Through the Handoff Lens: Competing Visions of Autonomous Futures
76 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 28, 2020
The development of autonomous vehicles is often presented as a linear trajectory from total human control to total autonomous control, with only technical and regulatory hurdles in the way. But below the smooth surface of innovation-speak lies a battle over competing autonomous vehicle futures with ramifications well beyond driving. Car companies, technology companies, and others are pursuing alternative autonomous vehicle visions, and each involves an entire reorganization of society, politics, and values. Instead of subscribing to the story of inevitable linear development, this paper explores three archetypes of autonomous vehicles—advanced driver-assist systems, fully driverless cars, and connected cars—and the futures they foretell as the ideal endpoints for different classes of actors. We introduce and use the Handoff Model—a conceptual model for analyzing the political and ethical contours of performing a function with different configurations of human and technical actors—in order to expose the political and social reconfigurations intrinsic to those different futures. Using the Handoff Model, we analyze how each archetype both redistributes the task of “driving” across different human and technical actors and imposes political and ethical propositions both on human “users” and society at large. The Handoff Model exposes the baggage each transport model carries and serves as a guide in identifying the desirable and necessary technical, legal, and social dynamics of whichever future we choose.
Keywords: Autonomous Vehicles, Handoff, Philosophy of Technology, Connected Cars, Driver Assist, Values
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