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Political ad drives fear of driverless cars

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A political attack ad takes on a state representative in Florida for his support of driverless car technology.YouTube / Committee to Protect Florida

Good thing robotic cars have nerves of steel: they’re officially on the receiving end of a political attack ad that makes the technology look like a frightening menace to Florida’s elderly voters.

The ad, paid for by the Committee to Protect Florida, a Florida PAC, takes on Jeffrey Brandes for his sponsorship of a bill that would allow the “operation of autonomous motor vehicles on public roads” in Florida.

Brandes, a Republican, is in today's hotly contested District 22 race to maintain his seat in Florida’s House of Representatives. He’s running against fellow Republican Jim Frishe

The elderly-woman-sounding voice in the ad questions whether driverless car technology is “really a priority for our state” and includes a sound clip from Brandes saying that he had to “convince the senate it wasn’t witchcraft.”

Bryant Walker Smith is a legal fellow with the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University in California where he studies driverless car technology. 

"Ironically," he said in an email, "these technologies have the potential, in the long term, to increase mobility, access, and opportunity for the elderly and disabled."

The Committee to Protect Florida, the ad suggests, would rather representatives focus on more important things such as jobs.

Over the long term, driverless cars, like any new technology, will both create and eliminate jobs, Walker Smith noted. "Every revolutionary technology causes economic change."

While Brandes does support the driverless car technology, the ad falsely depicts autonomous vehicles as “driverless remote-controlled cars,” points out The Car Connection, a car research news site.

Calling something “remote-controlled” assumes that there is a human off in the distance who is controlling speed, direction, and other variables. That's not how autonomous vehicles work. In fact, that's the very opposite of “autonomous”.Autonomous vehicles require no human input. They manage everything themselves: starting, stopping, turning, and navigation. That's why they're called "autonomous". Perhaps someone should buy the Committee to Protect Florida a dictionary.

What’s more, much of the research on driverless car technology could actually make our roads safer. Before we ever truly leave the driving to robots, we’ll likely invite them as co-pilots where the robots will help keep us from crashing

And, when the robots are fully in the driver seat as we sit in the back, drink a beer and text our friends, they’ll probably be the safest, law-abiding drivers on the road, much to chagrin of humans stuck behind the wheel of older technology. 

According to Walker Smith, if nothing else, the poltical ad opens the door for all kinds of spoofs.

"Technology is great, but ... Aeroplanes?? Electricity?? Transplants?? Dialysis??" he said.


"That driverless remote-controlled car just took my Medicare!"

--Via The Verge, Forbes

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.