Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Fulfilment

The Future Of Cars? Not So Electric [2]

The future” say the breathless futurists, scarcely able to contain their excitement, “will belong to cars that drive themselves”.  Really?

Automotive technology is certainly moving towards the “smart car”.  Some models already have perimeter sensors and computerized reverse-parking capabilities.  Others can maintain a pre-determined safe distance from the car in front, read and act on traffic signs, and trigger automatic braking if a crash seems imminent.  Manufacturers are already advancing on tech that will detect nearby cyclists and pedestrians, and overrule an inattentive driver before the worst happens.  From there it’s not such a far distance to the self-driving car, which gets its passengers to a pre-set destination without human intervention.  Enjoying the movie back there?

Some of the attraction here is the dream of taking the stress out of the motoring experience, making driving less hands-on and more enjoyable.  Another promise is accident prevention.  One business getting particularly excited is the car insurance industry:  if the car could monitor the driver’s performance on safety, and override it when necessary, there would be fewer accidents and fewer claims, potentially boosting business by bringing down premiums.  The highway death-toll could be curbed, and traffic congestion could be eased by allowing cars to move around closer together with safety.  Or so goes the argument.  As someone pointed out, in-car computers don’t drink, wave cellphones around or text while driving.  So, fewer crashes.  (On the other hand, computers have their own way of ‘crashing’, as we all know...)

But wait.  All this falls foul of a fundamental fallacy, the idea that just because something could happen, it will.  If technology always fulfilled the breathless futurists’ early predictions, by now we would all be riding around on our Segways, viewing the world through our Google Glass smart specs.  Hmmm...

Humanity won’t fall for all the hype, because skepticism and outright disbelief will intervene.  First of all, no-one expects to be involved in a crash – it will always happen to someone else.  Second, no-one buying a car ever envisioned sitting in traffic jams:  the mental picture is always of flying free along the open road, with the car making satisfying vroom vroom noise at the lightest touch of your foot on the accelerator pedal.  Third, who wants to be overruled by a dumb machine?  Especially when you’re indubitably the best driver on the road, as everyone seems to think they are.  (By definition, everyone going slower than you is an idiot...)

For the driverless automobile to succeed, it would have to become an almost universal standard, otherwise general road safety would still be at the mercy of careless idiots in their non-automated vehicles.  And what would happen to the idea of “owning” a car”?  It would speedily disappear, taking with it consumers’ appetite for all those things you want and need as a car owner.  No-one would care any more about the things that make a car desirable:  looks, style, horse-power.  Whole industries would collapse.

Pi knows about human nature.  Considering all the above, humanity would have to change its ideas pretty damn radically for completely self-driving cars to even get to the starting gate.

Pi to breathless futurists:  don’t hold your breath on this one.

Zone: Self-Fulfilment Country: Multiple Geographies Product – Consumer Products