Self-Driving Cars And The Hindenburg Phenomenon

In Tempe, Arizona, a homeless woman was pushing a bicycle carrying plastic shopping bags and walked from a center median into a lane of traffic. She was immediately  struck by a self-driving Uber car operating in autonomous mode.

The car was traveling 38 mph in a 35 mph zone, and never braked. Police say the tragedy wasn’t the car’s fault, but it doesn’t matter. Uber has suspended use of the self-driving cars, and history tells us that the devices may be on a road to oblivion due to an unavoidable collapse of public trust.

I’ve been expecting this. To be precise, I’ve been expecting the first fatality inside a self-driving car, and that will happen soon enough. When it does, I think it is a close call whether self-driving cars ever recover, especially if the fatal accident is especially gory, or involves children.

All it took, remember, to end airship travel forever was one spectacular accident, when the Hindenburg burst into flames and was captured in photographs and newsreels. Before that, airships had a good safety record. Another vivid example was the 1933 Dymaxion, a streamlined car on three wheels created by visionary Buckminster Fuller. All three wheels turned, giving  the Dymaxion the ability to pull into parking spaces in one move. But the design was unstable. Three were built, hailed by investors, the media and celebrities as a break-through, and then one crashed, killing the driver. And that was the end of the Dymaxion. It sure was cool, though… Continue reading

“Hard to Watch” Video: Responsible or Not?

Over at the Huntington Post, Jason Linkins praises the edict of NBC News chief Steve Capus to curb network Olympic coverage use of the video showing Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal luge run. “I’m glad this decision has been reached,” Linkins writes. “The video of Kumaritashvili’s fatal luge run is difficult to watch and I do not recommend that you do so. …Here’s hoping Steve Capus will remember having made this choice come September and break with MSNBC’s grim and pointless tradition of replaying the events of September 11, 2001 in real time.”

Linkins presumably regards Capus’s decision as “responsible broadcasting.” My question is, “What’s responsible about it?” Continue reading