ZDNet takes a “Back to the Future” look at 30 years from now

back to the futuyre IIIf you have been a fan of the classic DeLorean movie series “Back to the Future”, you know that in the sequel Marty McFly and the Doctor time travel forward 30 years… to the date of October 21, 2015. Today! Hoverboards, flying cars, the “Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor”, automated shoelaces, fax machines for everything, and other predictions in the movie haven’t come true. So ZDNet takes another 30 year jump to look at the year 2045 with several technology journalists. Read their story here. And consider these words specific to driving enthusiasts:

“The next thirty years will usher vehicle-to-infrastructure technology that will enable accident-free self-driving cars in major metro areas” – Greg Nichols, ZDNet

“The idea of self-driving cars is interesting, especially as the populace ages. My dad is in his late 80s and can’t drive, but doesn’t want to be home bound. Self-driving cars could be a boon for seniors needing their freedom, even as their hand-eye coordination deteriorates.” – Alfred Poor, Health Tech Insider

“Driving will be seen as the quaint domain of hobbyists, with most moving objects (trucks, cars, trains, planes, drones) managed by AI with human support in some offshore location.” – Tristan Louis, Internet entrepreneur

This is dismal and scary stuff for driving enthusiasts from the perspective of the year 2015. Self-driving cars are big stuff in the news right now, with at least one manufacturer testing them very visibly on public streets, and with a very large degree of hype from many. So, without having the benefit of foresight to the year 2045, we have many questions and concerns:

  1. Conscious Intelligence: how smart are self-driving cars? Without the benefit of a conscious intelligence with a well-developed set of rules & judgement (not that all Humans are perfect in that regard!), can a programmed computer make the right decisions to correctly manage traffic? And without having to drive at 10 MPH?
  2. Personal safety: How secure are these cars? It’s already been shown that simply blocking a Google self-driving car will cause it to stop… and without a steering wheel how are the occupants equipped to drive themselves away from potential attackers or other dangers?
  3. Upgrades: There will certainly be a very quick pace of development of this technology. What about hardware and software updates? If a version 1 car is involved in an accident with a version 2 car, is it the fault of the manufacturer or owners that the down-level car didn’t have all of the latest updates and upgrades (not all of which are software)? We’re already seeing manufacturers being held accountable for earlier technical deficiencies… (Jeep gas tanks, which met the standard when they were designed, are just one example) what happens when the pace of s/w and h/w development is accelerated?
  4. Accident: What happens when a self-driving car is involved in an accident with a non-self-driving car? Is there a no-fault rule here, or is the party in the “old-fashioned” car responsible because they didn’t upgrade?
  5. Social deviants: Conversely, what happens if a self-driving car is taken off of self-driving mode and driven manually by the human – who then proceeds to crash it? Is this person automatically classified as a social deviant by their risk-adverse insurance company?
  6. Hackers: what happens when a self-driving car is hacked? With 30 more years of encryption development come 30 more years of hacking development. Even with quantum developments there will always be the criminal element.
  7. Infrastructure: with self-driving cars that communicate with each other comes an infrastructure in the towns and cities they drive in that communicates traffic information so that more efficient routes can be planned and issues avoided. This is another cost to each car to equip it with decision-making intelligence and secure communications.
  8. Master Computer: the idea that there is a master computer controlling all of this is ridiculous – even more so that it would be located “offshore”. Ask the hackers in the employ of the Russian, Chinese, North Korean and other hostile governments what they think about this They can’t wait!
  9. Consumer cost: it’s hard to envision a car capable of driving itself, and capable of communicating to coordinate with cars and infrastructure around it, being able to be sold for the typical price of a new car – say in the range of $25k.
  10. Government overhead: there will be Government-mandated standards that will need to be imposed here (standards unique to North America – and such standards that already exist for other things such as lighting standards are not in common with the rest of the world) and that will add significantly to the cost of the car as well as to the ever-increasing size of the Federals Government (as well as needlessly duplicated functions that many States take upon themselves). This will also reduce choice in the marketplace, driving down car sales, driving down employment, and driving up costs of the cars and local, state, and Federal standards.
  11. Lawyers: With some manufacturers saying they will take on any legal costs (Volvo, Google) – which must be the dumbest statement of the century – the lawyers will be making the big money here when inevitably the manufacturers come to their senses and a legal precedent is reached for what liabilities they have and when. There will be accidents – and lots of trials – until legal precedents are established.

Prediction: the future has many questions that driving enthusiasts need to look at carefully. And with encroaching Government regulations, significantly increasing costs, and quick obsolescence as the new technologies mature, the next thirty years will be unrecognizable compared to the last 30 years.