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The Cost Of Automation

The dream of self-driving cars will likely be realized in a matter of years. While public acceptance of autonomous vehicles might take decades, the technology already being tested is likely a safety improvement over the average human driver. As the scope and power of technology improves, is it possible that the capability of humans diminishes? Some critics are suggesting that the humanity is allowing computers to be responsible for too many important facets of everyday life. By turning over our traditional responsibilities, we may be losing the ability to do things for ourselves.

The large majority of fatal car accidents are caused by human error. More than 20,000 lives would be saved every year in the United States alone if those errors could be eliminated. Few would argue that a little help in "keeping our edge" would be worth thousands of lives. The issue is really more about making sure that people are still learning the important lessons that technology can obscure. Children are still taught to add, subtract, multiply and divide, despite the fact that calculators can perform the function faster and more reliably. 

Fear of technology is the basis of much fear-mongering and misinformation. The inventor of the wheel may have faced backlash from those who believed that people would lose their walking skill. Old ways are not inherently better ways. But one thing we need to consider in inventing and popularizing self-driving cars is how far we want them to go. If we are leaving people without the important skills gained by an experienced and attentive driver, perhaps cars need to be 100 percent automated. It could be irresponsible to allow vehicles to be driven by people who don't have the experience and training to do it safely.

Source: NPR, "Hands-Free, Mind-Free: What We Lose Through Automation" by NPR Staff, 29 September 2014 

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