Sep 03, 2016

Driverless Cars, Pilotless Planes…Soulless Life

R Jayaraman

What’s going on with the world? The media hype is now on to driverless cars ever since Elon Musk announced his intention to remove the driver from the front seat. Appears that Elon was having difficulties in driving or learning to drive, so he decided to remove the obstacle.
I remember the way I learnt to drive. My father owned an office car much before many others did and I was an avid observer of how a car is driven. We had a driver who was an expert and he could negotiate his way out of many near accidents. These were good lessons, never to be forgotten. So the way I learnt to drive was to ask one of my sardar friends (his father owned a taxi and he and I worked in the same department in Mukand Iron) to sit beside me in the front seat, and I inserted the key and got the carburettor to kick on. And the rest, as they observe, is history. Elon obviously has a different history.

I am not sure why people are so against their fellow beings the way Elon is after drivers. Google is making a mistake by following the road less travelled, by following Elon. Soon we will have lensless eye glasses, eyeless vision and so on. I am not sure where these people are coming from. Ever since James Watt drove the steam engine, industry has been trying to get people out of work. Mindless automation, robotification in the name of removing drudgery, Internet of Things to get rid of everything else, I suppose.

To begin with, in order to raise the living standards, industries created jobs. As soon as a few people started earning a decent wage and drove themselves out of poverty, the self-same industrialists got into top gear to invent and innovate ways and means to get rid of these earning members of the society, those for whom industry was created in the first place, by automation. Although most companies justify automation in the name of faster growth and defending against “competition”, the truth us that a capitalist does not want to share his wealth. He would rather spend a few millions on inventing more robots to displace a whole lot of people who earn a few thousand dollars. In such a deadly quest, they are assisted by their bean counters who have invented things like IRR, ROI, payback, ROCE etc to make sure that the job losses continue and companies relentlessly stay on the path of making people jobless, the more, the better.

In such a scenario, a jobless job, a classroomless education, a friendshipless society are all within the realms of possibility. No doubt Elon Musk, and more recently Ford, the company which invented the automobile and whose founder Henry Ford made the first assembly line produced car so that more people can own and drive cars, are hell bent on removing the driver. Doesn’t matter that the first prototypes met with accidents and were rendered motionless. We will soon see rudderless planes, chipless computers (INTEL nowhere), topless attire (witness the recent demonstration in New York by women who went topless to make a point that they should have the freedom to do so to get equal with men who are allowed to go topless ) and spokeless wheels.

Automatic signals, tubeless tyres, hydraulic handsfree operated windows, auto gear systems – have all been seen in cars over the years. People didn’t notice much these developments which they thought were advancements in technology being put to good use. Whoever imagined that one day we will have the driverless car?

Seriously what would happen if driverless cars did become a reality? Men will be out of another work which they thought was a good occupation. It helps them in gulping down bad coffee during the long morning drive to the office, takes away a genuine excuse that they were “held up in traffic”, takes away the ability to feel in command of something after the drubbing received at home from various quarters, reduces the feeling that they can control something which cannot hit back or talk back or, as in this case, drive back, removes an occupation like taxi driving which then reduces the right of taxi drivers to go on strike whenever they feel bored or threatened .

One would hate to imagine what would happen to autorickshaw drivers in Mumbai? They would lose the chance of saying NO to many prospective customers, which will make them feel unwanted and lost in a big, bad, directionless, driverless world.

In short, by trying to remove the driver, the world is going towards an era where “control” would pass away from humans to machines FINALLY. No going back or getting back.

On an optimistic note, technology can offer us options. Intelligent societies should exert choice, so that these options are leveraged for the benefit of society as a whole. Sometimes, this may include restricting the uses of an available technology for the greater good.

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