FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Luddites v Self-Driving Cars and Homelessness

My car was rear-ended a few months ago, as I was stopped at a stop sign–clearly, the other driver’s fault. He was apologetic and offered to have my car fixed by a friend of his. I politely, though suspiciously, declined the offer, and when I asked him for his car registration with a proof of insurance, he explained that he had left it at home… I was in a busy intersection, dodging frustrated passing drivers, so I couldn’t reasonably get the police involved before he left the scene. I immediately contacted my insurance company, and gave them a photo that I took of his driver’s license, along with his phone number. They got no response from him, so I had to pay a $200 deductible. I wasn’t angry with him, as he seemed like a nice guy who regretted his mistake and was doubtless juggling expenses on low income.

What if the car had been a self-driving car that rear-ended me? Perhaps the sunshine could have played tricks on the self-driving car’s computer system, as it did when the widely publicized self-driving Tesla driver was killed when he collided with a turning truck that reflected light, blinding or confusing his computer system. If I had been hit by an automated car, there would probably be a nice sticker on the car that directed me to call the company’s helpline; likely putting me on hold by an automated, circular recording. Would this send me—or anybody else—into a hostile road rage against the automated car? What damage would I imagine myself doing to the car, if I had a small sledge hammer handy?

I have a healthy respect for machines. However, I have been known to rage at computers, when they inexplicably malfunction, which is a rather regular and unpredictable phenomenon. I have not attacked my computer, because I will only be punishing my bank account. However, I have often sworn at automatic-call-routing-computers that put me into an endless loop of bad music and annoyingly complex prompts—all the while eating up the time I had planned to spend more productively.

So I would almost certainly swear at my hypothetical rear-ending driverless car—or possibly do worse if it injured my wife or grandchildren.

Reflecting on the futility of my rage-induced destructive fantasies, I recall the original Luddite, Ned Ludd, an English working class youth, who in 1779, reportedly smashed two stocking frames. These actions inspired a revolt three decades later against new technologies that undermined the employment of skilled workers.

Today, one feature of homelessness is the continuation of this trend amongst corporations seeking to maximize profits by minimizing wages, through various kinds of automation. There are so many homeless in my hometown, that on Sundays, when the shops are closed, the entire downtown is populated by crowds of street people, who are victims, at least in part, of this endlessly automating economy. The numbers of these people are not recorded in the traditional unemployment statistics, as they have often given up hope of finding work, regressed into the criminal economy, and disappeared into homeless camps.

I suggest that one way to partially counter this tendency toward de-skilling our workforce is to strive for a balance of decent-paying skilled jobs with efficient automation. The government should incentivize, subsidize, and regulate industry to create family-wage jobs by doing what was common not that long ago: create job training programs that fit the changing economy, as well as protecting existing skilled jobs by refusing to computerize every imaginable aspect of work. Candidates for office who seem more driven by this sort of enlightened common security than by corporate-profit-at-all-cost will appeal to me, certainly.

I love to see a human driver at the wheel of a truck or car, busy providing a useful service—it means that there is a person present that I can reason with, if needed. And I love to hear an articulate human being answer my phone call, so I can easily communicate my business needs. I want my world to retain the feel of a human world, not an impersonal machine world. I prefer the experience of human intelligence; artificial intelligence, as useful as it can be, has the taste of saccharine.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail