Even though Moore’s Law seems to truly have come to an end, new technological advancements are being introduced to the world at an astounding rate. Driverless cars used to be a thing futurists dreamed of, and not long ago was something expectant bloggers and tech-junkies were drooling over as prototypes. After a long-awaited hype, however, the driverless car is here, and it is changing the world. While these autonomous vehicles are not yet available to the wider public, they are currently out on the roads, being test-driven and prepared for mass adoption.
While not many are still arguing just how the autonomous car rollout will happen, nobody is arguing whether or not it will. The consensus is in: driverless cars are on the verge of changing the world in 7 drastic ways.
1. The Transition Will Trouble Us
The change, overall, will be and has been gradual. The most trying time for autonomous cars will be the days that the new technology shares the road with older, human-driven vehicles. One of the biggest problems with self-driving vehicles is that they are seemingly too perfect–they follow every law, all the time, without exception. If every car on the road followed this trend, there wouldn’t be any problems. However, human beings are not as disciplined as the programmed pilots of autonomous vehicles, and their erratic actions such as premature lane changes, speeding, and abrupt braking can confuse autonomous vehicles.
You can also expect that people will be anxious to test autonomous vehicle reactions at first, perhaps by intentionally cutting them off or stepping in front of them as pedestrians, and the stringent adherence to the law may actually hurt autonomous vehicles in the short-run. Every incident between self-driven cars and human beings will fall under intense scrutiny, and anything viewed as even a slight infraction will be fuel for those resistant in the face of incredible change. Nevertheless, eventually, human beings will be phased out.
2. As Automation Trends, Technological Unemployment Will Rise
As automation begins to ramp up, people all over the world will raise their voices about the amount of jobs and labor lost to robots. Ridesharing businesses Lyft and Uber are just a few of the companies that plan to employ self-driving cars in the future, meaning that after decimating the taxi industry, the ridesharing workforce is going to implode itself. Other commercial drivers are going to take a hit as well, including those in the trucking and transport industry, and even city governments are going to see less revenue from parking and speeding tickets. The next 10 years might even bring the end of the conventional auto industry as we know it, replaced by a new breed of car manufacturer.
The implications of automation run much further than just automobiles. Jobs all over the world face the threat of extinction after we create robots that are more capable than humans at… well, everything. A great mini-doc from 2014 explains the situation well:
3. We Will Have More Time… to Create More Jobs?
While some argue that upwards of 6 million jobs will be lost to automation, others argue that this notion is unfounded and unlikely. Manufacturing is a good example of an industry that will see radical change, albeit over a long period of time. A better way to say it is that all of the people that used to make yokes for the horse and buggy didn’t just go extinct, but instead learned to manufacture something else–the axle of the car for example. The rest of us will learn to adapt too, and maybe in ways that will actually replace the jobs the human race is outgrowing.
If you look at the evolution of the commute from the 1800s to now, for example, you’ll realize that with roughly 150 million Americans commuting to work and the average American commuting more than 100 hours each year, there’s a lot of time we waste on a regular basis. Maybe that time could be spent reading or cultivating the arts and the mind in other ways, as civilizations have habitually done more of as they’ve gained free time. Perhaps, on the other hand, more time will be spent telecommuting, with the work day beginning as soon as you sit down in the car and ending when you step out at home.
Whatever the case, more people are going to be needed to maintain the fleets of autonomous vehicles and other machines built to do our bidding, as well as to write the software that drives them. The good news is that coding as a career is on the rise. Perhaps all that’s needed is a push like the autonomous vehicle to necessitate and facilitate more technical and skilled learning, and eventually we’ll even overcome the STEM skills gap.
4. More People Will Share
One of the most optimistic predicted outcomes of the driverless-car revolution is that more people will share. Ridesharing companies that are investing in autonomous fleets might sound scary on the one hand because of technological unemployment–but on the other hand, they have proven and continue to prove that people can live and operate in a society where major commodities and big-ticket items can be shared.
Not everybody believes that this is a good thing, pointing to the inherent flaws in Communist philosophy and practice as the extreme reason that subsidized car ownership and sharing is a bad thing. Lesser, but just as important reasons include that car culture will most likely die out, and even losing the ability to just “go on a drive to clear the mind” will make many feel like they’re losing a significant amount of privacy and autonomy.
In the end, we’ll just have to wait and see if the “share-society” actually works. If automation truly does replace all jobs, that will mean that there should be no reason anybody doesn’t get fed, doesn’t get clothed, or has to go to work to complete a mundane task–but we’ll see if that’s actually how it plays out.
5. Fewer People Will Die
Every year since 1994, approximately 43,500 people have lost their lives in car accidents in the U.S. alone. About one-third of those deaths involve alcohol, and just as concerning of last has been distracted driving involving texting and cellphones. The net benefit of putting our lives in the hands of robots drivers who never sleep, never get distracted or drowsy, and never show up to work drunk means that we’ll save millions of lives every year. The effects of fewer deaths in society would have an interesting ripple effect, as The National notes via their YouTube channel: “In a driverless word, ask yourself this: would we need as many police, firefighters, ambulances–what about doctors, ambulances, and hospital beds?”
6. Underage Drinking and Driving Will Become… Legal?
The promise of fewer deaths is sure to spawn new and odd policies that many had probably never considered before. For one, many including Elon Musk predict that “manual” driving may become illegal in the future, determined to be too dangerous in comparison to its automated counterpart. Even more odd than that will be seeing children inhabiting a car alone, rolling along the highway to be dropped off at soccer practice or summer camp before the car returns to its port sans “driver”, where it will wait for the child to wirelessly beckon it back.
Even more startling than seeing a thirteen-year-old sitting in the driver’s seat of a fully automated vehicle would be seeing a thirteen-year-old drinking a beer in the driver’s seat of a self-driving car. One of the major arguments for the current drinking age finds its roots in the U.S. Supreme Court Case South Dakota v. Dole, where the U.S. Government decided to refuse federal highway funding to those states that didn’t raise their legal limit to 21. While states probably wouldn’t lower their legal limit to thirteen-years-old, you might not be surprised to see 19 and 18 become the normal drinking-age from state to state.
7. Cities Will Change and Become Internet Connected A.I. Organisms ThemselvesInternet of Things (IoT). The best way to describe this new phenomenon would be to point out how phones, computers, cars, and even homes now all connect to the internet nowadays. These sensors will eventually evolve to interact with one another, meaning that the computer program driving your smart car will probably also be the same program driving the person’s smart car in the lane next to you. Because of these sensors, both cars would essentially be talking to each other all the time, always aware of the other’s positioning, and always able to avoid collisions.
This type of autonomy creates a network, and almost a sort of Artificial Intelligence as well. As these beacons spread and begin to automate entire cities, one would have to wonder why types of structural changes we’d see. Commercial vehicles, designed specifically for the transport of cargo might be relegated to claustrophobic underground tunnels, while passenger cars enjoy the luxury of travel topside. Parking lots will disappear and roads would become much smaller as the most optimal and efficient configurations of mass transit would arise. Eventually the entire city itself would become an organism connected by the IoT. Who knows? The automated vehicle may just be the catalyst that transforms us and our planet into a giant, Unicron-sized A.I. robot–which is probably the dominant form of life in our galaxy anyway.
Whatever the case, the driverless vehicle is not just poised to change the world–it already is changing the world as you read this. How you handle that change, well, that’s entirely up to you. Remember, no matter what happens, you’ll always be in the driver’s seat of your own life.
Featured photo credit: Steve Jurvetson via flickr.com