Driverless cars in ‘Freakonomics’ book

Driverless cars could turn out to be a scourge on humanity.

They may lead to a worldwide surge in binge drinking since drunk driving would no longer be a worry. They also could be vulnerable to hacking by terrorists who send every self-driving vehicles in the western U.S. plunging into the Grand Canyon.

And by making car travel easier, driverless vehicles could lead to more congestion and pollution.

Those are a few of the points made by economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner, known for their book “Freakonomics”, in their latest tome, “Think Like A Freak,” which was released Monday.

Those points on driverless cars come from a chapter titled “How to Persuade People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded.” The authors say people should avoid pretending their own argument is perfect and acknowledge the strengths of their opponent’s argument.

Gettting back to driverless cars, advocates of this new technology ought to admit that a huge number of jobs could vanish, according to Levitt and Dubner.

“Nearly 3 percent of the U.S. workforce — about 3.6 million people — feed their families by driving taxis, ambulances, buses, delivery trucks, tractor-trailers, and other vehicles,” the authors write. “What are they supposed to do when this new technology obliterates their livelihood?”

After having their fun with the many potential negatives of self-driving cars, the authors note a big potential benefit: reducing traffic deaths.

Driverless cars might be one of the biggest lifesavers in human history, given that roughly 90% of the world’s 1.2 million traffic deaths each year are caused by human error, they write. It’s impossible to say whether nearly all traffic deaths actually would be eliminated, and a misprogrammed car could one day plow through a playground and kill a dozen school children, but even lowering the global death toll by 20% would be huge, according to “Think Like A Freak.”

“That would save 240,000 lives around the world every year, including 36,000 children,” Levitt and Dubner write. “How nice it would be to lower those numbers by ‘only’ 20 percent.”

“Freakonomics” was initially a popular 2005 book about “the hidden side of everything.” Then it grew into a multimedia brand, with a documentary film titled “Freakonomics: The Movie” and a regular segment on American Public Media’sMarketplace radio show.

To help promote the new book, Dubner took part Monday in an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, where he lamented that he’s often quoted without sufficient context, but didn’t say whether that’s happened yet on the subject of driverless cars.

Source: MarketWatch

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