Google, Saudi Arabia, And The Politics Of Driverless Cars: As Google Works On Driverless Cars, What Does Tech Giant's Upcoming Idea Mean In A Country Where Women Cannot Drive?

Google has been experimenting with the idea of a driverless car for quite some time now. If that technology comes to fruition, what will it mean for women in Saudi Arabia who cannot drive? The theory behind driverless cars is that they would likely be driven by robots, which might one day alleviate the need for people to drive at all (no more unfriendly finger gestures). So, would this new technology help or hurt the push for women to become licensed drivers?

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A school guard watches a woman arriving to vote in the municipal elections, the first time women are allowed to vote in elections. [Image Via Jordan Pix/Stringer/Getty Images]One Country Stands Alone notes that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women there have been pushing for this ban to be lifted for some time, but apparently to no avail. The basis for these and other limitations on women's rights is Sharia Law. Wikipedia found that part of this law argues women "lack capacity," and thus the society must "protect" its female members by restricting their rights.

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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivers a speech to the Saudi Advisory Council in Riyadah, September 2016 [Image Via AP Photo]Meet The Driverless Car

Google's website for its driverless cars announce that prototypes are already in progress. Apparently, the cars can navigate a variety of situations and streets using special sensors. The early designs are tiny, looking more like Smart Cars than anything else, and have small sensors on top of their roofs. Interestingly enough, Google's driverless car prototypes have no pedals or steering wheel, so quite a bit is trusted to the computer when you climb inside. Could robots one day make decisions as well as-or possibly better than-their human counterparts? Only time will tell.

Driverless Cars And Women's Rights

If the Saudi government does not trust that women have the "judgement" to drive, perhaps they will embrace robots? Even though there is no law that directly bans women from driving in the country, they cannot legally obtain driver's licenses, and so, in effect, can't drive. If driverless cars were to come to Saudi Arabia, women wouldn't technically need a license to get around. If they could get around, they could get to work, school, mosques, and have more freedom than they currently enjoy. Not a bad start.

On the other hand, the government isn't likely to embrace these new ideas for anyone, let alone one of their most persecuted demographics. The Saudi monarchy recently placed a ban on Pokemon GO because, as Big Think put it, the game is thought of as a "form of gambling" (which is illegal). So the chances of embracing such a radical idea as this are slim at best.

Google, Saudi Arabia, And Politics

All this isn't to say that the country is totally closed to modern technology and ideas. The U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council notes that the Kingdom spent $10.7 billion U.S. on new infrastructure and infrastructure upgrades for things like railways, airports, and sea ports. But would they be willing to plunk down that much or more on a technology that could move things forward for women and other persecuted populations?

If the government is really out to keep women safe as they claim, they couldn't do much better than investing in Google's driverless cars. The modern miracles have computers Google has specifically built for driving cars, a shape used to give the sensor the biggest point of view possible, and are powered by electric batteries. Sure, one of the Arabian country's biggest exports is oil (IE fuel for cars), but electric vehicles tend to be more efficient and environmentally friendlier.

The Flip Side

Google's driverless cars could also have the opposite effect on Women's rights. It's possible women who use driverless cars to get around would continue to be seen as "lacking capacity" in the eyes of the Saudi government. This might then encourage the Saudi monarchy to continue violating the basic rights of women. What do you think about Google's latest pet project? Will it encourage or discourage women to become licensed drivers?

[Image Via Sean Gallup/Getty Images]