Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sustainability and the Promise of Driverless Cars

Bottom line. Sustainability is why I'm interested in driverless cars.

And It's why we should all be interested.

We  are, after all, facing existential challenges .  Central to them all is the fact that 5 billion people (give or take) are shortly to join us in the developed world. While a wonderful thing in general, with countless fringe benefits and unseen potentials, it is almost certainly unsustainable with the transportation tools at hand.

And as much as I'd like to sleep at the wheel, or no longer have to look for parking, I wouldn't care about driverless cars if they didn't have the potential to tackle real-world problems.  If this technology doesn't increase our ability to deal with the very real challenges facing us today then I have no  interest in it at all.

Can driverless vehicles, and the driverless system they enable, make a difference? Not just an incremental one, not just a marginal improvement,  but change fundamentally the way we move ourselves, and our things, across the face of the earth?

Here's why I think they can.

To a greater extent than trains, or horses, perhaps more than every form of transportation since walking, every aspect of modern life is accessible to the automobile. Because of this a fundamental change in this one piece of technology has the potential to change society significantly and at every level. and what more fundamental change could be made than to replace the guidance, communication, and control system with the most powerful modern technology, the computer?

One of the things that astonishes me about the conversation centered on driverless cars is how limited is in scope. Especially as this appears to be a potentially significant change to a system which is integral to almost every human endeavor.  The title of this blog was chosen to reflect the narrow scope of the conversation surrounding a technological change in an earlier era, one that saw the internal combustion engine as merely the replacement of one method of propulsion with another, somewhat less reliable one. This is the effect that the replacement of horses with the internal combustion engine had. And hardly is the ink dry on the change this minor adjustment has wrought than another change is upon us.

It is, however, a question that will likely be in the minds of those individuals that attempt to adapt this tool to deal with the very real problems we will face in the coming years. Those that focus exclusively on the technological, legal, and social challenges should not lose sight of the larger goal: a sustainable, perhaps even sustaining, transportation system.