solve all our problems. This will not occur, unless smart, caring, and fiercely skeptical people start asking and analyzing the tough questions:
- Does a fleet of automated vehicles make us less connected with one another?
- Are the vehicle-centric mindsets we have today a major concern when these new technologies are implemented?
- Do we have the political will and fortitude to make their constituents choose other modes or be more socially, rather than libertarian, inclined?
- Are we helping out the lowest on the socio-economic ladder?
And, the reason I think we need this healthy skepticism is that us as collective humans are very fallible. We, as primal creatures, like to be comfortable, be in our echo chamber, and tend to desire products and services to accommodate this. Automated vehicles have the opportunity to save thousands of lives a year and make our communities better. If we aren’t careful, this whole thing could turn into a load of horse crap.
*In all honesty, I just wanted to find a way of making terrible, juvenile, poop jokes and pass it off in a semi-professional setting.