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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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I'll take you up on that betting offer. I'm 22, so I'm confident that self-driving cars will be on the roads before I'm dead. I'm also confident that legislators and public safety officials are ignorant and careless enough to allow self-driving cars to cause absolute mayhem by driving alongside us. How much money are you willing to put down?

Intermediate Driver

Self driving cars would take the adventure out of life. I first drove across the country at age 17, in an eight year old '62 Ford Falcon. I felt the distance, because I was always behind the wheel.


When you drive westward in Nebraska, you can feel the almost imperceptible climb, which begins as soon as you've crossed the Missouri River, from Iowa, into Omaha. That first time, I wasn't sure if I was imagining the climb; all these years later I googled the elevations of a few towns along route 80 to see exactly how much I'd been climbing lo those many years ago. I wouldn't have been aware of the climbing in a self driving car. 


The next day, it was pouring during the last several hours of Wyoming, and on into Utah. When I got to the last pass before descending into Salt Lake City, I could see the entire Salt Lake Valley through the rain. In the valley there were spots where the sun was shining, and places where it was pouring. What an amazing view!


Imagine simply punching in the address of your destination, and then working on your laptop, or going on social media, or sleeping, instead of feeling the wide open spaces that our forebears crossed in covered wagons, or on horseback.


I hope you're right Jack. I hope you're right. 


Yeah, closed-loop systems are perfectly viable... where there is no weather variation, etc. and if you keep all the stray people out.


Ford could easily, today, set up a network of private roads through Detroit (let's say as there are still lots of needing-reborn areas there) that only their self-driving cars go on. No pedestrian traffic, the cars only take you from A to B and then go back to Ford garage where Ford technicians do all the mundane stuff (i.e., clean off all sensors) to make sure this no-driver car can function for another hour. Has to be a big player that owns a fleet of cars/pods though. Detroit gets weather though...


But maybe this (large company runs what is basically a taxi fleet in a given city) could actually be profitable in some places where weather helps the cause.


It's probably also possible/viable to steal a lane from chunks of the interstate system and do driverless trucking from hub points. Self driving transport through industrial parks or to construction sites I don't see working out too well.


I'll take your bet as you've already lost it. As of *two years ago* Waymo's (Google) fleet of autonomous cars have driven "...20 million miles on public roads in 25 cities, including Novi, Michigan; Kirkland, Washington; and San Francisco. That’s up from 10 million only a year ago..." They've probably close to doubled that by now. If you live in any of these densely populated cities, chances are you've driven with an autonomous vehicle, even if you didn't recognize it as such.


Jack, I think you are spot on.  Whenever I have talked to someone who knows much more about AI, and you get them to truly open up, they generally say that we are a long way from making this work in anything but a subset of the roads out there today.


I read the earth is flat and the moon is made out of green cheese too.


I think the issue comes about with your definition of "self driving".  If you mean you walk out of your house and get into the "passenger compartment", kick back and read or sleep until you arrive at your destination then you're probably right about someone my age (66).  But I have high hopes my children and super high hopes my grandchildren will do just that.


That said, we already have what are quite close to autonomous vehicles driving beside the idiots.  In Phoenix they have Waymo, in other cities there are other vehicles that have "drivers" but only to "take over if something goes wrong".  And certainly it can and does now but when it does it's a big story.


My 2018 Model 3 with FSD does a very competent job on the freeway, even taking the right exits to other freeways and the final exit from the freeway.  To suggest we will NEVER get better than this is to hide one's head in the sand.


It's going to happen.  Maybe not in my lifetime (although I bet a couple grand it will) but at least in my children's.  Civilization wants it too bad.

Intermediate Driver

I agree with you Jack.  This self-driving dream has been around so long, it predates me.  This is a GM movie from 1956, predicting gas-turbine cars with self-driving by "19 and 76".  Listen carefully for the comment by the hotelier about "pre-digested food" ?!  Yikes.  I'm glad this predicted future didn't come to pass...


Intermediate Driver

Bravo, Jack. Autonomous driving is emblematic of the destruction of individual freedom, the quintessentially human drive of developing one's physical and sensory prowess, and of ceding control to gigantic, non-accountable entities like governments and utility companies.


Lead & Gold transmutation part is backwards, though an alchemist who could turn gold into lead would surely have created a powerful weapon.