Why Self-driving Cars Will Fail

Prediction: Self-driving cars are to the future of Autonomous Transportation, what the Prestel teletext system was to the future of Online Activity. Just a predictor of the demand, not what ultimately gets massively-adopted to serve it. Let me expand that…

Nikolay Tsenkov
Published in
2 min readJun 30, 2019


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The Prestel was built in the late 1970’s by the UK Post Office. Unlike other teletexts, it had a 2-way modem, allowing users to send as well as receive data. This enabled truly revolutionary capabilities. Online banking, E-commerce & Email to name a few. Before the Internet…

Just like self-driving cars, it plugged right into the existing infrastructure:
— your TV, connected with your phone (through a set-top box), got turned into a terminal to a remote computer, which had access to a db of teletext pages.

Ultimately, the system didn’t get to the massive adoption (mostly attributed to cost) and with personal computing being a whole separate demand that was arising at about the same time as Prestel launched it was mostly eradicated by the Internet.

The Prestel only had a minor success in countries like France where gov handed free set-top boxes. But no-doubt a huge number of great minds started innovating within this new frame. In Singapore they made downloads through teletext (not phone) and thus got higher res images etc.

A good reminder that the Excitement surrounding a technology is at most correlated to it’s Potential of Success, but there likely isn’t a causality between the 2.

Here is why the Prestel failed, IMO:

  • it was a short-term solution to a big problem, touching the physical world.

I can’t think of a successful short-term solution of a problem requiring a huge movement of atoms. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I bet there aren’t many.

I believe self-driving cars are a short-term solution, before a 100% autonomous transportation system renders the current one (cars, roads and most related technology) — completely obsolete.

I guess we’ll see. Provided, of course, I don’t get hit by a (self-driving) car, before that. :P

Here is a video from the BBC Archive on the Prestel system (and ironically what’s going to play a leading part in its demise — the Personal Computer):

Originally this post appeared as a tweet storm. For such and other random ramblings — you can follow me here and on Twitter.