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.