Jonah Goldberg

So far, so good. On the other hand, automated autos would undoubtedly put countless Americans who make a living driving cars, buses and trucks out of work, at least in the short run. I'm no Luddite. Capitalism is supposed to destroy unproductive jobs to make room for productive ones. Still, in the short term, the turmoil could be brutal, economically and politically.

But let's leave professional drivers out of it. Besides, truck and bus drivers do more than simply drive, and they might keep their increasingly redefined jobs for a good while longer.

What I find most disturbing to contemplate is what this would mean for American liberty.

Health and safety -- particularly for "the children" -- have become all-purpose writs for social meddling. The list of dangerous substances and activities we need to be protected from grows by the day. With the help of a media establishment that turns anecdotes into epidemics in a heartbeat, the state ceaselessly empowers itself to constrain our freedoms for what the experts tell us is for our own good.

Let's be fair: The experts aren't always wrong, and even when they're wrong, their arguments aren't necessarily unreasonable given their assumptions. But if you follow the logic of mandatory seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, red-light cameras and anti-texting laws to their natural conclusion, it's easy to imagine that some bureaucrats will want to co-author your car's software.

And then what? Will you ever be allowed to go over the speed limit again? Police are already drooling to see our GPS data. Will that become automatic too? Will the cops have the power to tell your car to stop whether you want it to or not? Will authorities be able to tell your car to take a detour to alleviate traffic? Make it turn around when it gets too close to certain off-limit areas?

I don't know, and neither does anyone else. But I would like to imagine that when these debates come -- and they will -- a sufficient number of Americans will have enough of the right stuff to say, "We want a steering wheel."


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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