Editorial – To all governments – put the brakes on self-driving technology

Mac Olsen

I am not one to prophesize doom and gloom, but I will continue to voice my opposition to self-driving technologies.

Whether self-driving technology is incorporated into passenger cars or commercial transports, it should be banned, both in terms of research and development, and in terms of all applications in the real world.

Self-driving technologies are being developed and tested throughout the world, including the U.S. and Canada. Just recently, the University of Alberta received $500,000 from the federal government to improve privacy of automated vehicle communications.

According to a June 25 story on globalnews.ca, the government said the U of A funding will support research, studies and technology to help address technical, policy and regulatory issues relating to connected and automated vehicles.

“Connected and automated vehicle technology has immense potential and will have a tremendous impact on our transportation system,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said.

The U of A president David Turpin touted the significance of the work being done.

“University of Alberta experts are not only researching and developing these innovative technologies, but also helping us to understand and adapt to the implications and practical realities of these shifts and how we are in fact going to live our daily lives as a result,” Turpin said.

However, I call on the University of Alberta to cease its participation in self-driving technology research and development. The university should also return the $500,000 of taxpayers’ money it received.

Yes, there are implications for self-driving technologies and vehicles, none of which will provide favourable outcomes. At the core of self-driving technologies are computers and telecommunications, both of which can behave erratically and malfunction of their own volition. They are also at the mercy of hackers and terrorists.

There’s a scene in the latest ‘Fast and Furious’ movie, ‘The F8 of the Furious’ where the main villain is able to override the electronics in hundreds or thousands of vehicles in New York City. These vehicles become part of a plot to heist the Russian nuclear launch codes from a visiting delegation, causing chaos in the process.

Is this unrealistic nonsense, and farfetched in the extreme? Perhaps. Perhaps not! But why tempt fate to both literally and metaphorically go down a road where that scenario could play out for real.

On March 19, a pedestrian died in Tempe, Arizona, because of a self-driving vehicle owned by Uber. If anyone were to dismiss this death as an isolated incident that is inconsequential to the bigger picture, I would ask them:

How inconsequential would it be for a self-driving commercial transport to kill scores of people on a highway or a heavily congested street in a metropolitan centre? How inconsequential would it be for a hacker or a terrorist group to override the self-driving technology and telecommunication system of commercial transports or cars?

I do not want to fathom the possible results, so let us not tempt fate and go down this road any further. Let us stop research and development altogether, before it is too late.

 

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