What does it take to make a CEO lose his cool? Just ask Volvo’s North American CEO, Lex Kerssemakers, who lost it while the automaker’s semi-autonomous prototype refused to drive itself during a press conference at an auto show in L.A.
As he and Mayor Eric Garcetti sat in the car, Kerssemakers exclaimed that “It can’t even find the lane markings!” and “You need to paint the bloody roads here!”
What’s this mean? Well, simply put, it means that years of neglect is finally paying its painful dividends, and serves as yet another reminder that we’re not the global power we think we are. After all, what kind of power can’t even afford to keep its own infrastructure up?
By far, the best known ancient empire to build roads was Rome; many of Rome’s roads and bridges — which were state-funded projects — were so-well built they lasted into the high middle ages and beyond.
Others, like Via Flaminia and Britain’s Fosse Way, still carry foot and bike traffic today this — nearly 2,000 years later.
And the United States can’t even build a road that lasts one percent of that anymore, it seems.
An estimated 65% of the United State roads are in poor condition, according to the United States Department of Transportation. The United States possesses a transportation infrastructure system that’s rated 12th in the World Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 global competitiveness report.
And much of the problem is partisanship, beginning with Tom Delay, who in 1995 declared that no Republican can support a bill that Democrats support. As it stands, the U.S. — to repair our crumbling surface roads — will need to spend a whopping $847 billion dollars.
And these roads are posing a problem to self-driving cars, which can’t change lanes if they can’t find them, and are flummoxed by faded lines, damaged or noncompliant signs or lights, and many, many quirks that come from having roadway infrastructure managed by thousands of state and local bureaucracies.
Developed countries have a greater standardization, which make it easier for robotic cars. Americans, however, can take pride in the fact that our system is so confused, so disorienting, and such hot garbage robots and computers can’t even figure out what the hell is going on.
“If the lane fades, all hell breaks loose,” said Christoph Mertz, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. “But cars have to handle these weird circumstances and have three different ways of doing things in case one fails.”
Why should we care whether self-driving cars can find their way around? For one thing, humans are terrible drivers. Yes, that means you, dear reader, and me, and everyone else. We all have lapses in attention that put everyone at risk while driving, since we’re not perfect. But a machine can come a lot closer, and so far, most of the accidents that automated cars have been in were a result of humans, not the software.
But, beyond that, it reveals, yet again, that our infrastructure is collapsing. A nation without roads and infrastructure is not a nation, it’s a developing nation. A nation that had roads but is too lazy to keep them up isn’t a nation, either. It’s a sad, pathetic joke.
Feature image via Minnpost
Thamiel is a teacher and a learner; he’s a patron of the arts and sciences, and a supporter for universal human rights — as well as another quiet afternoon with the latest find at the local library.