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George Orwell would of loved driverless cars

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POSTED September 17, 2013 3:28 a.m.

I’m not exactly a Luddite.

New technology has to prove itself before I’ll embrace it.

I resisted getting a cell phone for years but within a year of having one I ditched the personal land line. Within months of finally buying an iPad less than two years ago, I gave away my personal computer.

And shortly after finally getting an iPhone and actually starting to text, I discovered people half my age who told me for years it was the most efficient and quickest way for me to communicate with them relied on texting less than I did at least for anything job-related.

That said, Detroit, Japan and Google have a huge  hurdle to overcome to ever convince me that driverless cars well one day be the cat’s meow instead of as comforting as being caught in the middle of a fight to the finish between a pair of tomcats.

One would not want to be among the pioneer owners of a driverless vehicle. By pioneer, I mean as long as there is one human driven vehicle left on the road it would be the equivalent of making a death wish every time you turned it on.

Google is without a doubt quite capable of ultimately designing software that takes into account all physical possibilities that a computer piloting a car can encounter. What it can’t do are two things: Design an absolutely hack safe system and take into account humans.

If a 17-year-old can hack into Pentagon computers then tapping into a vehicle’s computer system that controls speed and braking would be child’s play.

Driverless technology will not eliminate crazed drivers. In fact, it will likely embolden them. If you think such drivers are likely to cut you off, make unsafe passing moves, or race to beat you to a parking space just think what they will do in a world where they know computers on other cars will force other vehicles to react to avoid hitting them.

Then there are those drivers who tend to be under 25 and a little overdosed with testosterone and short in the common sense category who play chicken with their vehicles.

Given a choice between slamming into them or veering off the road and into a drainage ditch or worse, what would your Google programmed vehicle do? If Larry Page has his way we’re going to find out soon.

One can only imagine how a driverless car would respond to someone behind you tailgating at the speed limit. Would the computer speed the car up or slow it down? Neither one is exactly a safe response. But the computer would have to do something because it would sense that it wasn’t a safe situation having 3,000 pounds of steel three feet off your bumper traveling at 65 mph.

Driverless technology would also give fleeing criminals using conventional cars carte blanche to terrorize law-abiding motorists without fear of a collision. The argument, of course, is that the computers will work hard to avoid collisions in such cases.

No worry, we are told, ultimately everyone would have driverless vehicles and the police could remotely cut-off a car’s engine or take over its functions using wireless technology. Nice, but if the police can do it then anyone else can – including the bad guys.

Federal law enforcement recently touted that old-fashioned brick and mortar bank robberies are on a downward decline. What they didn’t brag about was how the amount of online bank robberies using everything from credit card fraud to illegal transfers has skyrocketed.

And instead of having to drive to a bank on Main Street USA to do their crime they can do it from the comfort of their bedroom in Zambia.

Then there is the nagging question of privacy. Such systems by their very nature lend themselves to be easily tracked by global positioning systems. That means the government will know your every move.

No big deal, you say. It is all about safety.

Remember crimes against the state can also be political.

The Internal Revenue Service could find out if you drove to a meeting for a perceived right leaning or left leaning political group and investigate your tax records accordingly depending upon the political persuasion of the president in office.

Let’s say you are being sued for alleged discrimination by the government. Would Uncle Sam via the National Security Administration have data he can mine to see whether you locked your car doors in minority neighborhoods but not in others?

It’s ironic. The ability to travel freely and far via mass produced automobiles was viewed as technology that freed the American people a century ago. No longer were people tethered to spending most of their lives within five or so miles of where they were born.

Now scared by a government that gains power from fear we are allowing more and more of our freedoms to slip away in exchange for security or convenience.

We run the danger of no longer being citizens with free will but instead subjects of the state.

If George Orwell had written a sequence to 1984 predicting that by 2013 we would have mindlessly accepted large scale government intrusions into our private lives and are on the verge of no longer policing ourselves to any extent in exchange for “security” critics would have laughed at him and called him an alarmist.

Future historians, though, would have viewed him as a prophet.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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