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Op Ed: Self-driving cars are right around the corner; then what?

Op Ed: Self-driving cars are right around the corner; then what?

In an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman, professor Peter Stone states "When it comes to autonomous cars, the question is no longer 'If?' but 'When?'"

He goes on to ponder the many unknowns as self-driving cars go from science fiction to commonplace in the very near future:

Certain technologies go from being almost unimaginable to becoming commonplace in what seems like the blink of an eye.

It was a relatively short time between when microwave ovens were introduced and when they became a standard appliance. Entire aisles of grocery stores were re-purposed to accommodate microwaveable food; eating habits changed. People quickly forgot what life was like when food needed to be reheated in the oven or on the stove.

stone_marvin-web.jpgSimilar changes were brought about by the introduction of refrigerators, televisions, cellphones and personal computers, among other life-changing technologies. When cellphones were introduced, it was tempting to think that they would be used in the same way as traditional phones, only without being tethered to the wall. Few people predicted that cellphones would eliminate the need to plan ahead all the details of when and where to meet a friend. Before they were introduced, it was hard to imagine the impact they would have, but soon afterwards it became hard to remember life without them.

One of the next technologies that is likely to have similarly large and unforeseen effects is self-driving cars. It is easy to envision such autonomous cars as simply allowing drivers to safely multitask while “driving” — that they will be otherwise quite similar to today’s cars on today’s roads. However, much bigger changes are ahead, and it won’t be long before we no longer remember what life was like when cars had steering wheels.

When it comes to autonomous cars, the question is no longer “If?” but “When?” People have long imagined what would happen if cars could drive themselves. For example, the 1980s hit TV show “Knight Rider” was based entirely on the premise. Such shows were seen as science fiction or fantasy — cars would clearly not drive themselves in the near future.

But over the past few years, the general public has gradually begun to realize that self-driving cars are an impending reality. It is no longer just Hollywood that is considering the potential implications, but now legislators, lobbyists, and insurance companies.

In fact, most of the necessary technology has existed for more than two decades, including working prototypes. But only recently has it become conceivable that they could be both affordable and safer than human-driven cars. Most car companies are working actively on autonomous cars, and Google has publicized that its autonomous cars have driven more than 700,000 miles without a single accident. …

Read the rest of Stone's op-ed from the July 19, 2014 edition of the Austin American-Statesman.

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Wednesday, 23 September 2020

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