This paper discuses the new technology of the Google driverless car technology. Its current implementation status. Further privacy, ethical, and accountability issues are discussed relating to this technology. Benefits that individuals and the society such as reduction of accidents , cost saving and less traffic are also provided. Recommendations provided for implementation and adoption of this technology stress on the importance of developing privacy laws relating to the technology early before adoption is done.
The Google driverless car is a top-notch technological invention developed by the famous tech company Google aimed at making a self-drive car (Miller and Bilton, 2011). This automobile can be able to drive itself via the use of artificially intelligent systems using cognitive ability and sensors installed on the vehicle hardware (Roebuck, 2011). Currently, the car has been put into operation in three states in the US, that is, Florida, Nevada, and California. Nevertheless, the Google Company is still pushing for the implementation of this technology across the country. Further, it is facing moral and ethical questioning before the technology is accepted into law to permit the operation of the driverless car amid various states.
A video posted on YouTube by Google on their channel showed the testing of the technology in the California resident area. It showcased an individual being driven around the city conducting normal daily errands like going to the dry cleaners, the fast food outlets and being returned home. The safety measures taken have been made sure to operate within the legal bounded traffic rules and guidelines, for example, maintaining the speed limit.
The driverless car has proven also to be able to work under extreme conditions facilitated by the intelligent equipment installed on board the car. The LIDAR (laser radar) system (Figure 1) and the range finder mounted on the top comprising of a Velodyne 64-beam laser, which aid in the guiding of the car via monitoring the external environment and collecting vital information. This equipment can operate comfortably even in unfavorable or extreme weather conditions, for instance, laser light technology has been known to identify objects or obstacles even in a foggy weather condition.
Figure 1: Adapted from Trends Magazine, Nov2012 Issue 115, p26-31, 6p, 3 Color Photographs, 1 Diagram
The only time the driverless car was reported in an accidental incident was in the year 2011, in August near the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, where the car was involved in a crash for the first time. Additionally, another incident that occurred involved the vehicle being hit from behind while stopping at stoplight traffic sign. This proved the car was working within the traffic laws offering better reaction time in the event of an accident facilitated by the intelligent installed systems.
The acceptable failure rate for the driving ability and the current accident rate of drivers put into consideration is quite essential. This is because its risks outweighs that of using technology or machines that make work easier. Human beings are known to error in various numerous circumstance, for instance, driving while texting, having conversions and phone calls, which have been the main cause of accidents in the past and still is in some situations, in the present. It is quite significant, in this 21st century, to use machines and technology to make work easy since they have been programmed to work at optimal levels in different environments while minimizing well-known human errors like ignoring traffic rules (Abrahamson and Ryder, 2013). In comparison to human manual driving, the driverless car will minimize accident rates via smart and well-programmed cognitive decision-making.
The job opportunities expected may include test drivers for helping end users of the product. Like any other technological system, the end users have to be well conversant and identifiable with system operability for the system implementation to be successful. The large-scale production of this system will give rise to new jobs for new test drivers and engineers responsible with programming the technology. Insurance companies still predict that implementation of the technology will take years to be approved. In case the technology is put into use on the roads, there is a possibility that insurance premiums are bound to decrease as people will not see the need for paying insurance premiums where no accidents are guaranteed (Trends Magazine, 2012).
The system apparatus used to operate the equipment on the car do not come at a cheap price, and maintenance of the car for use of this technology requires skilled personnel. The specialty field for this will have demanded the need for constant supervision to ensure the accuracy in operation and execution. Therefore, it is advisable for there to be use of technologically advanced devices if they minimize human error and maximize success in human activity operations like driving the car, for example, for a partially or very blind person.
Benefits Likely to be enjoyed through the Implementation of Driverless Technology
One of the main issues that favor the adoption of the Google driverless car technology is the issue of safety. Based on the World Health Organization statistics, an average 1.2 million people die annually from car accidents, and 50 million are injured in these accidents (Trends Magazine, 2012). Human error in driving relates to issues such as cutting off other vehicles on the road and over speeding. These contribute to causing road accidents. However, with the advent of autonomous cars, cases of cutting off and over speeding are less likely to be experienced hence; there is a higher chance of preventing road accidents.
Traffic jams contribute to a lot of time wastage and money on the road. Implementing driverless car technology can help in addressing this problem. According to Higgins (2011), adoption of driverless cars can reduce traffic congestion. The driverless cars comprise of sensors that are used to keep track of other driverless cars. Thus, this enables the rerouting of vehicles to less congested roads, and in essence this reduces traffic jams contributing to time saving (Trends Magazine, 2012).
Additionally, the driverless cars increase convenience and efficiency. In terms of convenience, an owner of the car may leave it at the entrance of a parking garage, in an airport, from where the car drives itself back to the home of the owner. This applies in a case where an owner may be travelling by air and does not want to leave the car parked at the airport. Further, efficiency of car usage is increased since the car can drive back to the owner’s home after dropping him or her at the place of work. This becomes beneficial where children have to be taken to school. The need for a second car is eliminated (Trends Magazine, 2012).
The use of driverless cars can also have significant cost savings. Application of this technology can allow increased precisions, which allows vehicles to drive closer to each other. This becomes important because it is projected that cars on the road are expected to increase, which means the need to develop more highways that are costly. Thus, increasing, precisions make it easier to drive more cars on the conventional roads thereby saving on cost (Trends Magazine, 2012).
Moreover, the productivity of people is bound to increase because of this driverless technology. These cars can be designed in a way to incorporate desks in the vehicle or make the vehicle an office of some sort. Consequently, workers will be able to give their undivided concentration to their work even when travelling to and from their work places (Trends Magazine, 2012). Increase in productivity results, in an increase economic performance of a nation and this increases the GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
In places such as California, the signing into law of the driverless car technology by Google has been viewed by some consumer watchdog groups to be a threat to the safety and privacy of the people of California. According to PR (2012), the law of the driverless technology does not have any provisions on the privacy protections. Further, the law does not provide the user any form of control regarding the data that might be collected and how information collected will be utilized. This raises issues of third parties obtaining information of users.
Privacy issues need to be included in the law of driverless car technology. These should include the collection of data only required to operate the vehicle and storage of this data as long as it is to be used for the operation of the vehicle. Additionally, the law must demand that the data not to be used for other purposes such advertising and marketing. Similar situations where bills are rushed to become law can have negative consequences. PR (2012) provides occurrence of this situation where in Sacramento rushing of a policy such as electricity deregulation resulted in massive blackouts that were not foreseen. Safety and privacy issues need to be developed simultaneously as the technology is being developed. Further, implementation of privacy and protection laws after a technology has already been in use becomes difficult. What makes it even more serious is that Google has a reputation of violating consumers’ privacy. According to Streitfield (2013), Google recently admitted to violating people’s privacy in its Street View Mapping Project, which involved actions such as scooping people’s passwords and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users. This shows an indication of promoting innovation at all cost without asking any permission. Thus, signing into law of the Google driverless technology should not be rushed in States where it has not become law. According to Simpson, the Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director (PR Newswire, 2012), notes that Google views people as its product. Having the driverless car technology may be Google’s way of tracking individuals from one place to another and document what people do along the way.
Accountability and Safety
Safety concerns exist concerning the over reliance on the driverless technology. According to Trends Magazine (2012), vulnerability is bound to increase towards the nation. The technology is significantly put under threat due to electromagnetic pulse weapons, which can be launched by terrorists or foreign nations and natural disasters due to solar storms. The question od accountability arises when accidents occur. Concerns are raised whether agreeing to the End User License agreement before driving driverless cars makes one accountable for any accident, which occurred despite not driving the vehicle. Alternatively, is Google to blame for such a scenario since they designed it and claim it to be superior to the human mind’s abilities? Car manufacturers are expected to free themselves of any liabilities in case of car crashes. This becomes a critical concern since the driverless cars are being designed to be full proof to accidents, but this has not yet quite been achieved (Trends Magazine, 2012). Further, there is a possibility that during the early stages of the implementation of this technology some liability might be included in the cost of the car, which implies that the consumer will incur a percentage of the liability (Trends, Magazine, 2012).
Based on ethical theories accountability in cases of accidents can be approached in different ways. Using the Kantian perspective, individuals act from morals that can also be used as universal moral laws. In trying to determine whether a user of the vehicle is to be held accountable for an accident despite agreeing to the end user license requirements of the driverless car, one can develop a rule that can disregard the license agreement. However, this based on Kantian perspective does not up hold universal moral laws. Based on the law a person behind the will is the driver whether in a driverless car or not and thus, needs to be held responsible. Thus, it becomes wrong not to hold the person on the driver’s seat accountable.
Using the rule utilitarian perspective, this scenario plays out in a similar fashion. If a rule is to be used that drivers are not to be held accountable when using the driverless technology, the satisfied party then becomes the driver. This is because he or she is not inclined to pay any insurance fees or traffic offences fines. This contradicts the rule utilitarianism, which indicates that an action is right as long as it obey the rules that lead to the greatest good. Not holding drivers accountable brings more harm to the car manufacturer and provides an excuse for more people to drive recklessly, and this is bound to cause more accidents. Therefore based on the theories of Kantian perspective and rule utilitarianism, the driver should be held accountable as it confirms to universal laws and brings less harm to people.
Ethical Values Implicated in Driverless Technology
Incorporation of ethics into the driverless technology generates a number of issues. Decision making ability of the computer gives it the choice to select what to do when faced with a dilemma. For instance, if ten children were to jump suddenly on the road, should the car swerve, thereby harming the life of the owner, or should it continue and hit the children? In developing the computer programs that will operate the driverless cars, ethical approaches in resolving ethical dilemmas in the society need to be included. These ethical principles need to be the ones that most people would use to respond to ethical dilemmas. On the other hand, the car may make a decision to swerve, therefore, going over a cliff, to save the lives of ten children. This to car buyers makes them not be interested in purchasing a car that will kill them knowingly.
The adoption of driverless technology will raise both positive and negative perspectives. As discussed earlier, there will be a significant cost savings in terms of constructions of highways accidents will be reduced as the cars are designed to be accident proof, increase in efficiency and convenience. However, businesses such as the auto insurance businesses are likely to be affected negatively. Drivers will not see the need insurances for accidents since they are not expected. Privacy issues have still also not been addressed, and this is very critical in protecting the rights of the users of the cars. Privacy laws need to be established to prevent the usage of personal user information collected in the operation of the cars. Further, laws need to be modified to indicate the persons to be held accountable in case of an accident. There is need, based on the ethical theories of rule utilitarianism and Kantian perspective, to make it clear that, in case of any accident, the driver whether is a driverless car or not will be held accountable. This will be to the greater good of the society and the nation. Further, additional concrete research needs to be made on the issues of allowing cars to be driven closely to each other to make more compelling evidence that cost savings in terms of construction of highways can be achieved.
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