This week GM touted their “robot car,” or what they call autonomous driving. The idea, of course, is that the car can drive itself, and with the advances in GPS, wireless and on-board cameras, etc., it is quite close to reality. DARPA [the folks who brought us the terrorism futures market a few years back] funded a big research project which GM + Carnegie Mellon won with a Chevrolet Tahoe.
So, when Rick Wagoner claims that, “autonomous driving means that someday you could do your e-mail, eat breakfast, do your makeup, and watch a video while commuting to work," I don’t see this as an improvement, and not just for the sorts of jokes the late-night comics would make, if they had the writers to write them. Working under the rather specious assumption that all technological innovation is good [remember Honda's 4-wheel steering from last decade?] the robot car promotes commuting at a time when we should be making the obvious changes in the way we have organized public and mass transportation. If anything, we should be working to make the individual commute less viable, not working so hard spending so much money and energy to make it easier for people to stay in their cars and drive more often and further.
What is more troubling is the way the news covers this — they play right into carmaker's hands. Even the title of this article is “Automobile's future is electronic and green: GM chief.” I know that cars are more efficient and we are in the middle of an alternative fuel revolution, but conflating the greening of the automobile with the expansion of its use is like the old joke about pasta + antipasto canceling each other out.
Today, our budding scientist [H] said he really wishes there were no cars, because before cars there was no global warming. When L said that life sure would be different without cars, his matter-of-fact reply was, “Yes. There would be no global warming.” [duh!]