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Are We Ready For the World of Self-Driving Cars?

Five short years. That's the prediction Alex Davies reports about Google's self-driving car. In his Wired article, Davies says that Google plans to eliminate human driving in five years - no small feat, he admits, but one that suits the tech giant's ambition and penchant for embarking on daring projects that don't necessarily resemble Google's core search business. (For years, Google has sponsored the Lunar X Prize, as one example, in a privately funded effort to send a robotic spacecraft to the moon.)

But Google isn't the only business pushing this kind of technology. Traditional automakers like Audi and Nissan are doing it, too. The automakers' overall approach is different, more incremental and conservative. "What's important here," Davies writes, "is Google's commitment to its all-or-nothing approach, which contrasts with the steady-as-she-goes approach favored by automakers. [...]"

In other words, Google will ask the public (and government safety regulators) to trust its approach to self-driving cars. Google assumes that we will be willing to trust a computer behind the controls of the steering wheel (assuming there will be a steering wheel), and to do so by going out and purchasing such a vehicle. For a great many Americans, who grew up learning to drive, this will be a sea change. Now, there's plenty of evidence to support Google's assumptions, such as the fact that Google's self-driving cars log 10,000 miles per week in all types of road conditions and virtually never get into any accidents that were caused by the self-driving cars themselves.

We could soon be looking at a world with far fewer traffic accidents, far fewer lives cut short or permanently ruined from serious injuries. The cynic would say that this world is bad for business, in terms of the trial lawyers, many of whom make a living representing people injured in car accidents. We don't see it like that. We see this as a giant leap forward - as long as Google does all it can to put a safe product on the market.

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