This was the hugest news of the last two days, but unless you follow tech-related websites it didn’t seem like such a big deal.
Well let me tell you: this is a game-changer.
The United States government essentially gave self-driving cars an “endorsement” Monday, as the Department of Transportation and National Economic Council jointly released long-awaited policies regarding self-driving cars.
But what was truly significant wasn’t the 15-point safety standard list that was unveiled. It was that the entire thing sounded like a public service ad “selling” the automated vehicles to the U.S. public.
And it began that morning with an editorial written by President Obama for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “Self-Driving, Yes, But Also Safe”:
Things are a little different today than when I first moved into the White House. Back then, my watch told me the time. Today, it reminds me to exercise. In my first year, I couldn’t take pictures with my phone. Last year, I posted on Instagram from Alaska.
Of course, American innovation is driving bigger changes, too: In the seven-and-a-half years of my presidency, self-driving cars have gone from sci-fi fantasy to an emerging reality with the potential to transform the way we live.
Right now, too many people die on our roads – 35,200 last year alone – with 94 percent of those the result of human error or choice. Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year. And right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives.
Did you think this technology was so close to being implemented in daily life? It is way closer than you think, and with the “OK” from the White House it’s going to come even faster.
You have Uber, Lyft, Google, Tesla, and even Ford (!) pushing the automated vehicles. Rather than with such radical technological changes of the past, in which big business—and in turn, the government—tried to delay the “inevitable,” you pretty much had an expert press conference for the self-driving car industry roll out between the two of them.
To be clear: I see no sinister conspiracy at work here, nor am I against the idea of automated cars. I don’t drive—so I feel, in some way, I “won.” I waited this whole damn future out so I could get my self-driving automobile.
But there are three vital points here to consider:
- When this technology finally becomes commonplace, a lot of people who drive for a living are going to be out of work. The President Obama editorial addresses this, but the reality of this situation cannot be overstated. We are talking about possibly over one million people losing their jobs. While the article from which that data was obtained feels the pros of driverless cars outweigh the cons of the unemployment, we have to consider that driving cabs and whatnot was/is sort of the “default” job for many people in many different circumstances. This includes recent immigrants, people forced to take a second job to make ends meet, artists, students etc. So…somebody needs to figure out what these people are going to do.
- I’m not an expert on the technology of the driverless car, but I would imagine that the safest scenario here is one where most or all vehicles on the road are self-driving—because that would eliminate the unpredictable factor of “human error.” So in order for this to truly all work, we are looking at more of an eventual mass-migration to the new vehicles, sort of like when everybody got pressured to get rid of their old TV sets (or their headphones with the wires).
- The switch to a driverless car has immense ramifications on the psyche and culture of modern society. IMMENSE. For example, how iconic is the image of the rugged protagonist driving a car? Or the symbolism of the car at the end of Thelma and Louise? The automobile—and specifically, driving it—is an almost elemental part of the fabric of our collective unconscious (even though they have only been around for such a relatively short amount of time in the history of humanity).
Again, none of this is a screed against the self-driving car. The implementation of the self-driving car in our daily lives is inevitable. And most likely, the romantic symbolism that had once been attached to the automobile in our popular culture will be shifted to spacecraft.
But to go back to the first sentence of this article…why is it that this type of news that will absolutely impact our lives in so many profound ways gets relatively “buried” in the midst of the “trending topics,” political name-calling, and etc.? The media is so obsessed with relative trivia, because (let’s face it) trivia “sells.” It’s ultimately up to the public to seek this news out and be better prepared for the world that is coming.