Google’s Driverless Car

Everyone’s fired up again. This time, however, the debate is moving in a direction that I can relate to. Here’ Megan McArdle (who has obviously been catching up on my blog archive):

Now I’m gloomy again.

Why? Not because of the technology. And not because of the regulation.  But because of the liability.  Self-driving cars represent a massive one–one that I’m not sure companies will take on.

Now, luckily, as many others are observing, a crazy tort system is somewhat unique here in the US and driverless cars need not multiply in the land of their birth.

My guess would be that promising-but-scary technology is more likely to be pioneered in a poorer country, since as people get wealthier they tend to become more risk averse and prioritize safety. But if something proves really useful and basically safe in some subset of countries, the pressure to change the rules elsewhere should become intense.

Good luck to Singapore or wherever but tweak US tort law? It is hard to describe how immense a task that is.

Putting these things onto roads full of human drivers means you probably don’t gain any macro benefits of more orderly roads. Handsfree driving is nice and all but is a few more hours of daily facebook for commuters going to spur Congress to the most fundamental overhaul of the legal system in generations?

For me it’s still filed with tacocopter and segways under ‘cool, technically viable idea: never going mainstream’.

4 thoughts on “Google’s Driverless Car

  1. You won’t see driverless cars in the suburbs until such a problem has been solved. That doesn’t mean the technology won’t show up on the interstate.
    Megan has fallen into the Smart Man Trap – assuming that what she has thought of has escaped the collected wisdom of the world.
    More at:
    I’ll just add here that the Smart Man Trap is ascendant because so many bankers misunderstood the models constructed by very smart people. But that is more an example of the Agnes Rule – if bankers sold anything but money, they’d go broke.
    I’ll also add that Megan’s description of tort trends is about three decades behind the times.

  2. Let’s say google’s car is responsible for 2,000 deaths next year. Let’s say there is a legal prejudice against AI that means the courts find Google’s car is really responsible for 5000.

    Now let’s say the counter-factual would be 7,500 deaths. That is, Google’s car takes bad drivers off the road and replaces them with an imperfect machine. Even adjusting for prejudice google’s car is better.

    Even then, I say that simply being able to put a headline together, saying “google responsible for thousands of deaths every year”, so attributing all that carnage to a single actor, will put an end to the project. It is too politically toxic.

    Google’s brand will die.

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