Saturday, October 18, 2014

Open letter to Tom Steyer, billionaire environmentalist

I just put this up on twitlonger, but thought I would copy it here

@TomSteyer My particular bugaboo is that private automobiles should be eliminated, at least in urban areas where there is public transit.

Automobiles are horribly dangerous. Tens of thousands of people are killed in them every year in the USA alone. Hundreds of thousands are wounded and maimed. 

This is an inherently defective technology. It turns a moment of inattention into fatality. Moments of inattention are part of the human condition. We are humans, not robots. Yes we drink. Yes we look around in the car for things. Yes we carry distracting passengers. That's human.

Also, of course, automobiles cause pollution.

Public transportation has not succeeded in competing with automobiles in the area of time in many places. For instance, I live in Tarrytown, NY. While there is good hub and spoke transportation into NYC, there is not good peripheral transportation. I once interviewed for a job in Murray Hill, NJ. It was an hour and a quarter by car to get there in good traffic. It was THREE hours by public transit through NYC. An hour and a quarter was difficult, but three hours each way was completely impossible. 

I would like to see the institution of an artificial intelligence based public transit system. Currently, you can go on google maps and ask for them to plan a public transit route from one point to another. But why not go a step further? 

Why not deploy public transit in response to a user request? A system of vans, taxis, and carpools, buses, trains, and airplanes directed by an artificial intelligence system, could take passengers door-to-door in an efficient manner. 

The user should be able to access the system via the Internet or via telephone, be presented with trip choices, pay for a chosen route, and then be picked up at the door of his or her home and delivered to the door of the desired destination.

By reducing the number of cars on the road, we could also reduce road construction costs. For instance, New York State is currently constructing the world's widest bridge from Tarrytown, NY to Nyack, NY, three miles across the tidal estuary known as the Tappan Zee. This behemoth is incredibly expensive. Tolls are expected to be $14. 

AND the problems of peripheral transport in this corridor are still not resolved. There has been discussion of a light rail system, but that has not been pursued.

An artificial intelligence based system would reduce accidents, reduce expenses of road construction/expansion, AND protect the environment. Modern artificial intelligence techniques are well adapted to solving this type of problem.

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