Automakers continue to proclaim that fully autonomous vehicles are just around the corner. In 2016, a host of companies, from BMW to Volvo, promised driverless cars by 2021. While that has proven too ambitious, it hasn’t stopped companies from making revised predictions. In May 2020, Volvo announced a partnership with tech firm Luminar to “deliver Volvo’s first fully self-driving technology for highways . . . in 2022.” This, as Google’s Waymo, Uber’s ATG, and Tesla’s Autopilot continue pushing driverless technology forward in a seemingly inevitable march.
While almost three-quarters of Americans remain wary of autonomous vehicles, many can’t quite put their finger on why. This makes them look like nervous Luddites or nostalgic simpletons compared to the sleek technopreneurs proclaiming the way of the future. Yet, as it turns out, the average American might be on to something. There are substantial reasons to hesitate before handing over the keys.
When we explore the broader technological worldview in which autonomous vehicles are situated and weigh the possible impacts of autonomous vehicles on human flourishing, it becomes clear that the worldview behind autonomous vehicles is not freeing for humanity, but presents at best what Neil Postman would call a Faustian bargain. Supposed gains in safety and convenience could bring significant unintended consequences, alienating us from our bodies and eroding our agency.
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