By Bryant Walker Smith.
Published by The Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School.
The automobile, noted one scholar in 1907, “is variously referred to as [an] auto, autocar, car, machine, motor, motor car, and other terms equally as common but neither complimentary nor endearing.” Motorists, for their part, included “brutes,” “fat-headed marauders,” “honking highwaymen,” and “flippant fool[s]” who wrote themselves “down both a devil and an ass.” One hopes the horseless carriages of the future will earn monikers that are more flattering. In the meantime, we are left with assorted technical phrases like “electronic blind spot assistance, crash avoidance, emergency braking, parking assistance, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assistance, lane departure warnings and traffic jam and queuing assistance” to describe cars that (already) help us drive them, and with competing terms like fully automated, fully autonomous, self-driving, driverless, autopiloted, and robotic to describe cars that (may someday) drive us.
This article discusses efforts by researchers and regulators to systematically define, divide, and denote this growing spectrum of automotive automation. I first identify and compare approaches, and I then propose one of my own. Any approach may be overtaken by technological change or overcome by popular usage. Nonetheless, these efforts (and their coordination) are important, because effective legal, technical, and commercial communication depends in part on language that is clear and consistent. (The alternative is something that may or may not be called organic.)