July 8, 2011


Cell phones, devices biggest driving distractions (Reuters, July 08, 2011)

Driving distractions, primarily by cell phones and other electronic devices, are associated with up to 25 per cent of US car crashes, according to a report released yesterday.

Life Is a Self-Driving Highway: Will Americans be able to adapt to the autonomous car? (Adam Waytz, July 7, 2011, Slate)
[G]ood marketing of driverless cars will suggest that these vehicles make the split-second decisions that you would prefer not to makeā€”like whether to slam on the brakes or rush through the yellow light, or whether to swerve to avoid the deer that scampers across the road. The advent of electronic stability control, a technology that minimizes swerving and skidding by automatically applying brake pressure, has been extremely effective in reducing crashes. It would be a shame if autonomy concerns prevent all drivers from taking advantage of such features.

The case of religion and prayer offers a similar situation. People like to assume personal control of their lives, but in high-stakes emotion-laden situations such as waiting to hear the outcome of an HIV test or tending to a loved one undergoing chemotherapy, believers have little difficulty transferring these outcomes into "God's hands." Developers would be wise to convey the superhuman qualities of this technology and to emphasize that the driverless car may know things that you do not. It is already difficult to avoid using the terminology of intellect when describing the increasingly anthropomorphic technology that is coming to dominate daily life. As a class, these technologies are called artificial intelligence. They are "thinking" machines or "smart" robots. The iTunes function that creates a full playlist from a single song is called "Genius." It is a delicate task to convey the superior intelligence of autonomous technologies without offending the human- and self-centered consumer (recall the late, annoying Microsoft Word paper clip, Clippy), but doing so effectively can facilitate user interaction with these technologies.

At a more basic level than making the agent appear God-like, car manufacturers will do well to recognize that people are willing to defer to experts. In rare cases, submissive drivers have followed their GPS devices into bodies of water, onto roads closed for the winter, or, in one tragic case, into the middle of a desert. leading to the death of a young passenger. These examples represent the minority of cases. However, they convey people's respect for perceived expertise, even technology-based expertise, and developers will want to emphasize the autonomous vehicles' credibility to facilitate their adoption. If marketers and engineers consider the psychology of potential consumers, we may enter a future in which self-driving car owners will be amazed that we once dared to handle steering and braking on our own.

Once again, the baby boomers will be the moving force in the switch over, because they're going to want to keep their cars until they're planted in the grave and hands-free will make them less dangerous.

Posted by at July 8, 2011 5:50 AM

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