Who’s Driving? Agency and Evidence in the History of Technical Safety
International workshop organized by DFG Research Group “Practicing Evidence”
Deutsches Museum, Munich, December 6-7, 2018
Organizers: Karin Zachmann, Stefan Esselborn (TUM)
Driverless cars and their ethical and practical implications have been the subject of intense debate lately, in academia as well as in the popular media. While proponents claim that the new technology will save millions of lives by eliminating error-prone human drivers, critics point to new risks about to be created. Who provides what kind of evidence that autonomous cars are really safe in any given situation, and who challenges it? How can it be proven that they will not malfunction catastrophically? Who is responsible if they do?
From the historian’s point of view, the attempt to delegate (some) responsibility for safety from the user to technology is not a new phenomenon, nor one restricted to automobile technology. As human error is at the root of arguably a majority of accidents involving technological artifacts, the “technological fix” of trying to replace the unreliable “human factor” with technical solutions can almost be considered a standard response by engineers in many different technological fields to safety concerns of all kinds. Taking these considerations as a point of departure, the workshop aims to think about the changing relationship between technology and its users through the history of technical safety and its automation.
For this purpose, we suggest that the question “Who’s driving?” should be understood in a twofold manner, each pointing to a particular set of issues: Firstly, who was in charge of safety in a given situation, how was responsibility for safety (re-)distributed? What part did automation have not only in creating safety, but also in proving it? Secondly, who/what was driving the automation of technical safety? Which actors and stakeholders where involved in the negotiations behind these changes, and what influence did the need to provide evidence for safety have?
If you would like to join us, please register via email to Stefan.Esselborn(at)tum.de.