No, Autonomous Cars Will Not End Civilization. They Will End Bad Driving.

This retrograde piece (Why Driverless Cars Will Be the End of Civilization here on Pulse) on the future of cars is amazing. Apparently, an amazingly pessimistic and fearful bleak future awaits for us once we allow the cars not to be driven by humans anymore but let them drive themselves. According to this author, the cars of the future are hackable, unsafe and risky.

His solution? Go back to older car models and avoid innovation.

This is a problem of Technological Singularity

Trying to avoid tempting irony at all costs, what if the older (current) car models are not safe as well? Why not go then to horse-and-carriage mobility? They look impossible to hack  to me. On a more serious note, the problem of the innovation is when we judge the challenges of the future with the mindset of the present. There is no much use in this since the computing technology is advancing in exponential growth. This accelerating pace of the innovation in a non-linear way simply makes it impossible to predict (this is why it is futile to say cars of the future will need to visit the dealership for software patches, as the author of the above-mentioned text claims). All we know at the moment is that we may reach the state of Technological Singularity, when the regular, current rules do not apply anymore.

The term was coined by the mathematician John von Neumann. It refers to that theoretical moment of the future when AI (artificial intelligence) will be able of improve or redesign by itself. Or even become self-aware. At that moment, AI would exceed the human intelligence (read this amazing piece by Tim Urban)

Do not fear cars, but guns

That can be a terrible moment indeed if we reach singularity in military applications, let’s say. Think of AI-controlled helicopters or drones deciding by themselves whom and when to eliminate. That is the moment Mr. Musk, Mr. Chomsky and thousands of other experts fear it will happen if humankind allows an AI arms race to start. This is why they have just called for a moratorium on Autonomous Weapons and you can support it here too.

Cars will disrupt our way of living, but will not kill us on purpose

And the autonomous cars of the future would be AI-controlled, as well. But different. The old joke stating that the weakest part of a car stays between the wheel drive and the pedals is making sense all of a sudden. But think of it this way: the first AI vehicles would not take your children from school and drive them home. Instead, the first autonomous vehicles would carry stuff and drive slowly to their destination minding their own business. They would disrupt the freight transport as we know it: food deliveries, online orders, courier and postal services would be all affected by automation.

The car insurance business would change too – probably because the AI-cars would bear liability. There would be legal, regulatory and economical challenges. The road to autonomous vehicles is probably unavoidable. If it is desirable – that is just another topic. What could go wrong, right?

Who wants to give up driving? Who wants to give up confidence?

Driving – as we know it – is a strong social activity in which we indulge for over a century. Its main component is Confidence. Confidence that all the other drivers around you will not harm you. Confidence that you will stop at the red sign so I can cross at green. Trust that the manufacturer gets some reliable brakes on my car. Our current way of thinking hardly agrees to transfer this confidence to a an entity that we do not know at all. Yet, we do this on a regular basis: we fly even if we have never met the plane pilot before. We get into an unmanned train (the automated DLR train system in London is 28 years old now) without even thinking about it. Probably one day we would do the same with an autonomous car, controlled by an entity we do not know today. AI.

Things can go wrong. Maybe first AI cars would get into accidents (except Google’s self-driving car incindent, autonomous vehicles did not cause any by themselves, but you never know, right?). The cars of the future would have bugs. We would be in new mobility 1.0 phase. But gradually they would get better, they would act as a neuronal network on the road, transferring knowledge to one another. The singularity in automotive industry sounds scary. We really do not know and I’d rather learn than predict. But what we know for sure is that denying innovation never was a good human trait.

Because this is how innovation impacts cars :

By: Lucian Vinatoriu