I will confess that I am puzzled by the subtle push to substitute driverless (automated) cars for the kind that require a human driver. I can’t see how they would work in the reality of busy city streets or in crowded parking lots where just finding an empty space is a minor miracle. I can certainly envision a car that could be put on “automatic pilot” while driving on a rural patch of an interstate where the only real requirement is to keep the wheels on the pavement, since other vehicles are rarely in view, let alone a danger. But in most other scenarios, the workability of driverless vehicles is entirely imponderable to me.
One thing, though, that probably would be an improvement would be the use of turn signals. I am noticing that a sizeable number of human drivers today do not regard the use of a turn signal as significant. Too often, I find myself following a car that suddenly slows, without any indication as to why it is slowing, to then make a right turn, when a flashing blinker alerting me to that plan would have been very helpful. I deal with those situations, depending on my mood at the time, by either cursing to myself or just wondering if the driver ever took a driver’s ed course.
Of course, the failure to use a turn signal can have more serious consequences, as when a car coming towards you suddenly makes a left turn in front of you, having given no indication of that intent by using the appropriate turn signal. My cursing tends to be considerably more vociferous on those occasions. I assume that in a driverless world, cars would have the equivalent of turn signals to alert each other of their intentions, thereby avoiding collisions. So, in that respect, at least, maybe the driverless cars of the future would be safer than what we have today. (I still have my doubts about how that scene would work in a crowded parking lot, like at Costco on a busy Saturday afternoon.)
Human drivers are so, well, human. How often have you found yourself following a car that is casually driving ten or fifteen miles below the speed limit in the far left lane of a highway? Have those drivers never been taught that slower cars are supposed to drive on the right? Truck drivers on an interstate can also be infuriating, as when two will engage in a seeming game of leap-frog on a two-lane highway, with one or the other constantly using the passing lane to the frustration of me and countless other drivers who would like to use that lane to drive faster. Are those truck drivers oblivious of the commuters and other travelers they are befuddling with their irritating maneuvers? More than likely, they are just driving mindlessly, acting altogether human in so doing.
Of course, some incidents of human driving result in more than irritation for other drivers. Motor vehicle accidents are usually caused, at least in part, by drivers who are inattentive to some aspect of their driving that they would be attentive to if they were driving properly, mindfully. In legal terms, we refer to this kind of action or conduct as negligence. And being negligent, while entirely human, makes the negligent person potentially liable for injuries caused to others. Negligent drivers must pay (normally through their insurance) for the damages they cause. The “fault” they bear is really just the fault of being human, but the law recognizes that, in those instances, the individual injured because of the negligence of another should be made whole (compensated for the damages suffered).
From a philosophical standpoint, this recognition of fault from negligent conduct is somewhat oxymoronic. If “to err is human,” then why should merely being human result in liability? Aren’t we all human? Isn’t, then, designating a person “at fault,” blaming someone for what anyone is equally capable of being at any time? Aren’t we all “guilty” of driving carelessly on occasion? (I’m reminded here of the number of times my wife reminds me that I have left my blinker on long after I’ve changed lanes.)
To cover the seemingly anomalous legal construct of assigning fault for entirely human conduct, the law identifies the reasonable and prudent person (historically referred to as the “reasonable man”). This fictional person doesn’t cause accidents because he or she is never careless, never negligent, always aware of all conditions and always mindful of the task at hand. And the law uses the fiction of the reasonable and prudent person to justify finding fault with the normal human conduct that is defined as negligence.
So, okay, acknowledging that we are all capable of being negligent, aren’t we then also identifying the very essence of being what we were intended to be. Weren’t we created to be flawed, even as we are capable of envisioning what we could be if we weren’t flawed? Throughout history, humanity has struggled with this disparity between the ideal and the real. The ideal (that “reasonable and prudent person” we use to justify the assigning of fault in accidents) doesn’t really exist, never has really existed, and, until we become a race of A.I.s, never will exist. Viewed in this light, idealism is a fool’s goal, and the perfectionist is doomed to a life of disappointment, if not outright depression.
So, too, it must be as between groups of humans, be they corporations or religious entities or political parties or national governments. They are as inherently flawed as all of us as individuals are. They, like us, are fully capable of making avoidable mistakes, taking undesirable positions, neglecting identifiable constituencies, asserting incorrectly calculated analyses. In each instance, fault can be affixed for the error, and in any number of ways (legal responsibility, loss of congregants, electoral defeats, revolutions) liability will be assigned.
I suggest no moral in this simple review of the human condition. To the extent it reflects on God’s design, I suppose I am poking holes where faith sees none. The world, even without the dominant presence of our species, is a complicated jumble of seemingly conflicting forces. Hurricanes and natural wild fires wreak havoc on nature’s beauty. Volcanoes and earthquakes change the order of the geography and the flora and fauna on that geography. Meteors, asteroids, perhaps even solar and cosmic events of which we still have no understanding, can wipe out entire life forms. So much seems out of control, certainly out of our control. And we, flawed as we are to err consistently from generation to generation, can do little to achieve the conduct of the reasonable and prudent person, let alone alter the course of our world’s evolution.
But, like that driver ahead of me who fully intends to make a right turn and can let me know by just hitting his turn signal, we can try.