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On Self-Driving Cars

I'm just back from the two events in Europe in which we partnered with our friends at Forum, the 8th Internet of Things European Summit on 4/19 and 20, and Connected Cars Europe 2017 - on 5/11. Among other roles I was pleased to offer closing remarks at both these events, and thought you might be interested to see the comments I offered at the end of the cars conference.

The "connected cars" phenomenon has proceeded at a remarkable pace. A new car today comes with between 100 and 200 million lines of code built-in. One presenter shared an early slide of cars as mobile phones; today they are fully-fledged PCs. The move to self-driving, already beginning, seems unstoppable.

The link above will give you many more details, but suffice it to say that just as the equivalent event in Washington last year was opened by the then U.S. Secretary for Transportation, this Brussels conference began with a keynote from the European Transport Commissioner.

Here are my comments. Your responses, as ever, will be read with interest.


Let me make four brief comments as we end our day together.

1. This conference is of course a spin-off from the series that Forum Europe has hosted, both here and in the U.S., on the Internet of Things. C-PET has been delighted to partner with Forum, not least as together with Dan Caprio, now of The Providence Group, and Mike Nelson, now at Cloudflare, we hosted Washington's first ever conference on IoT. The fact that we now have the major auto manufacturers focused on connected cars and beyond that self-driving vehicles shows how far IoT has come, and how fast. It was only back in 2004, at a time when many believed autonomous vehicles were generations away, that DARPA began its challenge program; 13 years is a long time in Moore's-Law terms.

2. The panel today that most caught my attention was that on trust and confidence, and it's plain that this will be the core issue as we move forward. It was no coincidence that we also heard clear statements that consumers need to be much more involved in this discussion. And this raises many issues that technology people, and perhaps companies, need to appreciate more seriously. For one thing, consumers in general have little idea how advanced our technologies now are. They don't go to the showroom to ask the dealer how many lines of code are in the cars. The public mind has been little informed about what lies ahead, and indeed what is there already. How will the security and privacy issues play out as they become more alive to developments? Since we now have major manufacturing companies on the stage, not simply the tech gurus and consultants who were discussing these things in the past, we may expect a rapid maturing of the conversation. Else no-one is going to make any money in the market.

3. That focuses the core issue of resilience - not simply in our systems, but the resilience, as it were, of the public mind. I do hate to say this, but things are going to go wrong. People are going to die. Whether through systems failure or hacks or some other cause. The more connected we are, the more we raise certain risks. We know this, but I will tell that that it alarms me how uncandid are our discussions of it, Even somewhere like this. The public is used to vast hacks and data loss. They don't much care about it any more. How will they respond when things go wrong with our connected car systems? The problem of course is partly one of new tech versus old. There are 1.25 million road traffic deaths every year worldwide. In the U.S. there are 40,000 - and that number has jumped 25% recently because of tech-driven "distracted driving." We may well believe these systems to be much safer. But what happens when someone dies? How will the public respond? We need to approach both risk and perceived risk in a mature manner.

4. Looking ahead, I wonder whether we are sufficiently prepared for the scale of disruption this particular application of IoT will bring in its train, and that is an issue of which policymakers need to be especially aware. As I argue in my book Will Robots Take Your Job? A Plea for Consensus the advent of autonomous vehicles is likely to have dramatic impacts on everything from insurance to healthcare and, crucially, to the market for autos - if as many believe we move increasingly to a utility/fleet system, with apps summoning care like Uber or Lyft though without drivers. The average family car is presently unused for between 95% and 97% of the time. Do the math yourself.

There will of course be so many benefits - cheaper, safer, transportation, cuts in pollution, quieter roads. But for manufacturers? Not so simple.

All in all, as our discussion matures, I urge candor as we look ahead.

Best regards,

Nigel Cameron
President and CEO
Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies
Washington, DC