Self Driving Cars Being Attacked. What Happens If Vehicles Can Defend Themselves?

January 2, 2019 - At the end of 1811, as the industrial revolution was getting under way, groups of craftsmen being displaced by new technology went into factories and destroyed machines that were making their skills obsolete. They were known as Luddites.The British government subdued them with imprisonment, execution and transportation to the forlorn continent of Australia. Technology won and common people came to enjoy the benefits of low cost manufactured goods. Progress was a good thing, but it’s hard to not feel sympathy for the Luddites.

Two centuries later technology continues to disrupt current lives with promises of future benefits. In Chandler, Arizona, the driverless car company Waymo has been testing vans that drive themselves since 2017. Some Chandler area locals have responded by attacking the vehicles, breaking windshields and slashing tires. Their primary complaint isn’t the technology itself, it’s the testing of the technology in the neighborhoods where they live. Last March in nearby Tempe, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a self driving Uber in a testing program. Chandler residents resent being subjected to risks they never signed up for (This kind of thing happens less transparently every time a company introduces a new product. Until a new product is used and tested in the real world and in meaningful quantities, potential risks and problems cannot be truly known and understood. For example, when cell phones were first introduced no one foresaw that texting and driving would become a safety concern).

What’s poised to really rock our world, is not the testing of self driving vehicles, but their deployment. On the car side I think most of us will come around to accepting their benefits. Imagine being able to commute safely while watching TV or having your car pick up your kids from school and drive them to soccer practice while you’re still at work. The roads will be safer and there are many personal benefits. Who would be against that?

Truck drivers. That’s who.

In today’s world a lot of people are employed moving products around. Very soon it will be possible for trucks to drive themselves without any human intervention at all. Great for corporations and highway safety. Not good for the many people employed in supply and delivery chains.

If Chandler Arizona residents react with violence to the remote chance of being hurt by a rare test vehicle, it’s easy to predict that truck drivers will be even more reactive at the prospect of losing their livelihoods. They will be in the same position as the Luddites and vandalism against self driving trucks should be expected. What then? Will trucks become armed with automatic self defense mechanisms? Does the world of Terminator begin with rebels destroying Amazon drones and trucks?

- Mike

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