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The Possible Futures Of Self-Driving Cars

I’m not sure which way the spread of self-driving car technology is going to go, but I see three basic options.
Option one: The Epic Fail.
In this scenario self-driving cars grow in popularity and start becoming common. Some major cities start banning manual-drive cars from major pedestrian malls in their city centers. Everything’s going great!
And then, BAM! A widespread software glitch, virus, or cyberattack strikes a large number of cars. Maybe it’s a given make or model of car, or every car running a certain app or receiving a certain update or patch. Thousands of cars crash, either physically, in the software sense, or both. Thousands of people are hurt in the space of hours, or even minutes. Hundreds of people die. Emergency rooms and ambulance services are overwhelmed. Video of hospitals performing triage in parking lots and stacked body bags hits the news. Victims appear on talk shows and media broadcasts.
There’s a huge anti-self-driving public outcry. Politicians pass laws to restrict the hell out of self-driving car technology. Carmakers pull back on producing them. It takes a century or two for the public to even consider allowing self-driving cars again, and even longer for laws restricting them to be withdrawn — if they ever are.
Option Two: City Drivers.
Self-driving cars become a little like hunting: mostly a rural thing, and a point of pride for many rural folks to distinguish themselves from “soft” urban types. Small towns and unincorporated areas may allow self-driving vehicles, but social pressure causes many people living in these areas to avoid them. The demand this preserves for manual-drive cars keeps carmakers supplying them and prevents the areas that favor them from passing laws restricting them.
At the same time, larger towns and cities do restrict manual-drive cars, barring them from downtown areas at least. Larger cities ban manual driving within city limits.
This division creates additional barriers and friction between rural and urban areas — it becomes more difficult for someone living and driving in one to visit the other — and as urban areas continue to grow, rural unrest and dissatisfaction with government and city people grows. Potentially, this may fuel separatism and worse political division of Americans than currently exists, and fuel similar social conflict in other nations as well.
Option three: Self-Driving Cars Take Over
In this scenario, self-driving car technology continues to develop quickly and by the time people born in the 2010s grow up self-driving cars dominate the roads. A decade after that, so many areas, including whole counties and even states, outlaw manual driving that even if you could find a manual car to buy there’s be barely anywhere to drive it. Manual-drive cars are only popular in racing sports and on closed tracks and private property as a rich person’s hobby.
The 20 years of the switchover creates a situation in which there are few of the older cars that the poor rely on for transportation available to buy. Self-driving technology replaces the cars of the poor with pay-per-ride apps, which are no more expensive as long as the poor choose to use them seldom and for short distances at non-peak periods. The availability of pay-per-ride self-drivers disrupts public transportation systems with low ridership; many collapse or contract. Some poor and working-class people are forced out of rural areas due to the greater reliance on people owning their own transportation in those areas, leading to an increase in the rural-to-city population shift.
By the time older self-driving cars are available for the poor to buy at low cost, the new social norm is set and few people buy those cars, distrusting the cost of upkeep and relatively large outlay.
It’s a relative good for most, but not for the bottom ten percent of income earners.
So. There are the major options as I see them. Got another idea? Let me know in the comments. 🙂
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13-Word Story: Sick Call, Late 21st Century


[This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 3/30. Become a patron, see posts early, get free stories! Also, PLEASE DO share the image! It’s very helpful!]

So, about the actual post: someone tampering with a self-driving car’s software/firmware is already a much-discussed concern. Most of the articles I’ve seen have explored the possibility of using the WiFi access point of the vehicle itself to access and “hack” the vehicle, and my understanding is that this has already been done in at least one controlled experiment. A hacker could lock or disable the brakes, affect the steering, cause the vehicle to see “ghost” vehicles or become blind to actual vehicles or pedestrians, ignore speed limits, ignore traffic signals (which, once self-driving vehicles become ubiquitous, will likely be ‘visible’ only to the vehicles themselves in areas closed to manually driven vehicles), or… well, you get the point. The possibilities are extensive.

And, of course, there are other possibilities that come to mind. They’ll have to be dealt with as well as possible, just like the hacking problem, as self-driving vehicles become more common.

Drivers might alter vehicles’ software themselves. This will likely be illegal, and will range from harmless to extremely dangerous. Cars that drive themselves will likely have no human-accessible controls like a steering wheel or brake/accelerator pedals; a likely illegal mod would be to provide controls via touchscreen or a videogame-like controller. Mods might allow vehicles to exceed speed limits, open doors while driving, alter pollution controls (looking at you, naughty Volkswagen), flash rude messages to other drivers on a variable-opacity touchscreen windshield, and who knows what. Once the actual vehicles are here, we’ll discover all sorts of things we haven’t thought of yet, just like just about every other piece of tech we’ve come up with.

We’ll want advertising blockers for our cars by and by, too. I can’t imagine advertisers won’t be happy to pay to have messages projected and voiced right inside your car as you drive. Imagine how quickly you’ll get tired of hearing “would you like to stop at McDonalds?” and “Come shop at Macy’s, 20% off all housewares today!” If the advertising deals with automakers get aggressive enough — and when have advertisers not gotten too aggressive for their own good given the chance — you may find yourself having to respond to a constant stream of default-yes prompts. “Stop at Taco Bell? Touch CANCEL to decline.”

Yes, we’ll need CarAdBlock.

And of course, there’s the hazard of malware as the story suggests. Imagine your family vehicle being ransomwared right before a crucial work meeting. Or before your holiday dinner gathering, and you’re bringing the main dish.

Very likely efforts to thwart malware and illegal mods to vehicle software will be more aggressive than those directed at the same with computers and smartphones. Penalties will be more draconian — and if they’re not, they soon will be after the first few malware, mod, or hacking vehicular injuries or deaths.

But that won’t stop some people from creating malware for cars and so forth. There’s always someone who wants to ruin the fun.

Some think these and other hazards will prevent the self-driving vehicle from becoming popular. I don’t think that’s going to be the case at all. We are already willing to accept a MILLION WORLDWIDE DEATHS PER YEAR for our current vehicles. If malware “only” costs a hundred thousand lives yearly, there will be a public outcry. It will slow adoption by the public. But business and government will continue to pursue the option of lesser cost in both cash and lives — and that will be the self-driving vehicle.

Fashion Victim


Pretty new prosthetic eyes: after the virus the world is a Munch painting.