Miles Jennings

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Yet Another Human Driver Kills

After a self-driving Uber powered car recently killed someone, the state immediately moved to put the brakes (no pun intended) on further testing of the technology.

The first death caused by a self-driving car is certainly a watershed moment and should give everyone, including the company, pause. If we call this beta testing, we just uncovered a critical bug. The bug has to be fixed, fast and entirely.

However, I can't help but call attention to our very human reaction to this inhuman error. We are highly susceptible and influenced by headlines.

"SELF-DRIVING CAR KILLS" sounds pretty scary. Yet in every local paper, every day of the year, we could also publish: "YET ANOTHER HUMAN DRIVER KILLS." 

We are biased against the new, even if that new produces results factually much better than anything before it. Headlines are biased against the outlier, because when a member of the largest group does something of note, we don't call attention to their group membership.

It reminds me of people calling to end homeschooling because of one lunatic family. We don't hear headlines about public-schooled families abusing their kids, because there is no reason to identify them as public-schooled, which is the largest group. 

Let's remember not to kill the promise of a better future because we're biased for the past and against the outlier. Let's look at data to solve our problems. Self-driving cars hold the promise of ending what is one of the major causes of injury and death. It's one of the recent innovations which holds the greatest potential for good.

To use another car analogy, let's turn the light yellow, not red.



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