Driverless Cars Will Be a Boon to Pedestrians

| Tue Mar. 6, 2012 12:26 PM EST

Atrios:

My prediction is that a whole lot of public money will be spent setting up a "driverless car" system that will never actually work.

...adding, I'm sure such a thing would be quite possible (near future if not now) if we built up such a system from scratch. That's not going to happen.

I'll take that bet! The link goes to an odd piece in the Atlantic worrying that in an era of driverless cars everything will be optimized for cars, not people. But that makes no sense. One of the core functions of any driver, human or otherwise, is to avoid running over pedestrians. A driverless car that couldn't do that would be worthless.

My guess is that a big part of the disagreement over the future of driverless cars boils down to a disagreement over how smart computers can get. I think they're going to get pretty smart, and that within a decade or two operating a car will be child's play for them. There will be a transition period that's likely to be messy — though probably no messier than today's all-human traffic nightmare — but eventually you won't even be allowed to drive a car. Every car on the road will be automated, and our grandchildren will be gobsmacked to learn that anything as unreliable as a human being was ever allowed to pilot a two-ton metal box traveling 60 miles an hour.

When that happens, it will be a golden age for pedestrians. Sure, cars won't need signals at intersections, but neither will people. If you want to cross a road, you'll just cross. The cars will slow down and avoid you. You could cross blindfolded and be perfectly safe. You'll be able to cross freeways. You'll be able to walk diagonally across intersections. You'll be able to do anything you want, and the cars will be responsible for avoiding you. Your biggest danger will come from cyclists and other pedestrians, not cars.

That's my guess, anyway.

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