There seems to be little obvious connection between driverless cars and child protection, except, perhaps, that child protection professionals of the future may use them to get to work. There is however a vitally important common thread and that is safety.
Interviewed last week on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme (24/4/17), Professor Paul Newman of Oxford University pointed out a very simple but hugely important feature of driverless cars when it comes to road safety. If one of them has an accident it has all the data about the incident – how fast it and other vehicles were travelling, what the road conditions were like, how close other vehicles were – and it can learn from this data to try to prevent a reoccurrence. Not only that, it can share its data and its conclusions with all other driverless cars so that the learning from one car’s accident can be shared with every other car to help all cars become safer in the future.
Of course, IT systems can process and transfer vast amounts of data much more efficiently than humans can. But the important point, from a safety perspective, is that the data is researched and that it is shared.
How often, I wonder, do things go wrong in child protection and the information about what has gone wrong, and the thinking about why it has gone wrong, remain forever unshared and undiscussed? We may not be able to send terabytes of data across the Internet at the speed of light, but we could be a great deal more focused about sharing modest amounts of information about errors and near misses, so that there could be much more thinking and discussion about how to put things right.
In aviation, they have something called CHIRP. It is a simple but vitally important system which allows all involved, not just pilots, to share information about critical incidents. It is a way of helping people to learn from the experiences, and the mistakes, of others, before they make those mistakes themselves.