The driverless car as beau idéal continues to fascinate. The question of whether self-driving cars will work morphs into ‘can it be done at all’ and escapes the gravity of the actual world even as the fantastically expensive contraptions are tested on real people in real streets of real cities:
Waymo’s app, Waymo One, looks and works just like Uber’s does. Riders enter their destination and get an estimated wait time for a ride. Once you enter your requests, the company dispatches from its fleet of 250 white Jaguar vehicles it operates across the city. The cars are staggeringly expensive, outfitted with high-tech sensors and cameras, and are worth as much as $200,000.
The link within that paragraph goes to a 2021 article that paws at the question of the bottomless investment barrel being emptied into autonomous vehicles. And maybe we’re already onboard the 30-year odyssey toward the achievement. But if this is the way home, what is home supposed to look like once we’ve emptied every pocket to get there? We might ask, is the journey worth it? In a way, yes robotaxis can work. But… is this actually an achievement, or just the most expensive movie of all time?
Note how the writers/riders describing their self-driving taxi rides were mostly meh about the futuristic experience. Sounds familiar.
Image: A Waymo driverless car arriving in front of the Painted Ladies on Monday. Credit…Andri Tambunan for The New York Times
These are two of the big catchwords of the year so far. What do they mean and, what is their relation to the Eco-logy/Eco-nomy mash-up from which they emerge?
Hard to say on either of these counts, without squaring the circle – that we have to cut down on consumption but keep on making things (have job for people to do). Not exactly business as usual.
Even as most of the new green jobs end up going to robots, we (third-person, sentient) still have to do certain things. This should settle back into two fundamental questions – what are these certain things, and of course, what does green mean?
Because as we settle on the parameters of the first, the elements of the second become more clear, or at least a matter debate. We can see how imposing costs on carbon dioxide emissions, for example, can trigger changes in the things we make and the ways we make them. Despite what you watch and hear, people are thinking about this. And despite what you watch, hear and read, this will require great amounts of thinking. And schooling. And cross pollination of everything we think about business and most of what know about technology, engineering, credit and risk.
In short, it could be sexy. It could capture the popular imagination and re-direct it toward more productive ends. I don’t mean to sound too optimistic on this count; things are as dire as we are lazy and easily amused. But we did go to the moon once, many years ago today.
So, who knows?