Sekerci: Questions remain about autonomous cars as technology improves


Burak Sekerci, Columnist

Last week, Tesla introduced its “Autopilot” service for the Model S electric car. For those unfamiliar with the topic, Tesla has remarkably created one of the first working examples of an autonomous car. The update will allow the car to drive itself on a highway without a driver needing to control his or her vehicle.

Autonomous vehicles don’t look like a dream anymore. I see at least one new development on this area every month, whether it’s a research project or an actual car that can drive itself on a predetermined track. Scientists are working to make automated driving a reality. Yet, our society does not welcome the news with quite the excitement that we would expect.

People have mixed feelings about autonomous driving. This is partly because people don’t want to give up driving. We depend so much on our cars that we are scared that something will happen to our routine of driving. Automated cars are promising but, although the concept of automated cars is clear, their practical function is less so. People are excited about the new technology, but they don’t know how it will affect their lives.

These mixed feelings will continue if the industry moves with its current pace. Toyota announced at the beginning of October that they aim to create the ultimate autonomous vehicle by 2020. Last Thursday, General Motors announced that by next year their “Super Cruise” ability, which is close to Tesla’s “Autopilot,” will be on some of their cars. On Tuesday, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said in an interview: “I do think that industry is at an inflection point for massive change, not just evolutionary change.” As the idea that one day we will not be driving our cars looms, people will start to think more about how changes to car technology will affect their lives.

In the end, automated cars should not be viewed negatively, but they will certainly change a lot about our lives. Perhaps there will be fewer accidents, but jobs within the automotive industry will be lost along the way. Travel time may be shorter, but the experience of driving may be missed.

So the question really becomes: Is automation worth losing the experience? I believe only time will give us the answer.

Burak Sekerci is a McCormick junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.