Driverless cars could change everything

The rear bumper of a Google self-driving car. Image copyright Getty Images

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

Today's must-read

For now, it seems like a novelty - cars that can operate independently of human control, safely cruising down streets thanks to an array of sensors and pinpoint GPS navigation.

But if the technology avoids getting crushed by government regulators and product liability lawsuits, writes the Federalist's Dan McLaughlin, it could prompt a cultural shift similar to the early 20th century move away from horses as the primary means of transportation.

First and foremost, he writes, the spread of driverless cars will likely greatly reduce the number of traffic accidents - which currently cost Americans $871b (£510b) a year.

"A truly driverless road would not be accident-free, given the number of accidents that would still be caused by mechanical and computer errors, weather conditions, pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists and sheer random chance," he says. "But it would make the now-routine loss of life and limb on the roads far rarer."

Computer-operated cars would eventually reshape car design, he says, as things like windshields - "a large and vulnerable piece of glass" - become less necessary. Drivers will be able to sit wherever they'd like in their cars, which could make car interiors more like mobile lounges than like cockpits.

The age required to operate a driverless car is likely to drop, he says. There could be an impact on the legal drinking age, as well, as preventing drunk driving was one of the prime justifications for the US-wide setting minimum age to purchase alcohol at 21 years old.

There's other possible economic fallout, McLaughlin contends, such as a restructuring of the auto insurance industry, the obsolescence of taxi drivers and lower ratings for drive-time radio programmes.

The high-tech security state will also get boost, he writes, as GPS-tagged cars will be easier to track, making life difficult for fugitives and car thieves. Police will also be able to move resources away from operations like traffic enforcement.

Of course, he writes, the towns that rely on speed traps to fund their government services will be facing budget shortfalls. Privacy advocates could also get an unexpected boost, he notes, since traffic stops are one of the main justifications for police vehicle searches.

Finally, there's the prospect of the as-yet-unrealised futurist dream of flying cars. With computer-controlled vehicles that strictly follow traffic rules, McLaughlin says, "the potential for three-dimensional roads becomes a lot less scary and more a matter of simply solving the technological challenge".

Where we're going, we may not need roads after all.


Canadian government buries prostitution poll - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is withholding results from a $175,000 poll that reveals the true attitude that Canadians have towards prostitution, says Liberal MP Sean Casey.

"[Minister of Justice] Peter MacKay has steadfastly opposed releasing the contents of that poll, despite the fact that the information contained might have been helpful to the Justice Committee's deliberations" on legislation that would make prostitution illegal, he writes in the Huffington Post.

The poll was leaked last week, however, and it reveals that Canadians are actually split on the prostitution issue. This runs counter to what Casey calls an "amazingly unscientific an online survey" on which Conservatives had relied.

"Deliberately, almost gleefully, withholding key evidence from the Committee should trouble Canadians who value honesty and integrity - regardless of what side of the prostitution debate they may fall on," writes Casey.


A national political sickness - The unlawful incarceration of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez is a sign that the country is unwell and that world leaders need to take action, says Lopez's wife, Lilian Tintori.

"No one should doubt why Leopoldo is in prison: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is afraid of him, and he has great reason to be," she writes in the Washington Post. "[Former President Hugo] Chavez did not deliver and Maduro has not delivered on their promises, and they have systematically dismantled our fundamental freedoms - free speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom to vote for candidates of our choosing."

If world leaders do not intervene, she warns, Venezuelan economic, political and social suffering will persist.

"Government officials may have locked up his body, but they can't lock up his mind, nor can it silence the millions of Venezuelans who yearn to be free," she concludes.


A sharp divide over women's rights - Sexual violence in Egypt has been exacerbated by the influence of Wahhabi strictures on men's view of women in the country, says writes Alaa Al Aswany in the New York Times.

"At the end of the '70s, millions of Egyptians started migrating to the Gulf states for work," he says. "They returned heavily influenced by the Wahhabi reading of Islam, which forbids the wearing of swimsuits and obliges women to wear the hijab and keep their bodies covered."

Since then, he says, politically charged sexual violence has been intensified in Egypt.

Egyptian men's opinions on women are divided, Asmany continues. Some believe women should be regarded as nothing more than bodies, while others think women deserve the same civil rights as men.


The truth behind the Israel-Palestine debate in the US - The "not-so-secret subtext" beneath the US political debate over the current conflict in Gaza is that it is really a debate over the US role in the world, writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir.

"The current invasion of Gaza involves American guns, American money and the unswerving support of the American political elite and the mainstream media," he writes. Support for the Israeli invasion of Gaza is support for an activist, aggressive US foreign policy. Opposition, he says, is an assertion that the US, itself, is "sliding toward fascism".

He concludes by saying that Israel is the US's "Frankenstein's monster" - "a morally dubious and arguably unnatural creation that was stitched together with the noblest of intentions but not much foresight, and that produced a painful litany of unintended consequences".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

The Russian media commentators continue to react to the downing of MH17.

"Americans always keep everybody under surveillance. And here, they've seen the launch of the rocket and do not know who launched it and from where. It is strange. Had they had evidence against the rebels, they would have already presented it." - Vitaliy Tretyakov in state-owned daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

"There is practically no doubt that the airliner was shot down by the separatists. First of all, they themselves announced it proudly, and the Ukrainian side has already released a transcript of their intercepted conversations… What happened was a consequence of the sense of utter impunity provided by the PR war." - Yuliya Latynina in Novaya Gazeta.

"After some 300 European citizens died, Western leaders will have to react to questions of their voters, and their attitude towards Russia could turn from complicated (political differences on the one hand, economic partnership on another) into a simple negative." - Nikolay Epple in Vedomosti.

"The plane was downed by the Ukrainian military on US orders. Americans had no other choice but to commit a crime. And because this disgusting act was done so carelessly, the naked eye can see who did it." - Anatoliy Vasserman in Komsomolskaya Pravda.‎

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