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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Driverless cars from a driverless government

I am a bit of a luddite secretly, at least when it comes to technological advancements that aim to cut out the human touch. I don't do on-line banking, I don't have a Netflix or Amazon account and for the life of me, I don't see why anybody would want to develop driverless cars.

Don't get me wrong. I am not the sort of person who mourns lost employment opportunities following the abolition of the man with a red flag who used to walk in front of the earliest motorcars. Nor do I want to go back to the days when one emerged from printing political leaflets covered in ink from an old Gestetner. And let's face it, I am a sci-fi fan who enjoys losing myself in tales of human endeavour in space involving technology beyond our reach.

For me, driving is a joy. Yes, it gets you from A to B, but it is also a challenge that opens up previously unseen vistas. I still remember getting lost on the Llwyn Peninsular and not wanting to turn back because I was so captivated by the scenery. As an AM I often embarked on long distance journeys when the getting there was more enjoyable than the event itself.

So what is the attraction of cars which don't need a driver? Will it really “put high-tech Britain in the fast lane”, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests. I can understand the need to distract people from the Government's failures on Brexit, but surely the only impression that comes from this announcement is that it is the Government itself that is driverless.

The one motor vehicle investment I can support is the proposed investment in electric car points. If we are to move on from polluting petrol and diesel vehicles then that is the sort of infrastructure that needs to be in place. 5G mobile networks are also essential for the growth of business.

In my view driverless cars are the 21st Century equivalent of the Sinclair C5 car. They constitute a technological cul-de-sac. The investment would be better directed elsewhere.
I'm not sure what the Hammond budget leak actually means. He has disclosed that £500 million will be spent on incentives and infrastructure for electric/hybrid vehicles, which will probably have drivers. £75 million will be spent on academic research into AI. That leaves £400 million for other tech projects.

I presume that Hammond will not openly throw that money at car manufacturers in a "pick a winner" investment contest. I can't see what this leak has to do with autonomous vehicles other than to provide a sexy cover for conventional government spending.
Sexy cover or not our petrol stations will have to have charging points all over the country to power the future.
Driverless cars will be a huge improvement over sitting in a traffic jam, either in a city or on a motorway - which represent the vast majority of most people's driving.

I suspect that at least the first generation will let you take control yourself when you're on a nice country road (in fact, very likely, they'll force you too, because the motorways and the cities will be the only places they have mapped for the driverless systems).
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