One intriguing technological possibility in the transportation domain is the idea of “self-driving” cars — robot cars, basically — that could drive a route without the need for a human being to pilot the car. This kind of technology could potentially revolutionize the urban landscape. There would be much less need for parking in central business districts, for example, if commuters’ cars could just drop them off and go someplace where space is at less of a premium. Further along those lines, you can imagine a society that featured much less car ownership outside of rural areas, and much more dependence on a fleet of inexpensive driverless taxis.
But instead of reading about that, I found myself reading Spencer Ackerman’s piece about the US Army’s efforts to develop driverless trucks to reduce supply line vulnerability to roadside bombs, a major impediment to our efforts to establish vast networks of military installations in countries on the other side of the planet. My dominant thought when reading Peter Singer’s excellent book on military robots was that it’s a shame that the military is such a dominant driver of technical research in the United States. Automation technology is promising for military purposes primarily because it’s promising overall. But while Japanese robots clear snow and bolster the spirits of senior citizens, we’re working on warbots to facilitate missions we probably shouldn’t be undertaking.