Tag Archives: robert-wright

Why We Should Trust Driving Computers

In light of recent suggestions of technical faults and the ensuing recall of a number of models from Toyota’s line, Robert Wright looks at why we should not worry about driving modern cars.

The reasons: the increased risks are negligible, the systems that fail undoubtedly save more lives than not, this is the nature of car ‘testing’.

Our cars are, increasingly, software-driven — that is, they’re doing more and more of the driving.

And software, as the people at Microsoft or Apple can tell you, is full of surprises. It’s pretty much impossible to anticipate all the bugs in a complex computer program. Hence the reliance on beta testing. […]

Now, “beta testing” sounds creepy when the process by which testers uncover bugs can involve death. But there are two reasons not to start bemoaning the brave new world we’re entering.

First, even back before cars were software-driven, beta testing was common. Any car is a system too complex for designers to fully anticipate the upshot for life and limb. Hence decades of non-microchip-related safety recalls.

Second, the fact that a feature of a car can be fatal isn’t necessarily a persuasive objection to it. […]

Similarly, those software features that are sure to have unanticipated bugs, including fatal ones, have upsides. Electronic stability control keeps cars from flipping over, and electronic throttle control improves mileage.