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Why College Students Understand Self-Driving Better Than Most

The No Parking Podcast has already traveled back in time once this season to explore the early days of the elevator industry and how it connects to today’s self-driving cars. 

They’re diving into technological archives again in Episode 5, which features Patrick McGinty, a teacher in the English Department at Slippery Rock University who took an unusual approach to his undergraduate course on autonomous vehicles. As Ground Truth covered previously, McGinty asked his students to study public reaction to the introduction of new technologies throughout history, from the washing machine to the Nintendo Virtual Boy, to better understand how innovation is received in our culture. 

Oftentimes, the reaction that students uncovered from the past was intense: enthusiasm and excitement from some people and media outlets, and doom and gloom predictions from others about how the new tech would lead to laziness and safety risks. 

As McGinty recalls: “I had them interviewing older people they knew — grandparents, great grandparents — about these 20th century technologies. I had them doing research in library databases, all trying to stitch together quotes that sort of told the lifespan of a 20th century technology to try to get them to say, ‘Okay, what can we learn from other technologies?” How can we go into this discussion about driverless cars properly calibrated: not too high and not too low?”

Then, once McGinty’s Slippery Rock students learned about how those older technologies were greeted by society — typically with hyperbolic hype or unfounded skepticism — he asked them to discuss the advent of autonomous vehicles today, and how they thought this emergent technology would play out among our communities, now and in the future. 

Ultimately, his course culminated by asking the students to create projects, short stories, graphic novels, screenplays, or other fictional material centered around what they expect to happen to self-driving technology. What they came up with was both surprising and heartening to McGinty.

“They cared about how their parents would adjust to it,” McGinty recalls. “Many of them were healthcare-related majors so they’d ask ‘How is this gonna help my patients? How’s it gonna help the disability community?’” 

Listen to the new episode to hear more from the students’ perspective, and subscribe to the No Parking Podcast for more thought-provoking discussions. 

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