"Good evening Mr President, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honour to be invited to speak at Britain’s second-best university. I have never been invited to speak at Oxford, Britain’s third best university, but the best, of course, is my alma mater, Trent Poly, which is now known as Nottingham Trent University.
In World War II, the average life expectancy of a bomber pilot was two weeks. During the war, over 57,000 were killed, about 46 per cent of the total. Nowadays, these terrible casualties don’t happen. In modern warfare bombs are dropped by pilotless drones with machines and computers responsible for locating their targets and dropping bombs on them.
Barack Obama called them “Targeted Killings”. Are things any better now? Is war any less horrific? Well in 2006 the drones targeted Ayman Zawahiri an Al Qaeda leader. The bombs missed him but killed 76 innocent children and 29 adults. In 2010 they made four unsuccessful bombing attacks on Qari Hussain, a Deputy Commander of the Pakistani Taliban. They missed him on all four raids but killed 128 innocent people, including 13 children. Attempts to kill 41 men by pilotless American drones have resulted in the death of 1,147 innocent people, many of whom were women and children.
No doubt flush with the success of these targeted killings those in the know are anxious to augment the pilotless drone with the driverless car and those like me, who stand in the way of such progress are luddites they say.
There are 1,700 deaths or serious injuries on British roads every year. 94 per cent of them are caused by human error. The proponents of driverless cars point out that machines do not make human errors. They are infinitely safer, just like the pilotless drones that killed 1,147 innocent people.
The supporters of driverless cars point to a Utopian world where there is no street furniture and no speed limit. You can sit drunkenly in your car, high on drugs whilst machines take care of everything, ensuring there are no collisions by sophisticated computer programs that make bat radar look positively prehistoric. In a recent survey a third of people suggested they would use a driverless car on a night out drinking alcohol, so ironically, they could become a licence to drink and be driverless, which is all good news for country pubs, but bad news for our livers and the NHS. So if you are snoozing, boozing or schmoozing once the vehicle is operational, what use are you if you suddenly need to take control?
And what if they go wrong? What if they malfunction? What if they lose connectivity? What if the technology is hijacked by terrorists, can you imagine the carnage caused by hundreds of vehicles hurtling down the motorway colliding. Only three weeks ago two Iraqi men, Andy Starr and Farhad Selah appeared before Westminster Magistrates Court accused of a plot to set off a remotely controlled bomb in a driverless car.
Why am I so sceptical? The first test of a driverless shuttle in Las Vegas lasted less than 10 minutes before it crashed into a van. Of course, it was the van drivers fault, he pulled out of a junction assuming that the driverless shuttle would let him in. Something drivers do every day, but there was no driver in the shuttle so nobody was being let out but, to be fair, it was an accident caused by human error, which could be eradicated by just having driverless cars. No more human error, just safer, driverless cars getting you to your destination in one piece. Just like Joshua Brown, a 40 year old US Navy Seal, who was traveling to work in his Tesla, allowing the car to use its driverless technology whilst he caught up with some admin. It all went swimmingly until a lorry broke down in his lane. The accident prone humans all drove around it but tragically, Mr Brown’s autopilot did not, and he was killed instantly.
It was nobody’s fault. The lorry, logically, shouldn’t have been there, just as the drunk shouldn’t step out into the road. Just as the tyre shouldn’t burst at high speed. And just as the child shouldn’t dash out from behind the driverless ice cream van. And how is the driverless car going to exercise the judgement of Solomon if confronted with either hitting a young child or driving into a raging river and losing your own life.
Many people who have actually tested the driverless cars have expressed grave concerns about their safety. In November last year, Jeremy Clarkson, warned that whilst a passenger of an autonomous car, the vehicle made not one, but two mistakes, both which would have killed him over a 50-mile distance on the M4 had he not taken over the controls.
And whose fault would it have been if the driverless car had killed Clarkson? Whose fault was it that Joshua Brown’s car drove into the back of a lorry? Whose fault is it that pilotless drones killed 1,147 people? The answer is simple – nobody’s. Just machine error. Can we have a legal system relating to Road Traffic Law that is literally devoid of any criminality? No need to call the Police, no need to breathalyse anyone, no need to punish anyone for dangerous or careless driving. No need to call Mr Loophole!! Just call for a driverless ambulance and if there is a fire, a driverless fire engine.
Surely, we need a legal system that accommodates certain eventualities. I am not suggesting that all the safety mechanisms of driverless cars should be cast aside so that Sir Alex Ferguson could rely on the defence of a medical emergency to enable him to get to the bathroom in time, but there does need to be a degree of flexibility. What would happen if somebody was experiencing a serious illness such as a heart attack? What would happen if the occupants need to escape from a critical situation, as was the case with David Beckham? Will there be an override, as with autopilot on planes, and if so, what is the point? Wouldn’t it be better to invest these billions of pounds in a better public transport system.
The UK automotive sector turns over £77.5 billion per annum and supports almost 1 million jobs. Most of this would be destined for the scrap heap when driverless cars take over our roads.
And where will it end? How safe is your job from the rise of the robots? How long before you summon a driverless car to take you to work to be told that your job can be better done by a robot. Up to half of all jobs in Britain are vulnerable. A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research suggests that the new technology could wipe out jobs, generating earnings of £290 billion per year, a third of the UK’s total and furthermore it will be the lower paid manual workers who are hit hardest.
That does not matter – the driverless brigade will tell you – we can spend all our time sleeping in late, watching TV and playing golf whilst machines do all the work for us.
And is there really a public appetite for this or is it Government driven, like diesel cars were? In a recent survey 60 per cent of Mazda owners said that they wanted to drive and no disrespect to Mazda owners but can you imagine what the response would be if they asked Aston Martin owners? Christian Wolmar, a transport analyst, told The Times: ’..There is no demand for driverless cars, they are not something we need or want. The whole concept that we will end up with shared electric pods that will take us anywhere ignores the day-to-day experience of most people’.
And let’s just consider the emotional aspect of driving. The excitement of taking your first driving lesson; the sheer euphoria of passing your test, which gives you a rite of passage. The pleasure of setting off to a destination afar with you as captain of your own ship. It’s an intimate relationship akin to our stallions in years gone by.
Can you for example imagine robotizing this debate in this wonderful atmospheric chamber? We try and use our human skills to persuade you, imagine how much better informed you would be if you it was conducted by robots. But it wouldn’t work. If you exorcise the human element it becomes sterile and impotent and completely misses the point.
We need to remain the authors of our own destiny and we need to remain the drivers of our own cars. Any proposals to the contrary which are put forward by our driverless Government should be banned from the roads. And don’t let the steering wheel become a white elephant!"