The Politics of Technology: Autonomous Vehicles


Let's start a conversation about the politics and ethics of a connected world.

There's a symbiotic relationship between technology and politics. Both are the science and art of what’s possible, and society as we know it would not exist without the other. From movable type to mixed reality, advances in technology have spurred privacy debates, connected cultures and even toppled governments. These complexities are no longer discussions about what's possible, but judgements of what we value. That's why I'm hoping to use this space to start conversations about the ethics and politics of technology and am kicking it off with a discussion about autonomous vehicles. 

Predictions of Family Life 20 Years From Now. Vintage illustration from article “Everywoman’s Magazine” Jan. 1956 illustration by H.B.Vestal

Predictions of Family Life 20 Years From Now. Vintage illustration from article “Everywoman’s Magazine” Jan. 1956 illustration by H.B.Vestal

Should drinking and not driving be legal?

A fully connected society will force us to differentiate between what we can do vs. what we should do. Let's put this into practical terms by asking a question our team discussed recently: If the steering wheel goes away, does somebody in an autonomous car have to be sober when it's operating? Safety and convenience are powerful ways technology can benefit society. So is economics—like the boost in restaurant and bar sales we could see with driverless vehicles.

An automated vehicle could transport you, sober or not. But should it? What if there's a malfunction with the technology and you're not able to take control? What if you do take control and kill someone? Are you responsible or is the auto manufacturer? And won't this encourage excessive drinking?  “Even if it is an autonomous vehicle, the alcohol-impaired person is still the driver,” writes researcher Ian J. Faulks, who is also a member of the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety. But this begs the question: what is the definition of an autonomous vehicle? If it requires human interaction at any point in a journey, isn't it just a car that can drive itself once in awhile?

A fully connected society will force us to differentiate between what we can do vs. what we should do.

From a marketing point-of-view, autonomous automakers would be served well if this becomes a discussion about safety. Just last week, Debbie Weir, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has come out in favor of driverless tech. “We really advocate for current technology that’s available to help save lives and prevent injuries, and autonomous vehicles in the future could be another tool in the toolbox,” Weir said.

How these issues are addressed is already creating lobbying alliances between Google, Ford, Uber and others interested in shaping public policy around autonomous vehicle technology. Policies will be around the tech itself and the infrastructure required for IoT. The Senate recently advanced the "DIGIT act," an initiative aimed at bringing private sector and government experts together to explore and make recommendations for IoT policy. "They believe that turning everyday objects into smart devices by connecting them to the internet and each other carries incredible possibilities, but will also require intense preparation," reported Amir Nasr on Morning Consult.

What do you think?

If the steering wheel goes away, does somebody in an autonomous vehicle have to be sober when it's operating? 

 

Header image source: original unknown


Eric Grant (@ericgrant) is Creative Director for the Razorfish Emerging Experiences team, based out of our New York office.

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