Monday, 23 January 2017

Driving: going the way of swords and spats

I read a great post on Medium recently about self-drive cars. It was a great post by Tony Aubé, pulling together a range of ideas in a very cogent way. He talked through the increase in electric cars; decrease in accident rates, traffic jams and traffic flows; obsolescence of traffic lights, traffic officers and fines; the environmental benefits of reduction in gas emissions; and the productivity increases of not being stuck in traffic each day.

I particularly liked Tony's ideas (1 November 2016) about work:
"work has always been about solving problems, but somewhere along the way we confused it for a way to keep ourselves busy. I believe this is fundamentally wrong. I believe in human potential, and I believe it is first by freeing ourselves from the menial, automatable jobs that we can ultimately break free and reach a higher level of self-actualization as a society."
Tony also included a map which showed the number of states in the US where driving is considered to be a 'middle class' profession. I don't think this is quite the same in New Zealand, but this new technology will disrupt people who currently drive for a living.  Calling all drivers: the time to retrain is now, to be ready for your next career.

If drivers wait for the reversal of technology, they might find rocking horse excrement turns up before a reversal happens.

For me, this means we can free ourselves from the meaningless, and focus on creating meaning. And - perhaps - at last we can get what we were promised last century: more time for recreation.

As I have written elsewhere, the removal from the road of human driven vehicles is likely to be led by the insurance industry. Underwriters are already saying that AI premiums are around USD$300/year, whereas the human driver equivalent premium is above USD$1700. We just need to remember that underwriters don’t give a toss about the emotional argument: they focus on actual, statistical risk… and humans are considered to be more risky than the even the current level of AIs.

Local government will be relieved to take back car parks for green spaces, and to knock off funding endless roading projects. That will decrease our taxes and should leave us more able to fund extra leisure.

Germany is in the process of passing legislation to cease internal combustion engine production by 2030. Our future vehicles will likely be electric. As a result, we will have less noise, less pollution and improved - hopefully cheaper - public transport. Fewer traffic jams, and more efficient traffic flows are likely. We will eventually be able to convert our garages and driveways into something for recreation.

We will have to get used to the idea of not being defined by our cars. I certainly don't feel a need to be defined as a driver, or by my car (but perhaps that is a girl thing). I would much rather grab a pod to get to work, and to do some work in the taxi as I travel. While I suspect that New Zealanders in are less car-centric than Americans, we will still need to learn to let go.

But. Just as there were people who initially refused to give up their horses and carts for the internal combustion engine, trust will take time to build. I am sure self-drive will gain acceptance as the technology matures, and we iron out the bugs. There will no doubt be accidents and set-backs, but it seems to me that there are more positives than negatives.

I suspect that within a decade or two, human drivers will no longer be allowed on the roads. We will then need a new form of ID because young people will not have driver’s licences: there will no longer be a need to learn to drive.

Like learning to use a sword or to fasten spats, driving will be an obsolete skill set.

And I don't think it is a bad thing.


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