from the progress-is-good dept
If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:Of course, fast forward 10 years, and this is no longer really a joke anymore. Cars are now more complicated than ever, and now computers play a crucial part in the safe and efficient operation of modern automobiles. Today's premium vehicles probably contain close to 100 million lines of software code. That fact, coupled with the recent massive Toyota recall, seems to have spurred Slate's Farhad Manjoo to ask "Should we be worried that our cars are controlled by software?"
1. For no reason at all, your car would crash twice a day.
Perhaps if you're really into worrying for the sake of worrying, sure, I suppose the increasing complexity of the software in cars seems like a good reason to don a tinfoil hat. Certainly, compared to cars a quarter century ago, there's a huge amount of new technology between you and the road. But, cars are also safer and more efficient than ever before. While it's true that the software in cars may have bugs, that's really nothing new to be that concerned about -- car manufacturers issue recalls and maintenance updates all of the time to deal with not just software bugs, but mechanical problems as well. In the future, regular software updates may replace oil changes as regular maintenance for cars. But, the biggest Toyota recalls this year were still mechanical in nature: the floor mats and gas pedals, neither of which are remotely affected by any software in the car. Finally, as Manjoo points out, driver error is still the most common cause of accidents, so until we remove the human element from the driving equation (along with all of the driving distractions), recalled cars are really nothing to get worked up about.
That said, Michael A. Spiegel over at the Software Freedom Law Center makes an interesting point about this situation:
If Toyota truly wanted to repair its public image and reputation for quality, it would make its source code available to anyone interested, not just a single government regulator. The public is far more likely to discover bugs and suggest improvements than a relatively small number of overworked and potentially inexperienced government employees.This is a intriguing proposition for a number of reasons. By releasing its software to the open source community, they could become key participants in the growing open source car ecosystem. By doing so, they could potentially benefit from the collective intelligence of that community looking at their code. Sure, Toyota may scoff at sharing what they consider to be proprietary IP with potential competitors, but in this case, Toyota could stand to gain more than it would potentially be giving away. After all, while software definitely is playing a critical part in automotive systems, by itself, it is not the selling point of a car. Even the e-voting industry is coming around to open source, after balking at the idea for years. For a variety of reasons, the automobile industry seems ripe for the exploration of new models right now. Programs like CityCarShare and ZipCar could be seen as "Automobiles As A Service" -- so maybe we'll start to see a Red Hat-like automobile company emerge in the near future.