The Only Extinction Event Coming Is Driver Extinction

If you’ve been trying to get to work this week by any form of transport that isn’t your feet, you might have had a tough one.

It’s chaos and warfare driving in peak hour traffic as it is. But when you’ve got a bunch of climate change protesters also getting in the way, it’s extra challenging.

The #extinctionrebellion protests have been a global phenomenon this week. They are out there in the streets — sometimes literally in the road — protesting inaction against climate change.

And in some parts of the world they’ve brought traffic to a standstill. The best way to mitigate their actions — technology.

It is a royal pain in the backside for motorists and commuters. And their claims of extinction are somewhat hyperbolic. Yes humanity is doomed for extinction…but likely when our sun inevitably dies.

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A world with automated transportation

The good news is that the extinction event will be pretty quick. As the sun turns into a red dwarf it will literally vaporise the Earth. Bye-bye humanity and everything we achieved.

Or…at least bye-bye to what’s left on Earth at that point. The sun dying is scheduled to take place in around seven to eight billion years from now.

We’ve got some time. And we’ll probably be going all ‘Star Trek’ into the universe by then. Still, that’s the only extinction event that’s 100% taking place, guaranteed.

But we’re not here to challenge the credibility of climate change. We’re not here to suggest it’s been a staple protest go-to for the last 60 years.

What we are thinking about as we watch these protesters is how effective they would be in a world with automated transportation.

Part of the protest playbook is to halt traffic. Forget the fact that idling cars are worse polluters than moving cars. In fact, it’s estimated that idle cars produce twice the emissions as engines in motion.

This disruption is to bring attention to the plight. And when you’ve got a human behind the wheel, with the lingering demon of vehicular manslaughter in their mind, they’re going to err on the side of caution. And they’ll likely stop before even just slightly nudging a protester out of the way.

But what if there’s no human behind the wheel? What if it’s a connected, hive intelligence communicating with every other car on the road? What if the autonomous cars know exactly where and when protesters are moving to through predictive crowd analytics from the smart city?

What if they can circumnavigate the protest, and maintain a swift, efficient traffic flow getting people from point A to point B with next to no disruption.

That’s the kind of promise that a network of connected, autonomous (self-driving) vehicles presents to us. It’s potentially more efficient both from a time and energy perspective. But it’s also potentially a significant contributor to future GDP in helping working populations be more productive.

Of course this is all heavily dependent on a number of steps to take place first. One is high speed, reliable wireless networks. 5G promises that, but we’ll see if it can deliver. But let’s say it does. We then need to get vehicles to a point where they’re not just as good at driving as humans, they’re exponentially better.

Moving beyond ‘driver assistance’ to driver removal

That milestone is fast approaching thankfully. For example, a recent tie up between ARM, Bosch, Continental, DENSO, GM, NVIDIA, NXP Semiconductors and Toyota has created the, ‘Autonomous Vehicle Computing Consortium’.

The AVCC’s mission is ‘to help accelerate the delivery of safer and affordable autonomous vehicles at scale’.

These are all industry leaders when it comes to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). But they’re all moving beyond ‘driver assistance’ to driver removal. But to get to driver removal they’re going to need some of the most advanced, complex, powerful computing systems in the history of computing.

Luckily with the likes of ARM, NVIDIA and NXP tucked in, there’s a pretty good chance of that all coming together as well.

The inevitability of autonomous vehicles is very apparent. But it still fights resistance, because of the also inevitable ethical questions. After all, autonomous cars are a form of artificial intelligence. And ethical AI is all the rage right now.

So perhaps the outcome isn’t a world where autonomous cars can circumnavigate protesters. Perhaps it’s a world where one or two ‘take one for the team’ to gently pave a way directly through for the ‘greater good’?

We’re being facetious there. A world of full autonomous vehicles will be near to 100% safe. Being able to predict the actions of other vehicles on the road won’t even be necessary as prediction is taken out of the equation when they all know what the other is exactly doing.

The only unpredictable part of the network that’s coming is humans. Unpredictable pedestrians, unpredictable cyclists, unpredictable protesters.

Maybe the problem isn’t the technology and what it’s capable of, but the humans making it and what they’re capable of.


Sam Volkering,
Editor, Money Morning

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