Increasingly, it's looking like autonomous vehicles are going to dominate our roads in just a few years. What's more, if you own a current-technology or earlier vehicle, you may not be allowed to drive it, thanks to advances in vehicle automation and autonomous control. Mish Shedlock comments:
Capitalism is precisely why driverless is coming. Corporations are betting their money and resources. The government is not resisting. The trucking industry will save hundreds of millions of dollars. People who believe driverless is not coming are the ones who do not understand capitalism!
Fully autonomous vehicles are not some pie in the sky prediction by Al Gore. Real companies (hundreds of them) all working on driverless. A bet against them is a foolish bet against capitalism.
Comparing current carpooling with what’s going to happen is like comparing ancient stone huts to modern houses. Carpooling requires a number of people to get together, on the same route, for rides at the same time every day.
On-demand scheduling, point-to-point, is needed, and in the works. I rather doubt that fuel-based cars disappear by 2024, but widespread (not total) disappearance of privately owned vehicles by 2030 seems reasonable.
. . .
Some point to how few autonomous cars are on the roads. It all starts somewhere. In 1900, in New York City, there was not a car on the road. By 1920, there was not a horse in sight.
Others say they will never accept the technology. Perhaps they will when their insurance costs go through the roof.
There's more at the link. There's also valuable information in these reports:
Both are worth reading.
I find these reports both interesting, and deeply troubling. There are certainly many positive results that may come out of this, if the technological and legal problems involved can be solved. Can autonomous vehicles be made 'hacker-proof'? Who's legally responsible if autonomous vehicles are involved in an accident? There are many questions like those that can't be answered at present.
However, I'm also deeply concerned at the reduction in personal freedom and autonomy that this technological evolution represents. Consider:
- If I want to drive anywhere right now, I can get in my vehicle and go. What if a government edict says I can't? Consider a scenario such as evacuating in the face of a hurricane or other national disaster. If roads are blocked by too much traffic, it would be child's play for some bureaucrat to digitally signal all vehicles in a large area, to allow only those within a given range of transponder ID's to move at any one time. An hour later, those ID's could be blocked, and a new range allowed to move, and so on. For that matter, the same technology could be employed to reduce rush-hour traffic jams every day. From a bureaucrat's perspective, this is a wonderful idea - controlling mass movements of people to prevent 'disorder' or 'chaos' . . . but what if they get it wrong? What if their plans are overtaken by events such as natural disasters? Besides, who gave them the authority to stop me going where I want to, when I want to? You can bet we won't be given a say in the matter!
- What if I don't want an autonomous vehicle? What if I want to retain my existing, driver-controlled vehicle? That may become impossible, partly because insurers will refuse to cover my old-fashioned, non-autonomous vehicle, and partly because manufacturers will no longer produce them, so that when mine wears out, I have no choice but to replace it with an autonomous model (if, that is, I can afford to - or am allowed to - replace it at all). What's more, cities may (and probably will) pass local laws to the effect that if you want to drive on their streets, you have to be in a vehicle that can be controlled by their traffic management systems, so as to prevent 'disorder' or 'disruptions' caused by 'outdated technology'. Present private vehicles may become automotive dinosaurs (not to mention their drivers!).
- What if government decides to use vehicle autonomy as an extension of law enforcement? In theory at least, any vehicle controlled by a traffic management system can be ordered to pull over to the side of the road and stop. If there's (say) a bank robbery, local cops could tell every vehicle within ten blocks to stop until they can check them all - whether or not they were involved. If an agency wants to conduct a 'safety check' (whether or not that's the real reason to stop vehicles), it can conceivably tell every car on the road to pull over at a designated point for inspection. Drivers would no longer be in command - they'd be passengers, with no choice but to obey orders. Some may argue that's no real problem in a democratic country, but what if the checkpoint was in a totalitarian nation, looking for 'enemies of the state' (real or imagined)? What if it were in a religiously fundamentalist nation, looking for those who profess other faiths, or who are classified as 'heretics' or 'apostates' by the powers that be? Vehicle autonomy might become a tool of oppression rather than freedom, under such circumstances.
I'm not blind to the many advantages of autonomous vehicles. As I get older, and become more infirm, it may be that an autonomous vehicle will allow me many more years of independence than I could have by relying on my own faculties. This is a good thing. I just hate the thought that autonomy will both increase our mobility, and decrease our individual freedom. Is there no way to reconcile those conflicting values?