In September 2012, the state of California passed a bill (SB1298) allowing self-driving cars onto California's roads. This is a great step forward for a technology that many have been researching, though perhaps none as enthusiastically as Google, which has logged over 300,000 miles so far in its fleet of self-driving automobiles.
While still in its infancy, this technology shows every sign of maturing very quickly. Nearly everybody is eagerly anticipating the day when they can spend time doing something other than grimly staring at the road while sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.
One group that is not so thrilled is Consumer Watchdog (CW). In an open letter to California State Assembly Speaker John Perez, Consumer Watchdog urged the banning of driver-less technology without strict controls preventing the collection of information for marketing or other non-driving purposes.
I have to say, I'm a hate receiving advertisements, mostly because advertisers are universally incompetent. In the seventeen years I've been using the internet, I've seen exactly two advertisements that were of interest to me. Not a great track record. Monkeys on typewriters could probably do better.
But still, CW is really missing the bus on this one. If they had their way, it would be illegal to offer a reduced fare or free bus or taxi service that used driver-less technologies that subsidized its service using advertisements. Such a service offered to people too poor to own a car might be the difference between having a job and not. And preventing this is CW's best idea for how to improve the world?
Even ignoring this point, you have to take a look at the bigger picture, we now have face recognition technology that can identify people from photographs. We have have license plate scanners that can read and identify up to 1800 plates per minute. And CW thinks that the driver-less technology is the Pandora's box in this equation?
So let's keep some perspective. Much as I dislike it, the concept of privacy is vanishing fast. Let's not stand in the way of some of the most promising technology we've seen in many years in a quixotic attempt to slow down this process. Because I can think of all sorts of better uses of my time than staring at the road in bumper to bumper traffic.
After all, when else am I going to find time to keep up with funny cat videos?