Chief scientist Alan Finkel (not pictured) has called on Australians to get ready for self-driving cars.
Chief scientist Alan Finkel (not pictured) has called on Australians to get ready for self-driving cars.

OPINION: Self-driving car debate has gone off the rails

WITH Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel this week urging people to support the introduction of self-driving cars, I'd just like to go on the record as saying bring them on.

Forget the luxury of travelling without having to navigate traffic or the dramatic lowering of the death toll such a move would likely result in.

I want self-driving cars to be introduced suddenly, and with as little warning as possible, because it's a debate I want to see happen at a frenzied, panicked pace for my own amusement.

So far as I can tell, the primary argument against self-driving cars is that at some point an ethicist and a programmer are going to have to sit down together and figure out what your car should do if it's traversing a windy mountain path when suddenly your grandmother steps into the road to rescue a group of ducklings.

Your beloved Tesla Model S is currently hurtling towards the family matriarch.

What will the programming make it do? Take out grandma (and the ducklings)? Or go over the edge and send you to your own fiery demise?

This is far too important a decision to be left to machines, the argument goes.

Presumably the current system, in which you stop texting long enough to scream and flail about in a mad panic, is preferable.

Ignoring the fact that the ethical debate isn't in any way resolved when left to humans (how much do you really like your grandma?), my biggest problem with this argument is the sheer, wondrous implausibility of it, which these debates never seem to acknowledge.

Do me a favour and think back to the last time you were in the grandma/duckling/cliff scenario or anything approaching it.

Last Wednesday, right?

No, the answer is never.*

Frankly, this is one hypothetical I am reassured our chief scientist has the temerity to look beyond.

So let's step on the accelerator with self-driving cars.

If you don't agree with me about road safety, maybe you'll agree that they are one more step along humanity's path towards the ultimate goal: self-cleaning cars.

That's when I'll really be impressed.

Andrew Thorpe is a journalist at The Observer.


*If you were in this situation recently, I apologise. My email address is and I would love to speak to you for a story in the paper.