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Self-driving vehicles – less crime, more social control

Just some idle speculation on my part while I was flossing my teeth. You know, thinking about life when I’m not allowed to drive a car, which looks like it could be soon. Ah well…

So it looks like self-driving cars are well on the way. Doesn’t that mean there will be a lot less accidents? The statisterati say that 95% of motor vehicle accidents are caused by (feckless and other) drivers (more of them by we hopeless males of course). And of course, once I’m in an AI-driven car, it doesn’t matter if I’m Snapchatting and video-blogging, so that means far less accidents too.

I wonder how that impacts the police. They spend huge amounts of time attending to car accidents, crashes and so on. Surely that must mean that a lot of police resources will be freed up for real perps.

A digression. I tried to get Uncle Google and Aunt Alexa to tell me what percentage of police is actually involved in traffic work. They couldn’t tell me. If they don’t know, maybe no-one does. Anyway that means I can’t give you my normal precision-free estimates, in this case of how much free time this would generate for the men and women in blue. But Uncle Ted thinks it’s gonna be a lot.

Some of the things they will be doing less or not at all:

  • Sending police to traffic accidents
  • First aid
  • Booking violators
  • Blocking roads and creating detours (the robot will know without cops having to be there to tell them)
  • Entering details on computers
  • Going to court for traffic fines
  • Booking violators with broken tail-lights

And so on.

So that’s the good news. Police can focus more on criminals and making life safer for all of us.

But what about the bad news? How about the massive expansion of social control?

What do I mean by that?

Well the various levels of government, including the police, are going to know where you are all the time. That has its good sides it’s true. But what if we get a government that has less than pure motives? Would any politician ever stoop so low as to spy on where their political opponent’s car is headed? Nah, of course not. You get the idea.

What about people, causes, movements, interests, activities that the authorities don’t like? Even if they are popular? And what if they aren’t? They know where you are at all times, at least if you’re in a car, and most likely outside one as long as you have your smartphone with you, which you almost certainly will.

What about the famous kill-switch? What do I mean by that?

Let’s say an autonomous vehicle is leading the police in a hot pursuit? What’s the betting that the police are eventually (soon?) going to get a kill-switch to stop any car? That’s good right? Save all those tragic incidents where innocent bystanders are killed or maimed by a perp or a police car during the pursuit.

But could that same kill-switch be used in other circumstances? What if a cop doesn’t happen to like you or gets angry with you for no good reason? What if a police chief is beholden to an elected sheriff who is facing the heat and needs to get back at someone? If things like that happen now without autonomous vehicles and kill-switches, what do you think will happen the day they are all switched on?

Self-driving cars are probably like any other technology. They promise to make life easier, safer and much more convenient. But they also expand the potential for social control and for threatening civil liberties, dramatically in this case. Self-driving cars expand the legion of threats to democracy and to our hard-won freedom.

Maybe there’s no alternative to all of this. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves that self-driving cars are an unalloyed benefit. We need to start thinking about the threat they pose to society and democracy right now before they overwhelm us, unawares.

Dumb Batmobiles, anyone?




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