(Thanks Instapundit for the link.) Driverless cars are coming faster than most observers would have thought. One big reason, according to Bryant Walker Smith in a recent article in Slate, is that people predicting the driverless car future assumed that they would have to be part of centrally-run systems, with corresponding changes to physical infrastructure, such as special roads embedded with magnets. Or for that matter, we can add, centralized computers to take control of all the vehicles in the system. The changeover has to be centralized and take place for a given area all at once; it doesn’t scale incrementally. That was the thought, anyway, and Smith (who is a fellow at Stanford’s Center for the Internet and Society) says that as a consequence, ever “since the 1930s, self-driving cars have been just 20 years away.”
Today’s self-driving systems, however, are “intended to work with existing technologies.” They use sensors and computers to act as individual vehicles responding to the environment around them individually, without having to be a cog in the larger machine. This means that they can adapt to the existing infrastructures rather than requiring that they all be replaced as a whole system. Smith’s real point, however, is to go on from physical infrastructure to include the rules of the road. Infrastructure also includes, he says,
laws that govern motor vehicles: driver licensing requirements, rules of the road, and principles of product liability, to name but a few. One major question remains, though. Will tomorrow’s cars and trucks have to adapt to today’s legal infrastructure, or will that infrastructure adapt to them?
Smith takes up the most basic of these questions – are self-driving vehicles legal in the US? They probably can be, he says – and he should know, as the [...]