“Humans are lazy,” said Nathaniel Fairfield, a lead technician at Google, explaining why their new self-driving car completely ditched a steering wheel.
According to the MIT Technology Review, Google had originally planned its adorable, self-driving Prius with a human backup plan, but non-drivers’ attention to the road was overtaken by complete trust in their new robotic chauffeurs.
“People go from plausible suspicion to way overconfidence,” said Fairfield.
The unexpected reliance on the artificial intelligence led to a complete overhaul of the design. It was no longer modeled after traditional car designs, which were too reminiscent of human-powered drivers. The company had planned on an emergency manual mode in case of power steering and brake failures. “Google’s tests suggest that anyone accustomed to a self-driving car would be unlikely to be ready take over in the event of such a failure,” writes the Review.
There’s a lot of precedent for humanity’s tendency to lean on technology like a crutch. A team of scientists found that Google search is also changing the way we remember.
“When faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers, and … when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information,” concluded the team.
Now, people’s short-term memory is being used to remember where to get the information rather than what the information actually is. Does this mean we’re getting stupider? Probably not.
Popular new gadgets have always come with skeptics. Back in 1859, Scientific American warned about the dangers of a toy called chess.
“Chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirement,” concluded the respected publication.
About a hundred years later, in 1985, The Star News ran a headline, “Computer as crunch can make mental sloths of executives.” Because budgets are no longer written out by hand, argued Silicon Valley venture capitalist Don Valentine, executives no longer understand the numbers that are being populated in spreadsheets automatically.
It’s true that data has given people the power to make conclusions that they don’t completely understand. But, it’s also allowed them to gain insights never before possible.
In the case of robotic cars, humans in general have never been very good at driving. The sooner we let them take the lead, the better.