Dan LaBruna talked about a different view of the benefits and values of autonomous cars than I normally think about. I was much more used to thinking about the economic, cultural and personal benefits of autonomous vehicles such as (potentially) safer streets, less cars, significantly less parking lots, less time wasted driving on commutes, etc.

For Dan, autonomous vehicles are a potential world-changer for elderly and disabled people. Last term and this term I have been taking my Gen Ed classes that focus on living and life as we get old. I have been learning a lot about the world as it is for elderly people and the different kinds of struggles that age group go through. A lot of the struggles end up being around independence and purpose. Purpose seems to have an important link to mental health and a sense of value in life. Mental health is, seemingly, quite important for maintaining physical health. These two are symbiotic parts of oneself that both need to be maintained and nurtured or the other, and both, suffer.

Purpose can quickly falter when we get old and our bodies start failing us and are unable to do the things we used to do. When we lose our independence, it can have a deleterious effect on our sense of purpose, mental health, and physical health. That is ultimately what Dan is trying to shine a light on, which I appreciate. Autonomous vehicles can be of real benefits for those members of society that are typically excluded from normal activities when our culture is so extremely reliant on vehicles. Many cities, especially on the west coast, are built to get around on a car in. We have extremely poor public transportation infrastructure. Which leaves people who can’t or don’t want to drive out in the cold.

Sam Harris’s Ted Talk regarding AI and losing control over it was amazing. Also extremely pertinent to autonomous vehicles considering how current efforts are being spent on Level 4 automation, which completely removes a physical driver for a computer system. At some point, I am sure we will be looking for a system of networked cars run by a central computer intelligence.

Of course, in popular culture we always see super intelligent AI as an army of robots annihilating the human race with guns and bombs. In Sam’s reality, humanity eventually becomes ants in comparison to the super AI. We don’t try and annihilate ants, but when they get in our way we crush them without a thought — even though they are living breathing creatures. We just don’t deem their intelligence to be of any value compared to our own. Wouldn’t the super AI eventually see us as we see the ants? I guess we need to hope Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics keep us safe.

The other trains of thought go towards what happens to humanity once we have AIs that are able to take over work for us. We would have no need for physical labor work or even mental labor as the AIs would be much more capable of handling any intellectual research. That leaves humanity with plenty of free time to just have fun, right? There comes the argument of life would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? I would raise the question of what happens to creativity? Does super intelligence as we know it also invalidate any art or music humanity could create?

Another area that I have to digress from Mr. Harris’s fascinating arguments are on the subject of time. He says it doesn’t matter if these super intelligences are fifty years away or a hundred years away etc., as long as they are discovered eventually. I don’t quite agree with that. A hundred years is a significant amount of time in human history. Look at all of the advances that have happened in the last hundred years, in many areas outside of technology. The human race as we know it in a hundred years might be unimaginable from today. So, it is hard to make an argument that time makes zero difference. In a hundred years, humanity may be immortal. We may have discovered the technology to upload our consciousness digitally so we never truly die. Or, like I said, something completely out of the areas of our imagination. Just like how people in 1921 would have a hard time imagining life today.

References:

LaBruna, Dan. Is My Driverless Car Ready Yet? Tedx Talk. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnOBHnfT2h8. Accessed 4 July 2021.

Harris, Sam. Can we build AI without losing control over it?. Ted Talk.https://www.ted.com/talks/sam_harris_can_we_build_ai_without_losing_control_over_it. Accessed 4 July 2021.