[AI] The Blind Driver Operating a Vehicle
ilovecold at gmail.com
Sun Sep 26 02:45:44 EDT 2010
>From The Braille Monitor August-September 2010.
The Blind Driver Operating a Vehicle at Speed: Creating the Technology that
Puts the Controls under our Hands
by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is the coordinator of the Race for
Independence and president of the National Federation of the Blind of South
Carolina. On Tuesday afternoon, July 6, he addressed the Convention. This
is what he said:
The word "technology" is defined in Webster's Dictionary as the
"application of scientific knowledge to serve man and industry, commerce,
medicine, and other fields." When premodern humans first recognized that
they could reshape natural resources into simple tools, mankind began to
apply scientific knowledge to create possibilities. The use of fire, for
example, was essential in the development of the culinary arts and in the
discovery of meaningful climate control. And later the wooden wheel
(developed by the Sumerians over five thousand years ago) was instrumental
in the transport of greater quantities of food and goods; not to mention
providing a means of moving heavier materials over greater distances and at
faster speeds than ever before believed practical or even possible.
Twentieth-century sociologist Read Bain suggested that technology
includes both the tools and machines created by mankind and also the skills
by which we produce and use them. Approximately fifty years later,
metallurgist Ursula Franklin, in her 1989 lecture entitled "Real World of
Technology," defined it as, "practice, the way we do things around here."
And French philosopher Bernard Stiegler in his book entitled,
Technics and Time, published by Stanford University Press in 1998, defines
technology in two ways: "the pursuit of life by means other than life," and
"organized inorganic matter."
It has been said that technology is the result of science and
engineering. Without a little technological ingenuity science and
engineering would yield no result. To consider the point in a more
practical way, let us examine for a moment the technological ingenuity of
the famous Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452-May 2, 1519).
Da Vinci is, of course, best known for his creations, the Mona Lisa and the
Last Supper, perhaps the two most widely recognized paintings in the world.
But perhaps less widely known are da Vinci's late-fourteenth-century
illustrations of a variety of flying machines.
Those who are familiar with modern-day aerodynamics tell us that da
Vinci's depiction of a four-seat helicopter is flawed and would have severe
design defects if built according to his specifications. On the other hand,
not all of his sketches of flying machines were mere products of science
fiction. A test conducted late in the twentieth-century of one of his
conceptualized flying machines, using materials which would have been
available to da Vinci in the fifteenth century, proved that his hang glider
was actually capable of flight.
However, when da Vinci conducted the experiment himself in 1496, it
failed. Why? While Leonardo da Vinci had plenty of technological ingenuity
and an adequate understanding of the mechanics of flight, he simply did not
have the benefit of modern-day science and engineering to turn the concept
into reality. A product of the fourteen hundreds, he lacked the knowledge
of twentieth century aerodynamics and five hundred years of technological
development. In short, it took the better part of five centuries for
science and engineering to catch up to the technological ingenuity and
fifteenth-century imagination and innovative spirit of Leonardo da Vinci.
In 1940 another man possessing tremendous imagination and an
innovative spirit became the first president of the National Federation of
the Blind. As the movement came into existence, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek told
the assembly at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, "Collectively, we are the
masters of our own future and the successful guardian of our own common
Dr. tenBroek continued, "Let one speak in the name of many who are
prepared to act in his support; let the democratically elected blind
representatives of the blind act as spokesmen for all; let the machinery be
created to unify the action and concentrate the energies of the blind of
the nation. The inherent justice of our cause and the good will of the
public will do the rest."
These were the words of Dr. tenBroek as he delivered them seventy
years ago. All of the men and women gathered at Wilkes-Barre on that
historic day are now gone. Nevertheless, is it possible for those of us
living in the twenty-first century to gain an understanding of what our
predecessors thought about technological development, particularly as it
related to blindness? First of all let us put the matter in perspective.
There were no laptops or fax machines, no cell phones, and no Internet
service when the National Federation of the Blind came into being. In 1940
Ray Kurzweil was not yet born. There was no omnifont optical character
recognition; no refreshable Braille, and no screen-reading software.
Clearly complex forms of technology were already in existence in
1940, such as airplanes and automobiles, but there were few or no means at
the time to make technology accessible to the average blind user. So how
did the first-generation Federationists approach the issue of technological
development? Trapped within their time, did our predecessors simply ignore
On the contrary, let me direct your attention to an article which
appeared in the New Yorker magazine on January 11, 1958. The article is
based on an interview in which Dr. tenBroek talks about the technological
ingenuity of some of his blind friends and what the reasonable limits were,
if any, related to blindness and technological development in 1958.
Quoting Dr. tenBroek from the interview, "I've got a neighbor in
Berkeley, a blind man I've known since we were classmates at school who
built his house entirely with his own hands. ... It's quite a good-sized
house, too, about twenty-seven hundred square feet. He built the forms,
poured the cement, put in the plumbing, did the wiring--everything. The
place is on a fairly steep hillside, and before he could start, he had to
make himself a large power-operated boom for hauling his materials up to
The article continues, "We asked Professor tenBroek what jobs he
himself thinks are impossible for the blind to hold. He laughed, stroked
his goatee professorially, and said, `Well, airplane pilot, I suppose.
Though, for that matter, planes fly most of the time nowadays on automatic
controls, don't they, and someday may be completely automatic. Actually, I
can't say what the limits are.
One of my friends in the Federation is an experimental nuclear
physicist. ... Dr. Bradley Burson is his name, and he's at the Argonne
National Laboratory, near Chicago. When he was working on problems
involving the decay of radioactive matter, he invented some devices for
himself that measured the decay in terms of audible and tactile signals,
rather than the commonly employed visual signals. Some of the devices
turned out to be more accurate than the standard ones and are now widely
used at the lab.
I'd always assumed that being an electrician would be impossible for
a blind man, but not long ago I found a blind electrician--a fellow named
Jack Polston. I went and talked to his boss, and he told me that Polston
does everything any other electrician can do--wiring, soldering, and all
the rest. While I was there, Polston was doing the complete wiring for a
service station, which I'm told is a particularly complicated job. ... Now
that I've found him, I'm pestering the Civil Service not to disqualify
blind people automatically from trying out for electricians' jobs."
In this interview Dr. tenBroek expresses such faith in the abilities
of blind people, without reservation, that his words are still remarkable
in the twenty-first century. He believed that blind people have the
capacity to act with the controls under our hands.
In the intervening years our faith in blind people has not changed,
but technology has. In just over six months we will be debuting a Ford
Escape on the world stage, but not just any Ford Escape. This particular
Ford Escape will be equipped with a technological interface developed in
partnership with our friends at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at
Virginia Tech University's Department of Engineering. The interface will be
built with all of the knowledge and expertise that twenty-first-century
science and engineering have to offer. And on January 29, 2011, a blind
person will get behind the wheel of this Ford Escape and drive it on race
day, before the start of the Rolex 24, on the track at the Daytona
Let the world come to see the technological ingenuity, imagination,
and innovative spirit of the National Federation of the Blind. Let the
world come to know blindness from our perspective: a perspective which
endures through generations past and those to come. In the words of our
third great president, Dr. Marc Maurer, delivering the banquet address in
our sixty-fifth year, "Our perspective is not just for one day. It
stretches back over the decades to the time of our beginning, and it
reaches forward to the moment of the fulfillment of our dreams."
We stand at the edge of another day, and we probe the possibilities
that may exist. We have come together to forge a mighty movement of the
blind, united and with one voice-a movement with ideals, a determined
purpose, a bedrock philosophical foundation, and a membership committed to
If we are to justify the faith of those who came before us, we must
continue to have faith in ourselves and our movement. We must dare to
dream, commit ourselves to build for the future, and even push the
boundaries of what we believe is possible. If we are to justify the respect
of those who come after us, we must have the faith to plant the seeds of a
harvest that we may not reap. And, if we remain true to the movement,
fellow Federationists, with just a little imagination and innovative
spirit, the inherent justice of our cause and the good will of the public
will do the rest.
I am more inspired by Newton's apple tree than Adam's forbidden apple.
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