The Autonomous Vehicle Has Arrived

“Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – Thomas Alva Edison

That is a quote from a recent Article on Waymo’s announcement of a Completely Driverless Service for the general public in Chandler, Tempe and Mesa Arizona. The quote addresses all the skepticism that has surrounded the move towards autonomous vehicles. Author Enrique Dans describes the emerging service and has a message for the naysayers:

Skeptics of the world, this is the moment to admit defeat: those who said it couldn’t be done have been proved wrong; those who said autonomous vehicles couldn’t adapt to real road conditions, that these vehicles would end up waiting at junctions for hours, that legislation would be held up, that nobody would dare use it

As we stare into this emerging future, we must accept that a transition period requires our attention. These future scenarios provide society with an opportunity for growth and prosperity as we transition to a future state. However, once we arrive, the challenges that come with scenarios like autonomous vehicles (e.g., loss of jobs) are realized. That means we have a chance to manage the transition. For example, while this new Waymo driverless service does not require a driver (sorry Uber), these taxis are still monitored, and that requires workers with new skills. As described in the article, the process will have to be refined to allow a single operator to monitor several vehicles. More importantly, this scenario captures what is likely to happen across most future scenarios: the human monitors will be eliminated or replaced by algorithms – having been trained by the human monitor.

Understanding this possible future affords us the opportunity to manage the path. In so doing, we avoid the fear of building a future where our most intractable problems are solved. This belief in our potential is described very clearly in Rethinking Humanity. It is therefore incumbent on us to see the future, understand its possible implications, let go of our current mental models, and manage the path.

3 thoughts on “The Autonomous Vehicle Has Arrived

  1. Personally, though I love driving (both motorcycles and cars) I look forward to the driver-less or autonomous vehicle. I don’t enjoy driving in traffic and I feel somewhat guilty idling in traffic (though my car has green capability to stop and start the engine when not moving) and burning petroleum rather than using greener energy for local transportation (we have poor public transport here in Austin, TX).

    I look forward to it, because I foresee myself being able to purchase a car and send it to take friends and family wherever they want to go when I’m not using it or even to tell it to go “Uber/Lyft” and make me some money (pay for itself). I strongly believe that once this technology is perfected and improved (even now really) that computers driving cars will be far safer and more efficient than people and a huge leap to reduce accidents, deaths, congestion and pollution. Once that happens I foresee much smaller, two or one wheeled, individual autonomous vehicles making their way to the market. Something like an enclosed Segway where the carbon fiber body will actually be the battery. This will further reduce congestion and pollution and could make public transportation mostly obsolete (except perhaps for city to city and of course air travel for speed). I honestly think this is possible in the next ten to twenty years, though of course it might take longer.

    On the downside, driving jobs will go away and probably only wealthy individuals and corporations will be able to afford the autonomous vehicles so it could further exacerbate inequality and the wealth gap, but it would make cities far more livable. If the vehicles are one or two wheeled, autonomous and gyroscopically balanced, our streets could be turned into turf with a 1-2′ wide concrete strip to make neighborhoods and even shopping districts much greener, cleaner and nicer (far less impervious cover). Corporations (Ford, GM, Tesla, Mercedes, Amazon, etc…) might not sell “cars” and run fleets to lease, but at least transportation should be cheaper and more accessible for everyone. Of course “drivers” will have to go to a closed course or at least out in the country to experience the trill of “driving” again.

    No telling how or when this might actually happen, but whatever happens and when will certainly change our world, probably mostly for the better. Jobs are inequality (wealth gaps) are the two big questions to come out of this that society will have to struggle with, but it could provide a huge opportunity for people to do more creative and satisfying work, get more education, plus have more leisure time. One can only hope.


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