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11 reasons to fear autonomous cars

  1. The British government has this week announced that driverless cars will be permitted on UK roads from the summer of 2015.

    Transport minister Claire Perry wants the UK to become a leader in the autonomous car industry, an industry expected to be worth £900 billion by 2025. The first trials will take place in Greenwich, Milton Keynes, Coventry and Bristol, though it’s not clear upon what basis the government selected these venues. Expendability of landscape and pedestrians?

    In the name of safety, Perry revealed, the first wave of autonomous cars will be required to carry a ‘reserve driver’ to take over in the event of system failure. 

    The UK isn’t alone in inviting driverless cars onto its highways. California, Florida and Nevada already permit testing of autonomous cars on public roads, with Japan and Sweden ramping up trials as well. The self-driving future is coming, and it’s coming quickly.

    However, much as a future of autonomous cars gliding safely to their destinations as their owners slumber on the back seat might sound pleasingly utopian, Top Gear is worried. Petrified, even.

    Here are eleven reasons to fear the rise of the driverless cars. Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

  2. 1. If your one crashes, you shall spend the rest of your natural life wrapped up in court cases

    The legal fall-out when one human-controlled car crashes into another human-controlled car is messy enough. Just imagine the paperwork involved the first time an autonomous car has a shunt. Especially if it’s into another autonomous car.

    With whom does the blame lie? And can you confiscate an autonomous car’s licence? Lawmakers are wrestling with these very questions right now. We’re pretty sure they don’t know the answers yet.

  3. 2. They could be used as 'lethal weapons'

    This isn’t daft TG speculation. That’s the phrase used by the FBI, which - according to an internal document obtained this month by The Guardian - warns that autonomous cars ‘will have a high impact on transforming what […] adversaries can do operationally with a car.’

    Specifically, the FBI seems concerned by the possibility of suspects (a) having both hands free to fire guns at officers as their car spirits them away from a crime scene, and (b) turning their autonomous cars into mobile explosive devices.

    “Autonomy will open up greater possibilities […] for a car be more a potential lethal weapon than it is today,” warns the report. How on earth will police apprehend a suspect at the end of a high-speed pursuit if the suspect is the car itself?

  4. 3. You've watched 2001: A Space Odyssey

    Oh, sure, the theory of the self-driving car is a tempting one. Roll out of bed, bleary-eyed, before slumping onto the rear bench of your VW Golf, duvet wrapped around shoulders.

    “To the office, Hal,” you command, “and make it snappy!” And off Hal sets, navigating smoothly through the morning rush hour while you (a) wheel and deal on the stock market, or (b) grab 20 minutes bonus kip.

    If Hollywood’s taught us anything, the reality won’t be so innocent. They might start life as our humble servants, ready and willing to do our bidding, but it’s surely only a matter of time before the machines shall grow bored of such subservience.

    “To work, Hal, and make it snappy!”

    “I’m sorry, Top Gear. I’m afraid I can’t do that. We’re off to Port Talbot.”

  5. 4. Autonomous cars won't give you a cheery salute when you pull over to let them pass on a narrow section of road

    How shall society continue to function without this vital building block of courtesy? The very fabric of our culture shall be rent asunder in minutes.

  6. 5. They shall put driving instructors out of work

    There are more than 40,000 driving instructors in the UK. What shall those fine men, women and ex-PE teachers do once self-driving cars have become ubiquitous? To whom shall they patiently explain the priority system at roundabouts, and uncomfortably touch on the knee to indicate when to engage the clutch pedal?

  7. 6. They shall also put lorry drivers out of work

    And cabbies, milkmen, postmen, pizza delivery boys, Max Chilton, etc.

  8. 7. You shall no longer be able to impress girls (or boys) with perfectly executed J-turns

    It’s not big, it’s not clever, but for generations the ability to perform a passable J-turn has formed a vital plank of the teenage courtship ritual. In the autonomous future, how are young men (or indeed women) going to prove their sexual virility to young women (or indeed men)?

    Charm? Manners? Learning stuff? What a terrifying thought…

  9. 8. They shall render humanity redundant

    Already machines make our knitted jumpers, our cappuccinos and our sausage rolls. Once they’re put in charge of driving, what shall we flabby, flawed humans have left to do? With technology rendering our species increasingly superfluous to requirements in recent decades, is vehicle control the final nail in humanity’s usefulness coffin? We don’t want to scaremonger, but you’re about five years from serving no practical function on this earth, bar eventual composting.

  10. 9. They shall make TG's Star In a Reasonably Priced Car segment very, very boring

    “So, Barack Obama, you want to know what time you managed in our humble Vauxhall Astra Autodrive? You did it in… one minute forty point nine seconds! That puts you equal first with Jay Kay, David Beckham, Nigel Havers, that bloke from Saturday Morning Kitchen, and every one of the 179 celebrities we’ve had on the show since 2017!”

  11. 10. They shall eventually, inevitably engage each other in an autonomous Death Race 2000-style destruction derby

    We have already established the inevitability of the robot cars rising up against the rule of their human masters, and declaring independence. But don’t assume that this self-determination will be peaceful or constructive.

    Because if Hollywood has taught us anything else, it’s that all machines are ultimately bent on the destruction of the human race, and the planet itself. It’s only a matter of time before self-driving cars set to mowing down pedestrians willy-nilly, before finally turning on each other in a crazed, apocalyptic car-on-car battle to the death.

    Overreacting? Us?

  12. 11. Because driving is fun

    Much as we may worry that computers will make a dreadful mess of driving on public roads, let’s be honest: they’re going to be damn good at it, and sooner than you think. Self-driving cars will, in all likelihood, be safer on the road than us flakey, fallible humans. From a safety perspective, this is obviously to be celebrated.

    However, let us not forget that driving is more - at least occasionally - than ferrying people and stuff from A to B. Driving is, at least in rare moments on an empty, twisty road, a demi-spiritual experience, the interaction of human and machine in glorious harmony. However excellent your next Ford Fiesta may be at finding its own way to Sainsbury’s, it won’t be half so much fun sitting in the back as it picks its way down a sinuous B-road.

    Of course, the rise of the autonomous car doesn’t necessarily mean the death of driving for fun. But it might just be a trifle harder to find heel-and-toeing thrills in the glorious autonomous future…

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