Autonomous Technology Requires Caution — And A Leap Of Faith

Historically, every wave of technological innovation — especially those that directly impact human well-being — has had detractors. With autonomous technology, we need to find a balance between caution and Luddism and learn to cherish our deepening relationship with technology.

The stories of the global grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft and the latest Tesla autopilot crash controversy have sparked a wave of outrage and genuine fear about the role of autonomous technology in our lives.

The tones are dire: Autonomous technology is a threat to human life. The technology isn’t ready. Society and people aren’t ready. And we’re seeing words translated into actions, with self-driving carsbecoming targets for the modern equivalent of pitchfork-wielding mobs.

Exponential change is never simple or painless — especially when human life is perceived to be at risk. In 1906, the New York Sundeclared the “fad“ of bicycling to be over, and critics of the newfangled devices decried the potential dangers of two-wheeled transportation and predicted the misguided technology’s demise.

In Boston, at the dawn of the 20th century, public outcry over a proposed subway system was based on beliefs regarding the inherent quality of the air underground. In addition to serious objections about a future wherein legions of commuters fell ill, residents complained that construction work was releasing noxious subterranean air which was killing off trees in the city’s public parks.

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