As readers of this blog surely know, for several years I have been designing, writing and forecasting about the technology of self-driving “robocars” in the coming years. I’m pleased to announce that I have recently become a consultant to the robot car team working at Google.
Of course all that work will be done under NDA, and so until such time as Google makes more public announcements, I won’t be writing about what they or I are doing. I am very impressed by the team and their accomplishments, and to learn more I will point you to my blog post about their announcement and the article I added to my web site shortly after that announcement. It also means I probably won’t blog in any detail about certain areas of technology, in some cases not commenting on the work of other teams because of conflict of interest. However, as much as I enjoy writing and reporting on this technology, I would rather be building it.
My philosophical message about Robocars I have been saying for years, but it should be clear that I am simply consulting on the project, not setting its policies or acting as a spokesman.
My primary interest at Google is robocars, but many of you also know my long history in online civil rights and privacy, an area in which Google is often involved in both positive and negative ways. Indeed, while I was chairman of the EFF I felt there could be a conflict in working for a company which the EFF frequently has to either praise or criticise. I will be recusing myself from any EFF board decisions about Google, naturally.
You still might wonder at whether involvement can be done without a conflict. While there are many items of concern with Google — it is logging an immense repository of personal information, and has taken several steps we’ve been quite critical of, such as Buzz and its initial China policy — it has also shown one of the most positive track records in the industry in other areas, including of course the reversal of its China policy. I am pressed to name a company that’s involved in as many issues as Google is that is doing as good a job, even if I can’t give it an “A.” Fortunately, large as it is, I can do work there and not have to be offering an endorsement of all that they do. I have known for many years that there have been many controversies and rifts inside the company over the civil rights and privacy consequences of its products and actions, as there are bound to be in such a case. If I do get involved in any of these areas, I will announce any conflicts of interest I have before any comment on the issues (as I have before, because of my long friendship with the founders of the company.) Even before getting involved with Google I have felt I was much more concerned about the privacy risks from Facebook than from Google or the other search companies. (I’m also an advisor to BitTorrent, Inc. and a former board member, but in spite of Google and BitTorrent being the two largest forces in video delivery on the internet, they’ve almost never butted heads before this week!)
And let’s face it, this is exciting. I believe robocars will change the world, more than most other computer technologies that are emerging today. This is where the action is, and I’ve been hoping to see serious companies make serious investments in this space for years. Indeed, even though I will be rooting for the Google team, I hope to see more teams enter the fray to offer competition, innovation and cooperation so that the technology is safely deployed sooner, in more areas, and in different ways.
(Blogged at my desk, not in my car. At least, not yet…)