Technology people have a long history of inaccurately predicting when technology will be adopted.
The reason for this is that people involved with technology discount or don’t even consider the many factors that don’t involve technology. Chief among these factors are human minds, which are slow to change.
I should note that I wish that self-driving cars would replace human driven cars tomorrow (or, really, yesterday). But I think that wide spread use of self-driving cars are much farther out than technology people think.
There are many millions of human driven cars on the road. As it happens, I just bought one (and no, it was not a Tesla — unfortunately that’s way outside of my budget). I expect the car that I bought (a Toyota) to last at least ten years, probably more like fifteen years.
The biggest problem with human driven cars is humans. They are emotional, distracted and sometimes drunk or emotionally unbalanced (i.e., road rage). These sorry excuses for drivers are going to be driving for at least a decade. Just as they are causing accidents with human driven cars, the will cause accidents with self-driving cars.
This post discounts the legal and insurance issues with self-driving cars. I think that these issues are going to slow the adoption of this technology.
Even people who are not texting while driving and are not drunk make mistakes that cause accidents, some of which are very serious. People make the wrong choices, don’t see a danger or are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We accept this with a human driver. We understand that our fellow humans are error prone, just as we are.
Generally we do not allow the same margins of error for computer software. We expect computers and their software to be close to perfect, although these are human creations.
The expectation that self-driving cars will be much better than human drivers, at their best, will be a barrier to the adoption of this technology.
The harbinger for the adoption of self-driving cars will be self-driving trucks. Trucks transporting cargo have well mapped routes and can operate largely on freeways. I’ll believe that self-driving cars are around the corner when I see lots of self-driving trucks.
A tangential point about self-driving trucks is that the arrival of this technology will destroy the jobs of tens of thousands of truck drivers. No one can honestly argue that these jobs will be replaced with better jobs.
Back in the 1960s technology was seen as something that would lead to a better world (like Disney’s Tomorrow Land). Now it looks like technology may lead to a dystopia, at least for those who are not in the small group of highly trained “knowledge workers”. But this is a longer and more complex issue.