I was listening last night to the TED Radio Hour on NPR, and the subject was technology. There were pieces about how current technology — including social media — could be used to magnify the impact of terrorist attacks, the example being the Mumbai attacks of 2008. One scary piece was how GPS technology — and the ability to spoof GPS technology — poses serious threats not merely for privacy but also for security. We are a vulnerable nation — a vulnerable world — and we should not forget that. (We actually have always been a vulnerable world, except the nature of the threat changes. We tend to fool ourselves that simply because our children are not dying of pellagra that we are home free. Quite frankly, I’ll take the threat of terrorism over malnutrition, typhus, cholera, and polio any day.)
And then there was the Google executive talking about the self-driving car.
In fifty years, he said, everyone will have a self-driving car. It’s the wave of the future! Fewer accidents! Less stressful commutes!
Except, realistically, not everyone will have a self-driving car. Those who can afford a self-driving car — the guys from Google, and Facebook, and Apple, not to mention Wall Street and K Street — will all have self-driving cars. Everyone that matters, I suppose. It is possible that the cars will be cheap enough that the ever-shrinking middle class will be able to afford one, but I’m not holding my breath. We’re middle class, and we are still driving around cars with hundreds of thousands of miles on them.
But the guys from McDonald’s? The baristas at Starbucks? The people scraping by on less and less (in real terms)? No way in hell.
Hopefully, human driven cars will still be legal, and parts will still be easily be available. Hopefully, more and more people will not be forced onto increasingly financially-stretched transit systems.
What galls me the most about this guy, and others like him, is the self-satisfied bubble in which they appear to live. (I recognize, of course, that when he is not shilling for his company’s self-driving car he might be a decent human being.) Self-driving cars should be the wave of the future! How about a future in which people can hold down a full-time minimum wage job and still be able to afford to house and feed their families?
Technology will not save us, cannot save us, until people who have money and power recognize that they have a responsibility to those who have neither.