The driverless car will never take off because the male ego won't put up with it: Michael's essay

“To the average North American male, the car is symbolic. It may indicate our social, economic, even our professional status. It is also a clear marker of our maturity. Getting a driver’s license at age 16 and a first car a couple of years later, was the dream of every teenage male I know.”
A display demonstrates the sensors and technology behind self-driving cars during the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference,in Washington, DC, November 1, 2017. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Remember the gizmo magazines of the 50s and 60s? Magazines such as Popular Mechanics and Popular Science predicted all sorts of miracle gadgets which would enhance our future lives.

My favourite device, and the one I looked forward to with breathless teenage anticipation, was the personal helicopter.
By the year 2000, everybody would have his or her own helicopter to take them places. No traffic jams, no red lights, no annoying drivers. Just you and a backpack engine and a crash helmet. Haul it out to the lawn, strap it on and take off.

Michael Read, Director of Flight Operations from New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft Company, flies on a Jetpack over a water park on December 6, 2015 in Shenzhen, China. (VCG via Getty Images)

Driverless car, meet the personal helicopter.

The latter never worked, the former never will.

I know about tiny single passenger ultra-lights, but they are not the same thing. The idea of a driverless car has been around for decades. Everybody from safety experts to auto journalists to the Ford Motor Company are ecstatic about the idea.

Because human drivers kill about 50,000 people in Canada and the U.S. every year, the idea that a smart car, a really smart car could save some of those lives is tempting. Having far out ideas is easy. Bringing them to market is somewhat trickier.

The driverless car is definitely not ready for its close-up.- Michael Enright

The driverless car is definitely not ready for its close-up.

There are a number of reasons they won't work. For one thing, like every other computerized device, they can be hacked; and don't think they won't be. Then there are a whole bunch of ethical and regulatory considerations.

Rodney Brooks of MIT is the world's leading expert in robotics and artificial intelligence. He argues that before driverless cars can be manufactured in large scale, the problem of "edge cases" has to be worked out. Edge cases are those moments when the driverless car has to deal with unusual circumstances which haven't be encoded in the guidance system computers. For example, should the driverless car plunge into that ravine or swerve into that group of pedestrians?

There have already been some bad accidents, including a self-driving Uber which killed a woman pushing a bicycle a year ago. Beyond all the technical barriers, there is one very human one that will never be solved, and will kill the driverless car. And that is the male ego.

Men won't come within a measured kilometre of a driverless car.

It is all about what cars mean to us men. Men don't drive cars for convenience. We don't drive our cars for mere transportation. And we certainly don't choose our automobiles on the basis of how safe they are.

I grew up under the driving rubric of essayist E. B. White who wrote: "Everything in life is somewhere else and you get there in a car."

Then, of course, there is the whole matter of sex. Nothing, but nothing, was thought to attract girls more readily than a young male driving a car.-Michael Enright

To the average North American male, the car is symbolic. It may indicate our social, economic, even our professional status. It is also a clear marker of our maturity. Getting a driver's license at age 16 and a first car a couple of years later, was the dream of every teenage male I know. It was a rite of male passage, like a bar mitzvah or a confirmation.

My first car was a Ford Fairlane which I bought for $200. 

A 1957 Ford Fairlane 500. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Then, of course, there is the whole matter of sex. Nothing, but nothing, was thought to attract girls more readily than a young male driving a car. Sex was used to sell cars and in some ways it still is.

Men will talk about how sexy their car is in the same way men did 40 years ago. And about how driving is an act of liberation. And about how driving aggressively is a demonstration of masculine power. Men-boys are not about to give up their expensive toys without a huge fight.

Trust me on this.

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.

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