By Barb Paszyn
Imagine seeing a car driving 110 km/hr on the 401 with no one in it. We’re getting closer to this reality each day. I’m at the same time excited and a little scared. Scared because I don’t know exactly what to expect. No one does. Excited because this disruptive innovation will open up many different avenues for us. If anything, driverless cars should make our lives easier and better. At least, that’s the hope that is driving my fear away.
Honestly, my fear might stem from how I was introduced to the concept of driverless cars. I was watching the movie Logan and in one scene, the main character is in the middle of the road where self-driving trucks are about to crash into him! This reminds me of that old adage: movies always do it first. And this first is poised to become reality.
A month after I watched the movie, Tesla announced they were going to release the first driverless trucks at the end of 2018. However, they’re already falling behind in that race and Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., is now ahead of Tesla in accomplishing this feat. Waymo may also release a driverless car commercially in 2018. Regardless of who releases the driverless car or truck first and when, it’s a fast approaching reality. Even our beloved city Toronto is starting to think of the impact driverless cars will have.
According to our research, only 39% of Canadians are comfortable with driverless vehicles and 35% say they are one of the most useful applications of artificial intelligence. But it doesn’t matter that everyone isn’t prepared to deal with this new future. Driverless cars are coming soon to a dealership near you (sorry I had to!).
With its soon-to-be presence, how do I see the world changing? Three main ways stick out to me like a sore thumb. Driverless cars will:
- Improve our safety. It’s estimated that 75% to 90% of vehicle accidents could be prevented if autonomous cars are used. I’m not sure if this, in fact, will be true, but I do believe that there will be fewer impaired drivers (including heavy-eyed truck drivers), which would reduce the number of accidents.
- Give us more free time. According to Global News (and Stats Can), the average work commute for a Torontonian is 34 minutes. So, we spend roughly an hour or more each day commuting to and from work. Imagine if we got that time back! With driverless cars, we won’t need to physically take the steering wheel to drive ourselves to our destination. We can simply sit back and relax. Maybe distract ourselves by talking to someone who is on the other side of the world. Or, as simple as it is, read a book. We also won’t have to worry about driving someone somewhere. Send for the car and let it take the children to school, piano lessons, or birthday parties – overall more me time to do whatever you want!
- Provide new specialized roles with the loss of other jobs. Though many jobs will be lost (e.g., taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers), other jobs will be created, specifically in the technology sector. We’ll need new programmers and software engineers to “operate” these autonomous cars and continuously improve their safety and reliability. The landscape of the types of jobs that are available and valued will ultimately change. Personally, I’m excited for this more than anything! It will open up new ways of thinking, and new product and service categories. It will expand human capabilities into more than what we are now. It will require us to grow our creativity and innovation skills. Being in research, I can’t wait to work on projects that involve analyzing the trends and impacts that driverless cars will have on society. This excitement makes life worth living. Change is good. It’s essential to our existence.
As you can tell, I’m more excited than scared! I can’t wait to dive into a world that will vastly change, and I’m especially excited about how autonomous vehicles will alter our world. Artificial intelligence is impacting many areas of our lives beyond autonomous vehicles, changing the way the world works and how people think. We need to change with it, align our businesses, products, and services to benefit from it, or at least learn how it will alter our current reality. Besides, maybe in just a few months, driverless cars soon won’t be something we only see in movies.