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Valley Voice

I’m a loser baby

VonBritta Weddeling

The computer in Google’s autonomous vehicle may drive better and safer than any human being. The same will be true one day for the mysterious Apple Car. Question is: Will humans still be allowed to drive in the future?

Every Tuesday, Handelsblatt technology reporter Britta Weddeling writes about the trends and oddities of Silicon Valley from a German perspective.

The Voice of the Valley

Every Tuesday, Handelsblatt technology reporter Britta Weddeling writes about the trends and oddities of Silicon Valley from a German perspective.

I’ve always been a bad driver. And with „bad" I mean: Really really bad. The other thing I’m not good at is patting my head with one hand while drawing circles with the other one in front of my stomach. Gymnastics in school has been painful. Try it.

Self-driving cars are my dreams coming true. Google has worked on it for a while now, as well as car-makers. Since the „Guardian“ has found evidence that Apple is secretly scouting for a testing ground for autonomous vehicles close to San Francisco, I’m more optimistic about it than ever.

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Because robots drive safely. According to a report by Google that includes every accident since the company began testing its autonomous vehicles on the roads in 2009, all crashes were caused by humans, not by cars.

Machines are better than us in many areas. IBM’s Watson diagnoses lung cancer more precise than human doctors. That does not mean that it is a better doctor, but still is impressive. A British robot defeats a star cook in foaming crab bisque.

Robots don’t have a bad day, they don’t complain about stupidity at work in general. Amazon being accused of an exploitative workplace culture? That would never happen with robots! But the question is: Will we still be allowed to drive a vehicle in the future? Or fly an airplane? Diagnose cancer?

For sure, machines solve a lot of problems for us. And Americans love solving problems. They are especially good at it. And if they haven't solved the problem yet, an American friend of mine recently revealed to me, it’s just because it hasn’t been a priority for America so far. Americans are lovely.

I like the idea that computers will take over our boring, annoying jobs. Change is a good thing. Look at the unbearable ways of working before the industrial revolution. People slaved in coal mines and lung cancer was the least of their worries.

But I recently recognized a certain tech-utopianism in Silicon Valley that I don’t like. It’s the belief that humans make many or even too many mistakes, that they are a kind of defect and have to be replaced by technology, at least partly. Of course people make mistakes. Look at me, the bad driver. I’m a loser baby.

Can humans behind the wheel be a dangerous thing? Yes. Will society allow humans to drive nevertheless? Hopefully. Freedom is a dangerously valuable good.

As well as machines becoming more sophisticated, Silicon Valley has to focus on the right to be not-so-problem-solving, not-so-perfect. Perhaps we’ll need – after the right to be forgotten – a right to be defective, inadequate, insufficient in the future.

Probably Silicon Valley is already working on that. Because I can be wrong. You know why.

Es gibt auch eine deutsche Version dieser Kolumne.

Britta Weddeling is a technology journalist with Handelsblatt, Germany's #1 business daily, and Wired, based in San Francisco. She is author of a weekly English tech column called "Valley Voice" and contributes every week to a podcast at a major German radio station (Deutschlandradio,"Was mit Medien").

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