What are some ways automated vehicles will affect our future in uncertain ways?
When physicists discovered the existence of black holes, they didn't see the void; they identified how neighboring celestial bodies reacted to the presence of black holes.The future happens in the same way. Some of the most interesting things do not happen as the logical consequence from series of events, but in the void of what doesn't exist.Elon Musk recently compared self driving cars to elevators and how elevator operators have been entirely replaced by simple circuitry. Elevators allow us to translate vertically, across floors. The concept of floors as separated by flights of stairs no longer exist; we think of space as buildings now. With cars as elevators, we gain the ability to transit across large distances of space and start thinking of these spaces as joined. We can work across multiple office buildings or complexes. Our sense of space broadens because the separations are gone.A medical researcher friend from Stanford recently told me about a robot that can carry trays of vials up and down floors through an automated and easily controllable elevator. Now, what else can we carry across space? Can we imagine tasks or objects that no longer need to worry about space? Child delivery to school? Check. Emergency aid? Check. Starting your car at night and waking up at Lake Tahoe in the morning for a weekend of skiing? Check.Elon Musk additionally suggests that human drivers will be dangerous comparatively that they would be outlawed. In the US, there are 3.5M estimated truck drivers, 1.3M delivery drivers, and 8.7M in related jobs in those industries. This represents 3-7% of the current working US population. So, outlawed driving suggests a significant rise in unemployment; what happens when that occurs?It raises the question of what other types of jobs and even proportion of all jobs will be replaced as automation continues. Our government is pushed to incentivize employment and social support programs. We may be forced to accept flexible labour laws, which make hiring and firing easy, which may empower corporations and possibly create a healthier economy. Retraining and new education programs such as Udacity, Coursera, Duolingo, and Lynda may become more prominent and relevant.Depending on how desperate the situation gets, we may explore radical paradigms for gaining education and employment. Udacity started a new initiative to skip software engineering interviews altogether: you study hard, earn a nanodegree, and have a job by the end of it (Flipkart and Udacity wants a world without job interviews).We may began a discussion on radical new ways of society to preempt further automation, such as basic livable income for all citizens with no strings attached (and Y Combinator has already started).Transplant wards at hospitals actually rely on traffic accidents to supply organ donations. In Boston, 10-15% of organs are donated from accidents and each donor supplies up to 3 different healthy organs on average, often saving multiple lives to those who desperately need the organs.The decrease in traffic accidents (at least by 90-95% currently due to human error) means much, much less organ donors. Sadly, this could mean thousands or tens of thousands of lives lost in the US per year.The resulting need for organs actually pushes for the advancement and funding in different fields of medical research, including 3D printing for healthy organs and reduction of diseases that require organ transplants.Consequently, this drives more medical funding and focus on curing diseases by the technology world. Self-driving technologies additionally empower this work (as we will touch briefly later).Humans growing up today will never get misdemeanor traffic fines from breaking traffic laws. No speeding tickets. No parking tickets. In the long term, there will be no more traffic lights or stop signs.No traffic violations means there will no longer need to be traffic officers. Less resources on police forces will be devoted to such crimes and more resources can be focused on violent or other crimes. I have no idea how the pay structure for police forces work, but this will likely change things significantly.No more degrading stop and searches in random traffic stops.Better prevention of crime and reduction of false negatives. Possibly programmable traffic stops with coordination of the local police force or other regulations, and possibly more data related to location of vehicles and presence of passengers which helps sort out crimes and supports stories, etc. GPS documents every step of the journey.No more getting towed or insurance or other small traffic related costs. This is potentially substantial news for low-income individuals and families.Centralized parking lots and other systems may encourage the rise of renewable, clean cars. As cars become on-demand services like Uber and independent car ownership falls, cars can recharge in whatever way which is most optimal (such as giant solar panel pavilions); great news for Tesla: this may be electric and clean.Inhaling air pollution takes away at least 1-2 years of a typical human life. 70% of the air pollution caused in Chinese cities is due to tailpipes. 65% of the deaths in Asia and 25% deaths in India are due to air pollution.Air pollution is estimated to cause over 750,000 premature deaths in China, 500,000 deaths in India, and 50,000 in the United States every year. There are even eco-political consequences: the Chinese economy will overtake the US economy within the next two decades, and China invests in machines/automation at a much high rate than the US (including recruiting Andrew Ng at Baidu). So, partly spurred by pollution and partly spurred by industrial efficiency, China may become the most significant country in terms of consuming and developing autonomous technologies in the mid-to-long term. How much you bet on self-driving technologies for the future of our global economy?And this does not even take into account the massive amount of research that will get transferred into other domains. Self driving cars have pushed machine learning, deep learning, control systems, sensors, recognition, and machines to revolutionary levels. What was once 60% accurate a decade ago is now quickly approaching 99.9% – think of the implications across other fields, like medical research (detecting and classifying cancer for example) or physics or foreign languages.We are at a time where autonomous, utopian technology may soon become ubiquitous to us as digital internet technologies are today. And in the next two decades, spurred in part by self-driving cars, we will start to see the beginning of this era. Pretty interesting times.