In the UK, vehicle management software will be under a greater spotlight, according to a government-backed consortium’s announcement as late as October last year. For the first time, driverless cars will take on the roads of Croydon and Bromley in London in trial runs to see if they can traverse safely through narrow, traffic-clogged streets.
Questions about the future of cars, mobility, public, and private transportation were then raised. How would the rise of such technology impact the lives of human beings? Would our lives be better or worse? Will it make things more convenient or keep us safer? Or will it just drive away the jobs of taxi drivers, bus operators, and other public transportation personnel? What can we do to make sure that such technology will be beneficial to even the most vulnerable sectors of society?
Or are we better off without such technology?
The Society of Automotive Engineers has a scale that measures the level of automation a car has versus the level of control its human driver has over it. For example, drivers of Level 0 cars have full control, deciding when to start the engine, or when to pull the brakes, even though basic features still exist, like lane-departure warnings and airbag functions during emergencies. On the flip side, Level 5 vehicles have drivers who choose to control their cars or doze off in the ride, trusting the car to maneuvre them through rough terrain and unpredictable weather without getting a single scratch.
Currently, most cars are in Level 3, where drivers are required but not needed to monitor their driving environment, provided that some criteria, like the intensity of the weather or the roughness of the terrain, are met. Drivers are needed to control the vehicle to get to their destination safely, but at the same time, are reliant on software to assist them.
What happens when we reach Level 5 of vehicle autonomy? For starters, our culture will be changed significantly. Drivers will lose their jobs. Vehicle software specialists would get jobs. It will become acceptable once more to drive under the influence. Hotel and flight rates might suffer because people will opt to take long drives to places where they want to go, without having to worry about falling asleep on the road. Parking becomes less of a problem as several non-drivers can share a car. A lot of energy will be saved and even recycled if we have reached that point in the future.
All in all, with each new form of technology, there pose different threats and risks. But with them also come countless positive possibilities. The important thing is to weigh the positives with the negatives and find solutions for the negatives in case they are unavoidable. With automated vehicles, we can re-align the skills of our labor force so that the rise of artificial intelligence will not threaten them. Instead, advancements of technology will get everyone excited and present itself as the height of human capability.