Uneasy Rider December 2016 - Tesla And The Tech Problem

Uneasy Rider: Tesla & The Tech Problem

Like many of you, I read an article on CycleWorld.com in early November that referenced an article on Newatlas.com about a Tesla Model S running in “Autopilot” mode rear-ending and seriously injuring a female motorcyclist in Norway on July 27th of this year. Yeah, I’m writing an article, or more accurately a column or whatever this “Uneasy Rider” thing is, about an article that was about an article—just another glitch in the matrix, folks.

I was tempted to say “our friends over at Cycle World” because that’s the sort of conspicuously fraternal bro-downing that publications do these days, but it wouldn’t be accurate. We do sorta cultivate an anti-mainstream, oops lamestream moto-media ‘tude here at CityBike World Headquarters, but it’s only partly because we’re rugged individualists—it’s also because those guys don’t talk to us. Ya gotta work with what ya got, right? Cycle World probably perceives us—if they perceive us at all—as the annoying redheaded stepchild of that pain in the ass neighbor a few doors down; the one tanking property values with the unkempt yard and suspicious activity. Constant stream of shady characters, bikes up on blocks out front, and so on.

But back to more serious matters, one of which is the matter of Tesla’s intelligent cars taking out riders, I, Robot style. I’ve been hesitant to hop on the fuck technology bandwagon that has carried some of the motorcycle community’s typically kneejerk perspective on things like self-driving cars. After all, human drivers have set the bar pretty fucking low.

If you pay attention to this stuff, you may recall that in October, California’s DMV ordered Tesla to stop using the terms “self-driving,” “automated,” or “auto-pilot” in advertising, unless they are truly capable of driving themselves without human intervention. Tesla’s either ignoring that, or those folks believe they’re at that point now—their website currently touts the presence of “Full Self-Driving Hardware” on all cars, claiming their cars are capable of driving “at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”

Again, we’ve set the bar pretty low, but still…

The problem with this is that while Tesla says the driver has to be prepared to take control, anyone who’s been on a public road lately knows that even though drivers are still expected to be actually driving, they’re not paying attention. It’s ludicrously batshit bananas to believe that “drivers” who think their car is taking care of business are gonna be aware enough to do anything other than just ride along for the manslaughter when the car issues a warning like “hey, we’re about to kill this motorcyclist.” Or doesn’t.

Tech companies love to do this—develop the technology, and then pass it off to obviously poorly equipped human beings, essentially washing their hands of any responsibility: “Hey, we told you to pay attention. It’s not our fault you keep killing yourselves with our half-ass “self-driving” cars. You’re supposed to be paying attention—it says so in the ridiculously lengthy TOS that we know you agree to without reading every time you update the software on your car.”

Tesla essentially enabling automated culling of motorists on two or four wheels is not so different than Facebook rapidly accelerating the dumbing-down of communication and near-complete removal of critical thinking, or AirBNB and NextDoor making racism ok again—just a little bloodier. Hey, at least AirBNB and NextDoor have sorta-kinda tried to fix the mess they’ve created. At least that particular mess.

Tesla keeps this all somewhat legally defensible with statements like “Please note that Self-Driving functionality is dependent upon extensive software validation and regulatory approval, which may vary widely by jurisdiction.” In other words: it’s too hard for us to get our shit together, so you’re on your own.

Of course, Tesla is happy to relinquish control, responsibility and blame unless there’s a monetization opportunity. In a classic example of you don’t actually own the thing you bought bullshit, Tesla says, “Using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network.”

All this so we can keep heading towards an existence like the humans in WALL-E, thanks to cars that drive you to the next appointment on your calendar without intervention, drop you off and find their own parking spots.

No thanks. We here at CityBike will keep racing toward the apocalypse with our human-controlled motorbikes and old diesels.

This column originally appeared in our December 2016 issue, which you can read in all its high-res glory here.