As we become increasingly dependent on technology in every single part of our lives, what are we gaining and losing as a society? That’s the question posed by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever in The Driver in the Driverless Car. The authors of this insightful new book investigate how rapidly evolving new technologies are reshaping our world — and what this change portends for the future. We need to do more than just go along for the ride, the authors warn. Otherwise, instead of a utopia of equality and enlightenment, we’ll find ourselves in a dystopia of increased isolation, invasions of privacy, and raging economic disparity.
This is a fascinating look at the consequences of wholeheartedly adopting new technologies without initial vetting. Take the driverless car, a development that promises vast improvements in safety, convenience, and urban infrastructure costs, but may devastate automobile and related industries and infringe upon privacy rights. Change always has ramifications, as the authors point out. These profound shifts have social, cognitive, economic and other implications that we need to better understand.
The book highlights three key issues — equality, risk, and autonomy — and analyzes how they may be compromised by emerging new technologies in sectors such as healthcare, education, and energy. For example, how will telemedicine — used to monitor health through artificial intelligence-based applications — provide more equal access and benefit? It will enable patients to conduct regular tests themselves and upload the data to shared servers — and in this case, the authors argue, the upsides outweigh the downsides. The innovation will dramatically increase the quality and decrease the cost of healthcare, even if it potentially compromises consumer privacy or confuses patients.
Too often, the authors point out, we avidly embrace new technology on the mistaken assumption that institutions and consumer or industry watchdogs are monitoring its release. We believe others will sound the alarm if they detect likely hazards. But the pace with which technology has advanced is surpassing the limited capacity of regulating agencies, and it’s up to users to fill the vacuum. To help, the authors offer some guidance, encouraging readers to be vigilant in safeguarding personal information as we participate in the new culture of extreme sharing and online commerce. Until the cybersecurity industry catches up, our finances and security are at risk.
There’s plenty to give pause in The Driver in the Driverless Car — and that’s the point. We need to think about the ramifications of becoming entirely dependent on electronic devices, gadgets using A.I., and other technological crutches. Could tracking our “user journeys” as we shop online or stream movies and television programs lead to limited choices down the road? Could asking questions of Amazon’s Alexa actually limit our curiosity or interpersonal relationships? Should we allow our doctors to alter our DNA in order to cure a hereditary disease? This book does an excellent job of spurring us to question, not just accept.