Autonowashing and the dangers of putting too much trust in ‘self-driving’ cars – The Next Web


The first truly autonomous self-driving car will no doubt be one of the most historic technical achievements of our generation, but it seems we’re still a long way off because contemporary technology doesn’t yet fulfill the promise of keeping use safe 100% of the time. However, this isn’t stopping some automakers from talking as if we’re already there, and that behavior is creating new challenges.

Numerous automakers already present their driving tech as being capable of Full Self-Driving. The reality, however, is starkly different and more nuanced than the industry openly admits to.

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According to a new paper, published in the journal of Transportation Research late last month, this premature obsession with autonomous vehicles is having a detrimental impact on one of its main selling points: road safety. 

Earlier this month, I caught up with the paper’s author, American born Germany-based, human-machine interaction researcher Liza Dixon. Dixon found her way into autonomous driving during her master’s in Usability Engineering. During our conversation, she told me what we need to know about autonowashing, the dangers of when vehicle manufacturers oversell their technology, and her research into the safe use of vehicle automation.

Where did it begin?

Dixon says it’s very difficult to say exactly where and when autonowashing began. Rather, the phenomenon is something that’s evolved alongside autonomous vehicle technology and narratives that surround the technology.

The concept of autonomous machines capable of sentient existence is nothing new. Science fiction writers have been exploring the moral conundrums and infinite potentials of them for over 40 years. In many of these fantastical scenarios, the results weren’t always positive.

Despite this fictional forewarning, companies that develop autonomous vehicles rely on selling a utopian vision of the future. One where technology can only do good. But that’s not always the case, and autonowashing is a perfect example of what happens when these narratives are bent and twisted out of shape.

What is autonowashing?

Autonowashing is similar to “greenwashing,” but applied to highly advanced vehicles, Dixon told me. In “greenwashing,” large corporations, typically those with a bad environmental reputation, undertake marketing campaigns to emphasize initiatives that promote more environmental awareness to make them seem more morally sound than they actually are. Here’s a good round up from not-for-profit, Truth in Advertising.

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