by Timothy Lee
Fri, Jan 11th 2008 8:44am
My esteemed co-blogger Adam Thierer points out that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner is touting a future of "autonomous driving." Adam is against the concept, worrying that future generations will be deprived of the excitement of controlling your own vehicle. Luckily, I don't think Adam needs to worry. Even after autonomous driving becomes sophisticated enough to be deployed on real roads, it will still take decades for people to transition to all-autonomous vehicles. Moreover, the market is likely to continue catering to old coots like Adam who want to continue driving their cars the old fashioned way, so there will be human drivers on the road for the foreseeable future. That, in turn, means that autonomously-driving cars will have to know how to share the road with human beings for the foreseeable future. It will be many decades before we could even start seriously discussing banning non-autonomous cars from the roads. More to the point, history suggests that when technology makes a day-to-day activity obsolete, it doesn't disappear. Rather, it become a hobby. A half-century after the introduction of the automatic transmission, there are still plenty of people who prefer to drive a stick. People haven't needed to hunt or fish for food for decades, yet hunting and fishing are now popular hobbies. The same is true of traditional housework activities like weaving, knitting, and quilting. It no longer makes economic sense to do these things in the home, but people do them anyway because they enjoy it. By the same token, if autonomous driving someday makes traditional driving obsolete, that won't make it go away. It will simply mean that it will become a recreational activity rather than an unavoidable part of daily life. When he's 60, Adam will still be able to zoom around in his sports car on the weekends, but on his morning commute he might have the option to ignore the Northern Virginia traffic jam and focus on writing his latest Luddite screed for the Technology Liberation Front.
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