by futurist consultant Ersan Seer


Consequences of Intelligent Transport; The Good and the Bad – Driverless Cars (Part 6/6)

Squirrel Death

This article is the sixth in a series about driverless, autonomous cars—that is, cars with the intelligence and technology to drive themselves (and you) safely to your destination—and how these vehicles will completely change your notion of travel, work and home.

  1. Google’s Driverless Cars Will Change Everything
  2. How Future Autonomous Cars Will Change Travel
  3. Automated Vehicles Will Change How We Work
  4. Automated Cars Will Redefine “Home”
  5. Design & Technology of Autonomous Vehicles of the Future
  6. Consequences of Intelligent Transport

In the past 5 articles, we had a serious look at driverless cars (a.k.a. “intelligent transport”) and how they’ll change life in a couple decades. Now let’s muse on other consequences intelligent transport may have—the good and the bad.

Chubby Sausage Dog

Bad: Intelligent Transport May Make Small Dogs Obese

My driving instructor once told me that I should never slow down for a squirrel crossing the road. I’m supposed to run it over, since stopping abruptly may cause a much greater catastrophe (auto accident) than one squirrel’s death.

Organic vs. Electrical Computers in Recognizing Small Animals
Our brains are powerful natural computers. In a split second, your subconscious recognizes a squirrel for what it is. It’s hard for computers to achieve that kind of quick recognition. We’re just now getting computers to recognize basic, pre-programmed shapes against a neutral black background.

To run the squirrel over or not to run it over…
For driverless cars speeding down the road at 300mph, quick recognition of small animals will be paramount for your safety. It’s a serious issue, since even birds can bring down planes. Driverless cars are sometimes referred to as Intelligent Transport because they’ll have to consistently make decisions while transporting you, decisions that keep you safe. The AI will calculate the threat of small animals by their size. If the creature looks about the size of a squirrel, your car will run it over.

So… what if your beloved, squirrel-sized Mini Dachshund, Teacup Yorkie or Chihuahua rambles into the street?
You knew this was coming.
Survival of the most obese.

Good: Less Being Late! (Slightly)

Traffic is partly caused by simple physics—a bottlenecking effect.

However, there is another major culprit at play here: the intrinsic inaccuracy in humans.

When you stop too slowly, and when you get in a daze and realize the car ahead began moving 2 seconds ago, you have contributed to the traffic jam.

Don’t feel bad; everyone does it. Your action alone probably couldn’t have slowed the highway for miles. It’s a cooperative (lack of) effort. ;)

When cars become intelligent and can transport you, when their powerful AIs can process complicated alogorithms instantly, traffic will decrease a lot. Ford is already working on it.

And with less traffic comes more reliability.

Consider this. What usually makes most of us late? Unexpected traffic. Cutting out this variable will make everyone a little less late. Despite that, we’ll still find ways to be late. In 20-30 years, you might have a conversation with your car that goes like this:

You: “Siri [lack of a better name; you get the point], if we stop at the nearest Starbucks before work, how late will I be?”
Siri: “According to current and projected traffic, between 2-4 minutes late.”
You: “Great. Order me an iced venti triple low fat two pump white mocha.”
Siri: “And a vanilla scone?”
You: “Sigh… yeah.”

Bad or Good? More Control By the Authorities

You can have more safety or more privacy: which would you choose?

When cars are totally run by computers, a battle will erupt for control over your vehicle. The police will naturally want the power to steer and stop your vehicle if they believe you’re breaking the law.

They will claim it’s to better serve and protect you, and they’ll be somewhat right. Car chases and hit-and-runs would be a thing of the past. But at what cost?

Good: Drunk Driving Won’t Hurt Anyone… Except Maybe Drunk People

Speaking of drunk driving… it won’t exist anymore. It will be drunk traveling, and totally permissible. Hopefully totally permissible. Not looking forward to the controversy over litigation which will allow us to drink in our private traveling pods.

If it happens, which it probably will, partying will be more fun. And the nightlife industry will be reinvigorated. :D

I could go on and on about intelligent transport…

But six articles is enough.

And even if I wrote a hundred articles, the infinitely crafty and resourceful Future would find a myriad of ways to surprise us.

So let’s let this topic rest… for now.

Stay tuned for new concept art and visions of the future. I’ve been practicing my concept art skills like a crazy, inspired man and I’m getting better at it. To see what I mean, take a look at my post from a year ago, drawing a futurist city (cringe, gag), and compare that to the concept art you see in this series. Not bad, eh? Getting better? :)

Thank you for reading.

Start from the beginning →
Driverless Cars (Part 1/6): Google’s Cars Will Change Everything



Sidenote from the author:

The concept art and infographics for this series of articles were hard to create; self-doubt can be so draining. In the end, I found a way to express my visions. It would mean a lot to me if you told me how I did. Comment below or contact me.

← Most importantly: please share this page. Let’s get this rocket ship off the ground. :) You will be helping my dream to come true. Thank you so much.

Ersan Seer

Ersan Seer is a futurist consultant, coolhunter, market researcher, strategic advisor, and concept artist. Ersan hungers to make the future world a more peaceful, survivable place.  → Read More & Book Ersan Seer

8 Responses to Consequences of Intelligent Transport; The Good and the Bad – Driverless Cars (Part 6/6)

  1. MS says:

    What if it’s a baby? Are you saying Driverless cars are not going to swerve and compensate?

    • Ersan Seer says:

      Ha. In that situation they’ll have to swerve or driverless cars will never get popular.

      There will have to be some kind of monitoring system within the roadways that determines if a human is walking on a roadway where he/she shouldn’t be…all oncoming cars would be alerted, and would slow down far in advance.

  2. Sally Mason says:

    Good thinking and good art! I really enjoyed this blog series and I’m looking forward to more.

    This article and the book it mentions (which I came across today) seem sublimely synchronous with your topic…

  3. Love your article and would like to get your thoughts on how this autonomous cars could work in conjunction with other transportation concepts such as the BiModal Glideway or TEV system.

    • Ersan Seer says:

      I love the BiModal Glideway idea. This is a viable alternative to the vactrains I discussed in my articles. Would BiModal Glideway perchance use mag lev?

      Whether we use vactrains, BiModal Glideway, or some other technology, we’ve glimpsed the same concept: regular personal vehicles doubling as high-speed vehicles on special roadways. I think it’s bound to happen; it’s just our current highway system evolved.

      The reason these technologies aren’t widespread today is that until recently we didn’t have the computational power to safely coordinate masses of vehicles. But we do have that power now. So it’s only a matter of time before the infrastructure for a system like BiModal Glideway is developed. The infrastructure will probably be developed slowly at first, with an experiment here or there, similar to how mag lev trains entered the transportation scene.

  4. Dave E says:

    Interesting Article … It appears you have looked into this subject a little. Currently doing research on autonomous technology and my takeaway from your article is that your vision of this technology this could be a reality in the distant future (100+) years . The technology exists and there are studies that people are willing to adapt to autonomous technology now ….AND 2 automakers are introducing cars next year (2014) with this “traffic jam assist” technology. While these automobiles might be out of the price range for some, most automobile manufacturers have developed some form of their version of an autonomous car and are anticipating a price increase around 3000-5000 dollars per vehicle initially. Obviously this price will go down as the market becomes more adapted to this technology.
    The idea of not having accidents or any problems is a very novel idea however incredibly flawed. Computers are designed to work the same way every time and how many times have you had a computer freeze or crash ? So I think a solution to redefine safety for these future vehicles is a far more important area than you have addressed.
    I have enjoyed your article and hope you continue to do research in this area.
    Maybe one other area to address – What will drivers do that actually enjoy driving …. the consumers that buy the muscle cars or exotic sports cars ? What will become of that industry ?

    • Ersan Seer says:

      I really love comments that are like yours. They have thought put into them, and they agree with some of my ideas, and disagree with others. Your comment has opened my eyes to new perspectives, new futures. Your comment is the kind that encourages conversation. I shall respond to each of your points…

      1) I estimate that this technology will go mainstream (and by that I mean, eh, say, 25% of our cars will be autonomous) much sooner than 100+ years. I give it 20-30 years.

      2) A $3,000-$5,000 price increase seems quite low to me. As an analogous precedent, let’s look at the price increases on electrical (not hybrid) cars… In my opinion, Teslas (which I believe are the first real, succesful, mainstream electrical car) cost more than $5,000 over comparable gas vehicles. There are countless variables involved here so I’m not making a definitive claim; just an educated guess. I just can’t imagine how rich folks wouldn’t pay what a ‘commoner’ would consider an arm and a leg for a car which drives them around – minus the chaffeur.

      3) Regarding fewer accidents… I agree with you that computers which resemble today’s computers will not be effective in raising safety standards to where they need to be. However, we will not be dealing with computers like that. We will be dealing with Artificial Intelligence in the fullest, most imaginative sense of the phrase. That kind of AI will become a reality very soon. A couple decades.

      4) I love acceleration, and the pleasure of driving. I’m not sure humanity as a whole will ever become complacent enough to want to give that up entirely. My best guess as to how it will turn out is that whoever wants to drive will be able to drive – but even those cars will be instilled with AIs which foresee dangerous situations and prevent accidents accordingly.

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