We Don’t Need the Google Car

This blog has been bouncing around in my mind and today a news story brought it to fruition. I’ll be crisp and to the point.

The concept of a self driving car is technically an interesting challenge. It’s realization will, undoubtedly, be a catalyst to increase your insurance rates and to eliminate a few more thousands of jobs in our already suffering economy.

Why would your insurance rates go up? Well, why to you pay ATM fees when it should be less expensive than using the teller? There is a fundamental economic principle at work in our economy:

Foundational Economic Principle #1 – No new feature reduces the cost of the service.

It is why natural peanut butter, that is nothing but salt and peanuts, costs more than highly processed peanut butter that has the full alphabet soup of process ingredients and even some peanuts. Go figure.

As far as the job thing, I have one word: “Uber.” Under the guise of being the new capitalism, they are leveraging your time and car and risk in this kind of pyramid scheme. The people who run Uber are making massive money. The people who drive for Uber are making chump change.

Don’ t worry. By the time Uber drivers start to see the need for getting organized and having things like health benefits the Ubermen will have started the conversion to self driving cars and pretty much not need the drivers who actually built the company and clientel. Even though the drivers worked for chump change, at least it was change.

I’ve digressed away from Google and cars. Which are a total waste of money.

There are two things wrong with self driving cars.

First, they are making a simple and relatively beautiful machine more complex and costly. I like having more fuel-efficient engines and motors and look forward to the next generation of battery cars that will go 500 miles on a charge, or use some photosynthetic power generator. I love a lot of the surrounding technologies and how some manufacturers are putting to good use. I think some manufacturers are over doing it and implementing features just to have them.

Let me also say that I am a big fan of GPS, but also a big critic. They are massively distracting, or can be. But, I won’t get into that.

The bottom line is that complexity has its place. But, in paraphrase, things should be complex as beneficial, but no more complex. What is the litmus test? If it makes the service better. I don’t think self driving makes it better. I think auto collision detection and lane change notices and engine component alerts are great and are getting better with each iteration.

In my estimation the money spent to get that last bit done would be best spent on improving the driver’s education process. Google is all about information. Teaching is all about how to get the right information to people in a format and manner that encourages them to retain it and alter their behavior and perspective as a result.

You know what I think? I think the binary problem of aggregating all the possible options for a driver to choose based on context is more appealing to Google engineers than finding a better way to teach drivers to be safe because it is easier by an order of magnitude.

Second, they are not solving the real problem, but addressing a symptom. Defining the problem informs the solution and biases the investigation. All analysis is biased. Sorry Ayn Rand, there is no objectivism.

The problem can be phrased in two ways. In both cases the core of the problem is the actions of the human driver. Google’s answer is to eliminate the person (remember ATM convenience?) and let a computer make the decision. In my view, the answer is in helping the driver get better. Google wants to eliminate the human context; the ability to see something new and deal with it even though the situation has not ever been faced before.

My answer is to help drivers learn to understand what is going on around them and how to use the alerting technology to be safer. Apply some of the technology to new learning tools and people will start driving more safely and more aware. People learn through experience and extrapolate from that experience to create new knowledge. Why would Google not realize how powerful that is and focus on maximizing the learning experience?

Like I said. Teaching is hard. Getting people to learn can be hard. Succeed and you’ve created a better person who will take that ability elsewhere.

A computer is only as good as the code telling it what to do. In all cases, the code the coder creates is at least one layer away from the language the machine understands. That’s why there are things like interpreters and compliers when you write code. And code is getting even further abstracted. It’s like a car mechanic who uses a computer to tune a motor but who, himself, has never stripped down a carburetor.

Just to be clear. I am a technologist by trade. I have spent my life implementing technology by myself and through great teams. I love technology and have never regretted a moment of my career. I also understand the limitations of technology, mostly because technology is a creation of man and man is less than perfect. I love science and am amazed and warmed by how the universe runs. That is technology perfection. Not what we play with in our machines. Computers are faulty because we are faulty. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you understand the inherent limits and use the technology for what it is good for.

So where did all of this come from?

Tonight I saw the President Obama pledged $90 million dollars to Laos to help find and neutralize the US made bombs we dropped on their country during the Vietnam War. There were millions of bombs dropped on them. More than all the bombs the US dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II.

And you know what? Finding them is not an easy task. It is a painfully manual process. It is hard. It is something that Google should be spending its money on. Not teaching a car to drive. Fuck the car. Find the bombs. Use computers in a way that benefits man. Get your head out. Nobody, outside of the tech community, really wants self driving cars.

Of course, I am certain Google does many humanitarian acts. I know they help government agencies during times of emergency by helping them sift through information to help impacted people. They know how to extract information from huge, unstructured data. But, that is the easy stuff.

The hard stuff is helping people improve their lives. It’s using the power of technology to deliver benefit, not doing it because it can be done.

Run Free. Run Smooth

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