Autonomous Cars And People Must Transition To A Posthuman World

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A great deal of focus is put on the advancing technology that will eventually put completely autonomous cars on the road. However, if no one will get inside the car, that poses a huge problem — ironic and funny as that might seem.

  • At this point, most people don’t trust autonomous cars
  • If designers tap into the belief that computers can outperform human drivers, it will accelerate the adoption of autonomous vehicles
  • Enhanced driver and car interaction, including the fun factor should be considered

Most people don’t trust autonomous vehicles. They have been driving cars for so long that the thought of conceding driving duties completely to the car is pretty scary.

A survey at Penn State found that people who believed machines could outperform humans had an easier time accepting autonomous cars. They needed to buy into what’s referred to as a car’s posthuman abilities.

Posthumanism: The idea that humanity can be transformed, transcended, or eliminated either by technological advances or the evolutionary process; artistic, scientific, or philosophical practice which reflects this belief. Source(Oxford Living Dictionary)

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“There are two camps — one camp is very strongly in favor of these kinds of smart technologies, such as self-driving cars, and the other, which has grave concerns about giving control to machines, especially for vital tasks like this,” said S. Shyam Sundar, who is also the co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

How Do Automakers Build Trust In Autonomous Cars

If you look to history, you’ll see there is always a learning curve in allowing computers to do the job for us. For example, when the first electronic calculator was introduced not everybody trusted it to get the right answer. Now it’s completely accepted that a calculator will outperform even the best human in speed and accuracy.

So, how do automakers build trust in autonomous cars? Openness to new technologies and the cool factor of autonomous cars played into the acceptance of the 404 survey participants. But, belief in the car’s posthuman ability had twice the effect.

“We have come to a point now where we should no longer be talking about machines approximating humans in their ability, but, rather, outperforming humans,” said Andrew Gambino, the lead researcher of the study and a doctoral candidate in mass communications. “In the sense of safety, in reliability, in doing tasks without becoming tired, there are many arguments to be made that machines have transcended human abilities.”

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While posthuman ability was the most significant factor for acceptance, certain beliefs can be a deterrent, such as autonomous cars are dangerous or creepy.

Tapping Into The Posthuman Effect

To capitalize on the posthuman effect, designers need to reimagine a passengers’ experience. Researchers suggested getting rid of features that remind us of humans controlling the car, like the steering wheel, shifter and hand-brake. Instead, the interior could be used for better communication between humans, their vehicles and other vehicles on the road, enhancing a sense of control, especially in “high-stakes” moments.

“For example, a graphical user interface that is tailored to self-driving cars might include information that visually situates the vehicle within the entire transportation system, showing other vehicles, speed, traffic, accidents and risk areas,” Gambino said.

The Fun Factor Of Not Driving

In addition, designers could add features to up the fun factor, which is a draw for autonomous cars. Sundar suggested gamifying the transportation experience, for example using the dash area for that purpose.

From the participants, researchers found that men were more likely to accept self-driving cars than women and liberals were “significantly more” open to the idea. Why am I not surprised?


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