Just a couple of updates for today. You know I am excited for the arrival of self-driving cars. If airplanes (jet-liners) are any guide, then highways will soon be as safe as the skies when computers take over. Besides safety, there will also be major improvements in traffic flow and efficiency. It is a win-win-win in my view. Google has logged 300,000 miles with their self-driving cars and have not logged even 1 accident. They will soon have some of their employees commute to work by themselves in the self-driving cars.
So what could go wrong? A lot, actually. The cars will of course have to be tested more rigorously and there will have to be fail-safe options where the human passenger can take over driving in extreme situation. But besides that, there is also the fact that you will no longer be as in control as you once were. The computer driving the car will have more control over the speed you are going, the route you are taking, and how to react in potential accident situations. There is also the creepy aspect of “big-brother” (government) or hackers being able to take over your car and make it stop or drive you to prison or other potentially nefarious things. Also, people who enjoy driving and are good at it will of course feel a loss if they are no longer allowed to. Eric Peters goes into a long list of why he doesn’t like the thought of self-driving cars. In the end, I think the safety record of self-driving cars will win out and those who want to drive themselves will dwindle in number. Regulations (and insurance) will probably end up raising the cost of human driving so far that it becomes impractical. People in the U.S. will probably lament the most because we have such a love affair with our cars, but it won’t be that much different than getting on a train or airplane where you are not in control and computers operate them very safely.
In case you were wondering about the Curiosity rover – not too many pictures yet. It will have to go through about a week of tests before it really starts exploring. I just hope it moves faster than the last two rovers. Opportunity has traveled quite a bit in 9 years of operation but it moved only at a snail’s pace – usually just a few feet a day. Curiosity is powered by nuclear decay which should last a couple years at least. If there is nothing interesting to see where it landed, hopefully it can quickly move/drive to a different place. It will be interesting to see if Curiosity can outlast Opportunity. All I have heard from mission planners thus far is that the nuclear power should last “years”.
On the subject of noctilucent clouds (see this past blog about it), scientists are converging on an answer of how they form. It seems meteor smoke might be mostly responsible. Volcanoes have created these clouds in the past but many that are being seen nowadays are probably be seeded by meteor smoke.
I have been harping on growth lately and how, perhaps, traditional economic growth metrics that include paving over things and building more things are probably not a good measure of the true ”health” of the economy. Here is another blogger speculating that Best Buy’s (the electronics store) woes could be due to the crash of the exurbs and suburbs. Not only have house prices declined most aggressively in the suburbs, but there is a demographic shift going on that suggests the hey-day of strip malls and big box stores might be ending.
Have a swell Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.