3 Important Questions That Will Arise With Driverless Cars

Driverless cars might have a considerable impact to the economy and the way we spend our time.

Chris Dixon, a partner at prestigious Silicon Valley investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, believes that within ten years, roads will be full of driverless cars.

We might not be ready for it, but the future is quickly approaching. In fact, our situation resembles the fine print on a side-view mirror: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

But with this magnificent human innovation comes a whole slew of questions — many of which will remain unanswerable. Still, they are worth asking, and even more worthwhile to pay close attention to as the possibility of autonomous vehicles becomes a reality.

1. Will we embrace driverless cars? Or will our resistance prevent it from reaching its potential?

It’s worth questioning whether human resistance will initially prevent driverless cars from gaining traction with the masses. It might be some time before we’re comfortable making driverless cars a normal part of our lives.

Tesla recently reported fatal accidents while testing their autonomous vehicles, which may make it difficult to trust cars that drive themselves. Despite the advances in technology, most people will likely feel on edge and resistant to the idea of leaving their safety in the hands of an autonomous vehicle.

As it stands, trust might be the biggest obstacle in adoption, but it’s not something we can’t eventually overcome. In recent years, there have been some examples of how society has overcome the fear of certain taboos.

For most of our lives, we have been warned of the dangers of getting into a car with a stranger. Even three years ago, the thought of getting into a stranger’s car to be driven to your destination was absolutely ludicrous. But today, most of us in urban areas do it on the daily with Uber. Perhaps someday we’ll embrace driverless cars the way we have with ridesharing.

2. How Will Driverless Cars Change Productivity?

If driverless cars become the primary method of transportation, it has the potential to dramatically change how we spend our time. How many times do you hear people say, “If only I had an extra hour or two per day”?

If driverless cars reach a level where every road and every vehicle is automated, it may have an impact on how we spend our day to day lives. People who spend their daily commutes driving, approximately 76.4% in the US, will no longer have to drive. Suddenly, three-quarters of the population will have an extra hour or two in their day, riding in their passively-operated vehicle (or pod).

It will change the way we think about work, blurring the boundaries between our offices and homes. It will be expected that we are available to work and take calls inside of our vehicles since our attention to the road is no longer needed. That extra time will be claimed by our bosses, possibly adding incremental stress to our lives.

On the flipside, driverless cars may decrease the amount of time we spend traveling every day. When cars become networked, they talk to each other. As a result, cars can drive more tightly together, which can increase the throughput of roads and decrease the lag between changing speeds. They may also be more likely to avoid accidents, which are a major cause of slowdown on some roads.

3. What Changes Will Driverless Cars Bring To The Economy?

Driverless cars may have the same implications for the economy as robotics do in manufacturing. Think about how many people are currently driving for ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, not to mention the taxi, shipping or logistics industries. Will those individuals become obsolete in the job market?

With emerging technology wiping out low-skilled labor from the job market, there will be significant pressure put on our education systems. The skill sets needed to participate in a service-driven economy will force us to rethink the way we educate the next generation of the workforce.

However, it’s not all bad news for the low-skilled labor market. Urban areas will rely entirely upon new networking systems to connect driverless cars. The infrastructure required to support these new systems will create additional jobs that will likely be sustained over decades. If the government subsidizes these efforts, the funding will invigorate the construction industry and possibly spawn a new niche.

The shift in the labor market may create a window for new political heroes to emerge — vowing to fight for our jobs in the transportation industry if he or she is elected. Citizens uncomfortable with the transformation will enable some to rise to power by vowing to go back to the way the transportation industry used to be; to make it great again.

Because it will be less cost-effective to own a car, the demand for traditional vehicles will decrease, forcing current car manufacturers to evolve. Companies like Ford will need to shift their business strategy when there is no longer a market to sell directly to consumers. In fact, car manufacturers will shift their business models and begin selling to rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft if they fail to build the appropriate platforms that connect people to driverless cars. It will also enable new government agencies to spawn to regulate the shift of power in the transportation industry.

Traditional tech companies, such as Google, Apple and Amazon, will adapt by creating the software and vehicles that compete directly with car manufacturers. We’re already starting to see some this happen, and it’s going to create a new competitive landscape in the tech industry.

The answers will reveal themselves with time

This idea of autonomous vehicles is going to cause big ripples in the way we live our lives. There’s no telling whether this reality will take form in 2 years, 10 years or even at all. Nevertheless, it’s worth asking these questions now.

Originally published at think.mstq.io on January 25, 2017.