Spannerhead Dot

Too Much Help?
The Risks of Electronic Assistance

December 9, 2011 by Matt

Toyota Fun Vii Interior Inside Cockpit Dashboard Screen

Matt Hardigree at Jalopnik writes an excellent article drawing parallels between the technologically-dependent pilot mindset that doomed Air France Flight 447, and the potential for a variation of the same mindset to compromise car drivers’ ability to respond in an emergency situation on the road. The money quote:

I’m not anti-technology. I think technology can enhance and improve safety. Driverless cars and similar tech is designed primarily as safety equipment. Great. But instead of worrying if we’ve designed an autonomous system smart enough to drive without crashing when engaged, we need to worry about whether we’ve designed autonomous systems that are smart enough to not make us dumb when they disengage.

As far as technology’s potential to create the kind of dependency that could allow a driver’s emergency instincts to atrophy, or fail to develop in the first place, adaptive cruise control is Hardigree’s Exhibit A. Auto-drive technology, still immature at present and requiring a degree of road-based infrastructure that won’t be in place for quite some time, is the closest point of comparison to the context that doomed Flight 447, but the essence of the article holds true, even for less-than-fully-automated vehicle control environments. The more control a particular driving convenience assumes on our behalf, the more diligent we as drivers must be to maintain a connection to our cars’ actual dynamics, in the event, however rare, that the system fails and we’re compelled to reassert control.

In fact, I’d go further than that and maintain it’s not only the technology that takes control away from the driver that makes a car potentially less safe; it can also be the gadgets and doodads—some the driver himself brings into the car—that allow him to be distracted more easily from his primary task: Driving. It’s a variation on a very relevant theme as the virtual world envelops us more and more—We must be aware not only of what technology does for us, but also what it does to us. The more we become desensitized to the latter, the more we lose touch with our essential humanity, whatever your worldview. And that we do at our peril, whether in a fiery cataclysm like the one that overtook Flight 447, or in the slow withering of the faculties which connect our real bodies and minds to the real world.

Filed under: Car Industry, Miscellaneous

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