Car industry expects hundreds or thousands more to die so it can get self-driving cars right

Lentz-Reuters

Toyota Executive Jim Lentz on Reuters TV

Car industry reaction to last week’s fatal collision between a ‘self-driving’ Uber car and a pedestrian sheds useful light on its view of humans’ place in the carosphere.

“A hundred or 500 or a thousand people could lose their lives in accidents like we’ve seen in Arizona,” Toyota North America Chief Executive, Jim Lentz, suggested to Reuters in a discussion about the future of real-road tests of AVs (for the record, the Uber vehicle involved was a Volvo).

Lentz continued: “The big question for government is: How much risk are they willing to take? If you can save net 34,000 lives [about the annual US road death toll], are you willing to potentially have 10 or 100 or 500 or 1,000 people die?” he said.

Note how the issue of self-driving cars killing people by the hatful suddenly becomes the government’s problem. The car industry wants to know how much carnage ‘the government’ is willing to suck up so that its members can enjoy an unimpeded run at perfecting self-driving cars.

It’s an absolute article of faith among AV cheerleaders that self-driving vehicles will eliminate road fatalities. This belief rests on a dangerous combination of overstretched logic and hubris. The logic runs that almost all vehicle ‘accidents’ result from human error, so eliminating human drivers will eliminate mistakes and therefore all injuries and deaths. The hubris is that engineers can create AVs that are 100% perfect 100% of the time. And AVs will have to be thus.  No less than absolutely-undiluted perfection will do.

But some very experienced AV engineers seriously doubt whether the incredibly-complex webs of intra- and extra-vehicular technology required will ever achieve the 99.99999999999999999999999% glitch-free operation envisaged.

Lentz suggests that 1,000 lives is ultimately a reasonable price to pay to see whether perfect robocars are possible. After all, that would be just 0.08% of the 1.2 million people killed on the roads worldwide every year.

There’s something distasteful about an industry that viciously fought against seat belts and dirt-cheap safety improvements in the past solemnly counting-out, in the lives of strangers, the price of … perhaps … absolving itself from responsibility for the consequences of its trade.

One thing’s for sure. The quote at the top would never have been conceived if ‘government’ had been replaced with ‘Toyota’ and ‘people’ with ‘our employees’.

13 Minutes and the modern propaganda state

Watching the movie 13 Minutes on TV last night was a reminder, if ever one was needed, that one should never lightly make comparisons with Nazi Germany.

13-minutes-601

Burghart Klaußner as Arthur Neber and Christian Friedel as George Esner in 13 Minutes.

One of the film’s many strengths is its naturalistic depiction of authoritarianism creeping up on small-town Germany. Briton’s are still raised on an historical diet of jerky clips of Hitler gesticulating from podiums, motorcades hurtling through streets and massed ranks of storm troopers rallying at Nuremberg and we think “how did they fall for that?”

In 13 Minutes, the moment we realise the Nazis have fully taken over is when the town’s Party puts on a cross between a film show and a fête. There’s free beer and children skipping. The film they show isn’t of a political rally but a country sports day – except that there’s already something recognisably totalitarian about the shots of happy, healthy sons and daughters of the motherland racing towards the camera. The mayor-turned-local-Party-chief makes sure everyone knows who they should thank for Germany’s blessings.

Georg Esner, the carpenter whose bomb missed possibly killing Hitler by 13 minutes in November 1939, possesses both the prescience to understand the devastation Adolf will ultimately wreak on Germany and the courage to try to stop him. Alone, the film suggests. And certainly despite horrific torture, Esner maintained to the end that he was working with no-one else.

All around him in the two years leading up to the attempt on Hitler, the Nazis are ruthlessly preparing for all-out war, beating up and imprisoning anyone who openly opposes them and ostracising Germans who don’t join the Party.

The timing of 13 Minutes’ showing on UK TV was fortuitous given some uncomfortable parallels between the German government reaction to Esner’s bomb attack and what happened in Salisbury.

Neither the Germans, in 1939, nor the British government, in mid-March this year, had any idea to begin with who carried out the attack. That didn’t stop both of them instantly launching media blitzes blaming their respective bêtes-de-jour. For the Nazi leaders it was Churchill. For Theresa May’s government it’s Vladimir Putin.

The difference as of today is that a German border patrol stopped a man as he was trying to slip into Switzerland and found he was carrying materials linking him to the bombing. So they had a perp whereas the British authorities today, when you parse what they’re actually saying, have no incontrovertible evidence of what the Salisbury nerve agent was or the identity of the individual(s) who deployed it.

For five years after the Munich bombing, the dwindling number of Germans inclined to believe what they read and heard in the media understood that the incident was a dastardly British attack on German sovereignty carried out via the treacherous Esner. Their leaders new different – or at least that they couldn’t prove anything of the sort, though they kept Esner alive until the bitter end of the war in the hope of somehow being able to mount a show trial.

History.com’s account concludes: ‘Hitler dared not risk a public trial, as there were just too many holes in the “official” story’.

Of course, no-one disputes that the Germans had the actual bomber in custody; a man who’d killed seven people and injured nearly 70. One could debate for a very long time the many contradictions in keeping alive a traitor, who very nearly succeeded in derailing the Nazi leadership, for five long years during which the same leadership shot, hung and gassed millions of Germans and and carelessly slaughtered tens of millions of foreigners on the Eastern and Western fronts.

No-one should equate the record of the British state since WWII with anything that happened in Germany between 1936 and 1945, although we do have bad form when it comes to scapegoating innocent people following bomb attacks. The bottom line, though, is that our State didn’t execute the wongfully convicted individuals and it – eventually – owned up to subjecting them to ordeal and injustice.

Nevertheless, the Britsh state in the twenty-teens is becoming more authoritarian and more propagandising than at any previous time in my 60 years. But if I’m tempted to make a comparison with Germany in the late 1930s, I remind myself that I live in a society that’s still a thousand times freer, more tolerant and more open than Nazi Germany was.

What a pity that the UK’s national embarrassment and disgrace of a foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, lacks a similar perspective.

What May Deems (W.M.D.)

I see the neocons and likuds as very damaged and traumatized individuals. They carry a set of internal wounds that express on the outside as a very belligerent and hostile set of postures and actions.”

Chris Martenson, Peak Prosperity Blog, 2016

QuadRanting would like to believe that the Prime Minister privately feels profoundly ashamed about her role as the UK’s propagandist-in-chief. After all, that’s an appellation with the most sordid history imaginable.

Mrs May’s assertions that the only possible candidate for orchestrating the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury is the Kremlin have been widely discredited. The Government has resorted to bullying its own chemical warfare experts to try to get them to lie about the level of certainty surrounding the provenance of the Salisbury nerve agent.

Although the Skripal-Russia story still has a lot of unravelling to do before it’s as dead in the water as Trump-Russia, or the infamously cooked-up Iraq WMDs story, it will carry on echoing down the years in the minds of those who don’t or won’t bother with critical thinking. Which of course is the point of propaganda.

The truly sad thing about Mrs May is that she could choose to pin her flag to the mast of addressing the very real predicament facing our (and every other advanced) nation. She could tell some truth for a change. She could say that there’s a lot of toil, tears and disappointment ahead. Because the reality of declining global net energy per capita will trump all dreams of carrying on as we have for the last couple of centuries, and bits will keep dropping off the economy for many, many decades.

Try uniting us to tackle the problems in our own backyard, Mrs May, rather than merely baring your teeth and dancing to the neocons’ war drums. That would be being tough, Mrs May. That would show strength and stability.

I mean why? What, or who, close to you, is so scary and powerful that you prefer to play to the stalls with tired old, Cold War era, chest-beating than to look like a grown-up who works with international experts and proceeds only as fast as hard facts become available?

How sad must it feel to sit at Chequers at the weekend, watching your corner in the propaganda campaign being fought by a politician whose CV serially lists ‘caught out by my lies’ as the reason for leaving jobs?

What could you be doing for your country and the world, Mrs May, if you didn’t allow yourself to be railroaded by those many damaged and traumatised people whom you think you can trust in the UK’s permanent government?

 

Poisoning our chance of a safer future

QuadRanting is depressed by current events. From the limited viewpoint afforded by his rural hermit hole, he cannot for the life of him get the apparent assassination attempt in Salisbury to smell right.

What would the Kremlin stand to gain by attacking a former (alleged) spy who was exposed, jailed and swapped-out for rival spooks many years ago? Why, if the Russians are so brilliantly fiendish at the dark arts of subversion and subtle revenge-taking, would they show their hand at a time of rising tensions and when the man has his very photogenic daughter with him – which makes the story a full house in Tabloid Bingo terms ?

Why aren’t supposedly impartial media outlets like the BBC asking the same questions? Their main story on the affair this morning read like a masterclass in state smearology; full of ‘is-believeds’, ‘thought-to-bes’ and ‘sources-says’. Endless references to Alexander Litvinenko but none to Georgi Markov. Perhaps that’s because the Bulgarian secret service killed Markov – and they don’t count – whereas all the players in the Litvinenko case were Russian. And a UK official enquiry into Litvinenko eventually got round to pointing a finger at the Kremlin – though only when it suited the UK Government to do so.

The key point, some 24 hours after the Salisbury incident began, is no-one yet knows what apparently poisoned the two Russians, or when, where, how or by whom the mystery substance was administered. All we have is speculation backed up by large photos of police in anti-contamination suits and of the late Mr Litvinenko (in case we’re not making the required connections fast enough).

It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that we’re looking at an overdose of some recreational material, although that hardly looks likely. Assuming the poisoning was deliberately done by a third party, the possibilities at this stage are endless.

Secret services? If so, whose? The US permanent government is plainly intent on driving up tensions between its putative allies and Russia. The UK, mindful of past kickings dealt to it over non-participation in Vietnam, and other disloyal moments, has always harboured plenty of spooks willing to play Mutley to Washington’s Dick Dastardly.

Crime? Possible. The carve-up in Russia, post Soviet collapse, epitomised Honoré de Balzac’s saying about great crimes lying behind great fortunes. Who knows what might one day pop out from the labyrinths of old scores and rivalries, and why and where?

Trade? Anyone who thinks our top Brexiteers are patriotically devoted to reclaiming British sovereignty, rather than to their own chances of becoming the UK’s next oligarchy, probably doesn’t have an internet connection. Poisoning pension-age ex-spies in Wiltshire might not impinge directly on trade but it does throw a lifeline to the likes of Boris Johnson, who gets to direct stern international noises at Putin instead of having to listen to everyone stifling their laughter at his incoherent pronouncements around Brexit.

And yes, it could be a Russian state hit job. But the question comes back to why and why now? The victim was a guest of the Russian state for four years after his conviction, until swapped in 2010. Violent places, many Russian prisons. But you wait eight years to get your revenge, until a few days after your winter sportsmen and women have been officially readmitted to the Olympic fraternity and only months before hosting the soccer World Cup?

Doesn’t smell right. Doesn’t smell right at all. Not that that will prevent our fearless politicians and media from doing everything they can to instil the belief that it was the Russians wot done it, short of actually coming out and saying so.

And at least in this case there’s an actual incident to use as a launching point. Not like the incident of the mythical Russian sub in Swedish waters. The US papers that clarioned the story in 2014 never got round to telling their readers when it eventually emerged that there never was a sub and the whole thing was merely a red scare in a teacup. Funny that.

E N D S