Ghost stories are an intimate part of any culture. They manage to inspire two kinds of reactions in humans. A. Of a stunning wonderment. B. Of a paralyzing fear. While some people may experience an ecstatic fascination with the Headless Horseman, others will head in the opposite direction upon seeing the terrifying entity, with their tails between their legs. Such is the polar effect of an ‘unknown’ and ‘inexplicable’ phenomenon upon humans. Whatever they can’t process, they either run away from or run after. In the present world, this -phobia vs. -philia behavioral debate extends to the rapid technological advancement, especially the one that comes in the form of AI or Artificial Intelligence.

What is AI? It is a simulation of human thought processes and behavioral patterns by a machine, specifically designed to serve a purpose. For instance, AI chatbots (like Woebot) help in alleviating depression by acting as mental health supporters 24/7, AI customer service tools (like Cogito) smoothen the business operations for a firm, and AI voice assistants (like Alexa) give a universal, hands-free control of every device in a home to the users, etc. Such automation spells a huge convenience for the public, to be sure. The idea that we can rely on smart ‘self-thinking’ technology to do our tough tasks for us sounds like an instantly gratifying opportunity. Especially, if these devices only require a super-fast network, as offered in various internet packages, to work. It is up to this extent that people openly promote AI development. This is the technophiliac (pro-AI) approach. However, as new horizons begin to dawn in the shape of driverless cars, the public phobia takes a whole other turn.

Let’s first examine the roots of this technophobia. Why are people afraid of self-driving cars and other high-end Artificial Intelligence mechanisms? It has to do with the Headless Horseman and other ghost stories. Yes, the fear of abnormality and the thought of being smothered out of existence is the main issue here. People feel that this AI tech, which everyone’s so promoting and relying on at present, will one day gain sentience (a subjective quality of life). Super-intelligent already, these ‘self-aware’ devices will then turn against their creators by free-will and wipe us all out of existence. This is the usual technophobic thought process that can be seen in movies as well, like the popular Terminator series and the Matrix, etc.

Seeing a self-moving vacuum cleaner in a home is enough to cause anxiety in technophobic people. Then, imagine what will happen if they are overtaken on the roads by a car that is driverless. Technology creates modern ghosts, after all, in the form of AI. Their fear of self-driving cars may take the following shapes:

Death by a Driverless Car

Life is the greatest asset for all human beings. Losing that asset to a piece of technology is simply not bearable for people. That is why they raise their voices against driverless cars because they cannot afford to get into roadside accidents just because of a technical failure in an FSD (Full Self-Driving Car). They already have enough of those triggers as it is. Automakers try to relieve such a ‘death by a driverless car’ angst by ensuring that road fatalities will be reduced greatly, due to a closely controlled and monitored environment surrounding any FSD.

Imprisonment inside an FSD

Some say a driverless car is akin to a prison, where you’re held at the mercy of a self-thinking, self-moving and soulless piece of technology that could take you anywhere with the slightest glitch in its code. This apprehensive feeling is based on the lack of control you’d have over an FSD (Full Self-Driving Car) as a rider. When you don’t have power over something, you naturally tend to panic. However, automakers try to relieve these fears to some extent by saying that people would share rides together in an autonomous car and thereby will not feel the isolation leading to such a cabin fever.

Extinction of Driver’s License

This has ‘replacement ethic’ written all over it. People feel that FSDs (Full Self-Driving Cars) will take a dominating hold on the roads and drive the outdated ‘non-smart’ cars to extinction. They fear to lose their driver’s licenses, and by it, their privilege to move around the roads freely like monarchs. Though this might happen one day, the immediately foreseeable future shows a coexisting picture for now. Driverless cars will soar alongside driver-controlled cars, building a modified network.

Banning of Car Ownership

When you move out of your parents’ house, one of the biggest surges of self-independence comes when you finally get a car of your own. This is unmistakably a pleasant feeling, and I don’t know many people who don’t wish to experience it. In fact, a friend of mine is working towards owning a Lamborghini in a few years. Given such a prevalent scenario, the thought of corporate-owned self-driving cars banishing individual ownership of vehicles is definitely intolerable. AI pushing over your ownership rights? You don’t think so! However, Elon Musk says that you can surely own an FSD (Full Self-Driving Car) yourself in the future, which is registered on Tesla’s ridesharing network, and makes money for you while you’re at work. This settles the ownership debate for now.

In conclusion, the rise of the AI self-driving cars does indeed worsen the state of public phobia for technology as the aforementioned pointers show. But, are they well-founded or not? How will they be dealt with in the distant future? We’ll have to wait and see, once the cars arrive on the regular scene.