May you live in interesting times — the purported English translation of an old Chinese curse. Used ironically it suggests that boring times make for pleasant living, while eras of change are unpredictable. Today's economists might be inclined to agree. The pace at which technology is progressing is unprecedented. The self-driving automobile is one of those innovations that has some people scrambling to understand how this idea will change our world.
Also known as the autonomous, or driverless car, a self-driving car is a vehicle that uses diverse technologies such as GPS, radar and computer imaging to self-navigate. In 2017 Audi became the first company to introduce an autonomous level three vehicle to the market with their "Audi A8". This vehicle has surpassed the level two "hands off" phase, and is considered an "eyes-off" experience. The fourth and fifth levels surpass even that with "mind off" and finally robot cars that don't require human operators at all. What are the biggest impacts that level of tech might have?
A fully autonomous car requiring no human intervention is a threat to thousands of people who drive for a living. This means popular services like Uber wouldn't need their fleet of independent contractors. Taxi drivers, bus drivers, commercial truckers and more would face unemployment in staggering numbers. Not only would this affect the livelihood of millions of Americans, but the U.S. economy would suffer as hundreds of thousands of workers lose their paychecks and stop generating revenue for businesses across the country.
Not only would we be losing revenue, it would also be costly to entirely reconfigure our road construction. Cars would need to be able to detect things such as caution cones, and detours, meaning costly technology would need to be implemented.
However, these downsides are reminiscent of issues we faced during the industrial revolution. Yes, this upheaval brought about by new technologies affected millions of people and contributed to the Great Depression in the 1930s. But, it also changed things for the better, creating better job security and working conditions for the masses. Self-driving cars have the potential to do something similar.
While the unemployment statistics are grim, the future looks brighter. These technologies have the ability to enhance the quality of life for the elderly and disabled, and reduce traffic accidents, potentially saving lives. Cars will be more efficient and won't require time-consuming breaks in driving for human activities such as using the bathroom, eating and resting. This means delivery will be faster, less expensive and waste less fuel. The limits of this technology and what it could mean for online shopping and delivery from sites like Amazon or your local grocery store is astonishing. The overall cost of living could be reduced significantly. Less driving means more quality time, time to better enrich our lives, or spend time with our families.
While the short term of effects of these self-driving cars might have some feeling fearful, the long-term effects are promising. Service drivers could in fact become obsolete in the coming years, but new tech means the creation of new jobs. The possibilities at play could mean better job conditions, higher pay, and a lower-cost of living for future generations.
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