Berkeley Science Review, Fall 2015 Issue

Automating us: The entanglement of people and machines (full article)

by Daniel Aranki, Roel Dobbe, Jaime F. Fisac, and Cathy Wu

This general-audience magazine article is the culmination of a summer reading group on the societal implications of technology, with an emphasis on the role and responsibility of researchers in science and engineering. With this article we pose many questions and answer very few, with the goal of sparking and sustaining a conversation among researchers on our role moving forward.


You are heading home to Berkeley after a long day of work in San Francisco, lying back comfortably with your iPad in hand as your self-driving car speeds autonomously over the Bay Bridge. Unexpectedly, the fog closes in and your car issues a warning: “Low visibility conditions. Please prepare to resume control of the vehicle in 60 seconds.” Just as you raise your eyes from the screen, you see a truck cutting abruptly into your lane. With a rush of adrenaline, you reach for the steering wheel and immediately override the autopilot. Your car quickly swerves into the next lane, crashing into a car you had not seen. Who is responsible? The car company recorded your commands to the car and points a blaming finger at you. You disagree, because you trusted that the autonomous car would never allow you to switch lanes unsafely. Yet you chose to override the car in a moment of perceived danger, even though the car supposedly was in control. (Read more…)

If you have any thoughts, please email us at or leave a comment below!

Image credits: Florian Brown-Altvater, Arend Van Dam

Leave a Reply