Hands-free Driving

Self-driving cars built by Google is a topic that whenever it comes up, elicits interest and nods of approval. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be chauffeured around in the back of Google’s big black car, so you can play with your phone and update Facebook, right?

Well, according to Nicholas Carr and a post last week on his blog, Rough Type, we’re still several weeks away from cars that drive themselves. I know that’s incredulous for you “app addicts,” especially those that think Google already owns our world.

Look, Ma; no hands!

Look, Ma; no hands!

I like Carr’s blog. If you’re not familiar with him and his work, he’s the guy who posed the question, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in his provocative essay for The Atlantic back in 2008. You can imagine the shit storm associated with his brazen interrogation of almighty Google and their technological motives for what they do, which Carr intimated was, “make us stupid.”

I’m planning to read his book The Shallows that expanded on the essay and the topic of what Google is doing to our brains—basically turning them into bowls of oatmeal. So many books, so little time, right? At least some of us are still devoting time to linear pursuits like reading, rather than only tweets on Twitter.

The Google=Stupid idea is an interesting one.

Piecing together my freelancing in 2014 involved managing a grant focused on Maine’s aging population. Specifically, the grant’s focus was on finding ways to keep seniors at home, if possible. I loved being able to do community organizing work in two small, rural communities in western Maine. What was interesting, was the overly-academic approach to the grant coming from the top, and the grant funder.

One of the senior project officers believed that Google cars might offer a chance to help seniors in Maine get around. She even proposed having Google send one to Maine to test it out in the snow. Good thing they didn’t send it this winter.

Let me say right now that transportation issues were always front and center to almost any project related to rural Maine that I was ever involved in. Whether workforce development-related, like when I was working with Maine TANF recipients, mainly single moms, helping them get back into the workforce, or even promoting Maine employers taking a look at hiring more people with disabilities, getting people from point A to point B in low population-density parts of the state is fraught with challenges.

That said, sending a carload of 75-year-olds out to a doctor’s appointment or a trip to Wal-Mart in a self-driving car, in a Maine blizzard, isn’t something that I want to hang my professional hat on.

As Carr intimates, in linking to his article he wrote for Fortune, we’re not even close on being able to order a self-driving Prius from the dealership:

Many engineers and automation experts believe it will take decades of further development to build a completely autonomous car, and some warn that it may never happen, at least not without a massive and very expensive overhaul of our road system.

Google dolts—were you able to read to the end of the article quote? We may never have our magical cars that will whisk us around like in episodes of The Jetson’s cartoon. There’s the R&D aspect, but we’re not even investing enough tax monies in our federal highway system as it is to keep it from eventually crumbling, let alone coming up with the money to retool roads necessary for our hands-free driving needs.

Carr isn’t the only one that’s written about that unlikely scenario. David Graeber in The Baffler, No. 19, back in 2012, wondered where the flying cars we were promised as kids were. Basically, he said it was bunkum, emanating from the likes of people believing in Google, and their claptrap about autonomous autos.

I don’t expect I’ll be handing in my driver’s license anytime soon.

2 thoughts on “Hands-free Driving

  1. Such a delicious topic! Full of nouns that make me laugh, like “bunkum” and “claptrap” and snickering verbs like “emanate.” I’m not really sure why people snicker at belief in an all powerful deity when they place similar trust in Google. I suppose the logic of binary numbers and physics equations gives Google a little more street cred than burning bushes and flatbread falling out of the sky. Yeah, that’s it. SCIENCE!

    Given the state of our roads and the Maine winters, driving should be more of a rodeo event, with prizes and awards given from getting to point A to point B unscathed. Building an app for such a game might actually bear more fruit in the long term. Get on it, Google!

  2. @JAB
    The apologetics of technology deifies all new gadgets. Anyone who speaks with contrariness is considered heretical by those who blindly genuflect at the altar of never-ending progress—the only thing—it’s not really progress, just a bill of goods we’ve been sold and the acolytes recite their mantras, much like ritualized prayer and the rubbing of talismans. In fact, watch people with their phones in a bar, or restaurant, or on the train–kind of creepy, really.

    It’s interesting reading about Google. Not everyone in San Francisco’s Mission District are enthralled with the company and its practices. Google is just another manifestation of Whitey TM. Too bad all the PC types can’t see it.

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