Can You Trust Your Life to a Computer?

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The first batches of Tesla’s first “car that everyone can buy”, the model 3, was recently released. With over 450,000 preorders, Tesla’s claim seems to be holding up. This many new Teslas on the road comes with more than just the environmental benefits that electric cars bring, there will now be over 450,000 cars on the road with the ability to drive on autopilot.

So what does this mean for every else? Should we trust a computer with human lives? Are self-driving cars better than human drivers? Should self-driving cars be the norm?

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To start to answer these questions, we should first look at the numbers. After Tesla’s current autopilot system was introduced Tesla’s crash rate dropped ~40% according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So that’s it right? Autopilot is simply better than humans and we should all convert to autopilot right now. Well, not quite. Very few miles have been driven, so the sample size is too small to have any conclusive results about whether self-driving cars are safer than traditional cars. However, the small sample size does not mean that these results are completely useless. If anything, they confirm that autopilot is at least as safe as human drivers, so autopilot can be very promising for the future of self-driving cars.

So then, should we start moving to self-driving cars as the norm in the near future once Tesla can collect more autopilot data? Maybe, but probably not. Although Tesla’s autopilot does lower the crash rate, there are still crashes, so the current technology far from perfection. Tesla recognizes this imperfection of their autopilot software, and states that “autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver”. Until there can be a 100% guarantee that a self-driving car will not crash unless there is no other option, autopilot should not be solely responsible for the control of a car.

Nonetheless, self-driving technology has come very far, and a 40% reduction in crash rate is no small feat. As it stands today, Tesla’s autopilot technology is ready for mass use at a safety level where I would personally feel comfortable driving with it. Still, it has some steps to go before drivers can start to rely solely on autopilot.

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About the author

Luc Coté is a 16 year old Junior at St. Mark’s School. In his free time Luc enjoys coding, building things, politics, and grilling. Luc is a self-proclaimed grill master, a member of Students for Sustainability, an enthusiastic Peer Tutor, and co-founder of the Young Independents club. Luc hopes to soon start a Coding Club at St. Mark’s as well. Academically, Luc is an involved and passionate student with interests in Computer Science, Math, Physics, Engineering, and History. Luc joined the Parkman Post to combine his enjoyment of politics with his love for STEM.

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