At some point in the future, we will reach what Alex Roy calls “autonomotive singularity”—or when humans give up cars. Machines will then completely take over driving on public roads, and people will only operate vehicles in private places like race tracks.
But until that day comes, Roy is waging a quixotic war to keep humans in control of cars. As an endurance-driver record holder, editor-at-large for The Drive, host of The Autonocast, and an overall automotive bon vivant, Roy recently formed the Human Driving Association (HDA) to rally auto enthusiasts to join the fight.
Roy is far from a Frank Bacon-style anti-technology car curmudgeon. In fact, he earned one of his records for driving a Tesla Model S 90D across the country in 55 hours using Autopilot for more than 95 percent of the trip.
“I support technology as a means and not an end,” he told me at SXSW, where I helped secure him a speaking session on the downsides of self-driving tech. “As long as technology enhances and augments human abilities.”
When it comes to robots replacing people, though, Roy is not on board. And he’s absolutely against not giving people the option to drive when they want—and cars that come without steering wheels. Like most relationships, Roy believes that our century-long connection to cars is complicated and entwined with emotion and ego—otherwise no one would ever buy an impractical convertible. So self-driving technology needs to accommodate for the human condition, our desire for control, and drivers’ rights.
The Human Driving Manifesto
As part of the HDA, Roy drafted the Human Driving Manifesto, a set of 12 principles that range from the practical to the implausible. For example, one of the principles supports semi-autonomous technology such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and states that the HDA is “pro-safety through … deployment of Advanced Drivers Assistance Systems.”
HAD is also “Pro-Privacy” and deems that “all connected services should be opt-in, not opt-out” and that “any and all driver/passenger information should be automatically anonymized.” The manifesto also calls for raising licensing standards to ensure that humans drive as well as machines, including “familiarization with the capabilities and limitations of new safety technologies.”
And the manifesto seeks to protect drivers’ rights. “We are opposed to arbitrary traffic stops, indiscriminate license plate data collection and retention, unwarranted search and seizure, and incentive-driven speed and safety enforcement,” it states.
A bit more farfetched, the manifesto calls for establishing a constitutional amendment, “creating a right to drive, within the limits of safety technologies that do not infringe upon our freedom of movement.” Roy acknowledges that this is a stretch but adds that the idea is “not as outrageous as it seems” and adds that it stakes out a position.
Roy admits that he started the HDA on a whim and as reaction to “the orgy of stories about self-driving cars and an autonomous tipping point that I think is a joke.” But he’s been pleasantly surprised by the response. More than 2,300 people signed up within a week of the website going live—giving a voice and a cause to those who still want to keep their hands on the wheel.
At least until we reach autonomotive singularity.