I get emails from Google telling me what the internet has been saying about robot cars, and the most recent such email concerned a Forbes piece, entitled Full Self-Driving Cars Are Still A Long Way Off – Here’s Why. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a robot car believer in the long run, and a robot car sceptic in the short run. People who tell you that robot cars are just about to multiply all over our big cities are hyping – in plain English, lying. But robot cars will eventually happen, and when they do finally get into their stride they’ll change the world. But, I say again, in the short run, it ain’t happening any time soon.
I had another listen to this recorded conversation that Patrick Crozier and I had about transport, in November 2018. Half an hour into this, the fact that Google itself was making noises about how robot cars were now really really going to happen really really soon, just after Christmas, blah blah, was mentioned, and I expressed scepticism. I have now been proved right. Robot cars are still promised, Real Soon Now, and are still not with us in a big way. (The way that e-scooters are already with us in a small way.)
About fifty minutes into that recorded conversation with Patrick, I mention a libertarian headbanger pamphlet I wrote in the 1990s about transport. When I wrote that, I assumed that the system as a whole would be the clever bit, and the vehicles would merely take their orders from this system. I later thought that the way robot cars then started to be developed was proving me wrong. Now, I suspect that the system as a whole will have to be organised differently from the way roads are organised now, and that the system as a whole will end up being highly intelligent, just as I said way back in the last century. More like railways now than the roads now. The reason robot cars are taking so long actually to arrive is that it is being realised that in order for them even to arrive in the first place, the environment they operate in will have to be reorganised in their favour. And once that happens, it will make sense to have lots more central control.
I also had clever things to say about how robot cars would maybe look more like the most expensive sort of Ferraris than regular cars. But that was by-the-by. The point of such whimsy was merely to emphasise that actually, we don’t now know what robot vehicles will end up looking like and behaving like, any more than they knew in the 1890s how cars would end up looking.