When I express my enthusiasm for autonomous vehicles, which I’ve done on this blog recently and to many patient friends over lunch tables in the last few weeks, they sometimes respond with skepticism:
“Well, I can see we might have better cruise controls, or smarter braking and automatic parking systems, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to take our hands off the wheel completely.”
“But the car is still a relatively recent invention, and look how far it’s come already”, I reply. “It’s only a little over 100 years since the Wright brothers first managed to fly 100 feet, and we pretty much have self-flying airliners. Do you really think that in 100 years we’ll still be pointing these deadly human-controlled missiles at each other on narrow roads?”
That, at least, is the neat turn of phrase I might employ if the lunch hasn’t involved much wine or beer by this point. And they usually admit that, yes, maybe, perhaps I have a point.
“And so the question isn’t whether we will get driverless cars, but when, and what the route is between here and there. It will start with smarter cruise controls — it already is, in fact — and then maybe certain highways will have special lanes in which you can take your hands off the wheel if you’re appropriately equipped. Maybe some airports will allow self-valet-parking cars in the car parks. And soon, as we’re resurfacing country roads, we’ll be building in the wires that will make the whole driving process cheaper and easier and less dependent on complex maps and camera systems. But whether you think it’s going to be in 100 years, or within my lifetime, or — as I sincerely hope — before I retire, it is going to happen.”
This is pretty much the point that Matt Honan makes in this Buzzfeed article, but, of course, he does it better than me even without beer.
And he can speak more authoritatively about Google’s cars, because he’s actually been in one.