|This piece is pretty long, but it covers a lot of ground. From some history of autonomous vehicles ("the Woodstock of robotics") to the dystopian vision of what it may entail and the problems people will encounter to the potential good stuff as well. Since we're only human, it will undoubtedly be both good and bad.|
How the Bay Area took over the self-driving car business
By David R. Baker and Carolyn Said
July 14, 2017 Updated: July 14, 2017 6:00am
“I can tell you that as late as 2014, I would meet with executives at car companies, and they would just smile at me, because it was known that this was crazy, and had nothing to do with reality,” said Thrun, Google’s former self-driving guru.
Today, virtually all of the world’s major automakers have jumped in. Ford, for example, has opened a bustling Palo Alto lab a mile from Tesla headquarters and has promised to have robotic taxis by 2021. And it will invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an autonomous vehicle startup in Pittsburgh.
So what changed their minds?
In 2008, Thrun called a young Canadian roboticist named Chris Urmson to offer him a job at Google. The two had known each other for years, as colleagues and competitors.
They overlapped at Carnegie Mellon starting in the late 1990s. Long an engineering powerhouse, the school by then had become one of the world’s premier hubs for robotics research. Thrun, a native of Solingen, Germany, co-directed the university’s Robot Learning Laboratory. Urmson, a computer scientist, sought out its graduate program after seeing a poster of a Carnegie Mellon robot crawling out of a volcano.
But only after Thrun left for Stanford University in 2003 did the two get to know each other well, thanks to an event Urmson calls “the Woodstock of robotics.”
And some implications:
“There’s near-universal consensus that at least 4 million transportation workers will be displaced by this technology, and yet no one is talking about what is the plan for those workers,” said Doug Bloch, political director of the Teamsters Joint Council 7. “It’s going to be a crisis.”
Other potential drawbacks range from annoying to dystopian.
City streets full of constantly circling autonomous taxis could become perpetually crowded, even if traffic flows smoothly. Accidents might be less frequent but more deadly, as cars drive faster and closer together. Hackers could gain control of robot cars and trucks, turning them into weapons or using them to disrupt traffic. Terrorists could load a bomb into a self-driving car and send it to a target, like a low-speed cruise missile on wheels. Control centers tracking cars could invade the privacy of passengers.
These nightmare scenarios are far from certain. And yet, even analysts who think autonomous vehicles will do more good than harm say their arrival is likely to alter society in profound ways.
Car ownership will almost certainly decline, as it becomes cheaper and easier to simply hail a robot taxi. Within a couple of decades, driving one’s own car may become a hobby, like riding horses.
“People will be able to subscribe to transportation services just like they do to entertainment with Netflix or Spotify,” Lyft President John Zimmer said last year.