Nobody will buy self-driving cars

The necessity for self-driving cars

Ok, so to just make the reality check. Self-driving cars / vehicles are already here. It is no fiction anymore. The question is not if but when this will happen and how.

Which ultimately is what the article is about.

This article is in part a response to the Wired article “Here’s a Terrible Idea: Robot Cars With Adjustable Ethics Settings” by Patrick Lin. I wanted to write an article about self-driving cars anyway but because this one misses the point so entirely I had to reply.

In this article the notorious trolley problem get thrown at driverless vehicles.

The actual trolley problem

What is the trolley problem?

To quote Wikipedia:
There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the sidetrack. You do not have the ability to operate the lever in a way that would cause the trolley to derail without loss of life (for example, holding the lever in an intermediate position so that the trolley goes between the two sets of tracks, or pulling the lever after the front wheels pass the switch, but before the rear wheels do). You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the sidetrack where it will kill one person. [Minor spelling changes]

What would you choose?

The trolley problem is actually designed to probe morality and ethics and is besides other things useful in identifying psychopaths if you change it up a bit.

I don’t know why you would apply it to self-driving cars. Maybe because self-driving cars resemble trolleys and self-driving cars can potentially drive into a human at some point and then the machine has to make some sort of decision.

For me, that is very iffy. Reasons why I think that this is not applicable to self-driving cars I will present later.

For now, lets talk about the actual trolley problem.
As of now there are over 30,000 deaths per year in the US alone, which is very often called so nicely “the price of mobility”.

So in my mind the actual trolley problem is do we deploy a technology that we know will save potentially 1 million people annually and reduce countless injuries and disabilities world-wide (~20-50 million – data from or not.

So do we need self-driving car? Most certainly! We should be morally obliged to deploy them.

The world with self-driving cars

If you think everybody will own self-driving cars as we own cars now does not understand what a self-driving car is actually all about.
The car has the driver build in. It isn’t a car anymore it is driving service. Only people who have a driver right now will own self-driving cars. Think of all the benefits one would miss out on by actually owning one.

  • Save your self the parking space. You will never park your car yourself ever again if you own a car or not but the car would stand around idly without doing anything where it could drive of and serve the next customer. This would free up a lot of city space. Because one wouldn’t need so many cars any more.
  • Cars will become save as plains. The cars will eventually have to fulfill rigorous safety standards and that’s only possible by testing the equipment more often then normal cars right now. There are also probably updates, and other stuff one has to deal with, the machine becomes much more complicated with the self-driving system on board. Because you are a mere passenger you become detached from the inner workings of the machine and the necessity to maintain it. Not the right mind set and responsibility you want the average user to have. That is why it is very likely that self-driving cars will be serviced centrally.
    (This is my main argument why the trolley problem misses the point; self-driving cars will basically almost never drive into it. The Google Self-Driving Cars have clocked in 700,000 miles without accident and it is the test version not the final product and on top of that they probably never violated any traffic laws, ever.)
    Cars will be able to communicate with each other, which would allow for an additional safety feature where other cars could catch rouge runaway cars. Cars will have only one ethic setting, save all humans, basicaly Isaac Assimov‘s – Three laws of robotics. (I had to squize a science fiction author in here some where 😉 )
  • It all comes down to cost. One would probably buy time-shares or you would have a transportation contract or what ever. You order the car via cellphone; tell it when you want to be picked up and when and where you want to be. Get in the car and of you go. You could choose to have a private ride or open it up for other people. At the end you only pay for what you use the car for and you can have any type of car you want.
  • No more traffic jams. Rides will become very predictable. Without any traffic law violations there will also be no traffic police and one could get rid of traffic lights, stop signs and so on. There will be no parking violations ever. Cities probably have to find new ways to produce revenue.

Self-driving cars basically will kill taxi companies and public transport and all other transport services that at the moment employ drivers. (See my article Humans Need not Apply)

Self-driving cars will change the world as robots would or computers did.

As I hope I have made clear it is probably not a good idea for an average person to own a car, if at any given moment you could order a car. The “car company” that starts with deploying self-driving cars is immediately in the transport business if it so chooses. Major car companies are creating already the necessary knowledge they need to transition into a transport service: DriveNow (BMW), Car2go (Mercedes).
It probably makes no sense to even try to sell self-driving cars.

We will see what the future holds.

See you there.


PS. I think Helsinki is on to me 😉

Further Reading:

Nobody will buy self-driving cars
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