By US-China Investment News contributor Anabel Cooper
What was once a dream of science fiction seems to be arriving fast today, and the person steering that dream will be a robot. Unseen electronic chauffeurs look like they will eventually become our mode of transport de rigeur, at least in more developed countries, but is that something to be happy about?
Well, for one thing, the amount of pollution created would be significantly lower, particularly in cities with troubled air quality. The buildup of used car batteries and the escalation in mining the materials for them could present problems. These are negligible side effects in the grander scheme of things though. As much energy as would be saved by the mechanical processes themselves, so too would the savings in efficiency if linked electronic car systems could save on traffic jams and gridlock. If the much-vaunted safety implementations of collision detection come to pass, we’ll see cars that will prevent accidents before a human driver would, and the drop in automotive fatalities alone make it a goal worth striving for.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a great many obstacles to a fully functioning world of totally self-driven vehicles. The scale of the support network it would be necessary to create will be large scale. Charging points would have to be installed at a much higher rate in all our cities. One of the biggest questions people have is the margin for technical error on these cars. Whilst sensory technology undoubtedly has come a long way, there’s still a danger that a glitch or technical error could lead the AI driver to make a fatal decision.
Maybe the most alarming issue isn’t the danger posed by artificial intelligence, but rather that of human ones. Hackers and cyber criminals will, we imagine, be watching out for the development of self-driving cars closely. Imagine controlling someone’s car remotely. Or wide scale attacks on traffic regulation algorithms that could cause chaos on the roads. This could be a new battlefield if foreign powers wanted to undermine or attack another country.
Another thing to bear in mind is that people really love their cars. A lot of us spend good portions of our lives in them, and the car industry relies on marketing their products as exciting desirable. Will people spend so much time, money and effort on would be, in many respects, a sofa on wheels? There’s also going to remain a persistent need for all terrain vehicles and industrial cars like diggers and fire engines that will have to continue to co-exist alongside their self-driving counterparts.
The best analogy seems to be that of smartphones: devices which quickly became popular and gave everyone’s lives a high tech boost. While these made our lives easier, it has somewhat reduced our personal faculties for doing things we used to rely on ourselves for, like map reading and memorizing information.
Here To Stay
In the grand scheme of things, though, the rise of the self-driving car seems an inevitable eventuality, which on the whole will bring benefits that will out way any teething problems to be endured. The effects are likely to revolutionize industries like haulage and logistics whilst eliminating the damaging effects of fossil fuels used in the internal combustion process. General Motors has even begun trialling a self-driving car service app for employees at it Silicon Valley offices, where rival Google has also been experimenting with the technology. From the way things are looking, it could be months, not years, before self-driving car apps are rolled out elsewhere.