Google’s self-driving cars, and how society copes with new technology

Google’s driverless car experiment has taken some significant strides lately, including its first license in Nevada and progress on a California law that would make way for the technology on public roads. Beyond the futuristic merits of being able to auto-pilot to work each day, self-driving cars have some big potential benefits. As Google points out, a large number of accidents are caused by human error, so a system that never gets sleepy, frustrated, or distracted by a text message might prove to be a safer, more consistent driver than a human. Self-driving cars could also be more fuel efficient, since they can control the gas pedal precisely, without the fluttering that human drivers are known for. Of course, all that is assuming that the system can be made dependable enough for general use. To become widely adopted, however, driverless cars will need to overcome more than the technical challenges of navigating the road, or even the political ones of carving out a space in our legal systems. Google’s big idea faces another hurdle that every new consumer technology has to cross: social acceptance. As any new tool takes root, society has to figure out how to fold it into daily life. The quintessential modern example is a ringing phone in a theater. We’ve long had social mores about talking during a film, and even on-screen gentle reminders about being quiet. But those systems didn’t cover the noise of electronic devices, and so new rules of etiquette (and new gentle reminders) had to be added. Self-driving cars are new tech finding its place on an existing roadway, and society will have to figure out how they fit in.

Winning over spooked drivers

<img class="alignright" wp-image-1492597" title="Driveless" car scan" …..

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