TECH: Automated highways

Max More (
Mon, 04 Aug 1997 18:10:59 -0700

Remember the slaveways from Greg Bear's City of Angels? They are getting

Perhaps we can get a firsthand report on this conference from Tom
McKendree, who will be talking at the event, and thus unable to come to


For full coverage of today's stories, visit:

=== The Scoop ===============================

Driving Down The Information

By Jeffrey R. Harrow, TechWeb Contributor

It may come to pass -- and sooner than you think -- that your car will
actually do the driving for you down an information-enabled highway.

The National Automated Highway System Consortium has configured a
7.6-mile section of California's I-15 so cars specially equipped with
video cameras, magnets (to follow magnetic markers on the road) and
radar will do just that.

According to the NAHSC, the
cost to retrofit existing highways is less than $10,000 per mile, and
the group intends to open a prototype "driverless" highway to the
public by 2002.

Later this week, the NAHSC said it plans to demonstrate six automated
driving scenarios on I-15's high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

It would never happen, of course, but what if your computerized
chauffeur was to crash, leading to the more tangible variety? (I'm sure
there are safeguards, but ...) And if that unthinkable was to
occur, would you be at fault? Who would be liable for damages?

If it was a software bug, would the programmer potentially be liable
for manslaughter? Would points accumulate on your driver's
license or on that of your automotive CPU? Would your insurance rates
go up, or would the rates paid by the automated highway or the car's

Those are just the questions that quickly come to mind.

Don't get me wrong -- I think automated highway lanes, as an
option, are a valuable idea that almost certainly will come to pass.
But I'm suggesting that, as we work out the technical details, we also
remember that the implications of such a development go far beyond the
technology. How will you, your parents and your kids react to this? How
will the insurance companies and the state laws
regarding drivers' responsibilities and liabilities have to change?

And more. It will get very complicated as the rapidly changing face of
computing and the rapidly traveling automobile merge into the same lane
on the asphalt highway.

--Jeffrey Harrow is a senior consulting engineer for the corporate
strategy and technology group at Digital Equipment. A more extensive
version of this discussion, as well as other discussions about the
innovations and trends of contemporary computing

The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing -- can be found at His opinions do not necessarily
reflect the opinions of Digital.

Max More, Ph.D.
President, Extropy Institute:,
EXTRO 3 CONFERENCE on the future: