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Self-driving Cars Will Not Fix Our Current Transportation Woes

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by Cameron Roberts for The Conversation

It’s 2035, and you’re going to a movie. As you walk out the door, you reach for your phone instead of the car keys because you don’t have a car. Instead, you’ve ordered your ride to come to you.

The car that arrives has no driver or steering wheel. As you climb in, the electric motor silently comes to life, and the car whisks you into an aerodynamic Peloton of vehicles, slipping through cross-traffic at intersections without stopping.

This utopian vision is a common prediction for the disruption of today’s road transportation . This future of autonomous, on-demand electric vehicles is tantalizing. It promises a hands-free solution to various transportation woes.

The prevailing belief is that a system of self-driving cars will solve several environmental and social problems without us needing to worry about messy stuff like politics, activism or changing our travel habits.

Unfortunately, this future will almost certainly never come to pass. Self-driving cars, left to their own devices, will likely do more harm than good. To avoid that outcome, we’ll have to turn off autopilot and shape the system of autonomous mobility so that it best serves both our needs and the needs of the planet.

More roads, more cars

Futurama, a General Motors-sponsored diorama at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, made a similar promise: fast and efficient highways would make traffic congestion and accidents a thing of the past.

Once these highways were actually built, however, induced demand quickly clogged them up, as people took advantage of the new roads to make new trips that they didn’t make before.

The 1939 Futurama exhibit, like today’s predictions about autonomous vehicles, promised an easy technical solution to transportation problems. (Richard Garrison/Wikimedia)

Autonomous vehicles risk a more dangerous version of the same phenomenon. Not only will efficient autonomous highways tempt people to drive further, but the ability to work — or even sleep — while travelling will make people think much less of a two-hour commute.

Cars might also become less energy-efficient as they’re modified to meet the demands of users. Passengers may run them at higher speeds because they’re safer, which consumes more energy due to aerodynamic resistance. Car manufacturers may also begin to design larger vehicles to accommodate mobile offices and bedrooms.

This might be mitigated somewhat by electric vehicles, but that electricity may still come from fossil fuels. Plus, bigger vehicles with bigger batteries will produce more carbon emissions as a byproduct of their construction.

These processes could, theoretically, be carbon-neutral, but that may not occur quickly enough. The safe bet is to reduce the number of kilometres travelled, rather than increasing them.

There’s also the threat of an empty vehicle traveling many kilometers. Why search for a parking spot when you could send your car home?

Scholars who have used computer models and other techniques to predict the environmental impact of autonomous vehicles have found the mass use of private self-driving cars could lead to increases in carbon emissions of up to 200 per cent.

Robo-taxi rejection

Most of the utopian visions of self-driving cars assume that they will be shared, rather than owned privately. This would be a more sustainable option.

Unfortunately, people are attached to their cars. They like having a vehicle that is instantly dispatchable, that they can use as a mobile storage locker, and that signals their social status.

Shared vehicles might also be uncomfortable. Because of the risk of vandalism and mess caused by unsupervised passengers, robo-taxis might be equipped with hard plastic, bus-style seats, rather than the plush upholstered interiors that motorists are accustomed to.

A Lyft self-driving car drives on the streets in Palo Alto, Calif., in December 2019. (Shutterstock)

Surveys show that if autonomous taxis cost US$1 per mile, only 10 per cent of respondents would give up their car to use them. Even if they were completely free, a quarter of motorists would still keep their cars.

Autonomous taxis are far more likely to win over cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders. But this would likely make those people’s trips less sustainable.

None of this will be helped by the fact that autonomous vehicle enthusiasts envision a future of road systems free of traffic lights, which will rarely provide space for cyclists or pedestrians.

Best-case scenario

But what if your autonomous trip to the theatre looked a bit different?

In a model being explored by many scholars and experiments in Europe, the autonomous vehicle that picks you up on your way to the movie theater would be more like a last-mile shuttle for public transit.

It would move slowly but comfortably, picking up multiple passengers on its way to the local transit hub, where you would board a fast and efficient light rail line. You would still arrive at the movie with time to spare.

An autonomous shuttle service in Vincennes Woods, in Paris, fills the gaps in commuter transportation. (Shutterstock)

This model could supplement existing forms of sustainable mobility rather than competing with them, making car ownership less mandatory. And because owning a car predisposes people towards using a car, this could be a powerful way to support sustainable transportation.

Shared, slow, autonomous shuttles integrated with public transit and other forms of sustainable mobility would get around a lot of the technology’s current hurdles. They could, for example, drive slowly enough that there would very little risk of them hurting or killing anyone.

If paired with other forms of sustainable urban transportation policy, such as committed support for bike lanes, as well as fast, efficient, and cheap public transit networks, they could play a key role in helping to realize a transportation scenario with vastly reduced car use, which could be our best shot at averting the worst consequences of climate change.

This outcome, however, will not emerge autonomously. It will require us to actively shape the mobility system through regulation, activism and planning.

It will require pushing back against vested interests that support dependence on private cars. And it will require us to reconsider our travel habits.

In short: Autonomous vehicles will not automatically drive us to a better transportation future. We’ll have to take the wheel ourselves.

Cameron Roberts is a Researcher in Sustainable Transportation at Carleton University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Health

Bumble & Tinder’s Dating Advice During a Pandemic

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(TMZ) — Bumble and Tinder are helping lonely folks swipe left on the coronavirus by urging users who want to keep hooking up during the outbreak to take a few extra precautions.

Tinder’s warning users about the dangers of meeting up during a pandemic, and they’re blasting out an in-app notice to make sure people take heed.

The notice reminds folks still jonesin’ for up close and personal meetings to use protection — which, in this case, means washing hands, carrying sanitizer, maintaining “social distance” in public gatherings and not touching faces!!! No matter how hot the date.

As for Bumble, company honchos tell TMZ … global customer service teams are standing by to handle questions or concerns from users, but they’re also directing customers to CDC and WHO sites for up-to-date info.

Bumble also wants to remind you … it’s possible to get to know someone without meeting offline — actual phone calls (gasp!!!) and video chats can work, too, if you’re on lockdown.

And, let’s face it … lots of people are gonna get bored at home, but there’s no reason to cut yourself off from meeting people in the COVID-19 era.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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Health

Young Men Speak on Sexting: It’s Normal, but Complicated

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Young men on sexting: it’s normal, but complicated

by Signe Ravn and Stephen Roberts for The Conversation

Concern about the popularity of “sexting” – the sending and receiving of sexually explicit text messages and photographs – among young people has been a frequent point of discussion in recent years.

The media and some academic studies often draw attention to issues of risk, danger, and the often- gendered negative outcomes of sexting.

These include concerns sexting can lead to sexual harassment, such as receiving unwanted “dick pics” and pressures for women, in particular, to send their own nude images.

Another frequently mentioned concern is the potential legal implications of possessing or circulating such images electronically .Such negative consequences are serious and need our attention. However, this focus is often at the expense of a more nuanced understanding of sexting and how it is part of young people’s lives.

Young men value respect in sexting

Our own sociological research, drawing on ten focus groups of undergraduate male students in Melbourne, provides some important insights into this. Our study differs from previous studies on sexting in a couple of ways.

First, our sample of participants was slightly older (aged 18-22) than those in other studies. Furthermore, all our participants were men, which may seem somewhat unusual. But this group is very rarely heard in research on this topic and we need to understand how young men view sexting if we are to address the negative consequences mentioned above.

As in other studies, one of our most important findings is that sexting is a normalised part of young people’s romantic and sexual lives.

Among our participants, who all had some experience with romantic relationships, sexting is a way of flirting and forming new relationships, as well as developing an ongoing relationship with an existing partner.

Sexting was also clearly distinct from harassment, which for our participants was characterised by one-way communication and the crossing of boundaries. In contrast, sexting was almost uniformly understood as reliant on consent and mutuality.

As one participant said, it is transactional in the sense of, I’ll give you this much, and they’ll give you this much, but you give them X, and they give you X plus one, and then you’ll give them X plus two. […] I think that’s where the mutuality comes into it, you both are getting a thrill out of, ‘Oh, what are they going to do next?‘

And in another focus group, a participant described why consent is important:Well yeah, because [then] you know where the other person stands. Otherwise, you could definitely say that it’s harassment. I would genuinely class it as sexual harassment.

These are positive findings and suggest notions of respect and mutual engagement are paramount to young people who engage in sexting.

Not wanting to be seen as a ‘creep’

There are several more complex points to unpack, though. Our participants repeatedly mentioned the importance of not “crossing the line” when sexting. This means not transgressing the boundaries of the other person and making sure the sexting is an “escalating, mutual thing”, as another participant said.

However, participants also described an element of self-interest in moderating one’s behaviour while sexting. The following quotes from a focus group discussion illustrates some of these complexities (names are pseudonyms):

Moderator: But why would you stop? If you feel the other person is uncomfortable?
Matt: You don’t want to be seen as weird.
Tim: You don’t want to creep them out.
Liam: Well, given that you’re trying to get some sort of sexual connection with this person, you wouldn’t want to compromise your chances further, by having them think that you’re some massive creep.
Liam: Yeah, true, because they could pass on that information.

So, while making sure to not “cross the line” is partly based on respect for the other person, it would also be detrimental to building a “sexual connection” with that person, or with others in the future.

Why asking for consent can ‘ruin the vibe’

Our research also highlighted the gendered differences and double standards at play in sexting, as depicted from the perspectives of the young men.

Pictures of young women’s bodies and body parts (breasts, vaginas) were seen as having more value, and being in higher demand, than men’s body parts. But women were also seen to be exposed to greater risks than men when engaging in sexting, including the risk of “slut shaming”.

This is in line with what international studies have found.

While our participants were often aware of these gendered differences in terms of how “sexts” from men and women are perceived, this was seen as a problem at societal level and not something they could change.

As a result, it did not mean that they stopped sexting. In that sense, sexting can be seen as involving greater risks for women than men.

Our participants were generally aware of the need, and benefits, of asking for consent before sending a sext. But they also described how this was difficult, because explicitly asking for consent would either “ruin the vibe” or reveal their lack of expertise in sexting.

Indeed, our participants described an almost mythological belief that every young person knows how to sext, which they felt was far from their own reality. Learning how to sext was “learning by doing”, on your own and without advice from others.

Similarly, establishing consent had to happen in subtle ways. As a result, they mentioned feeling insecure and often nervous about sexting “well”.

What young people need to know and educators need to assist with

Sexting is a normalised part of contemporary young lives. Because of this, learning the “skills” of appropriate and respectful sexting is something that should be part of the sex education curriculum in schools.

Rather than trying to tell students to simply abstain from sexting, we should support them to do it in respectful ways.

Translating the findings of this research into tangible strategies in sex education is an important task for educators. By assisting young people to “sext” in appropriate ways, for instance by identifying alternative ways of establishing consent and avoiding “victim-blaming”, we can take one step towards destigmatising the practice.


Signe Ravn is a Senior lecturer in Sociology at the University of Melbourne. Steven Roberts is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Monash University.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Celebrity News

Madison Beer Talks About Leaked Private Nudes on Int’l Women’s Day

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Madison Beer Talks About Leaked Private Nudes on Int'l Women's Day

(TMZ) — Madison Beer opened up about a scandal she says has been dogging her for years — but she’s ready to let it go and own the mistake, for which she won’t be shamed over anymore.

The singer penned a powerful note Sunday — making mention of the fact it’s International Women’s Day — and basically said she’s done being belittled over old private photos and videos she sent to a significant other in her teens … which have apparently resurfaced as of late.

She writes, “when i was around 14 and exploring my body & sexuality, i sent very private snapchat’s of my body to a boy i really liked at the time. i sent these, at 14, thinking i could trust the boy as we had known each other for years & shared feelings for one and other.”

Madison continues, “but of course he shared it with all of his friends.” She goes on to describe how the pics and vids have popped up over the years, which she says were discussed among her contemporaries, friends, family members and even music execs.

Welp, Madison says she’s finally ready to forgive herself … and more importantly, to let herself move on and not let the incident have power over her anymore. She writes, “so today, on IWD i am going to free myself of this weight i carry.”

Madison ends her wise words with some advice for other young people — remember she’s just 21 — which entails not letting one’s mistakes define you, or keep you in fear.

Well said.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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