The Future
The Surprising Ways Self-Driving Cars Will Change the World

We sit on the cusp of a transportation revolution, as companies race to be first to market with a working self-driving car. We’ve been tracking this technology for some time now, and like many have been intrigued by its promise to reduce (or even eliminate) traffic accidents, to help cities improve their public transit options, or even to hold off the pension tsunami. There’s still so much we haven’t delved into, but thankfully Jonathan Margolis has devised a list of some of the myriad impacts of these cars for the FT. He divides these into two categories: utopian and dystopian. First, a selection from the utopian list:

• Car parks are an urban eyesore but their days are numbered if car ownership diminishes. Self-driving cars will rarely park. Instead, they will circulate in cities between passengers. Multi-storey car parks could be turned into homes. Domestic garages and driveways may be turned into green space or living rooms.

• Ugly road signs and lines will become a thing of the past. Autonomous cars do not need them. The cityscape and rural views will be improved.

• The cost of personal transport will plummet, according to Barclays, from between $1 and $1.60 a mile to as little as 8 cents a mile…Transport could even be free. When you book a ride in a self-driving taxi and accept ads played at you, the cost could reduce to zero.

But we can’t have the good without the bad, and the dystopian section may be even more interesting. Here’s a sample of the new problems self-driving cars will create:

• Hacking will be a menace. Individuals will try to dismantle their cars’ software, causing accidents. Organised hackers and terrorists will seek to cause large accidents.

• Thrill-seekers could play an updated game of chicken, in which they run in front of a self-driving car to see if it uses its superhuman reaction time to swerve into a lamp post.

• If the cost of going a block or two by car is negligible — or zero — fitness and health could decline.

Read the whole thing. It’s a quick but thoughtful engagement with one of the most important and disruptive trends we’ll be dealing with over the next couple of decades, and if nothing else it will give you some easy bullet points to kick off an interesting conversation at your next dinner party.

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