This is not to criticise the concept. I am very much in favour of self-driving vehicles. My mother died in a car accident, and the engineering case for bringing more automation into transportation is sound. Nor is it to criticise the motivations of the people at Google, who are well meaning and are friends of mine.
But the notion that a company that makes its money almost exclusively by collating personal information for the express purpose of manipulating human behaviour (that’s you, Google) would also be in charge of moving people around is dangerous: deliriously absurd, a sign of civilisational dementia. Can you imagine if your car lingered in front of billboards during your journey or forced you to a particular store on the way home? What if automatic delivery trucks preferred one vendor to another? It is possible to imagine Google attempting to kill Amazon that way, or vice versa.
Obviously, information is power. That means information is wealth. If we must accept yet more extreme information concentration in order to benefit from the increased safety and convenience of better transportation, then it isn’t worth it. This idea that a marked loss of democracy is worth the safety or convenience has always been dangled before us, and has always been wrong. [Continue reading…]