If you break the Law of Unintended Consequences, do you get a ticket? (Hint: Yes)

One of the biggest stories of 2017 is the ongoing discovery of the extent to which the 2016 U.S. election was gamed by Russian propagandists using social media.

 There is a large and growing group of people who feel that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube freely handed Russian trolls social media tools that they used to grotesquely amplify a propaganda program to discredit the U.S. democratic process – a goal that many would say was achieved.

There is a large and growing group of people who feel that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube freely handed Russian trolls social media tools that they used to grotesquely amplify a propaganda program to discredit the U.S. democratic process – a goal that many would say was achieved.

What does this have to do with Highly Automated Vehicles and Cooperative-Intelligent Traffic Systems (beside the fact that the continued discussion includes criticism of companies like Google and Apple, that have their own HAV/ITS projects?)

Answer: This ‘Did the Russians swing the election?’ story – which is not going away – has sensitized the public to the unintended consequences of technological progress. Journalists have noticed that the wording of HR 3388, aka the ‘Self-Drive Act’ basically allows companies in the HAV space to self-regulate, and every day when people read the news, they remember how things worked out when we just trusted Facebook and Google to look out for democracy.

When I look at the comments left by readers of my articles on HAV topics, it’s clear they’re increasingly skeptical of the blandishments from the HAV sector, which come down to, “Don’t worry about a thing. It’s going to be way better and safer, you’ll love it.”  And, they’re equally skeptical about way governments will (ab)use the massive amount of data that will by accumulated by C-ITS.

At HAVstory, we’re obviously sensitive to clients’ proprietary technology and confidential information. However, as an industry moving forward, it’s important to understand that an important group of consumers (and voters) are primed to push back against the introduction of HAV/C-ITS technology, not because they don’t trust it to actually work, but because they have reasonable fears of unintended consequences.

 Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has provided us with an object lesson in how not to handle this kind of PR problem. Going forward, transparency will be a key to developing trust with the public at large – especially because for some time, HAVs will be sharing the roads with a majority of vehicles that are driven (and ridden) by good old human beings.

Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has provided us with an object lesson in how not to handle this kind of PR problem. Going forward, transparency will be a key to developing trust with the public at large – especially because for some time, HAVs will be sharing the roads with a majority of vehicles that are driven (and ridden) by good old human beings.

Mobileye/Intel just released a White Paper titled ‘A Plan to Develop Safe Autonomous Vehicles. And Prove It.’

While I find little to fault in the factual material presented by Mobileye, I think that Trucks Venture Capital’s Reilly Brennan is on the money with his summary of this paper, when he writes, “A close reading of this document and 'rules for fault in advance' makes you wonder if companies in this posture are just trying to establish a blanket immunity.”

Mr. Brennan highlighted this exemplary quote written by Professors Amnon Shashua and Shai Shalev-Shwartz, “From a planning and decision-making perspective, the AV system would not issue a command that would lead to the AV causing an accident.”

I’m sure Shasua & Shaley-Shwartz (trying saying that three times quickly!) believe that statement. But from our perspective as communications strategists, their choice of wording is unfortunate. The public’s no longer going to be receptive to an argument that opens with, “Let’s begin by accepting the premise that we’re infallible,” if it ever was.