Technology in the driving seat: how competition can end car accidents

Driverless cars seem to be, if you’ll pardon the pun, rather a stop-start issue. It’s evident to most people with an interest in the sector that a driverless world is eminently possible, and might serve to combat the 94% of accidents caused by human error. But various obstacles still lie in the way of this technology, not least the drag factor on commercial viability provided by the fact that at present, consumers simply prefer to drive.

To make self-driving cars a commercial possibility, therefore, the impetus must come from manufacturers. Tax breaks birthed the diesel car, and by the same method manufacturers may be more inclined to develop technologies that integrate driverless car systems under the same algorithms, more or less eliminating the concept of a car crash altogether.

Theoretically, car crashes stem from minor differences in interpretation. Whilst one driver, for instance, might see bad weather as a deterrent from driving, a more confident individual would not. In extreme cases this would mean different calculations of risk, leading to fatalities. Driverless cars alone are not the answer to this, as each algorithm developed will have its own ‘interpretation’ of the minute judgements made every second by an autonomous vehicle which may conflict with cars driven under different algorithms, or indeed the evolutionary algorithms which form human responses. However, further liberalising the market would lead to dominance of the algorithm system proven to be the best combination of safety and efficiency that human passengers seek. Less need for healthcare and policing infrastructure that limits the damage caused by dangerous driving could even mean lower tax burdens on the ex-drivers themselves.

Currently, such a scheme would hit the buffers due to a natural tendency of drivers to trust their own judgement over inorganic algorithms, hence the need for tax incentives at this early stage. But times are changing in this respect. Yuval Noah Harari argued in 2015 that the world will soon experience a shift away from the innate faith in human judgement towards ‘dataism’: faith in data processing, with the socially instilled knowledge that advanced digital algorithms are better at making contextual judgements than our own minds. Such a progression would negate the moral opposition that currently deters manufacturers from focusing on driverless vehicles, and may yet usher in a world where the power of the market spells the end of dangerous driving.

Peter Wollweber is the winner of the 18-21 category in the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition.