Web Summit Debate: 10 Reasons Self-Driving Cars Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think

My Debate with George Arison, CEO of Shift, at Web Summit in Lisbon
My Debate with George Arison, CEO of Shift, at Web Summit in Lisbon

I was invited to speak at the Web Summit in Lisbon this week to debate George Arison on a hot topic: the arrival of truly autonomous vehicles. You can watch the debate here at 1hr. 24min. Maven Ventures has invested in three companies in the space, including Cruise Automation, which helped to launch the industry into mainstream conversations after its acquisition by General Motors.

While the buzz has certainly picked up, the autonomous vehicle market is still underhyped. Next to the Internet, it’s the most profound and transformative technology innovation in our lifetimes. Most people predict it will be 20 years or more until true, level 4 or level 5 autonomous vehicles will be on the roads. But it’s going to happen much sooner. As I shared on stage at the Web Summit this morning, here are the 10 reasons why I believe level 4 or 5 autonomy will be widespread within the next 5-10 years:

  1. Saving lives: over 1 million people die in car accidents each year around the world, with over 35,000 in the US alone. Autonomous vehicles will nearly eliminate these fatalities.
  2. Better for the environment: with fewer cars on the road, nearly all of them electric, pollution from cars will drastically decrease.
  3. Less congestion: our cities are locked-up with traffic congestion, making it tough to get around. Autonomous vehicles will decrease the traffic congestion with more predictable transit, fewer vehicles, and no need to find that elusive parking spot.
  4. More productive society: instead of sitting behind the wheel on increasingly lengthy daily commutes, we will be able to rest, work, and relax. This will increase productivity, while decreasing stress and road rage.
  5. Inclusive transit for everyone: autonomous vehicles will be safer for our aging population, allowing seniors to retain independence longer, as well as more accessible for blind, deaf, and other individuals who couldn’t otherwise drive.
  6. More affordable: the need for car ownership will be greatly reduced as more people take advantage of ride- and car-sharing, decreasing the amount of money spent on vehicles, insurance, registration, and maintenance.
  7. The technology is improving: the cost of hardware is dropping rapidly, so component pieces integral to autonomous driving such as LIDARs and cameras are more accessible. More engineers are developing expertise in related fields, creating better software and hardware.
  8. Governments are moving quickly: the Department of Transportation and President Obama have both stated that this is a priority, and the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration has already released its first policy updates.
  9. There’s so much money at stake: between Tesla, Google, General Motors/ Cruise, Apple, Uber, and many more companies, there are hundreds of billions of dollars in market opportunity up for grabs.
  10. It’s already happening: the Cruise team has autonomous vehicles on the road, Google has had fully autonomous cars all over Silicon Valley for years, Uber famously put self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh, and the recently acquired Otto made a big splash with its first autonomous truck delivery. Not only is autonomous driving coming faster than most people think it’s already here.

5 thoughts on “Web Summit Debate: 10 Reasons Self-Driving Cars Will Be Here Sooner Than You Think

  1. Jim, I agree wholeheartedly with you that Level 4 and 5 will be much sooner than predicted given the current pace (and race of the key players). You did a bang-up job defining the reasons why too. The benefits are many though it will be interesting to see what happens to the human drivers who earn a living driving and will be replaced. Thoughts?

  2. Great article. I enjoyed hearing you live in Lisbon last week. I agree with your arguments – its a compelling list. George did a good job too – interesting how members of the audience changed their mind, with the view being evenly split after the discussion. The point he made about the ethical challenge remains valid. The modern day version of the Trolley problem. Will be interesting to see how the industry addresses this.

  3. I agree with you. George definitely did a good job hitting the emotional issues hard that resonated with some in the audience. The reality is that these ethical issues are going to be extremely rare and very solvable with AI.

  4. Thanks. This is an excellent point. I think it’s imperative on us in Silicon Valley, especially after the elections, to make sure we think thru job transitions and how to help employ taxi, uber and truck drivers when we have full level 4/5 autonomous vehicles.

  5. I love this. I continue to push all those points here in Geelong. But keep looking deeper, here are two more ideas/points to consider, enablers:

    1) Hitchhike – Change how you transit – you don’t need to park out the front of your office. You can start walking, to excercise for 10mins. Your car tracks you and intercepts you for the pickup.

    2) Overnight drive – Forgo the motel, and sleep in an overnight car. This will kill short-range flights, which take less than 8-12 hours by car. A car is more comfortable that an airplane seat by far.

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