Lost in the putrid cloud of self-driving car clickbait, the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation held its first meeting on January 16th, 2017. One look at its members is all it takes to know whose lobbying dollars hold sway in Washington. The largest constituency? A bloc including Apple, Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Waymo and Zoox, all of whom profit from you losing your steering wheel as soon as possible. They may cite safety, but there is only one objective voice on the panel, a man with true life and death experience at the intersection of human skill and automation:
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.
In a world where political hacks and “experts” are increasingly replacing those with real-world experience, Sully’s inclusion on the panel is a revelation. Best known for The Miracle on the Hudson, Sully’s entire career has been devoted to safety. Look past the mythology, and his is the story of the opportunity, danger and cost inherent to sacrificing skilled humans on the altar of automation. Sully has written and spoken extensively on the criticality of training and compensation for airline pilots, and his insights have clear applications to the future of the trucking industry.
In a recent interview, Sully made clear three simple messages: 1) we need real standards for self-driving cars, 2) the industry needs to reboot its approach to semi-autonomous cars, and 3) drivers education “is a national disgrace.”
Sully also ends his interview with a singularly authoritative message about human driving. TL:DR? If you love driving, read this to the end.
I was recently asked by the excellent autonomous tech site 2025AD to join a debate entitled “Will Humans Still Drive?” Autoline’s John McElroy argued that we would. I’m not so sure. Here’s my take:
I’m of two minds on whether people will still drive.
The answer, of course, depends on one’s timeline. According to Fight Club, on a long enough timeline the survival rate for everyone drops to zero. Apply this to driving. Once technological barriers to self-driving cars fall, the end of human driving would seem inevitable. On a moral level, people shouldn’t be driving at all, if only for the inevitable likelihood of a fatal or injurious accident. On a societal level, for the shared cost of emergency services dedicated to such events. On an economic level, for the inefficiencies of entire industries and government organs required to service even the minor accidents that plague our roadways.
As a result, I am absolutely convinced that human driving as we know it will be outlawed, beginning in major urban centers in the first world, then spidering out across major arteries to form regional and national autonomous transportation networks linked with multi-modal nodes.
The tipping points won’t be for global, national or even regional ubiquity, but local, with interlocking threads slowly strengthening between nodes, intermixed with human driven and semi-autonomous vehicles.
Whether I like this future is another story. Continue reading
Do you spend time in Silicon Valley or Detroit? If you don’t, know that most conversations involve these talking points: Autonomous cars are inevitable. Almost here. Will be ubiquitous. Save lives. Reduce traffic. Cut pollution. Also, mobility. And sharing. And no one will own cars. FYI, Don’t buy Tesla. Tesla sucks. Wait for our stuff.
“Never assume,” my father always said, so let’s follow his advice, deconstruct the clickbait underlying much of the autonomous driving narrative, and ask the question:
What if the autonomous car industry is wrong?
First we have to answer this: What is the autonomous car industry? On one side, we have the universe of Silicon Valley companies trying to figure out how to monetize an immature technology. On the other, we have the universe of legacy car companies terrified the upstarts are going to leave them behind. Since no one knows when or how it will be possible to monetize autonomous cars, they’re investing billions in anything with the words Autonomy or Mobility, catchphrases of a seemingly inevitable future they don’t understand.
Are autonomous cars inevitable? Of course. A self-driving car that works on the streets of Mountain View in decent weather? Google has them now. A self-driving car that is 100% guaranteed never to make a mistake, anywhere, in any condition? Not in my lifetime, and I’m not that old.
The billion-dollar question is—
Read the rest over at The Drive…