Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dystopian prediction re driverless cars

Having expressed my enthusiasm for driverless cars, I figure I ought to pass along some of David Roberts thoughts on why these vehicles might make cities, and society, less livable than we currently envision. Roberts is one of the most informed, thoughtful commentators I know of about the intersection between science and society. He's not a technophobe -- quite the contrary. If he's worried, I'm ready to listen.

What concerns Roberts is that self-driving cars could easily lend themselves to a development path rather like what we've experienced with the internet. When the technology has been perfected, and vehicles have largely switched to ever cheaper electric power derived from solar and other sustainable sources (which he predicts), the costs for companies providing urban rides will become lower and lower. Once they've bought a fleet of cars, not a huge cost in a developed industry, successful companies might compete for customers through a price war, driving the share paid by customers down to nearly $0. Sounds great, doesn't it? We'll get around our cities free!

Except that any business has to make money somehow. Most likely, fleet companies will turn to advertising within the cars. And, for the cheaper rides, most likely we'll put up with this.

But then the war for market share will make it the necessary business model for fleets to encourage us to run about in their cars more and more so they can sell more and more advertising. The end result:

There are reasons to believe that any private autonomous vehicle industry will not just increase Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), but will pursue more VMT aggressively. ... If shared fleets of autonomous vehicles come to be funded primarily by advertising, we will end up with an auto industry even more committed to auto supremacy than the current one — at best a reluctant partner in any effort to make cities denser and more livable, at worst a committed foe.

... Hitching ad revenue to VMT would put the industry squarely in opposition to other, non-car modes of transit and make it an enemy of good urban planning. It would strengthen short-term gratification and weaken long-term foresight — and foresight is already difficult enough to come by in transportation planning.

Yet more reasons to struggle for strong public transportation!


Rain Trueax said...

It seems they might work on freeways or in cities but country roads, not so much. The driverless car couldn't see the deer several feet off the road and figure there would be more coming. Would it be able to recognize the turn of a wheel in a car getting ready to enter the road to decide if it was going to slam into it? Humans take into account so many things in driving that I find the driverless car working best in a regimented world where rules must be followed-- do even cities fit that? Of course, public transportation doesn't work for rural living folks either. Another of those differences between city living and country-- and yes, some do live in the country still lol

janinsanfran said...

Hmmm ... actually I think self-driving cars will do well in the country. I think about my experience with my mother-in-law. She drove in the country for years after both her vision and her reflexes should have stopped her. People mostly went slowly (she went too slowly), there was little human traffic, and she got by. And we didn't struggle about this because the worst we envisioned was her ending up in a ditch. Somebody would come by ...

I don't know -- there are an awful lot of humans on the road who probably drive worse than driverless cars will.

Rain Trueax said...

I suppose it depends on the area. Where our farm is there are a lot of log trucks and in season Christmas tree trucks. They don't tolerate slow. We've had a lot of fatalities, given the smaller population; so when Mom got legally blind and still wanted to drive, the renewal of her license ended that. She lived next to us on the farm in a mobile home; so she had us for transport, but it didn't make her happy. Rough roads are a big deal also that I don't know how a driverless car would work.

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