1) Marketing/PR for autonomous vehicles needs to really drive home their safety, so when you hear “robot car,” you think “… saves lives.”
2) Is it hard to imagine the opposite fear in children born 10 years from now? Having seen mostly robotic cars in real life, and human-driven cars getting in accidents on TV and in movies, might the child of the future react with terror when the robotic chauffeur intones, “human driver detected, approaching from rear”?
Computers have eliminated a lot of jobs over the last 30 to 40 years. For example VisiCalc, did a lot of what many tax accountants charged for. It used to be that humans, mostly women, switched (or routed if you will) phone calls.
Automation certainly does eliminate many jobs. But interestingly it also seems to make previously impossible things possible. For example, if we still used humans to switch phone calls, we'd need far more humans then are available. And I don't mean looking for work, I mean everyone could be working a switch board operator and it would not be nearly enough.
On the down side, many people speculate that our tax laws have become as complicated as they have, partly because tax prep software makes it possible to still do your taxes for relatively cheap.
Driver-less trucks will certainly suck for truck drivers, I can just see that History channel show taking a sad turn as more and more of its real life stars are slowly replaced by self-driving trucks.
But what possibilities will it create? Could cars, or for that matter trucks, become like a subscription? You just subscribe and then if at any point and any where you need a ride, you just dial a number and a few minutes later a dirverless vehicle arrives to take you anywhere.
The same could work for goods. Request as much trucking capacity as you need, minutes before you need it. The trucks just show up.
How many hours total (everyone's added up) hours sitting in traffic could be eliminated if a clear majority of the cars are intelligent and networked? Thousand? Millions? All that previously unproductive time, now productive.
All the lives saved from accidents, will they create jobs?
Interestingly, farming has been moving to driverless equipment out in the fields for the last couple of decades. At first it was not well received. Who would want to give up control of their machines? But in the last couple of years, the technology has really exploded. People are starting to see the benefits to their business.
I expect driverless cars will be the same. It is going to be a long time before it is accepted by the masses, even when the long list of benefits are present. Hopefully we don't outlaw them before they really come into their own.
That's about exactly accurate: it was 2.8%, as of 1998, and is projected to dip down to 2.4% by 2018.  I happened to be looking at this just a few minutes ago, linked from http://zamfi.net/blog/one-day-we-will-all-be-programmers
John Deere's iTEC Pro, for example, is capable of controlling the tractor, but still requires an operator to be in the cab, just in case. Although here's a fun video of someone who disabled the safety sensors: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU4liQvrcm4
I don't know of any large operator that isn't using at least autosteer, which, for things like cultivating essentially is driverless. For what it is worth, I come from an area of grain farmers.
Also, in your hypothetical, if we are all routing calls as our day job, doesn't that mean that at any one time, 1/3 of humans are asleep, 1/3 routing calls, 1/3 possibly on calls. With at least two people per call. How can that not be workable?
With at least two people per call. How can that not be workable?
I've heard of this idea before in the context of driverless cars. The thing is, this service already exists and is known as a "taxi". Since driverless taxis would likely be cheaper to operate, this means another source of job loss.
I think that in the next human generation or two we will end up seeing all menial and physical labor jobs being replaced by machines, leaving only entertainment and intellectual jobs.
I also am not sure whether "loss of jobs" really is some sort of absolute concept. Imagine that tomorrow all jobs could be done by "thinking" machines, even software development and architectural design and whatever. Suddenly everyone in the whole world lost their job; does that mean that everyone is out starving on the streets and there are just empty foreclosed on houses across the country? Obviously not; all of the same material wealth still exists to be divided across the same number of people (assuming the thinking machines don't care about material comforts).
And, to save time, here are the standard HN responses:
1. Marshall Brain commits the Lump of Labor Fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lump_of_labour_fallacy): The lump of labor fallacy holds that the total amount of work is fixed. This is considered fallacious because increasing productivity also increases the size of the economy, thus creating new jobs in the process. IOW, the total amount of work is not fixed.
2. The industrial revolution destroyed all sorts of jobs (of say, craftsmen), but ended up employing as many or more as factory workers. Similarly with the information revolution. Etc... All of these out of work truck drivers will become... massage therapists.
My critique of the lump of labor fallacy argument is that it seems to hold as long as our ability to consume can keep up with productivity gains. But what if there's a natural ceiling to our ability to consume; what happens when we produce more than we can consume? Or, when luxury ephemeral goods become trivially cheap (say, watching YouTube videos).
I'm not an economist, so I strive to remain agnostic on this question, but it still seems far from settled to me. Even if you believe that things will eventually shake out and workers displaced by automation will find new jobs, we still may be in for an uncomfortable period of high unemployment and disruption as the economy adjusts. (AKA, productivity shocks.)
When that happens competition for the qualified labor goes up, and salaries rise in response. While the structurally unemployed remain so and remain poor. This leads to a building disparity between rich and poor and that the problems such a disparity creates are quite well known.
 'structurally unemployed' refers to a person who is unemployed and unqualified for all of the employment opportunities in their area. It comes from a similar concept 'structurally fired' where a company removes the positions that are held by current employees without creating other opportunities.
This is very strong evidence that the kind of disparities you mentioned are not truly structural. The "structural argument" is just a decoy used to prevent the disadvantaged from asking inconvenient political questions.
Actual numbers: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=unemployment+rate+swede...
It looks like Sweden merely caught up with the US in terms of unemployment in the last 20 years.
Look at the quite drastic ups and downs in unemployment in Sweden in the 1990s. I know that's not exactly what you wrote, but does that look like something that is driven by "structural changes"?
I'd pick health care as something that's just going to keep growing. As long as people have health problems, there will be a market for attempts at solutions. As the rest of life becomes more affordable, more money can be spent on this.
Note that nobody dies of smallpox anymore. That disease no longer exists in the population, it has been eliminated. IBM Watson will (eventually, kinda does now) automate diagnosis. Respirocytes would eliminate decompression sickness, and make it pretty hard to bleed to death, with a medic handy. A Vasculoid would eliminate bleeding entirely, as well as blocking all blood-borne diseases, by the simple expedient of replacing blood with something else.
I think the sustainable future is one where we all work significantly less than today, and where more people do things where humans are much better than machines, such as arts/music and care (for the elderly, children, sick etc.)
Automation will replace a number of things:
2) Wait staff (waiters / waitresses)
5) Reception services
6) Restocking / Inventory management
7) Fast food cooking staff
8) Hair styling / cutting
14) Security / Monitoring
These changes will be gradual, like in Machining where it used to be a machinist, his tools, and a mill. Now the mill is CNC and he's more of a programmer. The guy running the tool is more of an operator.
As automation capabilities get better we'll see robots like the DaVinci surgery robot for things like Hair Salons, where a single operator/stylist can style hair for 10 customers simultaneously. But that stylist will have more technical training than stylists of today do. So most stylists will be out of work, the smaller and smaller percentage of people who are both creative stylists and have the technical ability to run these salons will displace them.
I see the following mechansims at work in the US today which is pushing us toward that future.
1) Efficiency (or competing on cost vs quality) is 'winning' (or displacing) quality service products on the market.
2) The education and capacity of the both 25th percentile from our youth is incapable of basic problem solving.
3) The risk from employee theft (shrinkage) works against #1 making automation solutions justifiable to employers.
When possible transferring the risk/responsibility for service delivery to the consumer is more cost effective than training under-educated employees or hiring people with health benefits.
It might seem implausible but I remember when scanners were introduced into supermarkets. The canonical low margin business. They helped margins because less experienced cashiers could check out customers as quickly as more experienced cashiers did. It also resulted in fewer errors (by the cashier). I remember joking that at some point you would just walk behind the register and check yourself out.
Well once the automation around collecting cash and other payments became good enough, that is exactly what has happend. There are several stores in my area where you have the option of checking out yourself. On a recent trip there was one 'real' cashier and all the self checkout lines were open (8 stations) with one supervisor.
The technology enables the automation the economics drive the adoption. Things like pay kiosks now are quite able to take any of cash, checks, credit or debit cards. That gets hardened at ticket buying machines, then jumps to cash registers, I expect it to be in taxi cabs next.
So the 'social justice' question is what do we do with people who are structurally unemployable? Sure they have some responsibility for that (education and basic problem solving skills are lacking) but once they get past their rebellious youth and realize that nothing they will do can prevent them from growing old, and now they want to go back and 'fix' those lacks, how can we best facilitate that?
The advancment of automation and the elimination of jobs that can be done by people is neither a 'good' thing or a 'bad' thing. It just is. And I don't see us changing the economics or the technology which would inhibit it. Advances will be made, applicability to wider and wider problem sets will be possible, by and large its an economic 'win' to have a machine do something rather than a human.
You've probably seen the 'buy American, look for made in America' programs that people run. No doubt we'll see 'for made in America by People' campaigns as well.
At some point, though, once every type of work can be done by machines, wealth could probably be redistributed in such a way that noone had to work very much. That would probably require human level intelligences, though, and then cue the great robot uprising...
It would be nice, but I can't see it happening, unfortunately. Too much of our society would need restructuring, and there are those that would fight tooth and nail against that.
Given the large number of people I know who spend half or more of their time surfing the web at the office, I suspect that future is already here to some extent.
This is paradoxical, since our productivity will be at an all-time high. Eventually we'll arrive at some sort of alternative economy but at least in the US there will be some serious unpleasantness along the way.
See creative destruction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_destruction
e.g. the car being invented did mean less work for horse-carriage "drivers", but eventually everything was better than before.
When Google doesn't do this, they have to rely on marketing. See Wave or Buzz.
The Cube was a failure, although I'm not exactly positive it's exactly within 10 years.
.Mac (or MobileMe) hasn't been as successful as I think apple believed it would be.
I understand that Apple had more than enough failures in the 80s and 90s, but honestly they are basically a different company since 1998 when Steve Jobs came back and completely changed the trajectory of the company.
They have managed to have basically no significant failed products at all in the entire term that Google has existed at all as a company. Google and Microsoft have had several extremely high profile failures, and dozens of failures as minor as the most significant failed product that Apple had.
The stock price of the company went from 3.5 in 1997 to 350 in 2011. I just don't think that the Newton is at all relevant when talking about how careful the respective major companies are to avoid large public failures.
(While flying is safer in many ways like deaths per mile or per passenger, I would bet you are a lot safer in a car than a plane in the event of a crash. Car crashes are dangerous, but plane crashes are nearly guaranteed fatalities)
(I can see that you are not from California. At 60mph, you are in serious danger of being rear-ended.)
So what is it about flying? Probably the whole "trapped in a metal tube travelling at 500mph a mile above the ocean" thing.
That being said, I wonder what the driverless cars would do for the blind/visually-impaired. It could be quite liberating for them. They wouldn't have to live near public transit/take jobs with public transit access. Neat.
Or if the steering shuts down while on a long curve next to a cliff?
Steering doesn't shut down, it just goes from easy to hard. If the car is in motion it requires very little energy to turn.
No car? Just hop on the municipal/county dispatch website, request a car, pay your fee, and wait for the nearest open vehicle to bring itself to you. It can even coexist peacefully with private transportation.
Publicness is not the only benefit of public transportation. Trains and buses are incredibly efficient per passenger mile. They also take up a lot less space than cars, and last longer and cost less per passenger to manufacture. Making a car driverless doesn't solve these problems.
The public transportation the public uses beats the one they don't.
Not to mention that communal vehicles would make electric cars suitable for any length of trip— Forget about exchanging batteries, just swap cars at the charging station.
You'd still need roughly the same number of 'communal' cars during those peak times. Though people may be more likely to car-pool.
Even the trivial variation of most US 'flex time' starts wouldn't help much. The difference between 8 and 9 isn't great enough for very many cars to make it from a business park at 8 back out to pick up another passenger and then back to another employer before 9.
What might really help, is 'communal' cars augmenting the US's sparse transit system. e.g. The communal car takes you to the train/bus stop. A communal bus departs as soon as it can. The communal car takes you to your final destination.
That way the cars are doing shorter round-trips, serving more people (necessitating fewer cars) and people are more apt to use the public transport because they aren't worried about the current big problems of US transit:
1. parking at the transit stop
2. how to get from the transit destination to where they really want to go
3. what happens if you miss the train/bus time (the car can just complete the trip)
Of course there will be some limit to capacity, as with any public transportation. But having to wait a bit for a car isn't going to put off commuters who are used to spending hours a day waiting in traffic.
Which country? It's a global problem (and this is a global forum). Kudos to Nevada for having the presence and foresight to pass this legislation. It opens up a world of possibilities for future transport options, and whilst it will take a while for the public to catch up and accept both the technology, and the transport changes it enables, this is a huge step in the right direction.
I'm not blind to the existence of transportation issues in other countries, but insufficient (read "nonexistent") public transportation is often noted as a predominantly (while not uniquely) American problem. Certainly we represent the archetype of the "one car per person" catastrophe.
The emergence of communal, computer-controlled electric vehicles could turn that around completely, so I don't think it's too out of line to be talking primarily about America at this stage.
Spain for one. I know which Nevada the legislation was passed in, but your comment made the implicit assumption that everyone reading it is in the US.
"insufficient (read "nonexistent") public transportation is often noted as a predominantly (while not uniquely) American problem"
As is egocentrism.
Seriously, though. "This country", as in, the country where I live, which is coincidentally the same one under discussion. You can relax a little with the righteous indignation.
A few weeks ago, I left my house for the grocery 2 miles away. I followed a car from my subdivision to the grocery. After shopping, I followed the same car back from the grocery to my subdivision.
Urban sprawl is a gigantic problem that we need to address, and soon. It not only affects transportation - there's general maintenance cost, social effects, land use, etc.
How far would you be willing to commute right now? OK, what if you could sleep or play videogames en route?
But you can do the same on a train or bus already. I think part of why people don't use them as much is because of the inconvenience of working around their schedule, and first and last mile commutes (because the train doesn't go to your office). Networked, driverless cars could play a part in the larger public transport system to alleviate these two points of pain of commuters.
Especially in the west coast, American cities were built to be navigated by cars. Even today, the very fact that carpool lanes in most parts of California are designated for 2 people/car, not 3 implies we already have separate vehicles for each passenger. If we can take advantage of the road infrastructure and cut down on the need to own a car, it will be a huge benefit to lots of people. See how popular ZipCar is, precisely because of this sort of benefit.
A lot of the gridlock in my city comes from people doing stupid things that force other drivers to slow down to avoid a wreck. Automated cars would reduce the impact of bad drivers by removing them from the equation.
You'll have to be able to keep one of these public cars at your place overnight for it to work (unless it drives itself home empty!).
Anecdotes are not data, but our local buses (city of ~50k) rarely have more than one rider, and a plurality of those I see have zero riders. In our case, these autonomous cars would be a much more efficient solution.
Sometimes I wonder why public transport doesn't raise the prices during rush hour to create an equilibrium where the trains don't become sardine cans. I guess economically and somewhat ethically it might be harmful.
I pay $10 to get to work and back in rush hour. Parking is $12 for the day, plus gas and wear and tear. I would gladly pay some extra cash if it made the trains emptier, cleaner, and more reliable.
Lots of cities have problems with their transportation capacities, but simply shuffling people around isn't going to fix that.
My ideal transportation arrangement is a subway pass in my wallet and nothing else.
Which, in the USA, pretty much limits you to New York, Chicago, and Boston, it seems. Not that those wouldn't be my ideal places to live anyways, but it's still frustrating.
Edit: Minus the driverless bit obviously. :)
Driverless is key.
Consider the situation of lane-merging. Studies have shown a zipper-merge at the end of the disappearing lane to be the most efficient method. Yet human drivers create huge traffic snarls in these situations based almost entirely on their emotional reaction to what they perceive as 'fairness', which hinges on a thoroughly baseless concept of 'winning' in traffic.
Introduce driver-less cars and --with no other changes to traffic patterns at all-- the rising incidence of proper zipper-merging will reduce the frequency and severity of traffic problems.
Then hackers can take control and direct all traffic to participating gambling establishments.
A company like Google isn't smart enough to drive off about.com from the front page of almost all of their SERPS, and do you actually expect them to come up with an "algorithmic optimization" for driverless-cars in cities like Cairo or Istanbul?
It's very interesting to read this Scientific American article from late May (mentions Google's lobbying efforts):
Edit: NY Times article talking about this more directly ...
It is extremely annoying to be in your mid 30's and have to rely on/inconvenience someone else to drive you around.
So whether it were getting my own vehicle or seeing vast improvements made to less-than ideal public transportation systems, either would be great.
I do wonder, however, if laws will require driverless cars to have a person who is able to drive. (For legal or liability reasons in case of an equipment failure.) I do hope that doesn't happen, but it's possible.
One possible workaround is to have several people at some centralized location monitor driverless car performance. A monitorer could override the car and drive the car remotely in the event of equipment failure or bugs in the code.
But, maybe that's a pipe dream.
Maybe there could be some lesser qualification, between being a licensed driver and just an untrained passenger. After all, if you could simply pull over to the side of the road safely, that's about all that would be required in most instances.
But we've abdicated our leadership in the automotive industry by turning our back on this development. Michigan rightly should have been the first state to legalize this technology.
It seems as if the auto technology breakthroughs are coming from Silicon Valley. Bob Lutz said the Chevy Volt was developed in response to the Tesla's embarassing us. Now its Google's turn to embarass and challenge Detroit's engineers.
What qualifications are you adding that exclude stone-paved streets in ancient South America, Europe, and the Middle East?
The "robot car" I may be sleeping in doesn't have to worry about what the other 300 million cars on the road are up to, only the 10 or so that happen to be immediately around me.
Yes, there are real problems to be solved in this area but they are very different sorts of problems than scaling and at the current rate of progress I wouldn't be too surprised if automated driving were available as a high end option on some cars within 15 years.
Video-game bots are a nice research field for artificial intelligence which can provide solutions for the real world.
Unrelated: Check this out if you're interested in the topic, it's a nice read http://www.cs.rochester.edu/research/quagents/QuakeIII.pdf
Come to Nevada, we are the FUTURE!
EDIT: I was not actually bemoaning any of these, uh, services. I lived in Nevada for a few years and aside from the fact that I was traumatized against it by the game Fallout - actually like Nevada. It is one of those states that actually fantastic to live in if you have enough money/your own business.
I plan to retire back to the Nevada side of Tahoe. Lets see how well those driverless cars handle snow.
For example: http://www.lasvegasgunrange.net/RangeRentals.aspx
No, really. What better way to pretend you're a gangster or action hero for the day?
(Genuinely curious. I've never held a gun before in my life, so I wouldn't know.)
So, who takes the liability?
The insurance companies with their phalanxes of clever quants can work out how dangerous each car model is and price it accordingly. Adam Smith's invisible hand can do the rest.
If the insurance companies get greedy and "certainly not conspire" to price high, then the car makers would be free to spin up their own correctly priced insurance companies and take the business in order allow car sales.
 Barring malice and probably a dozen other exceptions.
Especially if you are in a demographic the car insurance companies consider risky, you'll get to choose between paying A LOT to dive yourself, or a hell of a lot less to have the car drive you.
I knew it right away that if they announced it now, then they're doing it to get public support and then convince politicians to allow them as soon as possible.
They also wouldn't have announced it if it didn't already work pretty well.They wouldn't have announced it if it still needed 10 more years of work.
Here is why this is great. As the industrial revolution was just starting up, many places in Europe banned this or that new labor saving invention - to preserve jobs. But not all, many others allowed the new machinery, this quickly forced all other to either also allow it or fall behind economically.
Back to Nevada, Google will now start moving cars there. I can't be the only who wants to sleep during the commute to work, people in Nevada will start doing that. At least some old people will use this, and then more and more as they see how great it works and grants them greater independence. Parents could start using it for their teenagers. It will save lives. How long before someone in Nevada starts an all driver-less taxi service?
This marks the beginning of an honest to goodness technological revolution, how often do you see that happening in one lifetime? And it's staring in Nevada.
And what do you do, as a passenger, when your driverless car induces road rage in a human driver?
"We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because he has for that haughty island a respect that he does not show for us."
"We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat."
from "A PETITION From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting."
I'm really interested in how they will handle that issue.
It's a little crass to ask the question, I think. Widespread introduction of robotic cars would be one of the greatest humanitarian achievements in American history. You don't ask what's the profit motive in cancer research, you're just glad someone cares enough to spend the money.
Not that I blame you for being curious, of course.
2. Alternatively, if they don't want to get into the billboard business, sell routing influence. Bidders can pay to route cars past points of their choosing. They could both sell general place-based influence (bidders simply bid to have more cars come past their chosen point), or end-point based influence (bid to have people going to/from specific points routed past your chosen point).
For instance, suppose you have a new French restaurant, on a side street. You could pay Google to increase traffic down your street, so that more people will see your restaurant. Even better, you put out a sign announcing your grand opening, and prominently proclaiming "Higher Rated than Le Pretentious Bastard" (the top French restaurant in town), and pay Google to specifically route people who are going to Le Pretentious Bastard past your place.
3. Route based on conversation in the car. E.g., if the people riding in the car are talking about comic books, route past comic book stores (that have paid Google for this).
Wow. Voice recognition & robot car research... I think you're on to something.
Geez. Way to make me stare out the window blankly for a few minutes.. Strange days.
What was Henry Ford's options for monetizing horseless carriages in 1900?
I suspect that it would actually be harder for something like Marijuana legalization to actually occur in California and Texas than it would be for it to occur in France, because the lumbering Federal government exists where there isn't really a close analogous overriding body in France (perhaps the EU to some extent).