Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Yet Another Technology to Trust (whether you want to or not)

Today BBC Technology Reporter Leo Kelion posted an article to the BBC News Web site with the headline "Ford car takes control of steering to avoid collisions." The basic idea is that the car has an elaborate system of sensors to determine if it is on a collision path. The first thing it does is warn the driver; but, if the driver does not respond, it overrides control of the steering wheel. This raises the obvious question: Do any of us really want to trust this new technology any more than a navigation technology that can lead us onto an active runway in Fairbanks, Alaska? Now I am sure that there will be any number of readers, who will immediately reply to that question with the claim:
It's not the same thing!
I would reply:
It's not the technology, but the principle behind its design.
It is one thing to have a lot of sensors checking for possible collisions, but it is worth asking what else is being sensed. As the old cliché goes, context is everything. What happens when the system has to choose between two undesirable situations, one of which can harm a pedestrian in the path of the car and the other of which will harm the driver? I, for one, would not like to be an indirect participant in making such a decision by providing a technology that makes it for the driver. Mind you, since I live in a moderately large city, I see a lot of bad driving; so I suppose I am highly sensitive to new technologies that may ultimately turn bad drivers into worse drivers.

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