You might see a new way of driving hit the streets of California in April. Last week, California became the first state to allow driverless cars the freedom to be on state roads without a human safety driver. In the past, autonomous cars have been required to have a human counterpart in each vehicle to take over in case of an emergency or system malfunction.
Many of Silicon Valley’s biggest firms are deep into developing driverless car systems including Apple, Amazon, Waymo, and Uber. Before this development in California, most self-driving cars were tested on various types of closed tracks and even abandoned air force bases. Waymo, the self-driving car unit of the Google parent company Alphabet, has already logged well over 3.5 million miles of driving on these closed tracks.
Many have written about the potentially devastating effects of these new technologies, from job loss to safety issues. Russell Moore wrote about how the church must prepare to care for those who will lose their jobs and livelihoods because of these advances in self-driving technologies. While these concerns are valid and something we must prepare for, I believe the driverless car movement is a good thing for society and will lead to more human flourishing.
Technology’s display of glory
While many lament technological developments like self-driving cars and other AI-based systems, these type of advances actually serve a greater purpose than just cutting down the commute to work. When God created us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27), he gave us minds and tools to create. When we create new things, including technologies, we are actually imaging and glorifying God. Driverless car technology is a monumental achievement by mankind that displays the glory of God as we tackle complex problems. No other part of creation can dream of a future and then set goals to bring that dream into reality.
Technology’s tangible benefits
Driverless car technology is a monumental achievement by mankind that displays the glory of God as we tackle complex problems. No other part of creation can dream of a future and then set goals to bring that dream into reality.
While I understand the trepidation that many feel with the growth of these technologies, especially around job loss, I am confident that they will benefit society. Through the creation of new technologies and techniques, we often bring about a higher degree of human flourishing. After President Kennedy set the seemingly unattainable goal of reaching the moon within a decade, the space race was on. Many technological advances derived from the space program. From microwaves and food safety protocols, to water filtration systems and digital image sensors that allow you to take photos with your smartphone, space exploration brought about countless tools that have caused us to thrive.
We cannot even imagine what might come about through the development of autonomous vehicles, but the impact will be game-changing for the transportation and economic sectors of our society, not to mention the personal lives of people all around us. For example, I commute at least 45 minutes one way to my office during the week. While I have discovered a love of audiobooks to redeem my time, the countless hours I would gain back with a driveless car sound appealing. These vehicles will also lead to safer roads because of the elimination of human error. In addition, they might lead to greater mobility for those who aren’t able to drive because of medical restrictions.
Technology’s path to progress
Many prominent technology, business, and civic leaders have been sounding the warning signals about these kinds of advances for years. These concerns and fears are reasonable, but we must remember that technology is not a new thing. It has routinely revolutionized and disrupted our society for thousands of years. From the advent of the printing press to the industrial revolution, technological progress has brought about changes that have often led to greater economic and job growth.
Think about jobs that have been mostly replaced like horse-drawn carriage drivers or elevator operators. These are examples of how we’ve adapted to our circumstances and moved forward, following the shift in our work and lives. When factories started employing machines in manufacturing, many believed that workers would be eliminated. Instead, a manufacturing surge took place that led to the creation of thousands of new jobs, with some so new that many had never dreamed of a person performing tasks like servicing machines or maintaining computer systems. Some people even moved out of manual labor into roles that highlighted their abilities as creative problem solvers and thought leaders.
I know that the future of work is uncertain for many of us as we look to a more automated workforce. We must not overlook legitimate concerns, but that doesn’t mean that we should try to stifle technological developments because of the fear of the unknown. While we cannot know what the future holds, we can be confident that as image bearers we will be able to honor God by adapting and growing with our circumstances, using the ingenuity of the minds and bodies that he has given us. We must and will march forward, eagerly embracing the future, even as it shows up in our driveways to pick us up for work.