The year of the autonomous car

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The picture above is the Ford entry in the 2016 24h Le Mans race. Ford famously won the race in 1966 – if I’m not mistaken – on the back of work done by Mr Shelby whose fame comes from the car carrying his name. They came back at the 50th anniversary, and won it again. 

Outside of this car, however, this was the year of the future of automobiles – not the past. And the brands at the show would have had you believe that right around the corner, we’re all going to be in self-driving cars that we rent, and that parking, car accidents, and fuel consumption are things of the past. 

But, even as a technologist, the last thing I want is for this revolution to come too quickly. 

Autonomous cars represent for me the next major economic shift we’re going to take as a society. 

We won’t need – truck drivers, taxi drivers, or parking attendants. 
We will need – systems engineers, merchandise unloaders, and a whole new breed of mechanics. 

We won’t have trucks competing with daily commuters at peak hours to get places. 

We will have roadside motels shut down as their clientele becomes unemployed. 

We don’t know what insurance looks like in this new world, and we do know that taxes, licensing, regulations, and standards will all have to be reconsidered. 

And so while I want the technology to be built, and the regulations and licensing conversations to start, the bigger opportunity I want to challenge us to take is to build a framework in which we look for a win-win (Pareto Efficient) outcome for everyone who will be impacted by autonomous cars. 

We have a chance to have the conversations that we didn’t when we built the interstate system and exported our manufacturing infrastructure.

How can we ensure that there is protection for those who will lose paid for by the economic gains and efficiencies of those who win?

How can we look at the industries impacted by this revolution – trucking, parking, construction, gas stations- and make sure that in preserving themselves they don’t stifle innovation? 

And equally – that the technologists who will win in this new world don’t irrationally pull us into the future without being able to ensure our safety, our communities, and the new culture we will build on these capabilities?

After this election cycle, and this year’s CES, I’m realizing that policy is just as important of a deliverable for a disrupting business as the product that is doing the disrupting. 

My key takeaway – we all want to get to the future knowing our dignity will be intact when we get there. 

We should make sure we have the conversations to help as many of us achieve that goal as possible. 

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