The War on Driving

This is a guest post from the Master of All Things Testy, Chris Hartjes aka Grumpy Programmer. He serves as one of the organizers of the True North PHP Conference next week and is a vocal software testing advocate. He had some opinions on my last post, so I’m sharing my space with him:

Despite his constant trolling of me for being Canadian, Keith’s interesting blog post about “The Future of Transportation.. Today” got me to thinking about a trend I see looming on the horizon – The War on Driving.

I should be very upfront — until recently I was the type of person who didn’t really care all that much about cars. I’ve been working from home since the middle of 2006. I had a cheap car that got the job done. I had a car because there were times where I needed one, and taking taxis all over the place when you live in the suburbs was way too expensive.

While I didn’t care about the *type* of car, I did like to drive. In my youth my friends and I spent many hours just randomly driving around on our favourite scenic routes or just driving around downtown areas of the cities near us to see what’s going on.

totally-not-kiddingWorking from home, I just needed something that was reliable and had room for a family of four. My 2000 Ford Taurus, purchased at a car auction, fit the bill.

Then my wife got sick of this crummy car… and gave me permission to scratch an item off my “desired personal possessions” bucket list by purchasing a previously-enjoyed BMW 325i. If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably seen pictures of it, complete with custom license plates that read TESTMORE.

Hating On Cars

I understand people’s loathing of cars. Hours spent in rush hour traffic, the high costs of running and maintaining them. I understand the allure of services like Uber and Lyft. I personally find them to be exploitive and simply an attempt to replace one set of rent-seeking middlemen with another. I avoid taking them whenever I can and prefer to take taxis in those cases. Sorry, not sorry.

I drive because I like driving, and I have a car that makes driving pleasurable. Yes, I sit in a comfortable web of privilege as a white man in his mid-forties working in a highly-paid profession. Nonetheless, I do enjoy it when I get in my car and have to go somewhere.

My wife has a shitty commute, so I get why she has no enjoyment of driving despite having access to a very comfortable vehicle with good-for-this-era gas mileage. When we go anywhere together, I always have to drive.

Trusting Software Developers Is Hard

Also, I don’t trust the folks who are writing software for driverless vehicles. Why? Because I’m a software developer myself and know how easy it is to cut corners and Just Get It Done. When you combine this with laws passed to prevent people from figuring out how things like this work, you end up with a perfect environment for lazy developers to create totally fucked-up situations.

I don’t understand how most of how my car works. I understand some basics but clearly there are a range of problems I could not fix. But I am terrified that there are exploitable problems with the various systems that run my car. I have no legal way to find out how and no legal way to apply patches or modifications to the systems to protect or enhance them.

I certainly don’t trust a driverless car that can be attacked remotely and made to behave in unexpected ways. Laws don’t stop people from fucking around with things. All they do is punish people who are legitimately wanting to know how to fix broken things. Just like how DRM only punishes honest folks, because there is *always* a way around the security of software.

Stop The War On Driving

When our roads are full of driverless cars – driving way safer than humans could – it is *inevitable* that pleasure driving will become an activity that will be discouraged via financial disincentives. How much would you be willing to pay to drive your car yourself? Would you be willing to pay the price (both financially and legally) to take over a driverless car and take it where you want it to?

Not to mention the scary ideas lurking in the shadows of law enforcement or governments being able to take control of your vehicle remotely. Without a doubt those features will be hard-coded into your car, with strict penalties for even thinking about altering them.

I like driving my car. I like accelerating and shifting gears. I like trying to figure out the optimal braking patterns for smooth travels through a curve. I see all that being taken away from me in a driverless car society. Just another tool to control us and give us a false sense of security.

The Future Is Already Here

Yep. Keith already figured out a way to create a system that schedules Uber pick-ups automatically based on his personal calendar. Me, I like being able to hop into my car when I want and drive to my destination at a pace and using a route of my choosing. I don’t trust a computer to drive my car in a manner I would be comfortable with, and probably never will.

There are parallels to public transit here. When I choose to use it, I am forced to accept a route and transportation method that I do not control. Yet strangely I do not feel the same anxiety that I would about being inside a car that is driving itself. All in what you are used to, I guess.

It’s only a matter of time before taxis have no drivers, once systems can be created that can cope with the features of 21st century urban areas. Imagine the first fatal accidents involving a driverless car. Or the ethics surrounding writing software that has to decide whether you or that group of schoolkids on the side of the road are going to die because your car has to swerve to avoid an oncoming malfunctioning vehicle.

Get that damn driverless car off my lawn. I can’t back my BMW out without hitting it.

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