Self-driving cars

In case you haven’t heard, self-driving cars are coming – it’s a matter of when, not if. When our kids grow up and look back at today, they’ll laugh about how quickly the technology was adopted, the same way we shake our heads today, remembering life without smartphones.

The transition will be fascinating. This technology will evolve, and while it seems likely that we’ll have more non-human drivers than human drivers at some point in the not-so-distant future, it’s unclear how we’ll get from here to there. It’s complicated, because autonomous cars can kill you, just as regular ones can. 

If we could magically replace all human drivers with non-human drivers in a day, tens of thousands of lives would actually be saved … even with today’s technology, computers are statistically way better drivers than humans. However, humans are irrational, and the first time a self-driving car is involved in a fatal accident, we will freak out.

I think we need to get humans used to the idea of self-driving cars in stages. Currently, Tesla is leading the way with real-world results – if you’re on the highway, you can let your Tesla take over the steering, but you’re supposed to be vigilant and ready to take over again if needed. That’s super impressive, but I worry about the first failure. Again, it’s the humans who have to get used to the behavior of computers, not the other way around.

What I’d like to see soon is a self-driving car with no human driver at all – but one that’s limited to 25mph. I think it should have a flashing light on the top to warn other drivers that something is different about it. Use it in cities as an automated taxi. Avoiding the highway would be an acceptable limitation, since the trade-off would be lower prices over time. That’s exactly the market Uber is going after. Once our society gets used to that early-adopter technology, THEN people will realistically start asking: “Why do I ever drive at all?”

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