If You Think the Cabbies Are Mad Now…

 

shutterstock_148830743Buckle your seat belts, everybody. We’ve reached peak disruption: a story of the gig economy intersecting with the rise of the robots. From Thomas Lee in the San Francisco Chronicle:

From taxicab unions and package couriers to politicians and regulators, a growing crowd of people would like to destroy Uber. Add one more name to the list: Uber founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

Somewhere lost in the scrum over whether Uber drivers are employees or contractors, or whether the company conducts proper background checks, is the simple fact that Kalanick wants to eventually replace all Uber drivers with software and computers. Like Google and Tesla, Uber is trying to develop a car that can drive without a human operator.

The piece, of course, dedicates a fair amount of time to what Lee perceives to be Uber’s hypocrisy: the company’s current PR strategy partially revolves around arguing that it offers drivers a better deal than cab companies, while its long-term strategy would remove drivers from the equation altogether.

I’m inclined to go a little easier on the company then that. If they think this is the way the market is inevitably going to move, I don’t know that they have much of a choice. How are you going to compete if your price has to include labor costs that your competitors aren’t shouldering?

What’s more interesting to me is the fact that the vision here is bigger than Uber. Indeed, what Kalanick and company have in mind is nothing more than the destruction of the idea of personal automobiles. From the Guardian piece by Alex Hern linked in the quote above:

While a full move to driverless cars would be Uber’s dream scenario, letting it cut the cost of a ride to little more than fuel plus wear and tear, it could very well be a nightmare for car manufacturers. Self-driving cars could prove the death-knell for private car ownership, with services like Uber offering a cheap substitution while avoiding the wastefulness of leaving an asset worth thousands of pounds sit unused on the side of the road. A self-driving car can carry someone from home to work, head off to a different office and pick up someone going to the airport, even take a package in the boot to be delivered to a client – all while a conventional car would be sitting in its owner’s car park.

Perhaps because of that, the focus from the conventional auto industry has been less on driverless cars, and more on using self-driving technology as a safety feature to augment traditional driving. For instance, a number of cars already on the market are able to maintain a steady cruising speed, stay in lane, stay a safe distance away from cars in front, and even park themselves, all without human intervention. In a patchwork fashion, those cars could eventually build up to almost full automation – but the signals coming from the industry indicate that the final step might be something they are loathe to take.

I own one of these “AI vehicles,” and I have to admit that this technology is very cool (though not yet reliable enough that you would rush out to get the fully automated version). Still, I’m conflicted — and I wonder if you are too.

I’m largely receptive to the intellectual case for driverless cars. But I’m emotionally resistant.

Now, granted, I’m an outlier when it comes to romanticizing driving. In just the past year or so, I’ve piloted my SUV through 42 states. For tax purposes, my official residence is the interstate highway system. But I don’t think you have to be as much of a road warrior as I am to be a little uneasy about this. (Please note before you jump into the comments that this in no way means I think we should attempt to arrest technological progress on this front.)

Here are my questions: Are those of us who feel like we’d be losing some ineffable freedom by having the wheel taken away from us just sentimental luddites? Should we just chill out and await the brave new world of driverless cars and hyperloops? Will personal automobiles become indulgences rather than necessities? For that matter, to what extent can they coexist with driverless vehicles?

I realize I’m getting perilously close to “Get off my lawn” territory. I’m just hoping I’m not the only one.

 

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  1. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    If my car could drive me to work each morning – safely at a reasonable speed – I would love it.  It would give me an extra hour each day to write. Maybe two. I could go through photos, write captions or layout instructions, and do useful stuff while the car navigated the horrible I-45 / US-59 intersection I white knuckle through each morning. Bliss!

    Seawriter

    • #1
  2. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Troy Senik, Ed.: Here are my questions: Are those of us who feel like we’d be losing some ineffable freedom by having the wheel taken away from us just sentimental luddites? Should we just chill out and await the brave new world of driverless cars and hyperloops? Will personal automobiles become indulgences rather than necessities? For that matter, to what extent can they coexist with driverless vehicles?

    Yes. Yes. Yes. They can’t….(on most roads).

    The driverless car is coming and it is going to be wonderful.  You will essentially take death out of the transportation equation.  You will get so much of your day back for other things.  And I don’t think this will mean the complete loss of autonomy.  We will still be able to go places and do things.  We will be able to wander the streets, explore, get lost…..its just that while you are driving down that back street enjoying the beautiful homes built 100 years ago you won’t run the risk of running into a parked car as you go.

    • #2
  3. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Troy Senik, Ed.:Here are my questions: Are those of us who feel like we’d be losing some ineffable freedom by having the wheel taken away from us just sentimental luddites? Should we just chill out and await the brave new world of driverless cars and hyperloops? Will personal automobiles become indulgences rather than necessities? For that matter, to what extent can they coexist with driverless vehicles?

    To be blunt, yes, you are being a sentimental luddite. Horses were once the primary means of transportation for all of humanity. If you wanted to get somewhere fast or with a lot of goods you used a horse in some fashion. Now they are a hobby for rich people, to be used in specially designed and restricted settings. No one (except the Amish, and police) take horses on real roads. Do we really miss the mess, noise, and smell of these majestic creatures? Who unlike a car could get you home when you were drunk, avoid small children, and even return your affection in its own limited animal way? No we don’t! Because we aren’t 8 year old girls living vicariously off of Disney talking animal movies.

    Personal cars will join horse as a hobby for those that can afford them, and in return our ability to travel longer in comfort and with more goods will increase. The system works. The past is rubbish, and only nostalgia makes us think it was in anyway good.

    • #3
  4. Topher Inactive
    Topher
    @Topher

    Driverless cars will be a huge boon to all of us who don’t drive for a living. I would love to get rid of my cars and read or do other useful stuff while be driven around in someone else’s vehicle. Just think of the positive transformation of cities when parking becomes obsolete, and when roads will need half their width for cars.

    But what is going to happen to millions of people who drive for a living? I believe THE most important issue facing this country is millions of people being made obsolete. Untethered men are really bad for a society, and we are about to enter an era when vast quantities of men are going to become useless. Big Problem.

    • #4
  5. Topher Inactive
    Topher
    @Topher

    Driverless cars will be a huge boon to all of us who don’t drive for a living. I would love to get rid of my cars and read or do other useful stuff while be driven around in someone else’s vehicle. Just think of the positive transformation of cities when parking becomes obsolete, and when roads will need half their width for cars.

    But what is going to happen to millions of people who drive for a living? I believe THE most important issue facing this country is millions of people being made obsolete. Untethered men are really bad for a society, and we are about to enter an era when vast quantities of men are going to become useless. Big Problem.

    • #5
  6. Penfold Member
    Penfold
    @Penfold

    I remain uncomfortable when another human is driving.  I can’t imagine how I’d feel if my Windoz OS was in the driver’s seat.  Until recently, I drove myself to work.  About a year ago I started taking our local city bus line to work and it took me awhile to stop looking out the window to “drive” the bus along with the bus driver.

    • #6
  7. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Kalanick is really brilliant: He figured out a way to monetize unused capacity in old technology that will directly transfer to the replacement technology. Basically getting people to pay for the alpha and beta development of the business side, which he can license to anybody.

    So do we see a unionization push for Über drivers so that when driverless cars come along there will be another entrenched constituency fighting the new thing?

    • #7
  8. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Troy, I join you in the “sentimental luddite” group although I add paranoia to the mix.

    If you cannot drive your car, you do not have freedom of movement in your car – and there will be highly publicized and widely cited cases where a driver overrode the automatic control and caused accidents resulting in major injury or death.

    Sooner rather than later after that someone will develop, and begin to demand, centralized control of all driverless cars and demonstrate improved performance. The technology lovers and safety advocates will go all in and suddenly you’ll be forced to submit your movements in a car you own to a central system probably controlled by a government agency who will then begin to make decisions on whether you should be allowed to go to certain destinations at all and regulate your movements.

    There is no innovation that cannot be twisted to feed the leviathan.

    • #8
  9. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Troy Senik, Ed.: Here are my questions: Are those of us who feel like we’d be losing some ineffable freedom by having the wheel taken away from us just sentimental luddites?

    I won’t go this far.  There is a concern with the driverless car that certain forms of regulation become easier for the government.  Putting limits on the number of miles you are allowed to travel in a month is effectively impossible now, but will become an option for the enterprising politician who wants to save the planet from carbon.

    We might say this will never happen, but in the birthplace of modern liberty, they are already weighing trash cans.

    • #9
  10. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    There’s routine driving for commuting and errands, versus driving for entertainment and adventure.  Automate the former out of existence – please! – but leave the freedom for the latter.

    • #10
  11. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Forget cabbies, truckers will be first on that list of redundant jobs. Millions of blue collar jobs that will be gone sooner than most imagine.

    Self-driving freight trucks have been given the go ahead to drive on Nevada’s roads.

    The vehicles, developed by German manufacturer Daimler AG, have clocked up 16,000 kilometres in order to get the key to the western state’s roads — and a full license. “This is not a testing licence,” said chief executive Wolfgang Bernhard at a press conference on 5 May. “We believe that these vehicles and systems are ready.”

    • #11
  12. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    truck

    Was faced with this recently on an early Sunday morning. Son #3 fell asleep behind the wheel and hit a few parked cars. (No one hurt, son only had one scratch. Thank you Ford)

    I welcome any driverless car. “Driverless” being defined as a car that isn’t being piloted by any of my kids.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    If driverless cars reduce my transportation costs enough that I could afford to get into amateur car racing, there goes any argument about the “romance” of driving.

    • #13
  14. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    My skepticism of driverless cars from a technical perspective is previously documented on this site.  But for the sake of argument let’s assume they are fully operational and widespread.

    The idea of giving up ownership of our primary means of mobility has the feeling of giving up mobility itself.  It’s like trying to only use public transporation.  For many Americans accustomed to owning land, owning their own home, and owning their car, it represent a surrender of autonomy and self-determination.

    It’s a step away from an ownership society toward a renter society where everyone lives clustered in small apartments and nobody has the transportation means to get out of the city and into the countryside, because all the self-driving cars are managed by a central control center which refuses to let them venture too far from the optimal revenue zones.  It would be the end of the family road trip.  It would also be one more contributor to the trend of humans losing touch with nature, having no idea how big and wide open the countryside is, because they just aren’t able to go there.

    • #14
  15. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Troy Senik, Ed.: I’m largely receptive to the intellectual case for driverless cars. But I’m emotionally resistant.

    That’s exactly how I think and feel about it.

    • #15
  16. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Annefy

    truck

    Was faced with this recently on an early Sunday morning. Son #3 fell asleep behind the wheel and hit a few parked cars. (No one hurt, son only had one scratch. Thank you Ford)

    I welcome any driverless car. “Driverless” being defined as a car that isn’t being piloted by any of my kids.

    Technically, once your son fell asleep the car he was in was driverless. And it most definitely was not being piloted by any of your kids at the time. So you do not welcome any driverless car. Just ones which can reliably steer themselves.

    Seawriter

    • #16
  17. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Mark Wilson:My skepticism of driverless cars from a technical perspective is previously documented on this site. But for the sake of argument let’s assume they are fully operational and widespread.

    The idea of giving up ownership of our primary means of mobility has the feeling of giving up mobility itself. It’s like trying to only use public transporation. For many Americans accustomed to owning land, owning their own home, and owning their car, it represent a surrender of autonomy and self-determination.

    It’s a step away from an ownership society toward a renter society where everyone lives clustered in small apartments and nobody has the transportation means to get out of the city and into the countryside, because all the self-driving cars are managed by a central control center which refuses to let them venture too far from the optimal revenue zones. It would be the end of the family road trip. It would also be one more contributor to the trend of humans losing touch with nature, having no idea how big and wide open the countryside is, because they just aren’t able to go there.

    This, I think, articulates my anxiety better than anything. I’m with all of you on the technological, economic, and safety benefits. It’s the cultural ramifications that worry me. Shorter version: it’s not the tech, it’s the people using the tech.

    By the way, for those of us who are genuinely enthused by the potential safety benefits, this, from the end of the Guardian piece, is sort of heartbreaking:

    As a consortium of AI researchers put it in January, “if self-driving cars cut the roughly 40,000 annual US traffic fatalities in half, the car makers might get not 20,000 thank-you notes, but 20,000 lawsuits”.

    • #17
  18. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    A lot of this kind of stuff is happening at Carnegie Mellon right now.  It’s fascinating.

    The more of these cars on the road, the better it works.  They can communicate with each other and react in real time.  Even change the lights.  (When we get Troy off the road we won’t even need lights.)  Traffic will be a thing of the past.  No need for mass transit.  No bus stops.  Everyone will call a car to his front door.

    Who owns the car?  The car.  If the car needs a repair, it takes itself to the shop.  Needs gas?  It goes to get gas.  Who pays?  The car.  Where does car get the money?  It works.  Driving you.  Wherever you want to go because you have nothing but free time now.

    Awesome.

    • #18
  19. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Frank Soto:

    Troy Senik, Ed.: Here are my questions: Are those of us who feel like we’d be losing some ineffable freedom by having the wheel taken away from us just sentimental luddites?

    I won’t go this far. There is a concern with the driverless car that certain forms of regulation become easier for the government. Putting limits on the number of miles you are allowed to travel in a month is effectively impossible now, but will become an option for the enterprising politician who wants to save the planet from carbon.

    We might say this will never happen, but in the birthplace of modern liberty, they are already weighing trash cans.

    Frank, Frank, Frank. We would never start down that road.

    • #19
  20. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Completely absurd idea for anyone who has actually lived outside of a city.  In the time it would take an automated car to finally get around to you, you could have run your errand and returned home.  The death of personal car ownership is overblown hype from city folk who have never actually seen Wyoming.  It’s not remotely feasible and isn’t cost-effective outside of dense urban centers.  That’s without even touching on the personal liberty issues, the segment of the population that goes off-roading (where driverless cars would wet themselves without a road or mapped route), or people who drive for the enjoyment of driving and exploration.

    • #20
  21. Publius Menpaen Inactive
    Publius Menpaen
    @PubliusMenpaen

    I think the driverless cars will never really take off for anyone outside of a congested city unless there is absolutely zero percent chance for abuse, overrides, or government intervention in where you can travel.

    The chief beauty of the personal automobile is it frees you to go where you please, when you please. While most would welcome a safe opportunity to sleep during a long multi-state excursion, absolutely no one is going to sign up for a centrally owned car run by a central agency that dictates its use. No one wants to drive the car that greets them with “Hello, my name is Skynet!”

    Guarantee you if they try and outlaw cars that aren’t centrally controlled, you’re going to get a black market of two kinds of people: Custom car manufacturers pumping out old fashioned models, and hackers to disrupt the centralized control system.

    • #21
  22. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Valiuth:

    […..]

    To be blunt, yes, you are being a sentimental luddite. Horses were once the primary means of transportation for all of humanity.[…..]

    I don’t think these are analogous. Going from horse to automobile was just a change in the means; the driver was still intimately and directly involved not only in setting the course but in effecting the movement of the means. This change is more like the difference between riding your horse versus hopping onto a train, between driving yourself and taking a cab.

    Not to mention the other idea that horses weren’t traceable like self-driving cars must be.

    • #22
  23. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Whiskey Sam: Completely absurd idea for anyone who has actually lived outside of a city.

    This is, in a meta sense, a case-in-point of what I said above.  The supposed imminent takeover of driverless cars is a phenomenon invented and promoted entirely by city dwellers.  Perhaps they lack the imagination or breadth of experience outside cities to imagine why it’s so implausible.

    • #23
  24. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Whiskey Sam:Completely absurd idea for anyone who has actually lived outside of a city. In the time it would take an automated car to finally get around to you, you could have run your errand and returned home. The death of personal car ownership is overblown hype from city folk who have never actually seen Wyoming. It’s not remotely feasible and isn’t cost-effective outside of dense urban centers. That’s without even touching on the personal liberty issues, the segment of the population that goes off-roading (where driverless cars would wet themselves without a road or mapped route), or people who drive for the enjoyment of driving and exploration.

    I do think there’s a big urban-rural divide on this issue. If you live in an area where cars aren’t much of a necessity in a first place, this makes a fair amount of sense. For those of us who live on the “There Be Dragons Here” part of the map, not so much.

    Apart from efficiency, I’m willing to bet that those of us who’ve opted for life in the country are, as a matter of personality, the least inclined to look favorably on surrendering that much autonomy.

    Bottom line: Whiskey Sam and I are basically these guys:

    OfficeSpace

    • #24
  25. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Troy Senik, Ed.: I do think there’s a big urban-rural divide on this issue.

    If there’s a need for cars in a rural area I’m sure some enterprising young car will seek out the business.  Just as enterprising people opened gas stations and grocery stores.

    • #25
  26. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Troy Senik, Ed.:

    Whiskey Sam:Completely absurd idea for anyone who has actually lived outside of a city. In the time it would take an automated car to finally get around to you, you could have run your errand and returned home. The death of personal car ownership is overblown hype from city folk who have never actually seen Wyoming. It’s not remotely feasible and isn’t cost-effective outside of dense urban centers. That’s without even touching on the personal liberty issues, the segment of the population that goes off-roading (where driverless cars would wet themselves without a road or mapped route), or people who drive for the enjoyment of driving and exploration.

    I do think there’s a big urban-rural divide on this issue. If you live in an area where cars aren’t much of a necessity in a first place, this makes a fair amount of sense. For those of us who live on the “There Be Dragons Here” part of the map, not so much.

    Apart from efficiency, I’m willing to bet that those of us who’ve opted for life in the country are, as a matter of personality, the least inclined to look favorably on surrendering that much autonomy.

    Bottom line: Whiskey Sam and I are basically these guys:

    OfficeSpace

    And that nerdy, too!  Just as an example today: I had to delay lunch til 2PM.  Ran out to the grocery store and was back within 30 minutes.  If I had no vehicle, I’d have had to schedule my ride, reschedule when I got delayed, wait for it to arrive, reschedule another ride for the return trip, wait for it to arrive.  There is no way all that added time can be faster than me simply leaving when I’m free to go and coming back as soon as I’m done running my errand.

    • #26
  27. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Computer-driven cars will work at about the same time that Al Gore’s predictions of global apocalypse come true, which is to say – never.  The computer on my desk crashes at least once a week, and that’s supposed to be proven technology with a 30 year track record behind it.  I’m going to trust my life to “Microsoft Driver 1.3 – Beta Version” when hell freezes over, but I repeat myself on the Al Gore thing.

    They will take my car from me when they pry it from my cold dead hands.  And if they did get it away from me, I would stay home and wait for Amazon drones to deliver whatever I needed.  If it was good enough for Howard Hughes (without the drones, even), then I can live with it.

    • #27
  28. John Penfold Member
    John Penfold
    @IWalton

    Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.  It won’t be easy, or soon but it will happen but will it replace ubber.   The key to ubber  is underutilized capital not  available drivers.   To hire an underutilized driverless auto once they are ubiquitous will be easier than finding an available driver and car and it will drive the cost down further.  Cool.  First we’ll need driverless car lanes and that will be a real battle as they’ll force drivers off the main roads.  So of course we’ll lose freedoms, but it will sort itself out as the technology improves.    There will be other more serious adjustments.   Imagine the trucking business,  there’s a lot more than driving involved.  What do driverless trucks do to economies of scale, consolidation, monopolization, not to mention labor force adjustments, retraining.    Speaking of retraining, we’ve a load of unimagined changes ahead of us and we’re still running schools the way we did a century ago.   No wonder Democrats prefer stagnation.

    • #28
  29. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    I agree with Whiskey but  I take it a different direction.  I think there will be two basic type of cars.  For city folk there will be completely autonomous cars.  You won’t own them and you will pay for them like you pay for a cab or an uber.  For the rest of us there will be hybrid cars that have human/computer controls.  However, I would expect that most of these vehicles will be on computer piloting most of the time its just not that much safer.  I would imagine you would have two different insurance rate for miles driven by car and miles driven by human.  As to the article by the Guardian the difference won’t be between 40,000 deaths and 20,000.  When we reach an all driverless infrastructure it will be a difference between 40,000 and 400 or maybe even 4.

    • #29
  30. 1967mustangman Inactive
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Penfold:I remain uncomfortable when another human is driving. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if my Windoz OS was in the driver’s seat. Until recently, I drove myself to work. About a year ago I started taking our local city bus line to work and it took me awhile to stop looking out the window to “drive” the bus along with the bus driver.

    The thing is it won’t be Windoz.  Most of the hard work in an operating system is the part of the computer that interacts with the user.  Users do stupid things and trying to account for all those stupid things (or failing to account for them) is what introduces the vast majority of instability into computing.  The OS running your car will be stripped down just to its basic features and thus will be much more stable.

    • #30

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