Another Future Clash: How Will The Law Deal With Autonomous Vehicles

from the it's-coming dept

So much of what we seem to talk about is really the clash of disruptive innovation and the opportunity it creates with the existing infrastructure (business, legal, physical) and how they seem to clash in ways that tends to limit and/or delay the innovation. Sometimes you can see these clashes coming from miles away -- and autonomous vehicles is one of those clashes. New Scientist has an article by Bryant Walker Smith, discussing the coming clash over autonomous vehicles by asking a simple question: how does a traffic cop give a ticket to a driverless car? Think about it for a bit, and it can be a pretty complex question. While Walker Smith delves into a few of these questions, there are many more -- and lots of people are trying to dig in now.

For example, the law school at Santa Clara University held an entire conference on the legal implications of autonomous vehicles, leading to the Santa Clara Law Review publishing a whole bunch of papers on the subject (including one by Walker Smith). One hopes that lots of people putting some thought into the legal implications today will help us avoid the political messes tomorrow, but given what we know from the history of disruptive innovation, that seems unlikely. Fully expect someone whose businesses are disrupted by autonomous vehicles to make a giant stink about how "unsafe" they are and how they need to be regulated to a degree that makes them effectively impossible to exist.

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    Isaac Kotlicky (profile), 8 Feb 2013 @ 9:35am


    I don't think that autonomous vehicles are "disruptive" in the way you think they are - who would they put out of business? Essentially, drivers or human beings. And the reduction in drivers won't lead to an overall reduction in humans. We like procreation too much for that to happen...

    The only businesses contingent upon human drivers are Trucking/Delivery and Taxi services. Now, it is entirely possible that a stink would be raised by cabbies and truckers, but there's an important caveat:

    1) Operating an 18 wheeler is vastly different than operating a car.
    2) Those vehicles would STILL require a human present anyhow in case of failure. For the cabs, you would need a person to prevent car-jacking and fare skipping.

    In the end, I'm reminded of that Simpsons episode where Homer becomes a trucker. He discovers there's an autopilot for the truck, so at one point he relaxes on the hood of the vehicle travelling at 60 miles an hour.

    All this does is free up human capital, so it's much more like the fast food conveyor belt than, say, the music making computer...

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