The Future of Cars

Many people still feel hesitant about them, but autonomous cars will be our future. They already exist now, and they are getting smarter and more reliable every day. The progress of improvement is speeding up, not slowing down, so in all likelihood, by the year 2020, they will be a much more common sight than today.

Initially, people will react with surprise and dread, as they do for any dramatic breaks with a longstanding paradigm. In time, they get used to the sight of driverless cars on the road, and it becomes just another thing in the daily experience of life.

Google has already done a lot of work in blazing a trail for this technology. In a few more years, I expect they will also be the first to take advantage of it on a massive scale. Streetview cars, powered by electricity and mostly automated, will roam the streets, capturing ever higher resolution images for Google Maps.

For most people, the technology will infiltrate the driving experience a little bit at a time. This has already started, in the form of the push-button parallel parking capability that we have already begun to take for granted. In a similar vein, the cruise control we’ve had for decades may get smarter and smarter, thus requiring manual intervention less and less. Simple scenarios like getting around a slow-moving vehicle on the road will be done for you. The vast majority of a road trip from one city to the next may be automated in this manner.

Slowly, the concept of owning a car will fade into insignificance — as it already has in cities like New York, where car ownership is often impractical. There is no reason to buy and maintain your own vehicle, when a vehicle from the publicly owned car swarm can take you wherever you want to go any time you want.

In the distant future, artificially intelligent personal assistant, ubiquitious communication, and autonomous automobiles will all come together to serve the transportation needs of an advanced society. When you step out a building or house, your assistant already knows where you want to go or need to be. A generic car from the nearest depot is already waiting for you by the road. You step in, sit down, and continue doing whatever you were doing with your phone or tablet. You don’t need to press any buttons or issue any commands — because the system already has all the information it needs. Moments later, you arrive at your destination. You get out of the car, and it zooms away to the nearest garage, to await its next order from a centralized system.

Our descendants in this distant future will romanticize their past — our present. There will be adventure stories based on a time when men were men, women were women, and cars were driven manually. This is no different from our present romanticizing of the past, when men were men, women were women, and to get from one place to another, one rode magnificent steeds.