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May 04, 2014

Google Cars, Wheels on Meals, & Texas Trojan Drones

You know, both Einstein and the Zen practitioners would probably agree that all the really good experiments are thought experiments. I'd like to think of Einstein getting a tour of the Haldron Collider and asking, you're actually smashing stuff together? How brutal! Well, if you need to...

So a thought experiment. Let's say Google has autonomous cars down pretty well, to the point where they don't want to have to require a human observer in their test cars any more - they want to deploy these vehicles without any humans on board, on the streets, outside of the controlled conditions of test situations. They want you to go to your (android) phone, summon your car, and it will drive to your location and pick you up - on the same street as teenage drivers and school buses and kids on bicycles.

Probably California and Nevada will be good with that - California because they're bleeding/leading edge, and Nevada because life is pretty cheap out there and there's a lot of open space. But the rest of the states aren't budging. No legislator wants to be the one to introduce the bill that puts drones on the public roads.

Google thinks about it, considers their mantra Do No Evil and ponders - how can we get our way by doing good deeds? Because the public loves good deeds, and the politics of good deeds is effective. Great optics, as they say. A summer intern comes up with: Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is a great organization that delivers hot meals to older folks but their constraint is: they can't get enough drivers with cars, willing to spend a day driving a route and dropping off meals. Why - shazzam - that's the sort of mindless drudgery that Google Cars is designed to replace anyway! So Google donates a thousand Drone Vans to Meals on Wheels, just 20 in every state, and notifies the Congressional delegations about their contribution to the poor, the elderly, the shut ins.

Meals on Wheels says, with those vehicles (and a bit of cash) we could increase meal delivery by 23%, and we could hire a minimum wage employee who doesn't need a drivers license to sit in the van and pop out with the meals - hey, we're taking an unemployed person from being a tax user to being a tax payer! And somehow, a Mountain View CA charity ponies up enough cash so that Meals on Wheels can do just that - bringing benefits without charge to good people all over America.

So the good, worthy, caring people of Wheels on Meals go about their business. One of the MoW-Google Vans is working it's way down a street in New Jersey, and a Tom River Township policeman pulls it over and puts a boot on the wheels to immobilize it. "Autonomous vehicles are not authorized in New Jersey", he tells the local television reporter. "What if it killed somebody? What if it hit your Aunt Mary? Odds are against it, but what if?"

Headline on Channel-4 News: Bureaucrats would rather people go hungry than allow proven drone use.

Which is, of course, exactly what the people trying to push the technology wanted, and what the Congress-folks from the district wanted, and what the Homeland-Security-Military-Industrial-Complex wanted. But they wrapped it up in an old woman that needs a hot meal, and a young kid that needs a job, and all of a sudden the notion that it matters what happens when somebody gets killed becomes heartless.

Related story. And the whole time, the humanitarian organisation is good caring people, trying to meet a genuine need, but arguably being used by cynical dynamics above their heads.

More at, and

People are funnier than almost anybody else.


FDavid said...

They are just trying to do the right thing...even when no one is watching

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