Chris TENNANT, University College London, United Kingdom
What is the value of public opinion data concerning novel technologies not yet experienced by those expressing the opinions? How should we govern such novel technologies? Can public opinion constructively shape that governance? We address these questions in the domain of driverless (‘autonomous’) vehicle (AV) technology.
AV technology has been the subject of considerable hype through the last decade: politicians and developers alike have promoted it as the solution to the negative externalities associated with the system of automobility. Promises of zero accidents have figured prominently their claims. Yet the public remain unconvinced, and the technology continues to miss the deployment deadlines it sets itself. The road is a social space, and the potential interactions with other road users that AVs must contend with are open-ended. The challenge is proving complicated, maybe too complicated, and developers are already starting to call for the road to be simplified, to close down the open-endedness. Today’s social space has evolved around human road users: calls to eliminate error-prone human agents are now being followed by calls to turn the road into a space designed for, and controlled by, machines.
How do people respond to the prospect of a controlled road environment? Do they believe in, and embrace, the possibilities of safer, cheaper, cleaner, more convenient mobility? Or do they fear losing the control they feel they have today – the ability to choose when and how to travel. Many of those promoting the technology argue that the public is incapable of answering these questions with so many uncertainties surrounding the technology. We bring together data from a series of surveys carried out in several countries since 2015, most recently in France 2020, to argue that public responses are coherent and fairly reflect the state of the technology. Moreover, failure to engage with public hopes for and concerns over the technology seem likely to deliver the same unsatisfactory outcomes now being experienced with more mature digital technology platforms, and to replicate the collective action dilemmas created by today’s dominant mobility platform, the private car.