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Driverless Cars and Systemic Vulnerabilities

December 29, 2012 2 comments

drivlscarSometimes it seems that the uncontrolled and non-systemic is more stable than the systemically controlled environments deliberately aimed at stability.

While the systemic model, with its top-down, consequentialist policies put in place specifically to produce stability, often produces stability over the short run, it at least as often produces unimaginably wild instability over the long run.

This is a problem that crosses platforms. A common analogy is the fires in managed forests. While top-down policies designed to systematically control and extinguish small fires prevent problems in the short run, the lack of fires to clean out the dried brush ultimately leads to uncontrollable infernos.

I am more likely to write about an almost identical problem on this blog: the Federal Reserve. While top-down policies designed to systematically control and extinguish market phenomena like inflation and unemployment often allow for stability in the short run, the lack of market responsiveness ultimately leads to catastrophic crashes, runaway inflation, and heavy unemployment.

This is something that I have been thinking on quite a bit recently, and I have come to the conclusion that we have to embrace the chaos. Ultimately, we’re in for a wild ride no matter what, so why delay the reckoning? Let’s deal with the problems in incremental and manageable ways, preferably at the level of the individual. The only alternative seems to be waiting for intractable problems later.

The reason I bring this up now is because Motor Trend magazine recently published an article called “The Beginning of the End of Driving.” Read the following excerpt and try to tell me you remain unworried about the systemic vulnerabilities.

Continental plans to have autonomous assistance available for limited freeway driving and for construction areas by 2015, says senior vice president Ralf Lenninger. It will add low-speed city capability in 2017, followed by two-lane highway and country road driverless car technology about the end of the decade. The company calls this “the car you can’t crash,” and it will meet the company’s goal for a zero-percent accident rate.
 
Zero percent accident rate? Kind of like the Titanic was unsinkable? The potential for systemic vulnerability to me seems greater than the individual vulnerabilities. If we go to a top-down system of driverless cars, what is to stop a rogue programmer from redirecting all of our vehicles into each other at once?
 
This is not to say that the technology is not potentially useful, or that it can never work. But when the impulse in government is emphatically interference, I doubt the likelihood of independent, individual driverless cars. Far more likely, we will be shunted into a system of “rational regulation,” which may very well end up shunting all of our cars into a ditch one day.
 
By all means, let’s let technology surge forward, but let’s ensure that we avoid the impulse toward systematic regulatory systems to go with it. I would hate to see driverless cars with the same track record as the Fed.
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Some Fun Links for Your Lazy Saturday

December 10, 2011 1 comment

Since we were just speaking of the TSA:

I will finally get around to posting this article (it’s somewhat late, so I apologize) about their British counterparts.  You see, it seems that when Britain’s Border Agency went on strike, the expected hellish lines and hours-long delays at Heathrow not only did not materialize, but conditions actually improved.

Perhaps we only think we need these people. Perhaps the private sector would be doing it anyway – and better.  Read all about it at the Daily Mail.

More on China:

A few days back, China cut its reserve requirements for its banks by 50 basis points, injecting extra cash and liquidity into a market already swimming in paper debt.  Bloomberg charitably reports that this “might signal a slowdown.”

Socrates reports that this is yet another step towards the inevitable Chinese conflagration. Will it be today?  Tomorrow?  Five years from now?  Whatever the case, a fool for China and his money will soon be parted.

Intellectual Property and the Urge to Regulate the Internet:

Quick, what is the most creative, fastest growing sector of the economy?  No, it’s not General Motors.  It is, of course, the “internet economy,” or broadly the information technology that has connected the entire world over the past couple of decades.

And get this, the internet revolutionized our entire lives in spite of being completely devoid of regulation!  Wait, scratch that, it revolutionized our entire lives because it was completely devoid of regulation.

That is why Google happens to be correct in its excoriation of the new “online piracy” bill, which in reality is just intellectual property on steroids:

Google is exhorting senators to oppose an online piracy bill, arguing it would threaten national security, shackle the Internet with regulations and imperil free speech, according to a document obtained by The Hill.

The memo that is being circulated on Capitol Hill lists five reasons not to co-sponsor the legislation. It argues the bill puts at risk “the ability for free speech and the ability of political parties to spread their message” while creating a “thicket of new Internet regulations similar to the administration’s net-neutrality rules.”

It also calls the legislation “a trial lawyer’s dream” and claims it seeks to “regulate the Internet.”

This thing passes, and the internet as we know it dies.

An Update on the Whereabouts of the Anti-War Left:

A while back, I put out an APB on the anti-war left, which disappeared completely once their pro-war president was elected.  Turns out, it is still missing.

Reason has been patrolling the same beat, and Sheldon Richman argues persuasively that “Obama’s War Record Should Appall Progressives.”

Watch as Richman batters the tired arguments of formerly anti-war left, who are now left to rationalize the actions of “their” president, who happens to be ratcheting up all of the failed policies of the former president.

Oh, and if anyone can find where the real anti-war left went, please let me know.  Thanks.

The Unintended Consequences of Race-Based Preferences:

The Supreme Court is choosing whether to hear a case on the racial preference system of the University of Texas.  George Will, who in the last few years has been razor sharp, argues that the court should hear the case and be confronted with the failed legacy of affirmative action:

The Supreme Court faces a discomfiting decision. If it chooses, as it should, to hear a case concerning racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas, the court will confront evidence of its complicity in harming the supposed beneficiaries of preferences the court has enabled and encouraged…

For 33 years, the court has been entangled in a thicket of preferences that are not remedial and hence not temporary. Preferences as recompense for past discrimination must eventually become implausible, but the diversity rationale for preferences never expires…

But what if many of the minorities used in this process are injured by it? Abundant research says they are, as two amicus curiae briefs demonstrate in urging the court to take the Texas case…

“Academic mismatch” causes many students who are admitted under a substantial preference based on race, but who possess weaker academic skills, to fall behind. The consequences include especially high attrition rates from the sciences, and self-segregation in less-demanding classes, thereby reducing classroom diversity.

The entire article is well worth a read.

And hey, it’s Saturday.  What else are you doing?

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