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Uber's Death Car and the Cracks in Liberal Culture

Video of Uber's self-driving car killing Elaine Herzberg is available on YouTube. It will--or at least should--produce shock waves in the culture. The Silicon Valley cult of Artificial Intelligence (AI) -- and the related cult of brain science -- is a main source of today's cultural despair. If the brain is merely a machine that white-coated lab techs can measure and manipulate like any other machine, and if machines can be programmed to emulate the human brain, then human existence has no purpose. Our destiny is fixed in the same way that the paths of the planets and the orbits of electrons are fixed, and our free will, moral responsibility, devotion to the past and regard for the future are the random effluvia of a deterministic process.

If that is the case, then it doesn't matter what we do. We can pursue whatever pleasures or perversions strike our fancy at the moment, because nothing really matters. We are alone in a hostile universe and find our humanity, if such a thing there be, in arbitrary acts of self-assertion. The highest virtue is to define one's own identity, because only the willful assertion of individual particularity answers the emptiness of the universe, and the next-highest virtue is to reinforce other people's arbitrary self-assertion (for example by eliminating offending male-and-female pronouns in order to protect the sensibilities of transgender people).

That's why Hollywood grinds out movie after movie about computers coming to life, programmers falling in love with their avatars, and so forth, starting with Steven Spielberg's ghastly "AI" (2001). The liberal techno-utopians of Silicon Valley believe they are beneficent Dr. Frankensteins, creating the New Man.

And now we have video of the man behind the curtain.

The video shows a woman walking her bicycle across the highway: the Uber car was going at a good clip and coming over a rise. Not quite three seconds pass between the first sight of the pedestrian and impact, enough time for an alert human driver to spin the wheel. The human driver in the car was supposed to correct for machine errors, but the video shows one Rafaela Vasquez a/k/a Rafael Vasquez staring downwards until the moment of the crash. Reports Arizona's 12News:

According to records from the Arizona Department of Corrections, the safety driver sitting in the front seat of a self-driving Uber in Tempe at the time of a fatal pedestrian crash is a convicted felon.

The driver, 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, served several years in prison under the name Rafael Vasquez. She was charged with unsworn falsification and attempt to commit armed robbery. She was released from prison in 2005.

The Wizard turns out to be an obese and indifferent minimum-wage employee with a prison record pretending to work while Uber pretends to pay him or her, as the case may be.