If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve probably already heard about the Google self-driving car getting pulled over by a cop for driving too slowly. If by some chance you missed the story…I pretty much already told you the whole thing. But here’s an article that says exactly what I just said in more words.
The part of this story that really caught my eye was the quote from someone at Google (no, I don’t know who exactly, I’ve read several version of this story, and they all include the quote, but not one of them attributes it to an actual person) who said, “We’ve capped the speed of our prototype vehicles at 25mph for safety reasons. We want them to feel friendly and approachable, rather than zooming scarily through neighborhood streets.”
They didn’t want people to be afraid of the cars. Okay, I get that. Makes sense. People are afraid of new things to begin with, and if they have even the tiniest sliver of a reason why that new thing might actually be dangerous, they will cling to it and use it as an excuse to let their fear run amok. That’s just human nature.
But…25MPH? I can feel the road rage kicking in just thinking about it.
Seriously, I know I’m not the only one who has this problem. Sometimes I get stuck behind that guy going 40 in the 45 zone, and I want to scream. I start wishing all sorts of horrible disasters on the poor fool behind the wheel. Seriously, slow drivers draw the sort of anger that normally I reserve for war criminals and bigots. I HATE slow drivers. And I know I’m not the only one.
Imagine for a moment that you’re part of the development team at Goggle, and you’re trying to decide how fast your new self-driving car will go. You only really have two choices: you can have it go fast, and make some people afraid, or you can have it go slow, and make some people angry.
Fear or anger. Which is less of an impediment to marketing a new product? What a sucky choice.
And I think a lot of new technology faces choices like this, even if they aren’t all so clear cut. People are resistant to change. They don’t like new things. Some caution in the realm of innovation is only reasonable, or you risk tearing holes in space/time or whatever.
But when you get right down to it, most people are way beyond cautious when it comes to the unknown. They are skeptical, hostile, and suspicious.
Where is the sense of wonder? Where is the open-minded optimism, the childlike excitement, the enthusiasm? Why can’t we greet new things with joy and celebration?
I am directing this question to myself as much as anyone else. I have a terrible habit of jumping right to criticism when encountering the unknown. I don’t think it’s really a question of fear or anger for me: I just want to be involved in the discussion, and criticism is the easiest way to get into the thick of things and sound intelligent without having to put in the effort of actually questioning, exploring, and understanding. Instant hostility is a shortcut for the intellectually lazy.
So with that in mind, I guess I have to try to forgive the self-driving cars for going so slowly. Which is easy for me to do when I’m sitting comfortably in my home, but will be a bit more difficult if I ever get caught behind one on the road. Still, I’ll do my best. I really really want self-driving cars to become a normal, safe, and accessible thing, so if the price is an extra five minutes of my time stuck in traffic, then that is a price I am willing to pay. I suppose. If I have to.
Oh, and one quick note for all of you Half-Man fans living in or near Western MA: Episode One is now in print, and will be available at select comic shops in the area! So if you want to buy a copy, head on over to Modern Myths in Northampton to pick one up. If you don’t live in the area, you’re just going to have to try to catch me at a comic convention. I’ll be letting everyone know where I’ll be once the season gets a little closer.