Car-dependency – built in to the system?

David Brew writes.

What the authors Stephen Skippon and Nick Reed (‘The future of transport?’, August 2017) may be referring to in the context of machine learning is supervised machine learning. The question of who will do the supervising or, more pertinently, when will it stop, may be added to

Dr Lindsay’s ‘Driverless vehicle problems’ (Letters, October 2017). In addition, to obtain competitive advantage, car manufacturers have not been blameless in the past and have been discovered gaming the system.

When Dr Skippon and Dr Reed write of the huge costs, for society, of driving, including deaths, there is a temptation to think that autonomous vehicles (AVs) will make everything right. However, we will still need roads to be built and maintained, new power stations to generate energy, raw materials extracted from the earth (perhaps from ocean depths), and some of the materials required are rare.

We have happily colluded with industry and commerce to transform a simple means of transport into a technically sophisticated, high-speed, air-conditioned safety cage, and in the process precipitated great changes, some good, some bad. There is no reason to believe that the forces that delivered our car-dependent society will not equally apply to AVs and perpetuate a system that may not be sustainable.

Maybe this is a good time to take stock, especially since the future seems to promise radical changes in work. Schools and hospitals have been closed, retail moved to out-of-town shopping centres, factories built in industrial zones, and so on; in other words, car dependency has been built in to our way of life, and change, if we want it, will require the cooperation of many disciplines.

David Brew

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