But how is up to us.
It’s summer in Silicon Valley, and I’m out for a jog in my neighborhood. It’s the most beautiful time of year: blossoming orange trees, beds thick with poppies, palm-sized roses in fuchsia and lemon. There’s a trickle of water in the creek, temperatures are cooler than previous summers, and we’re optimistic about this year’s fire season.
When I’m nearly home, I come across an SUV with whirring sensors affixed to its top and sides, trying to turn left at an intersection, through the crosswalk I’m meant to use. It’s a self-driving vehicle, collecting data about its surroundings to refine its artificial intelligence. In San Francisco, fleets of vehicles are already driving around on their own. Here, in Palo Alto, I usually see them on test drives, with human operators prepared to intervene if something goes wrong. Sure enough, a young man sits in the car.
I pause at the corner, high-stepping in place. Go on, I wave. I’m not taking chances that this car, however smart, knows the nuances of pedestrian right of way. The car lurches forward, then stops midway. Lurches forward again, stops again.
The human “driver” seems nervous. Will the vehicle sense my presence if I dart into the road, or will it decide to plow ahead? Will it be too cautious, refusing to execute the turn at all? Will the hapless human have to intervene? Finally, the car painstakingly inches through the intersection and continues on its way. I continue on mine. Across the street, two women in visors stop to inquire, “Was there someone in that car?”
“Yes,” I say, “but he looked scared.” The women laugh. We all understand. The tech is cool, but we don’t …