Your Autonomous Future

A series for Medium members on the implications of self-driving technology

Over the last month I’ve been writing a series for Medium’s paid member section — Your Autonomous Future. I’ve drilled down into the industries and habits that stand to change once autonomous vehicles achieve mainstream adoption, including media preferences, travel and hospitality, logistics, public transportation, and politics. If you’re a member, and haven’t checked out the full series yet, I’ve included each of the five articles below.

However, I have one caveat before you jump in. In this series, I did not cover the topic that I think to be the biggest obstacle to AV adoption: algorithmic ethics. I believe that the current technology barriers to achieving widespread AV use are surmountable, and I think that people will be more willing to adopt autonomous technology than they are given credit for. On the other hand, a mishandled approach to vehicle programming — and the potential for high-profile incidents with poor or unethical algorithmic decisions — could completely derail the AV timeline I’m laying out in these articles. For a quick dive into the dilemmas at hand, I recommend MIT’s Moral Machine.

“Public media and commercial stations alike are significantly dependent on their audience — drivers who require media to be passive, not active, in nature — being unable to switch to non-audio formats. If given the choice in an autonomous vehicle, will audiences switch to reading or watching news and entertainment?”

AVs will have the potential to become another “living space,” more akin to a room in your house than simply a method of transportation… As the driving experience changes, there will be a corresponding impact on industries that are dependent on current travel habits. In particular, hospitality businesses that focus on passers-by — such as highway rest stops and motels — are at significant risk of obsolescence.

McKinsey published a report on the impact of autonomous vehicles and operations on the logistics industry, in particular as they relate to “the last mile” — the final stage of delivery to a residential home, which is usually the most expensive part of the delivery. The report offers three central takeaways: that a growing minority of consumers want faster home delivery, that autonomous vehicles are poised to be responsible for the vast majority of delivered consumer goods, and that this shift will occur within the next ten years.

Will driverless technology be able to coexist with current methods of transportation? Or will it cannibalize the other ways people travel in their communities? It seems unlikely in the long run that public transportation in particular will survive this shift as autonomous vehicles surpass these networks in terms of costs, speed, and efficiency over time.

When taken into account with other kinds of work that automation will threaten — whether through the utilization of artificial intelligence or robotics — we’re talking about a significant percentage of the workforce who will be affected… Once we shift to a automated world, it will be very difficult to go back. Thus, it’s incumbent upon governments, civic leaders, and businesses to identify a credible future for these millions [of workers] today, rather than wait for another rising tide of political anger and desperation.