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Hagerty Employee

Avoidable Contact #66: The autonomous grift, and how you’re going to pay the price for it

I can’t tell you what the price of oil, bitcoin, or Tesla stock will be 24 hours from now, but I feel absolutely confident in making the following longer-term prediction: You are never going to share the road with a significant number of autonomous vehicles. “Never,” in this case, is a fancy way to say never. Not in the lifetime of anyone reading this column. I am stone-cold certain about this. If you want to contact me and make some sort of bet, I’m your huckleberry—but give me a chance to convince you on the matter first.


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New Driver

Jack, Great points on the shortfalls and ramifications of technology on autonomous cars.  However, you left out another determining factor of why it will never happen – money; specifically, insurance money.  The insurance companies will not issue bonds for roads to be built for cars powered by computer logic that has been programmed on whether to hit the deer or the child.


Litigation firms are salivating for literally careers that can be built around an autonomous car issues that have gone wrong.  “Who’s fault was it when the car purposely plowed into the deer and injured the driver?”


Follow the money, it does not lead to “…a significant number of autonomous vehicles. ‘Never’”

Intermediate Driver

We don't really need 100% autonomy to make a huge difference in the fatality and accident rate. The current fleet offerings include great tools to keep cars from crashing into things. Lane keeping, automatic braking, adaptive cruise control. These things are great for safety and are getting better every year. In ten years, new cars will be virtually crash proof. The problem will still be trying to avoid the 100% manual cars, which will be like random missiles to the computer.  


Jack, I thought it was really cool when you gave your son gage blocks.  Now I am really impressed!  I would never have imagined seeing anything about a “Fast Fourier transform,” in an article about cars.  Although, as with a lot of what you write, it really isn't just about the cars.    


You must be exhausted from always swimming upstream but at least you usually stay in your lane.  Humans have a bias to think linearly, AI improvements are made exponentially.  A few months ago we had a handful of virus cases and now we have millions because of this same human bias.

Pit Crew

A favorite road tune comes to mind - "My uncle has a country place that no one knows about, he says it used to be a farm before the 'Motor Law'..." (RUSH - Red Barchetta). 


I suppose I'll be considered an outlaw IF "they" manage to somehow impose 'Autonomous Only' on the roadways in my lifetime...

Pit Crew

I've worked with engineers in the auto industry for over 30 years, and I believe the primary reason all the industry is taking on autonomy is that engineers love a challenge, the more  insurmountable the better.  In the sixties, the elites wanted to kill the automobile, cities were supposed to be car-free, and our mobility was to be severely trimmed.  That's why the emissions laws and safety rules were set so high, no known technology could reach their lofty heights.  Well, the auto engineering community rolled up their sleeves and came up with catalytic converters, more and better fuel optimization techniques, crumple zones, ultra high strength steels and a whole panoply of technologies.  No wonder car companies feel they can cheat death again.


But the bureaucrats and social planners have not given up their dreams of a car-less society.  Autonomy is goals they are willing to live with.  Cars that are unable to speed.  Unable to change lanes.  Unable to take a curve at an entertaining pace.  Energy consumption will be optimized for our own good.  Supposedly we will have cars that will not crash, but every sci-fi movie has a "robot boneyard" of broken autonomous toys.  Perfection is not of this world, nor the future world.  But the budding plutocrats in our midst hope that Mr. Baruth is right, that autonomy is unattainable.  Just as vehicle emission levels, no matter how benign, have now gotten impossible to achieve, forcing emissions away from vehicles to power plants, autonomy will be mandated as well.  But if autonomy, really, can never happen, the desired end of any individual mobility will be finally achieved.

Pit Crew

I have been against the whole autonomous thing for a long time. I was studying the subject not long ago and the one reality of autonomous vehicles is the end of a lifestyle for me or others like me. Every model of autonomous driving cannot make room for motorcycles. It was written somewhere (don’t ask me to remember) that motorcycles would be legislated off the road before autonomous cars come to fruition. 

I don’t know how much truth there is to this scenario, but the thought of it scares me. I’ve already been crippled by a negligent driver and today’s laws state the driver is not responsible. We can barely get states to pass laws protecting motorcyclist, bicyclists, and pedestrians from road users. Now imagine if the big money was behind keeping themselves out of liability with autonomous cars. I see no future for future non-car travelers. 

Pit Crew

A great article!  Radar braking, lane detection etc. so annoying and it fails in the rain, fog or snow.  We can't even get our cell phones to work all the time, how do we expect something as complex as driving go automated?  The scary point is all the car manufacturers are spending billions trying to get it to work.  I guess selling uninspired overpriced vehicles has caught them from behind so they go to smoke and mirrors trying to be relevant.  We are living in the last days of passionate car ownership.

Intermediate Driver

Jack, excellent work; as usual. Here’s hoping those widow makers don’t proliferate. I keep wondering who will get me first (as a motorcyclist); a hammerhead on his phone or an “autonomous car”.  By the way; loved this line:

the implementation of laws that sound like they are keeping companies honest but in practice merely raise the barriers to entry for potential competitors all the way to the troposphere.”


So true!


When the people at MIT started trying to create AI way back in the 60's or so, they realized that the first thing they needed to do was to define what "intelligence" is. They spent at least 20 years trying to create a definition, and were no closer at the end than the beginning. And that is the problem with Artificial Intelligence; we have no idea what intelligence really is, except that it's more than just problem solving. Another example: when computer programmers tried to create expert systems that would emulate the decision-making of an expert in some field they discovered that people don't really think about their decisions or how they arrive at them; we make decisions based on a complex subconcious system that we aren't even aware of.  The only way that autonomous cars will work is if they aren't autonomous, but controlled by a combination of human beings and computers from some central location.