Saturday, 18 November 2017

On Driverless cars

There's a lot of talk in the media nowadays about driverless cars. This, apparently is the future. As someone who has passed middle age, I can see the advantages. I recently had to drive from Shropshire to the New Forest. My satnav told me it would take four hours, in the end, it took seven. I won't bore you with the details but I'm sure you can guess: busy motorways, traffic jams, and roadworks are the norm these days. Even if I had been driving a large, powerful, comfortable car it I would have been knackered when I reached my destination. Driving requires effort and concentration which doesn't get any easier as you get older.

So what's not to like about driverless cars? As long as they can be safe, clean and green they are a great idea, right? Right, but my problem is where they are coming from and how these decisions are made. Who has decided the world needs driverless cars? Apparently, it's Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, that bloke from Google, or some such person. My problem is why should some unaccountable private individual be making important decisions about where the world goes next?

I can hear you thinking 'what is he on about - surely this is progress?' And isn't all 'progress' driven by great individuals - the entrepreneurs of capitalism? Not necessarily, not by any means. In 1945 a Labour government was elected, from that government came the NHS and welfare state. Now that was real progress which benefited, and continues to benefit millions of people. That didn't come from a capitalist or entrepreneur it came from a democratic decision approved by the people.

Recently parts of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, were devastated by a hurricane. Inevitably, despite the idiot Trump, the houses and schools which were destroyed will be eventually be rebuilt. Now if Elon Musk or that bloke from Google had designed eco-friendly hurricane-proof houses which could be manufactured and built at an affordable cost I would be really impressed. Because there is little doubt that the 'new' replacement houses in Puerto Rico will be destroyed by the next hurricane in 5 years time or maybe even sooner.

So my point is - why should the use of money and valuable resources be determined privately when it could better be determined publicly without the profit motive? - when human ingenuity and technology could be so much better employed to do something really useful? Do we really want unaccountable individuals making important decisions about humanity's future? I'd like a driverless car and a mission to Mars, but I'm more than happy to wait for that until after the people of Puerto Rico have all been re-housed in decent safe accommodation and all the people on the planet have access to clean water and healthcare. I'm guessing it will be a long wait.......