Google’s Castle


When I heard that Google has a formal program to qualify people to operate cars that, at least aspirationally, don’t need anyone to operate them, I volunteered. Going through the whole program was out of the question — it takes four weeks, full-time, and god knows what liabilities might be involved. But the company decided that with a compressed lesson on the basics, it would be okay for me to putter around at its private testing grounds. As an afterthought, a rep asked me, “Uh, you are a good driver, right?”

Isn’t the whole point that you don’t have to be a good driver?

For some time, Google has been convinced that the semiautonomous systems that others champion (which include various features like collision prevention, self-parking, and lane control on highways) are actually more dangerous than to the so-called Level Four degree of control, where the car needs no human intervention. (Each of the other levels reflects a degree of driver involvement.) The company is convinced that with cars that almost but don’t drive themselves, humans will be lulled into devoting attention elsewhere and unable to take quick control in an emergency. (Google came to that conclusion when it allowed some employees to commute with the cars, using autodrive only on premapped freeways. One Googler, perhaps forgetting that the company was capturing the whole ride on video, pretty much crawled into the backseat for a phone charger while the car sped along at 65 miles per hour.)


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