I fear the robotics revolution... but want my self-driving car!

I’m something of a Luddite regarding intelligent robots (because I fear they could eventually destroy humanity — if we don’t do ourselves in some other way first — or the non-rich), but as I’m reading this article, I can’t help but dream of “driving” my car while reading a book:

The revolution is happening before our eyes, but we don’t recognize it, because it’s incremental. It starts with driving. Cruise control transfers regulation of your car’s speed to a computer. In some models, you can upgrade to adaptive cruise control, which monitors the surrounding traffic by radar and adjusts your speed accordingly. If you drift out of your lane, an option called lane keeping assistance gently steers you back. For extra safety, you can get extended brake assistance, which monitors traffic ahead of you, alerts you to collision threats and applies as much braking pressure as necessary.

With each delegation of power, we become more comfortable with computers driving our cars. Soon we’ll want more. An insurance analyst tells Belfiore that aging baby boomers will lead the way, enlisting robotic drivers to help them get around. For younger drivers, the problem is multi­tasking. Why put down your cellphone when you can let go of the wheel instead? Reading, texting, talking and eating in the car aren’t distractions. Driving is the distraction. Let the car do it.

My dilemma illustrates why controlling dangerous technologies will likely prove impossible: Even leaving aside humanity’s compulsion to learn new things and gain god-like control over our world, we’ll focus on the benefits of our revolutionary technologies and only later suffer the downside consequences. Revolutions don’t always end well, even for those who launch them.

Posted by James on Monday, December 28, 2009