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How Self-driving Cars Will Change Your Life

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On: Wed, Jan 28, 2015 at 1:04PM | By: Bill Wilson

How Self-driving Cars Will Change Your Life

Imagine this: you’re on your way to work on a hectic Monday morning. As you stop at a red light you glance at the vehicle next to yours. In it, you see the guy behind the wheel sipping a beer while chattering away on a cell phone. You casually dismiss it and turn your eyes to your rearview mirror, where you see a woman in the car behind you reading a book on her tablet, oblivious to everything that’s going on around her. As the light turns green you notice that the driver to your left is sound asleep, his head tilted backwards as he snores away blissfully.

A few years ago, the sight of people reading, sleeping, or drinking alcohol behind the wheel of an auto would have had you calling 911. Nowadays, however, you scarcely pay these scenes any attention. You've got troubles of your own to worry about, anyway. The auto insurer you work for just declared bankruptcy; there's just no money to be made selling vehicle coverage anymore. Chances are good that you'll soon be looking for another job.

Welcome to everyday life in the year 2025. If expert predictions about the direction of automotive technology hold true, then features like crash avoidance systems, automated law enforcement, and, especially, self-driving cars will change the world in ways most people today could never imagine. Whether or not those changes will be to your benefit may depend on who you are.

The dream of a self-driving car has been around since at least the 1920s, when a 1926 Chandler guided by remote control made its way down New York City streets as part of a publicity stunt. By the 1950s, self-dimming headlights and radar warning systems found their way into concept vehicles built by GM. But the first truly auto-piloted automobiles did not appear until the 1980s.

By today's standards the technology that guided these machines was primitive. Fast-forward to 2015, however, and a host of companies, including Ford, BMW, and Google have either built autonomous vehicles or are on the verge of doing so. Industry analysts predict that commercial models are five to ten years away. Soon you will be able to get into your car, tell it, “take me to the office”, and relax as it follows your command.

For scientists and engineers, building a vehicle that can handle all the complex tasks involved in day-to-day driving is a near-miracle, one that showcases just how far technology has advanced in recent years. Since the 1960s, processing power has been guided by "Moore's Law", which, generally stated, says that computers will double in power every 24 months.

This prediction, made by Intel co-founder George Moore in 1965, has proven uncannily true. It explains why today's smart phones and tablets are many times more powerful than computers built in the 1950s that could barely do basic math. It led to the development of the first desktop computers in the 1970s. And it serves as a reliable measure of what we can expect tomorrow's devices to be capable of... like driving a car, for instance.

This is all well and good for those who make their living creating new gadgets. But, for the rest of us, the prospect of no longer operating our daily transportation is a mixed blessing. The potential benefits are many, and include the following:
• A drastic reduction in the rate of auto accidents. Whether we like it or not, machines are better at driving than we are. They don't get drowsy, they never have too much to drink, and they never look away from the road. They can sense an approaching danger (like a deer in the road, for example) and either brake or steer around it, all in a fraction of the time a human being would need.

• The freedom to engage in other activities while traveling. Soon you'll be able to eat breakfast, watch your favorite TV shows, or text all you like while on your way to work. Your car will get you to your destination faster and safer than you could on your own. Futurists saw this coming more than 60 years ago. That explains the illustration that accompanies this story, showing a family playing a board game while their automobile drives itself.

• Freedom from the grief, misery, and despair caused by auto accidents every day. As recently as 2010, more than 33,000 Americans lost their lives in vehicle crashes. Whether due to alcohol, inattention, or mechanical defects, these tragedies inflict untold amounts of suffering on millions of people.

• Cost savings that will total in the multiple billions of dollars. Auto collisions cost the US taxpayer $871 billion in 2014 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This represents an average cost of $900 borne by every man, woman, and child in the United States.

On the other hand, the rise of self-driven cars will have its downsides as well. These include:
• Devastating losses in revenue for major insurers, due to the scarcity of claims. The less often car crashes occur, the less that auto insurance companies will be able to charge. This fact is the topic of a recent studyby industry experts. For most people, this may hardly seem like a problem; after all, who enjoys paying premiums? But, for those who make their living selling coverage, an astronomical plunge in the accident rate will put most of them in the unemployment lines.

• Anxiety for those who worry about losing control of their lives, as in the doomsday scenarios portrayed in movies likeTerminator or The Matrix. In reality, of course, computers already control us more than we like to admit. But the idea of machines doing our braking, steering, and parking is a powerful reminder of how technology is, in many ways, already in charge.

• Increased worries about major disasters like terrorist attacks. The flipside of all our modern technology is that we quickly become helpless and frustrated when it malfunctions. Imagine that same anger and chaos multiplied a billion times over. That's the specter that hangs over our heads once we become totally reliant on computer-driven vehicles.

In the end, it makes little sense to worry about these things. Just as trains replaced horse-drawn carriages and the light bulb did away with kerosene lamps, so autonomous automobiles will soon take the place of human drivers. Whether this will work out for our good or our ill is anyone's guess; we might as well enjoy the ride.




AdrienneH | 2:17PM (Mon, Feb 2, 2015)

This will really be great for people that have longer than average commutes to and from work.

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