Trusting The Machine

During my trip home for Thanksgiving, I got a bit of an on-the-nose reminder about why not everyone is willing to trust self-driving cars and artificial intelligence more generally.

I grew up in northern Virginia, where my parents and one of my brothers still live. At the end of this trip home, before driving from my parents’ house to the airport, I mapped the route on my phone. This is standard procedure for me, but my family loves to make fun of me for mapping a route I’ve driven a million times.

In this case, the map instructed me to avoid Interstate 66, which would’ve been the most direct route to National Airport. Instead, Google Maps sent me on a meandering sequence of surface streets.

My dad and I began debating why not to take 66. I assumed there must be a big traffic backup. If I had fiddled with my phone a little more, I probably could’ve verified this. But by this point I was driving, so I just assumed.

My father was certain that Google was “confused” and thought I-66 was a toll road. I had set the route preferences to avoid tolls.

I countered that there is no way Google was wrong about the I-66 toll policy. No tolls on the weekend.

Eventually, my dad grew weary of the surface streets and insisted we merge onto the Interstate. We did that, and the road was empty. Smooth sailing to the airport.

My father’s disdain was vindicated. He will never trust Google Maps over his 30 years of experience driving in northern Virginia. And maybe he’s right.

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