Humans have been driving cars for 100 years, and many consider receiving their driver’s license to be a rite of passage into adult life. It will be very strange, therefore, when we walk on the sidewalks and the cars on the road simply drive themselves. As defined by Wikipedia, “an autonomous car is a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.” Autonomous, or driverless, cars, however, are not some fantasy made up by science fiction authors. Not only are self-driving cars on roads all over the country, but by 2020, in just three years, Business Insider predicts that there will be 10 million self-driving cars on the road.
The self-driving cars on the road today are not fully autonomous. This means that these cars need a human driver who is ready to take control of the car at any moment, if it were to be necessary. Driverless cars use radar, lasers, GPS, computer vision, and more to sense their surroundings and respond appropriately. One of the most exciting prospects surrounding driverless cars is increased safety. As computer programs are not vulnerable to human error and response time, many expect the number of traffic accidents to decline as more human-controlled cars are replaced with driverless cars. Since driverless cars are able to sense the other cars on the road, they can use this information to increase traffic flow, which is especially time-saving in crowded cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Driverless cars also consume less fuel and may even lower insurance costs, making them more cost-effective than regular cars.
Autonomous vehicles, do, however, have their own challenges. One of these is the ethical dilemma that surrounds artificial intelligence applied to real-world situations: if the car’s only options are to hit a crowd of people or to crash and kill the driver, what should it do? Questions like this one will likely become more and more relevant as the number of driverless cars on the road continues to increase. Another possible challenge is that of hacking and terrorism. Since driverless cars are computer-powered, there could be privacy and safety risks if someone were to hack into the car’s controls. Finally, there is the challenge that is common to all automation processes: unemployment. The road transport industry employs millions of drivers across the country, and just the truck drivers alone account for 0.3% of the nation’s GDP. If drivers would begin to lose their jobs as a result of this new industry, there could be protests and/or economic repercussions.
Today, it is difficult to predict exactly what will happen as a result of the popularization of driverless cars. Just like everything, there will likely be both advantages and disadvantages, but if they can save lives, it is difficult to argue against them. As the number of companies producing autonomous cars continues to rise, we can expect the number of young people getting driver’s licenses to decrease. Cars have been part of American society for a century, and even though their form and controls may change, their importance to the country’s economy and culture will almost definitely not.