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Friday, June 14, 2024
EditorialsUp Front 06/16

Up Front 06/16

As a fan of technology I have always hoped that genius techies will solve more of the world’s problems and help with some of the issues caused by what we so often inaccurately describe as ‘progress’. So I was happy to take part in an online research study dealing with the slightly uncomfortable idea of driverless cars. With the taxi company Uber recently announcing their own driverless car trials and the subject featuring in the Queens Speech—along with drones and spaceports—I was more than happy to do my bit. For the survey, members of the public were asked to view a series of videos of a car on a motorway and give their opinion on whether it was being driven by a human or by a computer. Professor Neville Stanton, from the University of Southampton’s Transportation Research Group, explained that he hoped the study would help his team to understand the effect of new vehicle automated systems on driving behaviour and cognitive abilities. He hoped that the results would help to detect potential problems before the automated systems were launched on the market. This is obviously a laudable attitude considering the potential for disaster with what are known as autonomous vehicles. However the online survey took a little longer than anticipated—though not because it was complex or difficult. There were just six pages of short videos of a car making lane changes, and to be truthful there was little to give away whether the vehicle was autonomous or not. The worrying thing was the fact that my computer completely froze halfway through each of the first two efforts. In early versions of Microsoft Windows there was a joke about how awful it would be if cars broke down as often as Windows did. Well Windows may have improved but the survey reminded me of why we’re not quite ready to let computers completely take over cars. I have no doubt that in time humans may prove infinitely more fallible than computers but we’re not there yet. The evening after taking the survey I sat down to watch the news just as an automated camera slowly zoomed onto an empty chair, whilst an acutely embarrassed newsreader scuttled back to his seat apologising for the ‘slight technical hitch.’


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