Science fiction should become science fact


Elon Musk would have us take known technology and use it in a slightly futuristic way. Science fiction writers and movie-makers have been loading humanity into flying cars or personal jet-packs for almost one-hundred years. They all seemed to think there was no problem in putting a human being behind the wheel of one of these flying gizmos. The fact humans have been crashing their cars into each other on the ground is apparently no deterrent to this dream. Indeed, adding the fact that, if there was a collision in the air, both cars would then drop like stones through layers of other traffic and crash on to the ground simply adds to the fun of the thing. But back to the hyperloop. This is going to put people into tubes and shoot them to infinity and beyond at 800 mph.

This is a variation on the maglev idea which can already hit high speeds but without the same high costs for building. The Japanese are testing their first full-scale version which is designed to travel at up to 500 mph and come into operation in 2027. Ignoring the question of cost, both the hyperloop and maglev can move thousands of people very fast along fixed tracks. This is safer than anything on a highway. The trains can also be controlled by computers which will only rarely make mistakes. Designing human beings out of control makes any transport system safer.

Look Ma, no hands!


Driverless or autonomous cars are already here and going through testing. Why develop them? Because they are likely to be a lot safer than vehicles driven by human beings. Last year, there were 34,000 preventable deaths on American roads. How were these deaths preventable? By preventing humans from driving. Driver error is the most common cause of a traffic crash. Humans are terrible drivers.

What’s the problem?


The technology to drive us around already exists but society has yet to decide where autonomous vehicles will be allowed to drive and who will pay if they are involved in a collision. As it stands, vehicles can communicate with each other. They know where the other vehicles are and can avoid them if allowed to do so. But suppose you have a human driving one of these vehicles, Will the human react reasonably to prevent the collision? In practical terms, the mixture of autonomous and human-driven vehicles could be a disaster. As an example, no one today would put humans in charge of elevators. Computers ensure they go up and down when it’s safe and stop where they should. If society is going to make vehicles that take you where you want to go, why should you have any say over how you get there? Everyone should be happy. If there are no human drivers, there’s no need to pay high car insurance rates. Health insurance is more affordable because injuries from traffic accidents are eliminated. Life is cheaper and happier if only there are no human drivers.

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