Driverless Cars Are Here

I read and an article in Reason Magazine about self driving cars. Google, one of the companies that stores and categorizes data about the intricacies of our daily lives and at times shares that information with our government, has a dozen or so self driving cars roaming the roads in California, Nevada and Florida. So far these are the only three states that have allowed driverless cars on public roads. This experiment in hassle free transportation seems to bring with it some unexpected benefits as well as a loss of privacy. Google is about 5 years away from releasing this technology which could make auto crashes a thing of the past. Self driving cars could pick you up in front of your house, drop you off at your destination and then go park. Intoxication, fatigue, texting or even watching a movie would no longer be obstacles in transportation safety. Self driving cars could even be operated by children as long as they could speak or type their destination into the car’s computer. Just get in and enjoy the ride while you surf the internet or even sleep. These cars would also help prevent traffic congestion as they would be allowed to drive at higher speeds and closer together without increasing personal risk. In order for these vehicles to be able to move us safely across town or across the country they will need to be connected to a network that will be able to track millions of vehicles and be updatable in real-time so things like road repairs, traffic congestion and weather can be managed or mitigated. With this type of tracking and our governments interest in collecting our personal information and Google’s willingness to do the same and share that information with the government, a large amount of privacy will likely be lost. When your car (Google) knows about all of your Dr. visits, how many trips you make to the gym or how many times you eat at McDonald’s, that information could be used to raise your insurance rates or even deny health care coverage if authori\ties believe you are living an unhealthy life. Google will have a record of where you go, when and how often, and maintain a history of those visits to share with authorities should you happen to come to their attention, very similar to how authorities today harvest GPS data, texts and e-mail from our phone and internet providers. This invasion of privacy is in use today through our smart phones and internet providers but we still have the option to disable the GPS signal on our phones or tablets or simply turn them off. This may not be possible with driverless cars that will have a need to be aware not only of where they are and what is around them, but also information about their destination and the route to that destination complete with weather information and traffic data. This added to information available when our smart phones become currency, where we will use our phones the way we use debit and credit cards today, our lives will be an open book. What we consume and where we go will be easy to discern by data mining computers. Combined with the increased use of drones, smart street lights, facial recognition software tied to networks of high-resolution cameras and laser powered molecular scanners we will have no secrets. Is that distant light in our near future a Google self driving Prius or the end of privacy?

Randy Johnson