The article “The Real Problem With Self-Driving Cars” written by Robert X. Cringely (pseudonym of Mark Stephens), accuses the self-driving car industry of overreaching technologically and proposes an intermediate step in the progression of self-driving technology. Stephens uses a recent example of a pedestrian killed by a self-driving car to illustrate the point that self-driving cars aren’t ready to be brought to market. He proposes that stretches of highway and cars driving on it could be made to communicate with each other, increasing throughput by allowing cars to drive closer together at faster speeds without necessitating fully autonomous cars that can navigate more complex city roads. He claims in his conclusion that such an idea hasn’t been implemented yet due to corporate greed on the part of “mass transit people” and “self-driving car moguls.”
The article is decidedly not credible. It is posted on a personal website for seemingly persuasive purposes, and while it has citations, they are irrelevant to the main point of the article.
Mark Stephens himself is of reasonable credibility. He’s a public figure about whom information is readily available online. He has a masters in communications from Stanford and has written for high profile publications such as Forbes, Newsweek, and The New York Times. The main issue is that he has few qualifications that would indicate he’s an expert on self-driving cars, and so when his article lacks good citation, his claims aren’t trustworthy.
The problem with the post is that it has absolutely no sources for the main argument. It has sources for tangential information, but the proposed improvement has no substance to it besides an anecdote. For example, the claim that his idea “could be implemented today almost for free using GPS, WiFi, and cellular data” is conspicuously lacking any sort of source or evidence, even though this is a crucial factor of the argument. Another critical premise of his argument is the safety of this proposed system, saying that if two cars are travelling at 80 mph at one meter apart and “the car ahead slammed on its brakes and you bumped into it, chances are there would be no damage.” Not only does this use the weasel words “chances are,” there is absolutely no citation to back up this claim. The source he does keep referring to is the (unnamed) cousin of Paul Sen, the series director of Triumph of the Nerds. A person he claims to have talked to about this topic 23 years ago. This raises multiple, severe problems. Both the possibility that perhaps Stephens misunderstood some facets of the idea he’s presenting, and the possibility that the idea has been pursued adequately, but dropped due to unforeseen problems or complications. To give examples of where he does use citation, he links to an article confirming that a woman was killed by a self-driving car, an article that shows Tesla is working on technology dissimilar to what he proposes, to a blog detailing what “drafting” is, and to articles showing the financial and energy costs of California’s high speed rail project (without giving any sort of estimate for his proposal).
Cringely, Robert X. “The Real Problem with Self-Driving Cars.” I, Cringely, 26 Mar. 2018.
Schillinger, Liesl. “The Double Life of Robert X. Cringely.” Wired, Conde Nast, 5 June 2017.