I'm Google, and I'll be your driver today

Modern technology has a habit of making life easier in one way and astoundingly complex in another way.

With the advent of the Internet, information is the most accessible it's ever been; unfortunately, that also means that everyone's personal information is also more accessible than it's ever been. For example, I'm writing this article on a laptop that was recently infected with a Trojan virus because someone really wanted my credit card information.

Cell phones have made it so much easier to contact friends that it's a common scenario to see people who never stop doing so. Also, I assume the whole "tumor" thing might come up later in a major way, but as long as I get to listen to my music when my phone rings, who cares about a little radiation? Since Google has announced yet another new venture into the "World of Tomorrow" with the unveiling of a self-driving car, we ought to try to understand the potential complications and benefits that such an innovation could bring before passing judgment.

These self-driving cars have so far driven 140,000 miles around California on some of the most intimidating stretches of road around like the Pacific Coast Highway and the infamous Lombard Street. Utilizing a 360-degree perception - and a professional driver, just in case - the cars automatically detect objects and how best to avoid them, which probably makes them better drivers than a good 75 percent of the population.

In the 140,000 miles of driving, only one accident occurred when the Google Car was rear-ended by the car behind it. I know I'm not alone when I say that this is a better record than many of my friends and family can speak of.

So imagine this scenario: a man is leaving a party after having a few drinks. Instead of climbing into his car and endangering himself and everyone around him like a cracked out celebrity, the man can simply use his self-driving car and have a nice and safe ride back to his home, apartment or an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

On a serious note, around 40,000 people, give or take a few thousand, have died every year in automobile-related incidents since 1975. To put that in perspective, 58,159 U.S. soldiers died during the 11 years of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and 4,404 U.S. soldiers died in the war in Iraq over the past seven years. That means just two years of American automobile casualties at their lowest (37,261 in 2008 and 33,808 in 2009) still surpass the combined death tolls of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. With automated cars working in a safe and efficient manner, the death toll would decrease dramatically.

Of course, if you feel like invoking the gods, you could ask, "What could go wrong?" For argument's sake, let's say an unmanned car is driving though a school zone at the legal speed and a child trips and falls in front of the car and is killed. Who's to blame when there is no driver, no malfunctioning parts and no fault of the victim? Is the quandary posed in this scenario worth avoiding automated cars altogether when they could potentially save thousands of lives? These are all questions that arise in the modern world, and they need to be answered.

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