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In the not-too-distant future, all tedious tasks will be on autopilot. Tech devices will answer our mails, regulate our homes, and do our chores, as well as our actual jobs. At that point, we'll be totally free to transport automatically in self-driving cars, exploring our connected world.
It sounds like sci-fi but it's real life, which is why federal regulators today announced that they are giving themselves six months to come up with a set of rules for automated vehicles.
"It's a bold step automakers and others working on self-driving tech are likely to welcome," writes Wired, "because they've long fretted that states would do what the feds have not, and create a patchwork of rules and regulations that could hamper development of the technology."
Creating National Standards
Federal regulators at the Department of Transportation (DOT) are hopeful that self-driving cars will make the roads safer for all of us. Currently, there are 30,000 deaths a year from car accidents. But if there are no national standards, the automated cars will lead to disaster, or just not be developed as aggressively.
"This is an aggressive and ambitious embrace of automated driving," says Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and affiliate scholar at the Center for Internet and Society, who studies self-driving vehicles.
The idea behind the federal deadline is to promptly create model legislation for states to adopt and follow, ensuring a consistent approach to automated driving nationally. Because states control how cars behave on their roads through traffic laws, the feds cannot just impose rules. But they can propose a consistent approach and make it easy to adopt by writing model legislation.
Talking to Tech Companies
Observers are also impressed with the fact that the DOT has pledged to listen and remain open to the suggestions of tech companies who are actually working on self-driving cars. And tech companies are, unsurprisingly, also pleased.
"Fully autonomous vehicles have the potential to save lives, so we welcome the Secretary's commitment to removing barriers that may prevent them from sharing the roads when they're ready," a Google spokesperson said in response to the announcement by the Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.
Watchful and Wary
Big Tech's excitement about our easy and safe future is understandable. Companies stand to profit quite a bit as we become ever more reliant on their products. But we the people might consider tempering our enthusiasm for the machine takeover just a bit.
As anyone who has ever needed tech support knows, machines do have limitations and there are some drawbacks to automation. And as any sci-fi fan will tell you, if we make the machines too smart, there will be no part left for us to play.