In the late 1960s, The Jetsons introduced us to flying cars and robotic maids. In 2018, Uber has introduced us to self-driving cars and a fear of too much autonomy. How did we get here?
One of the first concepts of an autonomous vehicle was actually born in the Jetsons’ era. In 1969, John McCarthy, a founding father of Artificial Intelligence, wrote about an “automatic chauffeur” in an essay titled “Computer-Controlled Cars.” He describes the vehicle as having the ability to follow destination commands, stop at restaurants, slow down, and speed up. Sound familiar? John McCarthy laid the ground work for the innovative entrepreneurs of the 21st century and we are capitalizing on it now, but at what cost? Uber is synonymous with innovation and technology. They have provided affordable transportation to the majority of Americans with a literal click of a button. But disrupting the ride hailing industry wasn’t enough, they needed to go further: autonomous vehicles. In 2018, self-driving cars aren’t just a figment of the imagination anymore, it’s reality. Unfortunately, with new innovations come new problems and in Uber’s case, it was a fatal problem.
On the evening of Sunday, March 18th, a pedestrian in Arizona was struck by a self-driving Uber vehicle and was killed. There was a person in the car acting as a safeguard in case something went wrong. There is an ongoing investigation as to what happened and who is to blame but state governments across the nation are already pointing fingers. A week after the accident, the state of Arizona suspended Uber’s operation of any autonomous vehicles on state roads.
As tragic as this accident is for the family of the victim, it also sets the tech world back tremendously. Someone lost their life by the hands of a technological innovation that was supposed to make life easier. So what does this mean for Uber and autonomous vehicles? This tragedy will more than likely result in heavier regulations and more test models so full autonomy might be more of a distant dream than we thought.