On the Google car.
I've been wondering for a while about the societal implications of switching to the Johnny Cab (from the original Total Recall movie), which is to say the autonomous car developed by Google. 

A car is more than just a means from getting from A to B. 

A car is a mighty expensive purchase. It's usually the priciest thing you own that can get stolen from you. It's also a huge liability, since it's a 2 ton machine that can go very fast. And it's also something that says a lot about you, which is why Detroit and Madison Avenue are in bed so much of the time. But even though our culture makes it a very expensive national costume, the truth is a car does tell you something about its owner. If a guy drives a 10 year old car that's in good condition, from a make and model that lasts a good while and gets good mileage, you can conclude a few things about his character, as opposed to someone who just bought a flashy Cadillac Compensator. A car becomes an extension of who you are.

That is why you can have a friend who is so close to you that you can share toothbrushes, and still say to him "dude, you are NOT driving my car." Perfectly acceptable, right? 

But what if the car is autonomous? That friend of yours might be completely smashed, and a ne'er-do-well when sober, and it might still be a dick move not to lend him your car if he needs it. Especially if he's completely smashed. "Just don't puke in the interior, and don't use my car for a getaway after killing someone."

If the car is fully autonomous, it's not an extension of its owner the way the non-autonomous car is. In fact, if the car is fully autonomous, all you really get from owning it is first dibs on using it. Its condition doesn't say anything about your driving ability. You have far less reason not to share its usage. And so shared ownership makes far more sense than un-shared, given how cars spend 98% of the time parked. 

At this point you might object, and say that the autonomous car will always need a human driver to slam the brakes if the autonomous system messes up. I have enough confidence in engineering to say that autonomous cars will never be perfectly safe, but that current technology will soon make them safer than conventional cars. And besides, people are terrible at knowing when they should take over the operation of an automatic process, and so if such a need is there, we will simply not have autonomous cars, period. 

Now, if a car can be autonomous, it can be not just driverless but passenger-less. At worst, empty cars might be relegated to designated traffic lanes and subjected to a 10MPH speed limit. So when you travel in one, it should be able to drop you off and then find parking for itself. And when it goes to do that, it should be able to grab dibs on a parking spot over a wireless protocol instead of seeking a spot. And coordinate the parking with the nearby vehicles. And so, an autonomous car fleet should be able to park itself far more tightly than conventional cars. And then it can come back to pick you up afterwards. Which in turn, really means there is no good reason for autonomous cars to be owned by individuals. They make far more sense as cheaper forms of a taxicab, with longer operating ranges. 

Now, Google employs very smart people. I'm willing to bet the Google Car team had these thoughts in mind when their project was just starting out. What they are doing will completely kill the business model of conventional car companies.
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