This is a manifesto. It’s a manifesto for basic universal mobility for all. It may have been inspired by another manifesto — the human driving manifesto, which has been published and discussed by Alex Roy in the last month. Alex argues that driving is a right, and one that should not be taken away. He argues that safety is not the driving force behind autonomy and self driving cars — rather that profit is. The tonic for this ill Alex argues, is a manifesto that calls for retaining steering wheels such that human control is always a possibility, that it should be reinforced that driving is a privilege and so driving standards should be improved, and that the constitution should be modified to create a ‘right to drive’.
It’s a very interesting perspective that comes from someone who, more than most, is in a position to see what the future might hold. From his perspective the future might look more like an episode of the dystopian ‘Black mirror’ than the shiny ‘rainbows and unicorns’ version that is more mainstream view around the autonomy and self driving vehicles at the moment.
It makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways.
The important point is — should we be worried?
I would argue that we should always be worried about corporate lobbyists pushing agendas that have a byproduct of exclusion. I would also argue that the framework for Alex’s manifesto is just too American. ‘It’s my right to drive’. ‘From my cold dead hands’ indeed.
To me, there is an alternate manifesto that makes more sense: Basic Universal Mobility. It’s something that might be taken for granted right now, but it’s not something that is completely new. In the UK at least, there are bus routes that are partially publicly funded to ensure those people without access to other mobility solutions have a way to get about their business. These are bus routes that lose money, but they still exist because they serve a purpose to provide mobility to a proportion of the population.
It is not my ‘right to drive’, but it is my ‘right to have basic access to mobility’ such that I can get to work, I can access healthcare, I can be part of society.
The question is, does the future put this at risk? Autonomy and self driving could lead to a dystopia where people are forced out of their manually driven cars in a way that limits their mobility, but the influencing factor is likely to be insurance companies making premiums for manual driving uneconomical. By it’s very nature, uneconomical means that alternatives exist, so as long as the access to the alternatives is at the same level as a manually driven car, mobility is not compromised. Autonomy and self driving are also likely to increase societal mobility — those who are unable to drive for themselves will suddenly have way more access to get to the places they need to go.
Can we do more to provide basic universal mobility? Absolutely. Any new technology in the mobility space should be assessed according to it’s impact on preexisting basic universal mobility, both positive and negative. If a new technology is to be allowed to be introduced, it should able to demonstrate a net gain to basic universal mobility, or it shouldn’t be allowed to proceed. This should be the benchmark used, not some individualistic metric.
From our cold, dead (but inclusive) hands.
Universal Basic Mobility Manifesto, a draft:
- We are humanist, and support policy and legislation that is designed with humans at the core.
- We are pro-technology, where it improves basic mobility for society (for instance through increased access, reduced cost, increased safety etc).
- We support freedom of movement and mobility neutrality
*Disclosure: I work as an engineer in the Autonomous Vehicle industry. My opinions are my own.