Future technology could self-drive economy into the ground

Self-driving cars seem to be the future, but at what cost?

Today, the term “smart car” generally refers to a car with a tiny frame that makes it a “smart choice” for fuel economy, but in the next decade, that term may describe cars that can perceive and react to their environment in all scenarios — a car that can both think for itself and drive itself. Now, that may sound like science fiction, but a car created by Google has already driven 700,000 miles on its own. Although this technology is astounding, it could be dangerous, but not for the reason you might think.

Many of the criticisms of autonomous vehicles have been based on a mistrust of computers. Many people aren’t ready to put their lives in the hands of a machine that could tell you, “404 Error: Road Not Found.” But making the choice to drive is already a dangerous risk. Even if you are a safe driver, you are sharing the road with people who aren’t always so safe. According to the Center for Disease Control, over 10,000 Americans died from car accidents caused by drunk driving in 2012. Self-driving vehicles, on the other hand, don’t drink, text, play Candy Crush or do their makeup while driving, making them a safer alternative to our current situation. What, then, is the danger behind these machines?

As soon as this technology becomes legal and widely available, every company that has to pay drivers will likely transition to self-driving vehicles in order to cut costs. That would cost a lot of jobs. According to the American Trucking Association, there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the United States. Add in taxis, public transportation and mail delivery, and we could be looking at a potentially devastating spike in our unemployment rate caused by an entire profession being supplanted by new technology.

The trend of workers being replaced by machines is nothing new. The most obvious example is in vehicle production, which used to employ millions of Americans, but has replaced these workers with automatic processes. Today, many fast food restaurants give customers the option to make their order on a computer screen themselves rather than through a cashier. Amazon is experimenting with a drone delivery system. There’s even such a thing as robot-assisted surgery, where a surgeon controls a robotic arm that does smaller surgeries better than a human’s big, clunky hands can do.

As automation and artificial intelligence become more widespread, we must ask ourselves if making a given task more easy or efficient is always a good thing. Having something to accomplish is what gives most of our lives meaning. So even though the day may come when computers and robots can drive cars, perform surgeries, cook food and more, we should still insist on finding a balance between using technology and being replaced by it.

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