The pursuit of driverless cars at all costs?
The news with dramatic footage this week that a 49-year-old woman was hit by a driverless Uber car and killed as she crossed the street in Tempe, Arizona in America made my heart sink. It also got me thinking hard about the modern-day relationship between people and technology and its impact on our lives. As the BBC reported “While self-driving cars have been involved in multiple accidents, it is thought to be the first time an autonomous car has been involved in a fatal collision”.
The usual sympathetic platitudes from executives followed. Uber chief Dara Khosrowshahi took to twitter and described the death as “incredibly sad news.” While I’m sure he meant it, I wonder how the family of the deceased lady feel at this dreadful time? Uber has suspended self-driving car tests after the death – for the moment.
According to the BBC report “The death comes a year after Uber took its self-driving cars off the road following an accident that left another car on its side in Arizona. The programme was later reinstated”
For the past two years in the USA despite several reported accidents, the onslaught of testing driverless cars on public roads has been relentless in its pursuit of – what I ask? Apparently, many companies and regions across America want the autonomous vehicles and “hail it as the future of the industry and a way to reduce traffic accidents” – Really? Many also “hope it will keep them at the forefront of new technology” – At the expensive of whom and what?
And just in case you missed it, the driverless car has arrived in the UK too. Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s biggest car manufacturer has begun testing driverless cars on UK public roads. In November 2017, the Chancellor Philip Hammond told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the objective was to have “fully driverless cars without a safety attendant on board in use by 2021”.
Human beings are relational.
We need to think, do and feel. Our brains need to function and be stimulated by accomplishment, feeling valued and rewarded and inspired by each other.
So where does the human being fit in and what does it mean for us?
All this clever head-spinning driverless technology leads me to the question: What is our purpose as human beings? How does driverless technology (clever though it may be) advance us as human beings in terms of the quality of our lives – by that I mean in what way does it leave us feeling fulfilled, valued, loved and genuinely connected to each other? Isn’t that the goal and essence of the human being – to feel emotional well, whole and fulfilled?
My argument is that while technology has been undeniably wonderful in so many ways, there needs to be – for the sake of the human being and the human experience – a balance between people and technology. Technology should be about developing stuff that enhances and improves the quality of the human experience and our lives. Technology shouldn’t take away from the quality of our lives or destroy it completely. Or am I missing a trick here?
Technology has done much since the internet to enhance and improve the quality of our lives. Yet it has also done the opposite. For instance, statistics have now proved that technology is responsible for addiction, loneliness, isolation and poor mental health. So much so that the government is now considering proposals to potentially limit its use for young people.
As with anything in life there are positive and negative benefits and I believe the greatest challenge and threat facing us, is getting the balance right between people and technology.
For the last twenty years, I’ve worked on global change communication programmes. I advise companies on how to create successful people-led communication programmes, supported by technology.
My book, The Innovative Communicator – Putting the soul back into business communication https://www.miticom.co.uk/the-book read widely, is based on my belief and experience, that at the heart of all effective communication there needs to be a genuine focus on integrity and humanity. This approach has enabled many organisations to communicate effectively with their stakeholders to inspire, connect and empower them. The results they achieve include enhanced business performance and increased bottom line profits.
Machines can’t inspire. Not in the same way a human can. We might watch an inspirational video on YouTube, but what we have as human beings is a fundamental need for genuine connection and authenticity to feel whole.
And nothing is going to change this. Unless someone invents a microchip to do it for us. With the way things are going, I wouldn’t rule it out.
My fear is that that if we keep going down this path, developing technology willy-nilly in our relentless pursuit of efficiency, we’ll ultimately decry the need and purpose of ‘being human’ and in my opinion, will see us fail in our duty to ourselves as a species.
The debate we need to have
In the same way that most of us who care are trying to do our bit to help save the planet, prevent further climate change and contribute to the on-going debate on the subject – and rightly so – lets have an equally honest debate about getting the balance right between people and technology.
Making people the driver for technology, rather than making technology the hell-bent driver – (forgive the puns) – at the expense of people – is a debate we need to have.
Which way round do we want it? I humbly suggest the current ‘road’ we’re travelling is ultimately bad for society and bad for business. When the president and chief executive of the Centre for Automotive Research Carla Bailo, responds to the Uber accident allegedly saying, “the fatality should be considered in the context of all accidents”. I worry. Does that make everything ok? I say not.
My condolences and thoughts are with the family of the 49-year-old cyclist who has met her unfortunate and untimely end.