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DT Debate: Will Google’s autonomous cars ruin driving, or liberate us from it?

Sometimes, we here at Digital Trends have strong opinions. And when that time comes, we take to the Internet and fight. For this debate, we’re talking all about Google’s crazy new driverless car, which is so automatic it doesn’t even have a steering wheel. Mobile writer Andy Boxall and JVC go head to head.

Question: What do you think about the new Google Car?

andrew boxallAndy Boxall, Mobile Writer at DT

Look at the Google Car, isn’t it sweet! The future is coming, and it’s as adorable as a kitten in a bunny suit. Don’t be fooled. The self-driving car will only change our lives for the worst. Google knows this, and has gone out of its way to help make us feel comfortable around the beast. If it looked like a cross between Emperor Zurg and a Chrysler 300C, I’d know to be wary of it. Instead, it’s like Yul Bryner’s gunslinger from Westworld cosplaying Hello Kitty. 

Cars are about adventure, but for that to happen a person needs to be behind the wheel.

However, my distaste for Google’s, or anyone else’s, self-driving car isn’t about the looks, it’s about what it’ll take away from future generations. The car gives many of us our first taste of true freedom. Countless weekends can be spent just driving, with no particular destination in mind. Often, after getting hopelessly lost, new places are found, and returned to throughout our lives. This is only possible because we’re in complete control.

A self-driving car will take you from A to B, probably very efficiently; but its little electronic brain would sizzle if it was asked to “just go for a drive.” It would make an effort, I expect, but the result would be some pre-ordained route cooked up by the navigation company. Cars are about adventure, excitement, and seeing the world; but for that to happen a person needs to be behind the wheel. Don’t forget, in Google’s cutesy car, there is no steering wheel.

Gone will be the days of bonding with a car, making the engine sing, and feeling the satisfaction of a perfect gear change on a fabulous road. Self-driving cars are for taking us to work, where we’ll be building Google’s robot armies, and back home again. They’re the first step towards a dystopian future where we don’t have the chance to escape, because the tool most used to do so is no longer our friend.

jeff van campJeffrey Van Camp, Deputy Editor at DT

Andy, you’ve been inhaling too much of your car’s exhaust. 

Cars are the most dangerous and most expensive gadget we own. They kill thousands of people each year, and its because we never went back and rethought how they were designed. The way they’re currently designed, cars are high-speed death machines. I applaud Google for being bold enough to rethink the madness and offer an alternative! 

As much as you like being behind the wheel, it would be far safer if you weren’t.

Hate it if you want, but cars ARE for getting us from point A to point B, and if Google’s car works right, we’ll finally have a vehicle that can do it safely. If all the roads were filled with these cars, even better. Imagine never having to hunt for a parking space again. A smart car could communicate with the lots and cars around it, instantly locating the best, closest spot to where you need to be. They’d also communicate together to relieve traffic congestion, potentially saving a ton of time during rush hour every day in big cities.

Google autocar debate

But we’re not even discussing that. The real problem here is that you’re upset about something that hasn’t happened yet. This is just one car. Why would you deny some people the chance to avoid driving, if that’s what they wish? Heaven knows most people shouldn’t be on the road anyway.

I had to give up my car when I moved to Manhattan, and I survived just fine, and I explore frequently. Get over it!!

Final remarks: Andy

Jeff, you’re right. In the wrong hands, cars are dangerous. The good news is, there’s already a solution for you and other similarly agitated souls. It’s called the bus, and you can share your journey with other likeminded whimperers too scared to get behind the wheel. It doesn’t go very fast, and you never have to worry about finding a parking space. 

There will always be manual cars, but eventually the definition of automatic is going to take on a new meaning.

Your desperation to sanitize the roads, to the point of torpor, is utterly depressing. The risk-averse have been after the car for years, and the self-driving car is their Trojan Horse. It’s shrouded in a cloak of tech cool, which is what has you fooled, but what’s underneath could potentially take away a key part of our independence. You see, I don’t want to be cut out of my car by the fire department at the end of each journey, therefore I don’t drive like a moron. That level of responsibility is a truly rare thing today, and it’s not something we should be giving up. 

Yes, Google’s car is just one example. Provided it’s kept where only vegans and people who wear pants made of hemp can not-drive it, the world is relatively safe. But it could prove popular with both the lazy and the work obsessed (you mean I can work even more hours? Great!), and we’re in danger of it catching on. If it does, striking a match will be about the most death-defying thing we’ll be able to do, and even they have “safety” written on the box. You can keep this particular “moonshot” Google, I’d rather walk.

Final remarks: Jeff

You and your trojan horses. Things change! Cars are not perfect technology, and they will continue to evolve just like the annoying and complex personal computer has given way to slightly easier to use and better smartphones. There will always be manual cars, but eventually the definition of automatic is going to take on a new meaning. Stop being so scared.

It probably won’t happen in our lifetime anyway. Planes can practically fly themselves but we still have pilots. New ideas are good. If people want driverless cars without steering wheels, they will sell. If they don’t sell, then they won’t become the next big thing. There’s no Trojan horse. Either people want them, or they don’t. I think you’re just a little too afraid that few of us really want to drive, Andy.

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