Self-driving cars: it’s only a matter of time until they take over

Nicholas Tucker, Staff Reporter

You may have seen a headline or heard a friend talking about self-driving cars and perhaps thought about it as a cool future technology or a neat gimmick.

However, self-driving cars aren’t some faraway thought dreamed about by over-optimistic nerds. They exist and are currently being developed as the way people will get from place to place in our lifetimes, most likely in our very near lifetimes.

Self-driving cars have gone a long way since their early development. They have driven millions of miles, including in cities, and have only gotten into a few dozen accidents; most of which were the result of a human driver hitting the self-driving car.

By comparison, a human driver gets into an accident every 164,000 miles on average, killing over 40,000 people in the US alone every year. Self-driving cars don’t need to be perfect, they just need to be better than humans.

The question isn’t if self-driving cars will replace those driven by humans, but how quickly.

There are plenty of people who love driving and wouldn’t ever trust a soulless computer to do it, but large-scale technological change doesn’t generally pay attention to a minority of people clinging to their old-school hobbies or being afraid of a new thing. Plenty of people loved riding their horses, and some still do, but cars replaced horses not because they were a better experience, but because they were better at their single most important job: getting a person from one place to another.

There have already been tens of thousands of orders placed by taxi services such as Waymo and Uber for self-driving cars and vans, and many delivery companies are doing the same. Long-haul trucking and industrial drivers are at a great risk as well, as numerous companies are working on self-driving trucks and other vehicles.

When you remove the human driver, you get a lot more ability to specialize and change scale. Tiny bots can move in factories and distribution centers (such as Amazon distribution centers, which are already testing these), and enormous bots can work in mines moving many tons of raw material.

The biggest change will come not in how people move themselves around, but to one of the largest industries in the US: transportation. Transportation employs about eight million people in the US and 70 million worldwide according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a lot of people about to be out of a job.

Human employees make up about one-third of the costs for transportation companies just counting salaries..

Self-driving cars are coming, and they’re the first place where people will see the robots changing society. They make sense in terms of safety for people and cost for companies. This isn’t to say that self-driving cars are good or bad, but just that they are inevitable.

We often think of big technological change coming from the shiny and expensive stuff like a new spacecraft or phone, but more commonly technological revolution comes from the last decade’s inventions becoming mainstream. This is why it’s important to remember that the self-driving cars are here now, and it’s only a matter of time before they take over, becoming the way people get around without thinking twice.