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Yesterday, the world witnessed the first fatality of the self-driving car. However, I don’t think the fear of technology is helpful, or lasting.
Something I long feared was the inexorable march of needless technology. Things that can do for us what we should really be doing ourselves. In fact, I’m old enough to be able to remember a time where its influence on our every day was practically non-existent. The expanse of today’s possibilities that never entered my mind back then is beyond the pale. The advancements in medicine are frankly staggering. This week, I’ve recently become a GG, a Great-Grandnanny, and the fact that the latest member of my family will live to experience the same ambitious horror, while seeing things her mind couldn’t envision is as bracing as it is beautiful.
In regards to technology in my life, the last ten years have far eclipsed the previous many. I’ve gone from being the bane of the computer wizards at work to casually humbling their virtual selves online. There’s been staggering progress, and to tell you the truth, I’m kind of ashamed of the old me. There are limitations, I still go to the bank to get my money, and I’m still on the fence about online shopping. However, while I don’t much care for the swearing, I’ve also discovered online gaming, but, that’s another story for another time.
I’ve been tasked to write this piece to articulate my feelings about the self-driving car that accidentally killed someone, and how there are now fears that it will cripple the advance of it. I recently bumped into a very old neighbourhood friend whose thoughts on the subject were “you should teach people to drive.” Side note, he is a man whose life ambition was to become the man who drives the effluent truck, but who gave up on his dream to become a barber.
He’s a perfect exemplar of this fearful, incorrect thought – a man who was superseded by a flushing toilet – so new technology brings on the “number two” pains of fear. This type of thinking is wrong, tone deaf and not very adult, yet the fear of technology is nothing new. I once railed against the invasion of nuclear technology in the same way that Thomas Edison once electrocuted an elephant. Both play on the same feeling that what is new is dangerous, and therefore, it’s a force to be feared.
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Today, we enter a new phase of history. Someone was officially murdered by a self-driving car for the first time, and I don’t want to marginalise the deceased, but it shouldn’t bring driverless cars to a halt. The stomach-churning response should be an impulse, a quick shock to the system, not the ruling decision on such matters. Make the technology better, don’t consign the whole thing to the bin. Looking past the tragedy, how many people were unfortunately claimed by the industrial revolution? I mean, where would we be if we just stopped progress?
I understand the fear of the unknown, all the things beyond our understanding. I’ve come all the way from preserving your food with salt in your backyard to being able to get your fridge to do the shopping for you. To that end, artificial intelligence mimicking us, or robots serving us, can be terrifying. But only if you allow it to. To those who fear the future, what you’re feeling is nothing new, you’re not seeing the world through, to use a modern term, “woke” eyes. You’re enacting that old caveman shock when we were first burned by fire. Using the fire for our own benefit, as opposed to fearing it, is both the solution and possibly unsolvable riddle.
That being said, if someone who didn’t own a microwave until 2014 can fully embrace technology, maybe the only thing to truly fear is fear itself, not the objects we create that make us feel it.