In the Contest for Worst Automobile-Driving Species, the Winner is Homo Sapiens

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


A reader tells me this story seems right up my alley:

Google, a leader in efforts to create driverless cars, has run into an odd safety conundrum: humans.

Last month, as one of Google’s self-driving cars approached a crosswalk, it did what it was supposed to do when it slowed to allow a pedestrian to cross, prompting its “safety driver” to apply the brakes. The pedestrian was fine, but not so much Google’s car, which was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan.

….Dmitri Dolgov, head of software for Google’s Self-Driving Car Project, said that one thing he had learned from the project was that human drivers needed to be “less idiotic.”

That’s the spirit! And when Skynet takes over, humans will finally cease to be such a nuisance. Driverless car nirvana will be at hand.

Ahem. In reality, of course, this whole story is sort of silly. Of course the biggest problem with driverless cars is humans. What else would it be? Plop a few thousand driverless cars into an empty city and they’d get along swimmingly. No one is unaware of this, least of all Google.

But I suppose from Google’s perspective, stories like this are useful as ways to calm fears about driverless cars. And there is a good point to be made about that: driverless cars don’t have to be perfect to be useful. They just have to be at least as good as humans. So while the fact that humans are generally idiotic drivers might be a short-term annoyance, in the long run it’s a huge bonus for Google. They don’t have to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, just the local high school JV team.

This, by the way, is why I’m so generally bullish on artificial intelligence. It’s not because I have such a high opinion of computers, but because I have such a low opinion of humans. We really are just overclocked chimpanzees who have convinced ourselves that our weird jumble of largely Pavlovian behaviors—punctuated by regrettably rare dollops of intelligence—is deeply ineffable and therefore resistant to true understanding. Why do we believe this? Primarily for the amusingly oxymoronic reason that we aren’t smart enough to understand our own brains. The silicon crowd should be able to do better before long.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, I’m a lovely driver. It’s all you other folks who are causing so many problems.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest