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All things considered, I'll take a flying car

• Dec 3, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Much of the science fiction of my childhood promised flying cars in the near future. I doubt I will see flying cars zooming around town in my lifetime, but other technological advancements that once seemed too fantastic to believe are fast becoming fact.

Take self-driving cars for example. This technology is currently being tested all across the country. In less than 20 years, our streets and highways will be filled with self-driving cars.

In fact, some of the technology that will go into this new mode of transportation is already standard in many conventional vehicles, such as advanced computerized navigational, braking and parking systems that require no input from the human driver.

Some find this technology both exciting and liberating. Imagine a world where your robot car does the driving while you do more important things. There are no more worries about distracted driving. You can eat breakfast while you check your email. Want to text message a friend while reading your beloved morning newspaper? No problem.The robot chauffer has everything in control.

Self-driving cars could also be a great comfort to aging Baby Boomers, who enjoy their independence and don’t look forward to giving up the keys to their cars. NIght blindness will no longer keep a baby boomer off the highways.

Other Americans, however, fear driverless cars will bring about a dystopian future where good-paying jobs are lost to machines and where they must trust their transportation to artificial intelligence. Most frightening to them is the lack of control. Many baby boomers feel most at ease while doing the driving.

Still, it’s comforting to think the bad habits of many human drivers — speeding, tailgating and running red lights —  will be things of the past. That means speed and red-light cameras will no longer be needed. (Just how will local governments make up for the loss of revenue from speeding tickets?)

And road rage will be unheard of unless a hacker has his way, which is something that does worry me. What kind of cybersecurity might we expect from self-driving cars? We have enough trouble now protecting our sensitive personal and financial information from hackers. What would happen if South Korean cyberterrorists decide to mess with our transportation grid?

Driverless cars is a technology that could play a huge role in terms of how much federal, state and local governments spend to build and maintain highways. Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola told me earlier this year that driverless technology will help to better manage capacity on existing highways without having to add new lanes of traffic. Imagine how much better traffic would flow if every vehicle is traveling at the same speed?

Driverless cars, Pindzola says, “will gain traction when the risk of driving yourself outweighs that of the driverless technology.”

He believes the free market will coax the public to embrace the new technology when it is proven to be safer and less expensive (from a liability standpoint) than driving yourself.

Self-driving cars might indeed prove to be safer, but where’s the fun? I’d rather have a flying car.


Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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