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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Self driving cars

Are we really sure that we want self driving cars.  In fact, are we sure we want a car that is even connected to the Internet.  There are some pretty strong arguments against both self driving cars and against cars which are connected to the Internet (Tesla has done this so that software updates can automatically be fed into the car computer).

Just recently there have been some pretty serious hacks.  The NHS (National Heath service of the UK) was taken down and here in New Zealand we just had a program on our National Radio about the hacking of electrical power line companies.  You would have thought that if there were institutions with the very best computer protection, it would be these.  Perhaps they did have excellent protection but were hacked anyway.

Update  Today (17 Oct 2017) WiFi was hacked.  I rest my case.

Imagine the chaos if we had even 10% of our cars connected to the Internet when someone managed to hack the system.  Never mind the cars acting chaotically.  Just imagine if they all only shut down and couldn't be moved from where they stand.

Then there is the secret services of the United States and the so called 5 Eyes.  In America it is illegal for these institutions to spy on American citizens but they do it anyway.  The  hoover up every phone call and e-mail from America and from the rest of the world.  Even having a car which is connected to the internet, never mind self driving, gives these institutions yet another window into the private life of all of us.  And don't give me the argument that if you are not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear.  That argument is so discredited that it doesn't even justify wasting a paragraph explaining the  fallacy.

Suppose, for the sake of the argument I want a new software program for the electric car I am driving and my car is not on the internet.  No problem.  I will go to my home computer, download the upgrade on to a flash drive, take it to my car and plug it in to the flash drive socket provided.  Besides, I may want to wait a year to let the early adapters test it out before installing it.  The computer world is rife with new computer programs being full of glitches even from the software giants who you would expect to do better.

Suppose, further, that I need navigation.  I will simply take my cell phone and put it on the Velcro patch on the dash board. I don't need this built into the car.  It is redundant.
As for self driving, let me ink out a scenario for you.
You have a daughter - the apple of your eye.  You insisted that she learn to drive on a gear shift car since you are a little old fashion and value the old skills.  However since she got her license, she has never driven.  You gave her a self driving car for her birthday and she loves it. (no wonder) Today she is off to a show in the next town with her boyfriend.  ETA 30 minutes.  What do you think she is doing for that half hour.  

She is snogging in the back seat with her boyfriend going at highway speed  when some sort of computer glitch or hack demands that she take the wheel and manage the brakes and accelerator.  It would be chaotic enough if she was sitting in the drivers seat with her hands off the wheel  and her clothes on.  You fill in the rest.

Add to this the ability of the secret services  to send a car into oncoming traffic, over a cliff or into a tree.  You think I am exaggerating.  Look at the drone programs exposed by Manning.  They took shots at a suspected terrorist while he was surrounded by civilians in someone elses country.  Look at the revelations by Snowdon.  Secret services are amoral and we don't need to give them more tools to do what they want.  What's that you say?  They don't operate on their home soil.  Give me a break!!!  And even if they didn't (operate on home territory) the rest of the world is foreign territory to them.

And one further point.  With self driving cars and trucks, we put yet another tranche of workers out of work.  These are folks that will never be engineers, scientists or lawyers and we need work for them as well.  Economists seem to always ignore one basic fact of the economy.  The most important factor in an economy is the speed at which wealth circulates (called velocity in economic-speak) through the economy, not the amount of dollars available that is the sign of a vibrant economy.  Work through the implications (already demonstrated worldwide) of putting yet more people out of work.

It simply leads, ultimately, to wealth being more and more  concentrated in the hands of the very few uber rich* who own the means of production and less circulating in the economy.  We are rapidly getting to the point that less and less people will be able to buy the products produced in the factories.  One good effect of this is that it cuts into inflation.  That may help to explain our present low inflation situation (2017).

*I know I said that the quantity of money circulating in the economy is not the important factor so it shouldn't matter if the uber rich pull money out of the economy.  There is another factor.  When you reduce the money supply, you cause deflation.  A lesser amount of money is equal to the sum of goods and services.  Central banks will fight this tooth and nail and the results are not pretty.

I have a strong feeling that an electric car manufacturer who advertises that his cars are not self driving and have no connection to the Internet is simple and hence cheap to maintain, would have a strong selling point.

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