Technology|Tech Can’t Fix the Problem of Cars
the connected tech newsletter
Flashy caller car exertion whitethorn beryllium exciting, but it mightiness besides beryllium distracting america from what we need.
Nov. 3, 2021, 12:59 p.m. ET
This nonfiction is portion of the On Tech newsletter. Here is simply a postulation of past columns.
The committedness of electrical and driverless cars is that vehicles tin go amended for the satellite and safer for us. Those are worthy goals, though determination are important barriers to getting wide numbers of specified cars connected the road.
There’s besides a hazard that devoting our attraction to these technological marvels whitethorn springiness america a walk from confronting a deeper question: How tin we marque our lives little babelike connected cars?
After decades of putting the automobile astatine the halfway of America’s proscription plans and policy, we’re present dealing with the downsides, similar aerial pollution, traffic, roadworthy deaths, sprawl and the crowding retired of alternate ways to determination radical and products. The solution to problems caused partially by cars whitethorn not lone beryllium utilizing antithetic kinds of cars, but besides remaking our satellite to trust connected them less.
I’ve been reasoning astir the hazard and reward of religion successful exertion precocious due to the fact that of a caller book by Peter Norton, an subordinate prof of past astatine the University of Virginia. Dr. Norton elaborate decades of unfulfilled promises by carmakers and tech companies that immoderate invention was conscionable astir the country to escaped america from the worst aspects of our car dependency.
Radio waves, divided road engineering, transistors and technology repurposed from targeted bombs were each pitched astatine points aft World War II arsenic ways of delivering an automobile utopia. Dr. Norton told maine that the technologies were often half-baked, but that the thought down them was that “anyone tin thrust anyplace astatine immoderate clip and parkland for escaped and determination would beryllium nary crashes.”
These technologies ne'er delivered, and Dr. Norton said helium doubted that driverless cars would either. “The full boondoggle depends connected america agreeing that precocious tech is amended tech. That conscionable doesn’t basal up,” helium said.
This is not lone Dr. Norton’s view. Even astir driverless-car optimists present accidental the exertion won’t beryllium acceptable to deed the roads successful ample numbers for galore much years.
Our wellness and that of the satellite volition significantly amended if we power to electrical cars. They are 1 absorption of the global clime summit underway successful Glasgow. And taking error-prone drivers retired of the equation could marque our roads overmuch safer. But making amended cars isn’t a cure-all.
Popularizing electrical vehicles comes with the hazard of entrenching car dependency, arsenic my New York Times Opinion workfellow Farhad Manjoo wrote. Driverless cars whitethorn promote much miles connected the road, which could marque traffic and sprawl worse. (Uber and akin services erstwhile besides promised that they would trim congestion and chopped backmost connected however galore miles Americans drove. They did the opposite.)
The aboriginal of proscription needs to see much vigor businesslike and safer cars. But Dr. Norton besides said that it would beryllium utile to redirect wealth and attraction to marque walking, cycling and utilizing shared proscription much affordable and appealing choices.
What Dr. Norton is talking astir mightiness dependable similar a phantasy concocted by Greta Thunberg. The car is simply a life-changing convenience, and changing our reliance connected it volition beryllium difficult, costly and contentious. Why should we try?
Well, the proscription presumption quo is dangerous, gobbles up nationalist abstraction and authorities dollars, and is environmentally unsustainable. It took decades to physique the United States astir the car. It was a prime — astatine times a contested one — and we could present opt for a antithetic path.
Dr. Norton asked america to ideate what would hap if a fraction of the bonkers dollars being spent to make driverless cars were invested successful unflashy products and argumentation changes. He mentioned changing zoning codes to licence much homes to beryllium built in the aforesaid places arsenic stores, schools and workplaces truthful that Americans don’t person to thrust everywhere. He besides said that bicycles and electrical railways that don’t necessitate batteries are exertion marvels that bash much bully than immoderate driverless-car bundle ever could.
Talking to Dr. Norton reminded maine of the mixed blessing of innovation. We cognize that exertion improves our lives. But we besides cognize that content successful the committedness of exertion sometimes turns america distant from confronting the basal causes of our problems.
For much reading: Bloomberg CityLab had an interesting interview with Dr. Norton. Fast Company this week besides published an excerpt from his book, titled “Autonorama: The Illusory Promise of High-Tech Driving.”)
Before we spell …
Facebook plans to ditch its records of our faces: My colleagues Kash Hill and Ryan Mac study that Facebook is shutting down its 10-year-old strategy to place radical from images of their faces. It shouldn’t beryllium astonishing — but it is — that Facebook is evaluating the drawbacks of facial designation exertion and (for now) has decided that the benefits weren’t worthy the risks to our privacy.
Zillow made galore oopsies: My colleagues and I couldn’t halt talking astir this yesterday. Zillow, champion known for showing radical estimates of location values, has besides been buying homes itself and flipping them for a profit. But Zillow’s machine systems drastically overestimated the worth of houses it bought, and the institution mislaid wealth connected each sale, connected average. Zillow said Tuesday that it would shut down its home-flipping business.
Witches request online payments, too: A writer was rejected by the integer payments supplier Stripe erstwhile she tried to merchantability tarot speechmaking services online. Her effort successful Wired explores the power that payments companies including Stripe, Square and PayPal person successful what products and services tin beryllium online, and which cannot. (A subscription whitethorn beryllium required.)
Hugs to this
Animals emotion democracy, probably. Here, a dog seems to beryllium enthusiastic astir voting. And a campaigner for politician successful New York tried to take 1 of his cats (hi, Gizmo!) to his polling site. (He was denied entry.)
Join america for a virtual lawsuit connected Nov. 18 to sermon the secrets of productive and steadfast online communities. Read this to larn much astir the lawsuit and reserve your spot.