This essay was adapted from a debate April 13 in New York on the motion “All Hail the Driverless Car” as part of the nonprofit debate series Intelligence Squared U.S., in partnership with the Manhattan Institute’s Adam Smith Society. The entire debate will air soon on public radio and is available to hear now at intelligencesquaredus.org.
Broussard: Self-driving will never work
I want to start by talking about the first time that I rode in a self-driving car, which was back in 2007.
I was writing a story about the DARPA Grand Challenge. I heard about these kids who were building a self-driving car to drive it through the desert, and I thought, oh, that sounds like a fantastic story, so I went to ride in it in order to write my story.
I got into the car, and I thought I was going to vomit. I thought I was going to die. And then I thought I was going to do both at the same time.
What the car did was it was in an empty parking lot at a Boeing plant in south Philadelphia. The car had to steer on a big curve through the parking lot, and it headed straight at a giant cement pylon.
It failed to detect this giant cement pylon, and we almost ran into it, inches away from running into it. And it did not inspire confidence in me.
So in 2007, I thought, oh, well, this sounds nifty, but these engineers are saying oh, this technology is not going to be available for five years. I thought, 'Ah, I don't know if it's ever going to be,' and I kind of forgot about it.
So, fast-forward to 2016, when I started hearing again that self-driving cars are five years in the future, and I wondered: Did they actually fix all of the problems that I observed in 2007? And the answer is no. And in fact, advocates for self-driving cars have been saying that they're coming soon since at least 1991.
And so, with all of these delays and with all of these futures that have failed to materialize, I think it's time to ask, will self-driving cars ever work? And I would argue that the answer is no.
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