Last year, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released a study indicating that in 2014, Americans wasted an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic. That staggering number begs the question: are traffic lights the reason instead of the solution to our congested roads? Researchers from assorted institutions have unveiled improvements to the current system such as self regulated lights and virtual traffic lights, but researchers from MIT have taken a different approach: eliminating traffic lights all together.
Right now, the main drain on traffic light efficiency is the yellow light. Although it allows for drivers to prepare for a light change, this set up time decreases overall efficiency, even though traffic flow is increased. MIT’s proposal does away with the need for any kind of stoplight by using a slot based network design to move platoons of cars through an intersection with little to no delays. This would be made possible by two things: a central software system which could control the speed of each car entering the intersection, and cars with the capability to connect to the software. Upon approaching the intersection, each car would communicate its trajectory to the central computer, which would then calculate optimal speed for safe passage. Then, based on this number, each car would set a limit on its own speed. Amazing, right?
According to the MIT research team, the system would also be easy to install as it does not require any significant changes to current infrastructure. The difficulty, however, would lie with public attitude and perception of the new technology. Doubtless, it would ultimately enhance safety and efficiency at intersections. However, full implementation of this system would require drivers to give up a significant amount of control over their own vehicles, and a radical shift in public behavior does not happen over night. MIT’s proposal is a far cry from autonomous cars, but the price is the same: individual control. This is not to say that the sky is falling, but to encourage all of us to at least take the time to look up. Concerning this issue, there is a lack of discussion about what drivers might be losing on a larger scale. When purchasing a new car, most people do the research, weigh the pros and cons, test drive several vehicles, etc. before making a decision. It would be wise of us to take the same approach to new technology, especially when its application has direct implications for the general public.
"As Millennials slowly become the majority group in the work force, it is up to them to ask not if we can, but if we should."
As wireless networks slowly work their way into more areas of everyday life, questions and concerns about privacy and security are being raised. But are they being raised by the right people? The break-neck speed of the advance of internet and computer technology has created distinct rift between members of Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Y (sometimes called the Tech Generation). Each group is perceived to possess a varying degree of aptitude when it comes to new technology; the youngest are the most comfortable by far, the oldest the least comfortable and the least interested, and Millennials somewhere in between. As Millennials slowly become the majority group in the work force, it is up to them to ask not if we can, but if we should. Older voices (although many of them built the internet’s infrastructure) are ignored, and the youngest would not think to ask. It is the people who have grown up alongside the internet, almost like another peer, that must consider what has changed. Take, for example, the use of the word “privacy”. Before user agreements were standard or even necessary, having privacy implied being safe from the prying eyes of other individuals. Having privacy meant having freedom to live without being scrutinized or the subject of gossip. There was a personal element to it. Needing or wanting privacy from large organizations, even the government, was rarely a consideration. Today, if a person wanted to get “off the grid” for even the most innocuous reason, they would need resources above and beyond what is available to the average individual. That fact makes me uncomfortable, and I think that when most people realize just how much of their lives could be offered up as information for sale, it makes them uncomfortable too. And yet, the ceaseless data mining, tracking, and selling continues ultimately unchallenged.
So, does the influencing generation lack understanding, or do they just not care? Perhaps it is a mixture of both. Because computer technology has evolved so rapidly, most individuals have only a rudimentary grasp on the way that technologies – like MIT’s new slot-based traffic system – function. As long as it is convenient and it works, ignoring the broader implications of society’s dependence on computer technology is preferable to trying to navigate its complex infrastructure. What a sobering thought! However, in the face of widespread apathy, it is important to be optimistic. I choose to believe that active minds will prevail. I choose to believe that my generation will continue to cherish living in a world where human error is seen as a chance to be better, rather than an epidemic in need of curing. Perhaps Minnesota will be a completely different place in the year 2116, but I, for one, hope that they still will speed through yellow lights.
Written By Emma Kinney
Emma Kinney is and intern at Sproute Creative and student at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. She will be completing her undergraduate degree in Communication and Business in December of 2016. She expects to leave with a B.A. in Communication. She plans on starting her Master's Degree in the spring of 2017 with a focus Professional Communication.