Pointing at the Downsides of Technology

I know someone who has received a donated organ. In fact, that person I know that received a donated organ received that organ from a person who died in a car accident.

I’m glad they are alive. In a sense I am glad that other person died, but not in any direct way.

We don’t hunt for people to donate kidneys and kill them to ensure the survival of others.

This article in Popular Mechanics bemoans the oncoming autonomous vehicle technology for the fact that it will reduce the number of traffic fatalities – potentially by half (or more) and that this source of 20% of organs for transplant will be vastly reduced.

This is similar to moaning about loss of jobs in the garment industry because of advances in automation. The jobs that are going to be removed are the worst jobs out there – and the people working them are working in the most horrible conditions. The fact that automation is going to remove these jobs from existence is not something to lament.

Instead of keeping pace with current demand for donor organs the focus should be on new paths to organ function replacement. There are lots of great articles about the potential of using stem cells to promote healthy organ function. Lots of articles about using stem cells or other cells to 3D print functioning organs.

Luddite attitudes are creeping in to bastions of science – such as Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and Scientific American. It seems odd that they are focusing on the very aspects of social and technology that will greatly improve human life.

Sadly, if autonomous cars reduce fatalities earlier than prime time for alternate organ replacement technologies – people will die. It will be fewer people; however, than the number of people killed every year in automobile accidents.


Imagine if 10 years after the first car was made cars were as capable as any 2015 model by the major manufacturers.  Capable of easily attaining 100+ mph, getting between 30 and 50 mpg, comfort level, and capabilities?

The automobile was patented in 1789.  Ford Motor Company came in to existence in 1901.  In fits and starts over the decades cars improved, safety technologies were created, performance made incredible jumps – to the Bugatti Veyron – a Volkswagen with 1000 hp.

None of the advances in automotive technology compare to the speed of development of automated or self-driving cars.  In 2004 DARPA called the first “Grand Challenge” for an automated car to navigate a course.  Every contestant failed – with a few crashes like this one.

In 2013 – James May in a Top Gear episode raced an automated military vehicle.  In less than 10 years a practical automatic military vehicle raced a human driver in an off-road course.  Even though this was a man vs machine scenario – there were huge heaps of technology in the Land Rover that James May was driving – including an automatic mode that allowed the vehicle to automatically change the suspension based on the terrain the car was located.  It is an exciting segment to watch – and reminds me of Watching Watson on Jeopardy.  James May is an experienced driver – despite his nickname of Captain Slow.

In the end James May and the Land Rover defeated the Terrormax in the race tot he peak.  But it feels like a hollow victory.  The huge amount of technology in May’s car looks more like a car being driven with a person rather than solely by a person.

It gets worse though.  This year, just over 10 years from the failures in the 2014 DARPA Grand Challenge – an automatic car has successfully been driving across the United States of America – more than 2 thousand miles – with minimal driver intervention.


These ideas of truck drivers being replaced by self-driving trucks do not seem like they are 20 years away.  They seem like they are only 5 years (at most) away from trials and implementation.  The reduced costs, reduced insurance rates, higher levels of accurate source to destination driving, ability to drive all the time, and efficiency (consistent use of throttle, etc) will virtually force trucking companies to switch over to driverless/self driving trucking solutions.