Republican Senator John Thune is calling for more government regulation to keep us safe in our future self-driving cars. I would think a good Republican would prefer a strong EMP over regulation as a response to robot danger, but I’m learning I shouldn’t overthink John Thune.
Thune and his Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee heard Wednesday that properly regulated artificial intelligence at the wheel may “cure” drunk driving and “offer massive economic benefits—less congestion, fewer injuries and medical claims, lower fuel costs, increased personal productivity, and better land use.”
Of course, driverless technology applied to tractors could also accelerate the hollowing out of rural America as corporate “farmers” realize they can monitor their fully-automated factory fields from their comfy urban homes:
While we move across the field, a GPS system guides the sprayer. Biesemeier barely touches the steering wheel.
“It won’t be very long before these things are driving themselves and we’re not even out here,” he says.
Purchased over the past several years, these machines allow Biesemeier and his brother to farm nearly 7,000 acres in this rural pocket of northeastern Colorado, near the Nebraska border. Just a few decades ago, it would have been nearly impossible for a single family to adequately manage that much cropland. Now, Biesemeier says, his is a medium-sized farm in this part of the plains.
“It takes a lot of acres to pay that combine off, or that corn planter off, or that sprayer off,” he says.
That means farms on the Great Plains and in many other parts of the country have had to grow in size and adopt new technologies to make ends meet. He can’t just farm 80 acres and make a living, he says.
“I wish you could. I think life would be a lot simpler, easier,” Biesemeier says. “And there’d be a lot more people out here if that was the case” [Luke Runyon, “As Big, High-Tech Farms Take Hold, How Do Nearby Towns Stay Afloat?” KUNC/Harvest Public Media, 2017.06.13].
When there are fewer farmers, there are fewer families who need to come to each little town for parts, groceries, and school. Driverless technology may be one more advance that hurries migration from our old farm towns to Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and our few other towns big enough to sustain themselves with goods and services beyond support for farm workers that we no longer need.
But here’s something to chew on: could self-driving vehicles create a counterbalancing migration force that could replenish small towns? If machines can chauffeur us everywhere, will more families choose the peace and quiet of small-town life and enjoy more work and family time on their long automated drive to Sam’s Club and Hy-Vee? Or might those drives disappear completely, as small-town residents get their weekly provisions by Hy-Vee drone?